Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Christmas? Salvation

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At about 8:02 next Saturday the sun will rise and it’ll be Christmas Day. Except for most of us it will have begun much earlier, as all the pent up enthusiasm and excitement that the retail industry has been building up since August finally bursts through the damn at 4am and someone in the house - especially if there’s anyone under about four foot high - will have kicked off the festivities. We’re taught to wish it could be Christmas every day-ay-ay and some of us really do!

But some of us would rather bury our heads under the duvet until Christmas is over. It might be the stresses of catering for 18 people, it might be the ominous and inevitable moment when the awkward uncle says or does something inappropriate that wrecks the whole day, again.

Or, more seriously, the pain of the year and memory of those who aren’t with us. The winter is cold and cruel. This time last year I was speaking at my uncle’s funeral and we have another family funeral tomorrow.

Christmas is a time for light but the darkness weighs on us too.
Christmas looms yet we feel it is “always winter and never Christmas” – always dark and never light.

Bringing God into your Christmas compounds the sadness, doesn’t it? What after all would the arrival of God mean but more shadows? Isn’t God where Dickens got his idea of Scrooge from? We imagine god is out to condemn us, to smite us, to extinguish any hope of drowning our sorrows and having a moment of happiness.
Whatever our expectations, the striking Christian claim, marked by Christmas, is exactly that it is about God turning up, on planet earth, in human history. It’s an audacious and astonishing claim that warrants some examination, Let’s turn to this prophetic word from Zechariah, the last few verses:

76 you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1:76-79, ESV)

I want to pick out three little phrases here:

1. Salvation,

Is God the scrooge of Christmas? Is it the one who comes to cast a shadow and steal Christmas, the divine Grinch? Christmas of course is the festival that has been appropriated to mark the birth of Jesus, 2000 years ago at the town of Bethlehem. It’s not that December 25th is Jesus’ birthday – he was probably born sometime in March – and Luke tells us this was during the reigns of Caesar Augustus and Quirnius.

Christmas gives the opportunity to recall this event, to ask Why Christmas – not so much why Dec 25th, but why did the Lord come?

V76: Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, prophesied that his child, v76, John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord, for Jesus the Lord. Pointing to Jesus to say – this is God come to earth.John gives knowledge of salvation as a prophet of God & preacher…. Like me this morning. John isn’t the point. I’m not the point– the point is who we point to. We point to Jesus the Lord who, v68/78, “shall visit”.

When I think of the visit of someone important my mind goes back to the day the Queen Mother visited the village I grew up in to open a new shoe factory. I was at Primary School, we got the day off, she arrived in a helicopter in the park, but beyond that the whole thing was fairly irrelevant. This visiting is not that visiting.

Visiting is Bible language for God coming to save his people – in the liberation of God’s son from slavery and oppression in Exodus, in the end of famine in the book of Ruth, and here.
• to save from our enemies – v71/74 but don’t think of a one who comes wielding weapons of war.
• This Jesus brings, v77 – “salvation to his people” which is “in the forgiveness of their sins”.
He will not come with all guns blazing to save, but rather to shed his own blood for us (for this is necessary to bring forgiveness). To give up his life for us, in our place. His salvation brings rescue and forgiveness.

Whatever else we want for Christmas, nothing is more precious than this relational gift of forgiveness is it?
• Perhaps you sense the need for you to forgive,
• Or more likely you wish you could be forgiven for what you’ve done – and yet the person you hurt doesn’t seem able to release you.

Ever wished for a fresh start? Already written your new years resolutions? And said to yourself: “next year it’ll be different”? Yet a new year doesn’t do it, I need a whole new life. And it’s this that God came to make possible. Not to condemn us or make us feel guilty and miserable, but to lift the weight of all of that off our backs once and for all – to wipe away all that stains and ruins us.


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