Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Among all the profanities encroaching upon the time of our Lord’s birth, let us not add a forgetful attitude toward those for whom Christ was born and died. The most devastating fact of Christmas Day will be that thousands of people will die without the Gift of God. D. Bruce Lockerbie wrote, “Rapid spread of the gospel to all nations has slowed so that today more than two-thirds of the world’s population knows nothing about Jesus Christ. At the same time, the church appears to be retreating and retrenching from global missionary concern. Funds dry up, mission stations must be closed, a chauvinistic ‘know-nothing’ attitude claims priority for local programs.”1 Similarly, C.S. Lewis wrote, “But those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving ‘Man’ whom they have not.”2 Paul said the fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is a faithful saying and one we must not forget.
Over the years, the pleas of burdened missionaries on the foreign fields have encouraged churches to consider what the greatest use of their money would be at Christmas time. Perhaps the most famous for the Christmas missionary plea was Lottie Moon, a single woman missionary who labored forty years in China as an early Southern Baptist. She was born in December, 1840 to Godly parents who sent her to Female Seminary in Virginia. Turning down proposals from men who were not of her conviction, she proceeded alone to China. Once when accused of doing the work that men should do she retorted “with adamant protest that complaining men should come and replace her efforts.”3 In 1887 Miss Moon urged the Southern Baptist women to institute, at Christmas, a week of prayer and offerings to be given to foreign missions. The goal was $2000 in 1888. They raised $3,315.26. In 1918 the SBC instituted the annual “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions.” Lottie Moon died, ironically, on Christmas Eve during the Boxer Rebellion on board a ship sailing from Japan. Christmas for her was a time of giving the best gift of all, Jesus Christ, who is eternal life.
It was during that same great era of missionary work in China that Hudson Taylor wrote home asking, “Are there no servants of our common Lord rusting away at home or at least doing work that others could do if they left it, who might be out here among these numberless towns and villages?”4 L.E. Maxwell wrote, “Home missions are good; foreign missions are better; but ‘submissions’ at home and abroad are best of all.”5
Consider the contrast to those fiery hearts of a century ago to the 1928 World Missionary Conference a few years after: “The task of the missionary today . . . is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents of those religions to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions, to cooperate with the most active and vigorous elements in the other traditions in social reform and in the purification of religious expression. The aim should not be conversion.”6 Such liberalism sounds all too familiar to our pious religious talk of “faith communities” and “cultural awareness.” Meanwhile, thousands more will die without the Gift of God.
The difficulties in meeting the great challenges to world-wide missionary efforts are not new. In 1792, William Carey, the father of modern missions, published a pamphlet, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen, encouraging fellow Englishmen to continue the efforts. “It only requires,” he wrote, “that we should have as much love to the souls of our fellow-creatures, and fellow sinners, as they have for the profits arising from a few otter skins, and all these difficulties could be easily surmounted.”7 To this concern and passion could be added Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice and scores of others who gave their lives and fanned the flame of evangelistic mission work.
Reginald Heber, missionary to Calcutta, India, left these familiar words that called all Christians “From Greenland’s Icy Mountain, or From India’s coral strand”:
Shall we, whose souls are lighted
With Wisdom from on high;
Shall we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation, O salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation
Has learned Messiah’s Name.
Notes:1. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Cosmic Center (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986) 156. 2. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: A Harvest/HJB Book, 1988) 41. 3. Thompson and Cummins, This Day In Baptist History (Greenville: BJU Press, 1993) 536. 4. William Petersen, C.S. Lewis Had A Wife (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985) 73. 5. L.E. Maxwell, Born Crucified (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973) 27. 6. Lockerbie, p. 159. 7. Bruce Shelley, Church History In Plain English (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995) 375.