Christmas is days away. In western nations, shoppers are clicking through website after website trying to find that perfect gift, churches are busy preparing and recording their Christmas message, and children are growing in excitement. Even in this Covid-19 pandemic, Christmas is still infectious (pun intended). There’s something about the Christmas tree with its glittering baubles and flashing lights, the catching Christmas carols, and the fun holiday drinks and delicious food. And for the children, the idea that a jolly and generous man travels the entire world bearing gifts is simply irresistible. Santa Claus is coming to town! With such glitz and glamour it’s easy to gloss over the significant religious aspect of Christmas.
A quick internet search suggests that a Roman historian known for his chronicling of Bible dates reasoned that Jesus was born on December 25th. Though not proven, the date eventually came to be accepted and thousands of years later we still treat the day as being significant to Christianity. We honor it as the day that Christ, God’s son, was born into the human race as the greatest gift ever given. It was not enough for God to give us life and creation, He sent His son as a witness and sacrifice so that we could be reconciled with God – His gift was, and remains to be, the gift of truth, love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and eternity. Santa, for all his marvelous toys, couldn’t possibly deliver something even remotely similar. In fact, Santa himself is free to accept the gift of God if he wants it – and that’s the catch, you have to want it. Sadly, many don’t.
But who is this Jesus anyway? Why the big deal?
A person can have a lifetime of perfect Christmases and still miss the reason and purpose behind the holiday. A person can even live a lifetime as a Christian Believer and still know very little about Jesus and what He has done for the world. I am such a person! In fact, it wasn’t until early 2017 and after my 39th Christmas that I came to realize that I knew very little about Jesus, the person I believed to be the son of God and the light of our salvation. Sure I knew the general stories, having learnt them as a young girl, but as to being able to explain my faith other than by the summation of a few experiences and my ‘gut feeling’ that God is real, I was at a loss. Could I have continued in this manner and still been assured of God’s love for me? Yes, absolutely. Could I have never learned anymore about Jesus and still be confident that He would grant me eternal life with Him just because I believe? Yes, absolutely. But could I be the person God desires me to be and could I carry out his purposes in my life without learning anymore about him? No, absolutely not.
Has the Christmas spirit (the spirit of giving) been wasted on me then? Since I had not bothered to study the instruction manual of the greatest gift I have been given, am I making the best use of this gift?
I once heard it said that ‘Time equals relationship’ – the more time you invest in someone the better the relationship, therefore the less time you invest, the worse the relationship. If faith can be described as more than just believing in God’s existence but as one’s relationship with God, then the quote implies the more time spent with God, the stronger the faith. But perhaps speaking of faith as strength is somewhat misleading? Let’s think then of faith as the solid foundation in one’s life that continues to be built and restored by prayer, time spent reading God’s word the Holy Bible, and by unique godly experiences.
Faith equals relationship with God. But also, relationship with God equals faith.
To live a faith-filled life is to spend time with God. Spending time with God is to spend time getting to know His son. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God (Colossians 2:6). It might be a little tricky to understand if you’re not familiar with Christianity but the concept is that God and Jesus are different in personhood but are one in nature and essence, co-equal and interdependent. To know God, is to love his son. To love the son, is to love the father.
But what does it mean to ‘spend time with God?’ How does someone do this?
The straightforward answer is: reading the Bible, praying, mediating on Him and his word, and meeting with like-minded people to discuss and think upon the things He has done. The complicated answer is in one’ s personal discovery of how to ‘let the message about Christ, in all it’s richness, fill your lives” so that one can “work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord than for people” (Colossians 3:16, 23).
My realization that I did not know much about Jesus coincided with the recognition that my faith and my relationship with God could be described as being as solid as clay, easily muddied with the right amount of rain or turned to dust in a drought. Not the best soil to build anything upon! A feeling, for that really is what it was, can’t be explained to others and it can’t be trusted to remain the same under pressure. The only certainty that I had was that I wanted to have faith, I wanted to trust in God, and I wanted to believe His Word as truth. And if ever asked, I wanted to be able to lovingly discuss my belief and feel confident in my reply. I wanted to know what all the fuss over Christmas was really about! Acknowledging this, I decided, as one way to spend time with God, to ‘Consider Christ’ by reading and learning as much about Him as I could.
So what have I discovered so far? Who is this Christ and what did He do?
Much of my reading and study has coincided with an exploratory reading of the Bible. My aim has been to read the Bible in historical context as well as theological. I’ve sought, and continue to do so, for both the historical Jesus and the Son of God.
