The annual holiday celebrated by Christians on December 25 celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was born somewhere between 7 and 2 BC. Dec. 25 is probably not the date when Christ was born, but was designated as such in the 4th century in order to substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. The designation Christmas comes from a combination of “Christ” with “Mass.” Often the Greek X (Chi) is substituted for “Christ” making Xmas (as was the custom in the early church when abbreviated Christ’s name). Although there is no command in Scripture to celebrate this day as a holiday, Christians believe the incarnation is the foundation to salvation and, according to many, the greatest miracle in the history of man.
One of the most polarizing events in Sydney’s cultural calendar is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. What started as a political advocacy and protest march has grown into a major Australian tourism extravaganza. It regularly attracts international celebrity and acclaim. Locally it’s a popularly promoted festival and gives rise to various protests and campaigns in reaction and response from the more conservative, usually Christian, members of the Sydney community (although not exclusively these days), who are concerned about the tone, message and lifestyle mardi gras promotes.
I wonder though, how Jesus, friend of sinners, would react and respond to the occasion. I don’t see any precedents in the New Testament that indicate he would be a red-faced, screaming, placard holding protester. Neither, do I see the Son of God off his face at the after party having popped a few of whatever may be the latest party drug or stimulant. I suspect his action would be one of grace, love, compassion and service.
Local Sydney Pastor, (among other things), John Dickson, penned this prayer. I think Jesus would be the one who would model how this prayer is answered and lived out to the glory of God.
For my friends, who are at Mardi Gras tonight, and, well, if you read this at all, are probably doing so late Sunday afternoon or Monday at the earliest, hear the words of this prayer as my prayer for you AND me.
God of the righteous and the wicked,
Have mercy on your people, the church,
for their wickedness:
for allowing biblical convictions about love and sex
to justify unbiblical words and actions
toward men and women made in your image.
As it rains on tonight’s parade,
may this speak not of your judgment
but of your promise to cleanse and forgive
all who turn to you for grace.
And teach our nation,
especially your church,
to follow Jesus, the Friend of Sinners,
that we would learn how to care deeply
for those with whom we profoundly disagree;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I am indebted to Tim Keller’s explanation in ‘The Reason for God‘ on how forgiveness “works” for the following homily given at a recent funeral for a family member. Christians often stress the need for forgiveness, but don’t always do a very good job at explaining how and why it is needed and what it achieves for us. Perhaps the following will help you the next time you talk to someone about what it means to be forgiven by God.
As we say our farewells today and recall various memories, some that are heart warming, some heart breaking. Some of these memories make us laugh, others that might cause us to feel regret or sadness or something much stronger. Let us now consider what it means for us who remain, how to move forward.
A very full life has ended and now as a result, our lives will change. Whether that change means no more hot Christmas Day lunches or no more Trifle Dessert or perhaps that change means no more regaling of childhood adventures and stories that for some seem too much to be true. How many of those stories were fictional distractions and how many really took place? That is now a mystery she has taken with her.
For some of you there is now, time and space to grieve and, I think, to rest. For some there might be lingering thoughts and feelings of things left unsaid. Or perhaps there are some regrets of things spoken in haste, that may have been best left unsaid. What closure are you offered at a time such as this? That is what I would like to consider today.
As a Christian Minister I cannot afford to play the game of pretending everything is all sweet by and by. Jesus came to give his life for sinners and offers all who trust in him forgiveness. The confidence I hold when anyone returns to God and meets him face to face (whether they be a believer or not), that the judge of all the earth, God Almighty, will do that which is good and right for his glory.
How, though, do we move forward with confidence, hope and forgiveness?
When Jesus taught the Disciples to pray:
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”
He also said,
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
When someone owes us money and we opt to forgive their debt, we are choosing to bear the cost of their debt. It requires sacrifice on our part. The debt does not magically disappear and go away. It must be borne by someone.
To bear that debt yourself and refuse to make someone else pay means you have chosen to suffer. If that debt is not merely financial but involves something where have been robbed of some happiness, your reputation, some opportunity or some freedom you could have otherwise enjoyed the suffering is much greater. Your sense of violation does not go away by someone merely saying, “I’m sorry”. To suffer in this way, means an incredible hurt that can often feel like a kind of death.
