20 December 2012

When We Had Gone Astray

by Frank Turk

So here's the point: Christmas is not a celebration of everyday life.  The purpose of Christmas is not to celebrate your middle-class life and ethics, or even to enjoy simple human good will, or to inspire it.  It's not even to give thanks for a decent year past -- however good and godly it might seem to try that.  The point of Christmas, if I may say it this way, is that God is fully aware that the world and the lives of those living here are all headed for a sad and sober end if nothing changes.

Because let's face it: things don't really change.  You might make a case for all manner of improvements in law or economics or standards of living, but our core complaint this week is that innocent people die all the time for no reason.  That never changes -- it's the status quo of the world.

That is: until Christmas.

Look: a few years ago I made a point of telling everyone that God's view of Christmas is a strange and amazing balance between his threat to bring justice to disobedient people and his promise to save them from their utter disregard for him.  Another time I made it a point to tell you that the miracle at Christmas is not that a legion of fantastic beings sang out to God's praise in a field -- it was that a baby was born and laid in a manger, fulfilling the promises of God with God Himself.  That was a pretty good one.

This year, let me say this: in this world where your home may seem empty because of a gigantic loss, and where the death of innocents seems to be an insurmountable sign of how the times have turned, God has already taken it upon himself to change the status quo.  The point here -- the actual reason that there is a Christmas, actually a moment when the world affected by the church of God stops and stares, expecting to see something completely amazing -- is that Jesus, who is God, didn't try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything, and was born in a manger to became a slave, when he became like one of us. Jesus was humble the way only God can be humble, surrendering the Glory which Isaiah saw in the throne room of God to become a miracle wrapped in rags. He obeyed God -- and his obedience didn't stop at being born in a barn.  His obedience took him lower still, to a death on a cross when he deserved worship and honor and power, so that the death of innocents would, in an eternal and permanent way, be defeated forever.

Jesus is not just some ephemeral housekeeper who can tidy us up right now -- or at least until we toss ourselves back into the filth. He's not someone who merely helps us avoid the worst right now, as if God has nothing better to do than to stop us from doing exactly what we want to do.  His story is not just a story about truth: he's the one guy who understands our weaknesses because he has suffered through them all, refusing to sin, and then he died for them all so that they can all not only be defeated, but forgiven.

And here we are -- worried that the something was ruined because the sins of our society are more obvious this week than they are most other weeks. I think something was ruined when the angels sang, "Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests," -- and what was ruined was the status quo.  Since then it has been our problem to catch up with that -- to live as if that really happened, so we can make much of this Jesus, and enjoy him forever.

This is the true meaning of Christmas, dear reader, and tossing out another example of human moral destitution which tears down our illusions about how safe and civilized we are doesn't harm even one thin angel hair of tinsel in that kind of Christmas: it causes the brilliance of Christmas to shine like an arclight of hope which leads us to our one and only savior.

This Christmas, I beg you: look for him, find him, and throw yourself on him, because in that stable, and at his cross, and ultimately at his empty tomb and his seat at the right hand of God, is your only hope in this world where death is the common end.  Let nothing you dismay: for Jesus Christ our savior was born upon this day to save us all from death and sin's power when we had gone astray.  Those are the tidings of comfort and joy.

I wish you good tidings of great joy this Christmas, and true prosperity and eternal life in the New Year.


Michael Coughlin said...

Great job, Frank. I think many people lose the proper focus. Your blog should help.

You can delete my comment as I am not trying to promote my blog, but I wanted to share a post with you I thought you might enjoy based on you last couple sentences.


James Scott Bell said...

A very fine piece, elegantly written. I would add there is truth, too, in the actual lyric, which reads "To save us all from Satan's power / When we were gone astray." In light of horrific events (of any type), this is a crucial fact. There is a real and personal power from which we must be saved. The need for and certainty of Christmas is announced in Genesis 3:15. Indeed, it was the "status quo" of the prince of this world that was disrupted by Christmas and destroyed by the Cross (John 12.31). God rest us merry.

Joe Meyer said...

Your best ever....well said

Robert said...

Thanks for keeping us focused on the reality of things. Hopefully our minds will be shaped to see the world from a biblical worldview and see how this world needs the grace and mercy that only comes through Jesus knowing us.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"innocent people die all the time for no reason"

or maybe there are no innocent people, only people who are thought of as being innocent by us guilty humans.

GrammaMack said...

Excellent. Six stars!

Anonymous said...

Had to link to this on facebook. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

What a reminder that Christmas isn't about me, except that is saves me.

FX Turk said...

Nash -

Let me say this about your comment. it is 100% theologically true. But the problem with communicating that when 6-year-olds are murdered in a classroom as they hide behind their teacher's body seem really transparent to me.

I think this series communicates both the factual truth of a fallen world and the emotional truth of a fallen world not just adequately but effectively.

What do you think?

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

In the context, the meaning of the word 'innocent' is fairly clear. To have to clarify that would be like clarifying Christ when He said "if I had not come they would have no sin" as if He didn't know what He was saying.

These posts are excellent for reminding us of what we need to celebrate and live for.

trogdor said...

My dad died on December 24th five years ago. Four months after getting married, we got to celebrate Christmas with my family, and stay for a funeral. And the truth of this post was the greatest news we could possibly have heard then, and now.

Jesus didn't come so that we could have cute nativity scenes and songs and lights and trees. He came because my dad was going to die one day and stand before a holy God and be called to account for his sin, and his only hope would be the one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.

Was Christmas ruined for me? No. If anything, the meaning is amplified. Every year, there's a reminder that my dad is gone. But every year, there's a reminder that because the word became flesh and dwelt among us, one day we'll be reunited and worship God together forever.

Halcyon said...

Solid, Frank. Reminds me of Chesterton:

"Until we realize that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightning, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war."

(Heretics, "Mr. Bernard Shaw")

Jeffrey said...

So good I had to say so! Thank the Lord for your post Frank!

Rachael Starke said...

I've needed to read this every day since you've posted it. You help me "get" Christmas, and consequently, how to do Christmas, better than anyone I know. Thanks.