Some years later and many books finished, I feel like I’ve only opened the door to Jesus Christ and the spiritual truths and certainties God has offered and promised. Already it’s enough to have changed my thinking and deepened my relationship with God! As a result, God has been repairing and building a solid foundation of faith in my life, slowing replacing the clay with stone and forming me into a new person.
This is what is promised for the person who comes to trust in Jesus: “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new persons. The old life is gone; a new life has began” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The promise unfolds in the believer’s heart as God states: “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). With this new person and new heart God promises: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33b).
What this all means is that a relationship with Christ has the power to transform your thinking and who you are as God renews and transforms you. It is a two-way relationship for as you “put on your new nature”, Jesus will help you to “know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:10)
To be a christian, to know Christ, is to embrace tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience just as Christ did before us and to put to death those sinful awful thoughts and intentions that lurk within us such as anger, rage, malicious behavior, greed, and evil desires (Colossians 3: 5, 8-9,12) The Christian should be a changed person, free from our past and those things that trap us and stop us from becoming what God intends us to be: people filled with love, peace, and generosity.
I am very much a work in progress when it comes to employing such sentiment on a daily progress however, one remarkable and unexpected way God is changing my thinking and building my faith is by acquainting me with God’s Big Picture: God’s story of redemption and unfailing love towards humanity as depicted across the entirety of the Holy Bible.
The Bible, I am stunned to have learnt, is a collection of 66 books written by different authors over thousands of years that tie together with one ultimate narrative. In it there are various prophecies describing God’s intentions, many of them having already played out in world history, and many more describing the coming Messiah and what his arrival on earth actually means. Jesus, Christians believe, is that messiah. The Jewish faith shares many of the sacred texts with Christianity (what Christians call the Old Testament) however they deny that Jesus is the Messiah.
Though the life of Christ answers many of the prophecies about the coming messiah, just not in the way Judaism may have expected it to, I wonder if refusing Jesus as the messiah has a lot to do about the rejection of Jewish religious custom and less to do with Jesus himself. People are not very good at adapting to change and Christ’s teachings, his claims to be the son of God, and his death and resurrection, challenges and offers a very different way to be in relationship with God.
For the Jewish people a different way to know God meant a different way to live life – gone were the necessary sacrifices to receive atonement for sin for in its place Christ offered himself as the sacrifice for sins. Basically, Christ supplanted the need for Jewish law and religious tradition, offering instead a relationship with God based primarily in grace, repentance, forgiveness of sins, and love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:16). Whether you believe Jesus is the promised messiah and the son of God or not, it is impossible to argue that Jesus’ life did not change the world. 2000 years later, Christmas continues.
If you’re familiar with the Christmas story, you will know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and placed into a manger to sleep. There are Bible passages about a bright star in the night announcing his birth, angels speaking to shepherds, and wise men gifting Jesus with expensive and meaningful gifts but aside from that, Jesus arrival was humble and quiet. In fact, the first thirty years of his life was quiet. It was not until he commenced his public ministry, healing, speaking, performing miracles, and challenging the religious leaders at the time that the record of his life truly begins. And all the records we have appear to cover a very brief three years of his life; the three years traveling through the regions of Israel and leading up to this death and resurrection.
Though he was a noted healer and knew the scriptures like no other, it was Jesus’ execution at the hand of the Romans and his resurrection from the grave by God that give meaning and importance to his teachings and example. If this did not happen, it is quite possible that Jesus could have been lost and forgotten in history. Instead, we have a person who claimed to be the son of God and to be the way, the truth, and the life for all humanity, who not only lived a sincere life but conquered death so that we could rest confidently in this new hope that God provides.
It took Christ three years to build his ministry and provide a reference as to what character we should aspire to but it took God three days to change the world by giving us a new covenant (something akin to a legal agreement) and a new way to live.
This new covenant is a new way of relationship with and promise by God that was poured out through the sacrificial blood of Christ. It was given to all humanity so that through him we can be made anew, receive eternal life and restoration with God but also that we may live joyful, hopeful, loving, compassionate and generous lives. Christ’s promise of eternal life is not fulfilled in our lives until we depart earth but his offer to lighten our daily burdens, change our way of thinking and give us a new thoughts and a new way of life is made new every day.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning” Lamentations 3:22-23
“For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30
The Christmas story, the humble birth of the person who was to bring about so much change in the heavens, on the earth, and in our personal lives, echoes throughout time for all eternity. It is a story that is worthy of our consideration. Regardless of your choice to believe the story or not, Christ’s life demands our attention for he remains the greatest teacher of morality and integrity humanity has ever seen.