But forgiveness is a death that leads to resurrection and new life, hope and a future. Because with it, bitterness, cynicism and resentment also die because the fuel they need is removed and they subside. Only when you release the determination for the other person to get what’s coming to them will you have any chance of changing and healing. When you submit yourself to the suffering and cost of forgiveness you are expressing the greatest human act of sacrificial love to another and you will then open yourself to hope and your future.
It should not surprise us that God was determined to forgive us and not punish us for all the ways we have wronged him and each other. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus Christ and died there. He endured the greatest suffering of all to achieve forgiveness on a cosmic scale. His actual death and actual resurrection give us ultimate hope that all evil and all suffering is defeated through his forgiveness. Human forgiveness works because we unavoidably reflect the image of our creator extending forgiveness to us.
Jesus death is not some great moral lesson unless it is much more than that. It was absolutely necessary to rescue us. We had a debt to pay, but God himself paid it. We had a penalty coming, yet God himself bore it. His infinite suffering for our forgiveness means we can experience the freedom that comes from forgiving and being forgiven.
Let go of the past, things said and done, things not said and not done and having received God’s forgiveness in Jesus, forgive others and know closure and certainty of hope and future.
‘Dispatches from the Front’ is a DVD series about front line mission workers in some of the most difficult regions to reach with the gospel of Jesus Christ. May it ignite a new generation of those who will be senders and goers for the gospel.
“Dispatches from the Front is a series of DVDs which show first-hand the work of missionaries and pastors in some of the tougher parts of the world. I have just watched the episode on Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. The low-key presentation enhances the drama and the beauty of the stories told. But be aware: this is sobering stuff. I came away ashamed of my own lack of zeal for the Lord’s work and my ingratitude to him for all of the material comforts I enjoy. This is not a celebration of the pyrotechnic entertainment of the American church; it is an account of genuine works of God. It will convict you of your own sin, drive you to Christ, and encourage you to pray for Christians working on the front lines of the Kingdom and to reassess your own priorities wherever you are. ”
—Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History and Paul Woolley Chair of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary
The greatest story ever told has a scope and complexity in its narrative and characters that exceeds all known literature. To some, it is a mysterious volume of allegorical myths. To others, it is a mass of contradictions. It is the story of God and his creation, involvement with and salvation of man. It gets messy, because people are messy, but God’s purpose is not thwarted. The greatest story ever told is not great because man figured out how to salvage himself. It is great because God, driven by love, has, through patience and mercy saved men.
Welcome to the Feast
In the Bible, we are guests at God’s banquet. A modern reader struggles to make sense of this story written so differently to our modern texts and popular novels. The structure of the Bible story is based upon Israel’s festival calendar (detailed in Leviticus 23). Consider the pattern or process you might follow when hosting a dinner party. Our to-do list is arranged to illustrate its parallel structure:
A. You send your invitations
B. You cover the table with a cloth
C. You lay out place settings & cutlery
D. The guests are seated
C1. The food and wine is served
B1. The feast is consumed
A1. You recline, full & satisfied with an digestif
The invitation (A) anticipates the satisfied diners at the end of the party (A1).
The table cloth (B) dedicates the table for the dinner (B1).
The placement of the cutlery (C) is matched with it’s use to eat the food (C1).
At the center of this event, the guests (D) are seated. Will they partake of the meal? Will they enjoy the party? It’s a simplistic example, but hopefully you see a parallel cycle of forward movement.
The Bible story is similar. God has given us an invitation, he has prepared life for us, he has called us to himself, he has given us his Word. Will we receive it? Will we make it a part of ourselves? When we do, we have “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (c.f. 2 Peter 1:11).
From the beginning of the Bible God has purposely laid the table for us so that we can read, follow the pattern and enjoy feasting on his Word.
The pattern starts in Genesis 1, continues through the Old Testament, and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The exact details of the pattern will vary using different motifs, allusions and imagery, but the goal of the process is the same.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. … And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. ~ 1 John 5:13, 20