Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Where is CHRIST in my Christmas?

Some events are of such enormous, world-wide, lasting significance, that those who were present where they occurred have a sense of the momentous in saying “I was there.” We can think of such events in our own lifetime - like the pulling down of the Berlin Wall, or 9/11.

There is one event, however, of more momentous significance than any other. When it happened most people in the world were not aware of it taking place, yet the announcement of it to a few ordinary shepherds was by an angel from heaven accompanied by a chorus of angels praising God! Not surprising in the circumstances, seeing this was the birth of the Christ, the Son of God. It’s safe to say that there had been no comparable event prior to it, nor will there be another like it. The return of Jesus in his kingly glory will a stupendous event; but it was in the incarnation, his conception and consequent birth at Bethlehem, that God became human, which makes it the event of highest magnitude. It is impossible for us to comprehend the full scale of this. The Creator was conceived (created) and born a human; the Sustainer of the whole universe became dependent on a human mother; the Lawgiver, who has the right to demand obedience of every human being, became obedient to human parents. This is so stupendous a thing that it is no surprise people choose not to believe it.

Yet believe it we must, for the Bible is clear that the event is integral to our salvation from our sins and tells us much about God. It is in fact God’s ultimate revelation of himself to us. In John’s Gospel, chapter 1 verse 18, we read “No one has ever seen God; the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” The incarnation is nothing short of God's exegesis of his heart to us, a revelation of what God is truly like. So, what do we see?

First, that God is love. The Bible tells us that God is more than love; he has other attributes, like mercy, wisdom, power, holiness, and wrath. But love is supreme; God is love. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in the person and ministry of Jesus. It was divine love that sent the Son of God into this world by means of the incarnation. The same love was exercised in the consequent ministry of Jesus in this world, including the death he died on the cross. In the letter to the Romans we read in chapter 5 verse 7 that on rare occasions someone may die for a good person. That would indeed be remarkable love. But, far above this, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died not for good people, but for sinners. And who died? Not a mere human being: Christ died, (the Son of) God incarnate died! “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4 v 9-10).

Second, we see that God identifies with us. It explodes the myth that God, if he exists at all, is remote, unmoved, void of feeling towards the plight of human beings in a world of agonies. It is possible to look upon Jesus as God incarnate and yet conclude that God does not care, but only if one is utterly closed to the fact and purpose of the incarnation as set out in the Bible. Unbelief can indeed say “I don’t get it”, but faith looking at the same Jesus will always say “Father, thank you.”

But what does it mean that God identifies with us? It involves, primarily, that God has gone as far as to take to himself our plight (being lost and guilty sinners) and our place (dying the death we deserved, or put another way, paying the price of our sin). The Son of God was born specifically to do this. Jesus himself at the time that Peter confessed him to be “the Christ”, immediately explained in summary what that meant - “the Son of man (Christ) must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9 v 22). In love, God took upon himself to become human in order to take our sin, our guilt, our punishment, and so to stand in our place condemned, turning his wrath against himself in the person of Jesus his Son! Only divine love could plan this, perform this and accomplish it!

Third, the incarnation tells us that to refuse to accept Jesus as our Saviour is the most unreasonable and unjust thing we could ever do. We insist on our human rights, but we dismiss God's right to our trust and obedience. In our rejection of Jesus we disparage God’s love and his identification with us. God has created life for us in Jesus Christ; we create our own hell if we refuse this.

So, finally the incarnation insists that we ask ourselves, "Where is CHRIST in my Christmas?"

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