Today, multitudes prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Born of a virgin into rural poverty, he was hunted by an evil King who sought to destroy him. Having escaped with his family to Nazareth, he grew in stature with men and God. Jesus then lived a sinless life characterised by the hard manual labour of carpentry, until In his early thirties he was baptised by full immersion in the river Jordan.
Immediately after this, God declared publicly what Mary, the angels, John the Baptist and the wise men already knew. Jesus was the Son of God, the very word of the creator of all things, made flesh. He was dwelling amongst the frailty of humanity as one of us, and yet without sin. Fully God, and yet fully human. The two names of Jesus literally translate as ‘God saves’ and ‘the anointed one’ or ‘Messiah’.
Drawn by the Holy Spirit of God into the wilderness he was tempted by the devil for 40 days before returning triumphantly, and beginning his public ministry. Amongst other things he healed the sick, gave sight the blind, caused lame men to walk, cleansed lepers, cast out demons, raised the dead, turned water into wine, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, walked on water, commanded storms to cease, and pronounced radical freedom and favour for the poor, marginalised and oppressed peoples he frequently encountered on his travels. He preached powerful messages about the coming Kingdom of God, the necessity of repentance from sin, humility towards God and others, social justice, looking after the poor, and renouncing all worldly riches in order to follow him and be his disciple. He warned his listeners about the reality of eternal judgement in hell unless they repented of their evil works and followed him. Jesus obliterated any ideas about all religions leading to the same God when he declared repeatedly that he (Jesus) is the one and only way to the real God.
Needless to say, many people found his messages offensive and his miracles impossible to challenge, so a group of men conspired against him to arrest him and have him killed. One of his own followers betrayed him and led his enemies to him. After a sham of a trial he was eventually indicted for blasphemy by claiming to be who he was: a man equal with God in whom there was no sin. He was ultimately flogged, beaten, and nailed to a cross by the Roman empire, as a means of pacifying his own people who had demanded that he be crucified.
When all hope seemed lost, three days after his burial, he broke all of the rules and rose from his grave alive and well. Jesus was vindicated by God and shattered the power of sin, death and evil once and for all. He appeared to his followers and many more people before ascending back to heaven, leaving his disciples with one simple task to fulfil: go and tell the world about the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and make disciples of every kind of people group in the world, teaching them to observe all of his commandments, and baptising them in the name of the Father, son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus made it very clear that a day will come when he would return and bring and end to history as we know it. The final day of judgement will come, when he shall arrive in glory with his angels to judge the living and the dead. Whoever repents and believes in him and confesses with their mouth will be saved, by grace, through faith. Whoever does not shall stand condemned and be consigned to eternal punishment in hell.
His followers understood the meaning of the cross only after his death. He had been the final sacrificial lamb, who would take away the sins of the world. In accordance with the Hebrew scriptures he had been stricken by God, taking the place of helpless sinners like you and me, absorbing the wrath and punishment that should have been ours. His death cancelled the legal debt that had stood between us, and God himself. A lifetime of sins washed clean by his blood. Through him we can be justified before a perfect and holy God, and enter into a relationship with him by the power of his Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promises will come and live inside us, and never leave us.
As the Bible says, God made him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to become sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). His victory over sin and death not only reconciles us to God, it also disarmed the forces of evil in the world, making a mockery of their best efforts to thwart God’s purposes. Yet until the task he left the first Christians with is completed, and he returns in power on the last day, evil remains a potent force in the world; suffering continues, and sin persists. There is, and always has been, a dramatic urgency behind the Gospel message.
So understood rightly, Christmas is a celebration of the glorious truth of Jesus Christ. The Prince of peace wants to make peace with you and I; he offers us everything, effectively in return for nothing. He wants to conscript you into his cosmic battle against the forces of darkness, empower you for a faithful life lived to the full, thus enabling you to play your part in finishing the task of spreading his amazing news across the globe.
Jesus is frequently misrepresented by both his own people (including me!) and by those who would seek to Co-opt his story (or selected elements of it) for political and sociological purposes. For example, contrary to the dominant imagery associated with him, in all likelihood he did not have long hair. Also, he was almost certainly a strong, tough man having spent most of his adult life working as a carpenter. The Bible describes him as basically being not much to look at.
He clearly defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, rooting his theology in the creation story of Genesis. He gave clear guidelines surrounding divorce and contrary to popular western assertions he did not have a liberal attitude towards human sexuality. Whilst he radically protected and forgave an adulteress, he also commanded her thereafter to ‘go and sin no more’.
Jesus did eschew materialism and demonstrated the pinnacle of true non-violent protest as a man, however he paints a very different picture for us as to how he will deal with his enemies upon his return. In his human life he was a radical, liberating pacifist and he commands his followers to live the same way. In short, the reality of Jesus is often more complex than the figure we see portrayed and argued over in the media, or even in churches. Don’t take it from me, find out for yourself and read the gospels, the truth as they say, is out there!
You might have lots of questions, however perhaps the most relevant question right now is, are you in or out? Red pill or Blue pill? Wake up the same tomorrow, or not?
Merry Christmas, and when you tuck into your Turkey, try to remember that there really is a reason for the season.