If God so loved the world that he gave us his son, then Jesus so loved the world that he gave us love. Jesus radicalized the notion of love and challenged the very heart of humanity; it was no longer enough to love God and love your neighbor, love is now to love your enemies.
When Jesus said this, he was speaking to Jews who were living under violent Roman occupation and oppression and who considered only their close Jewish counterparts as friends. Imagine their shock! Or perhaps it is just as shocking to hear in 2020 when we don’t even like the person with opposing political views to ourselves.
Loving the enemy just seems so counter-intuitive yet it is a cornerstone to Jesus’ teaching and life. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:43-44
Not only did Jesus say that we should love our enemy, he said that we should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Luke 6:31). Love your enemy and treat them well. And in treating them well, forgive them for the wrong they have done against you. “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
Is it just me, or would you agree that the whole world could do with a lot more love right now? Even before Covid-19 there was much pain, much hurt, much sadness and despair on our planet. Now, everything feels maximized and quite frankly, it’s exhausting and frightening to contemplate. Thankfully, we have a very clear picture of what love is because God used his son to teach us by example. If we did not have Jesus’ love, what would we have? If we had not forgiveness what would we have?
On earth Jesus taught a new way of forgiveness and redemption, speaking of God as the father who cares, and himself as the shepherd who guides and finds his lost sheep. And when Jesus left earth as his resurrected self, conquering death and offering eternity to all those who followed him, his self-sacrifice epitomized love. We call this self-sacrifice because Jesus was wrongly executed. The charges against him were insubstantial to warrant a trial, let alone an execution. He was innocent. Many times in his unjust trial he could have defended himself, however he chose to give up his own life as an act of love.
The ancient world, and God’s law given to the Jewish people, meant that a blood sacrifice was needed for the atonement of sins. When the Jewish people failed at keeping the law, God determined that the only way possible for human redemption was a blood sacrifice so significant that it would alter his relationship and purposes with his people forever. It would be the act to reveal just how much he loves us. As Christ died on that cross he took upon himself our sins so that God would be able to restore us to himself. For sin is like a disease that can rot the person, and humanity, to the core. God no longer wanted to see people like that, He wanted to see His people transformed and made whole (“holy and without blame”) by His own son. (Colossians 1:22)
Jesus loved us so much that he lay down his life. And this is how we know what love really is: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16(NIV)
Lay down our lives for others? It’s the ultimate act of love that only a handful of us might be forced to experience but the concept is worthy of thought. Love is sacrifice.
But what is sin? Does it even exist anymore? And why do people need saving?
I’ve heard it said that sin can be described as anything that gets in the way of your relationship with God. Without providing a solid definition the statement assumes a person has a general moral code and is therefore able to modify his or her response according to the present culture. For example, in recent history it would have been a grave sin for a couple to live together before marriage, now many unmarried christians co-habit. One hundred years from now, marriage may not even exist and the idea that co-habiting was once a sin, might just be reduced to a common joke. Society and culture changes but the word of God does not. In it, we have something called the Ten commandments and I am certain that any deviation of those laws is what God did, does, and will define as sin. One good look at those commandments and it is easy to see why they are important. If we break them, ultimately we hurt ourselves…and the lives of those closest to us. Remember, God is love…and we should love others.
What about those things that muddy the waters of our relationship with God that are not the result of our own sins but rather those done to us? How can a person consider God as a heavenly father when their own father has been of the worst kind? How can a person embrace the freedom Christ offers when they are locked in an abusive relationship? Life is complicated. Our emotions, fears and hurts are complicated. But we need to be able to differentiate between the guilt and shame our own sins bring us and the guilt and shame that others make us feel. Both can soil our relationship with God but the first requires us to seek forgiveness from God and the latter needs us to forgive others.
In western culture there is much hype about pursuing what makes us feel good and happy but often listening to our inner self and abandoning God’s commands makes us miserable and confused. Our culture urges us towards individualism but often it is at the cost of our own integrity and of those we are in relationship with. Sometimes doing what we feel like, something that satisfies our deepest desires, can hurt another person. Even though it feels good to us, if it hurts someone else it should be considered a sin. Sadly, many people live with the deep scars that others have given them and often such pain (and resentment) can hinder a persons life and keep them from trusting in God. We live in a broken world, with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken relationships and broken promises. Many of us have been abused and devalued. Many live with crippling shame, fear, anger, resentment, and hatred. Lives are debilitated by what others have done to them. We live in an unjust and unfair world it is our own broken selves that cry out for justice and vengeance.
