By Helen Lambert
The pandemic that has dominated our lives for most of this year has challenged many people to re-evaluate their priorities. This has not been exclusively negative – it has, at times, enabled us to catch a glimpse of what could be, perhaps even what should be, in a re-imagined world. Whether you have had to respond to loss or hardship, or have perhaps simply had more enforced time for reflection, are there things that you view differently now than you did at the start of the year?
As we approach Christmas, what do you hope for? What do you fear? Amidst the uncertainties that surround our plans, could this be a long-awaited opportunity to understand anew what Christmas is all about? All around us, there is talk of “saving Christmas” – but the Bible makes clear that we have got this all wrong, for Christmas is all about the dawning of God’s great plan to save us!
These two readings from the Christmas story make this clear to us, both in messages brought by angels. Through their familiar words we hear of the identity and the life-purpose of the child Jesus who was about to be born that first Christmas.
What does the angel tell Joseph will be Jesus’ purpose in life (Matthew 1:21)? And how do the angels describe the role he will have to the terrified shepherds in that awesome encounter on the night of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:11)? As Matthew makes clear to us, the meaning of the name “Jesus” is “the one who saves”! This is really what we celebrate at Christmas – that we have a Saviour, one who was born for the sole purpose of rescuing us!
A few lines earlier in the book of Luke, we read that this was part of God’s plan from long ago as he had been telling his people through the Old Testament prophets: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Saviour from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.” (Luke 1:68-70).
What does the idea of Jesus as a Saviour mean to you? From the beginning of time, God has been revealing himself to humanity, desiring all people to live in relationship with him, wanting to pour out his love on them, and showing us how to live in ways that bring about good. We too are invited to know this revelation, love and way of life. However, since the beginning of time, we have thought we knew best, have preferred our own ways and independence from God – even chosen to follow other “gods”. We see the results of these choices in the world around us, with our news pages dominated by stories of hate, injustice, violence, envy and broken relationships. As we turn our gaze away from our screens and inwards towards ourselves, we see that our lives are also far from perfect – and yet we know in our hearts that another way must be possible.
Christmas reminds us of the invitation to choose a different life, to seek the forgiveness and empowerment that comes from following Jesus, the One who came to make it possible. We do not have to be stuck in the world as we see it, the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) has come save us into a different life with different priorities, to enable us to have peace with God and with one another.
Amazingly, this invitation extends to us all, however we see ourselves. It does not depend on anything we have done, or not done, but on the love that God has for each one of us. This is why the angels call Jesus the Saviour – for he came for the sole purpose of bringing us back to God and each other. As the apostle Paul tells Titus, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy…” (Titus 3:5)
So, whatever restrictions and compromises we may face over the coming weeks, what a relief that we don’t have to worry about “saving Christmas” – Jesus has already done it all!
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”