It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for peace, has it?
Remember Ebola? The Ukraine? Passenger planes shot down (or vanishing)? The world is a dangerous place.
Bad enough if it were just the natural disasters. But it is worse than that. Even now, someone out there is pimping their own kids to make a buck. Worse than just “horrible”, some people and circumstances call for words like “malicious”, and “evil”.
This is no “Pollyanna” world. How do we reconcile “Christmas” and everything wrapped up (so to speak) in the idea of Christmas with the gritty, dirty world that confronts us?
Joy? Caroling? Hot apple cider? How can these be reconciled with violence, misfortune, want, or fear? The trappings of Christmas, and the real world don’t seem to line up. But the true problem runs deeper.
Remember the speech recited by Linus (in A Charlie Brown Christmas). The purpose of Christmas was spelled out in the scripture he quoted (Luke 2):
Near Bethlehem, there is the famous encounter with an angel. He came announcing good news of great joy for all people, and gave instruction about how to recognize the child as the right one. Right after that, an entire chorus of angelic voices joined in with “glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, good will towards men.”
So what’s the problem?
The promised Saviour has come. The question to ask is, has he saved us? Has he actually brought everyone the peace, great joy, and good will we were promised?
Isn’t it fair to ask that? If Jesus birth related to keeping that promise, was it ever kept? Looking around — joy, peace and good will toward men seem to be in pretty short supply.
So, what about that promise?
Depending who you are, you will have different understandings of the meaning.
Saviour. (Rescuer) And for all people. A bold claim. Need for a rescuer requires someone unable to save themselves — needing rescuing. This is exactly the opposite of the Tony Robbins self-help book approach.
People from Jesus’ day thought they knew exactly what that meant. What did Old Testament rescuers looked like Samson, Saul, or Deborah. Political leaders who bravely led them against an invading foreign force. This Saviour is the Son of David.
What do we know about David? He was a king! Not just any king. He was the same king that took a struggling little nation hemmed in by her enemies, and turned it into the most dynamic nation in its sphere. The neighboring armies were not just held at bay, they were smashed. The other kings sued for peace, and agreed to pay tribute. David the king led Israel to the zenith of its power.
They expected that, of COURSE the coming Saviour would smash Rome, and lead Israel out of captivity. Right? Nope. Remember when the crowds tried to coronate him? “…[W]hen Jesus perceived they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he departed again to the mountain by himself alone.” (John 6:15).
Some revolutionary. If the angels were promising a shattered Rome, they got it wrong.
We might scoff at the idea of Jesus leading a military coup. But what about today’s social justice type. How might they interpret this promise? They think we need to be rescued from poverty and war, a Saviour might usher in an era of Hope and Change. You know, creating a workers’ utopia where conflicts are ended, and nobody suffers want.
Some biblical texts even bolster that view. Like In Isaiah’s speech about “swords into ploughshares” in ch. 2, v 4. Ditto for Jesus’ speech in Luke 4: the spirit of the Lord is upon me … good news to the poor … liberty to captives, oppressed. Is He crafting a Utopia?
This is the same Jesus who said “the poor you will have with you always”. The same Jesus who said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt 10)
The angels weren’t promising Social Justice, or political solutions.
Jesus didn’t claim to view humanity’s primary problem as politics or social justice. It would make sense that his solution would not be one of politicking or activism. Everywhere he went, he encouraged people to forsake their sin. To repent and believe. For Jesus, our greatest problem is sin.
What did we need to be rescued from? Our own real sin. Our guilt. Our brokenness. The good will in that promise? That “good news”? It wasn’t about ordinary human relationships at all. It was about God making a switch. No longer will he see us as hostile, and guilty rebels. Instead, he will see us as someone with a changed heart. Someone for whom Jesus died.
The good news was the atonement and our own transformed heart. Jesus took our guilt upon himself, and granted us his right-standing with the Father. He bore the punishment our guilt requires, but — after dying — rose again. His message remains simple: repent of your sin, and believe in the Son.
It is my hope that you, if you had not previously done so, may do so now. Come join the true Christmas celebration as it was meant to be enjoyed.