Our restless souls and grieving hearts can lead us further down the path that leads to sorrow, or we can choose the path that provides hope, light and peace – the path that Christ has paved for us so that he can “comfort us in all our troubles’ and provide the restitution we long for. The person who finds God is the person who recognizes their own transgressions and desires something more, something beyond themselves, something heavenly. A relationship with God is able to make such hurts and worries bearable as he ‘lightens our load’, ‘heals our hurts’, ‘renews our minds’, and provides all that we need.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
At the heart of Christianity is a person’s desire to be made right with God. Once a person dares to believe in the goodness and possibilities with God, our iniquities make it impossible for God to be in relationship with us for who is equal to God? What person can claim to be perfect, loving and fair? What person can create by command? What person can be accepted by God without Christ’s representing him or her? The theology is clear: Jesus was sent to ‘make us right’ in the face of God, to forgive us our sins and offer a relationship with the Most High.
To have relationship with Christ is to humbly acknowledge that we have done many wrong things, to understand that our hearts are full of evil desire and intent, and to seek forgiveness turning away from those things (sins) that cause harm to God, to others, and to ourselves as we invite Christ to be a part of our lives.
Many churches encourage a simple prayer: ‘God forgive me for all I’ve done wrong and please come into my life and make me a new person.’
This prayer paves the way to the healing, positive changes, and blessings that God promises to those that believe in him. And, as we grow closer to Christ by spending time with Him we become more like Him in character. In doing so we, in spirit and by choice are able to move further away from the emotional confines and trappings of the world we live in. As our old selves and our past history are cast off in God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with us, we can be confident that we are made new and given a new identity and purpose.
Appointed as the salvation and judge for all people, and sent to earth in the form of a human subjected to grief and suffering like no other, Christ’s life stands as testimony and example of a God who loves his people and creation deeply. He is a God who aches for the relationship and trust of his own created mankind. God decided that Jesus is the way to God, the truth of God’s love and purposes, and the life God wants us to imitate.
When Christ died and was resurrected God’s love proved to be unfathomable and unfailing, able to reach all mankind and in all it’s darkest places. It is this example, the radical notion to ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘love your enemies’, that became the basis, the foundation and the hope of a new movement that would eventually spread across the globe. If Jesus were just some guy, we would not know about him. Instead, we have civilizations forged from the moral reasoning that is the fabric of the Christian ideology and institutions that were created to be witness to God’s love in service to others.
As christianity grew, God’s group of believers known as the church took the idea of love and service literally and created the first ever hospitals, schools and universities; the very institutions that make up the fabric of our societies. The church also promoted the christian philosophy that ‘all people’ are created equally and should therefore be treated equally. (Albeit, we still get this very wrong – good intention should not be forsaken for money and power but it always is. )
In the beginning when God created man and woman, he created them in his image, equally valued and equally loved. When Jesus came to earth his mercies, love, blessings, forgiveness, peace and joy flowed out to men and women equally, signifying there is no longer male or female but rather we are all made one in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ unifying vision has not played out so well in humanity but the theme is central to its theology – in christ there is forgiveness and acceptance for all persons who chose to follow him. There is love and blessings for all persons. There is hope and a future for all persons. There is peace and joy for all persons. There is a relationship on offer with the Most High for all persons. For God so loved the world…
Such a radical concept, and only just one of Jesus’ many statements, makes for a character so ingrained with world history that a time will come in your life when you will need to consider what he means to you and what he means to the world. We can not escape his presence nor his teachings for his word continues to pervade societies, cultures, and nations as the concepts of ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘love your enemy’ shake even the hardest of hearts
Is there any other character in the history of the world who has changed the world like Jesus?
In a world that no longer understands or values truth, the Christian belief and it’s exclusive claim to the way, the truth, and the life can either be a guiding light or a threatening flame to an unbeliever. In conversation, sometimes that opinion is pre-determined by the unbeliever and other times the outcome can be determined by the words and actions of the christian. Either way, our faith in God should not be kept hidden; for we believe that faith in Christ is a positive transformation to both the individual and for the world. In Him, peace and joy are made possible. In Him we find our hearts softened and changed as we learn to be and to give the same kind of love, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness that he bestows unto us.
We continue to celebrate Christmas for we know that Christ, in this life, offers us a new life: a new way of thinking and a new way of living, and in the next: eternity in a perfect heaven.
There is no other being or relationship on earth that can provide either, or both. You yourself can not change your life for the better like He can. And you yourself can not add even a second to this life you have been given. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So, this Christmas as you unwrap presents or as you watch your children delight in the gifts from Santa, take a moment to consider why we give gifts in the first place: for the greatest gift we can receive has first been given.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope that it encourages you.
May you have a wonderful joy-filled Christmas.