How the birth of Jesus offers all of humanity hope
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is the start of the build up to Christmas. And, lest we forget, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Of course, there are many other things that Christmas has come to be about, but my hope with this and the three iSermons to follow, is that we will be able to take a step back, pause from the relentless present buying, festive preparations, and minor panic attacks about the upcoming extended time with family(!), and ponder afresh the significance of the story of the arrival of baby Jesus.
Let us start by stopping for a moment and wonder at the mere fact we are, two thousand years later, celebrating the birth of one particular baby at all. One little baby boy, born in extremely inauspicious circumstances, is the trigger for celebrations the world over, two millennium later. Why?
Even in secular Britain, the most ardent atheist finds themselves nostalgic for a good old sing-a-long to a few favourite carols, telling the story of Jesus. This isn’t to suggest everyone celebrating the story of Jesus either believes it or understands its significance. But the way one tiny little baby has come to be the centrepiece of the worlds largest annual festival is truly astonishing.
When so many billion other babies have been born in the years that have followed, why does the birth of this one baby Jesus stand out as a birth like no other?
No Ordinary Baby
One answer to this question is: hope. Jesus was no ordinary baby. The circumstances surrounding both the build up to his birth and his arrival are truly supernatural. Mary, without having sexual relations with Joseph (to whom she was soon to marry), ends up up pregnant. Impossible! you say. Of course it is, I reply. That’s kind of the point. The birth of Jesus is about God taking the form of a human being: “‘They shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’” Why? “‘For he will save his people from their sins.’”
If God exists, anything is possible. If God is real, would it really be so hard for him to transcend the laws of nature, enabling Mary to conceive? Of course not. Some try and make out that this is a totally ludicrous belief, but nothing could be farther from the truth. With God, nothing is impossible. And that in itself is a huge cause for hope.
God, by the Holy Spirit, invited Mary to become the carrier of His son. God was so determined to see the world have a future and a hope, that he chose to take on the form of a human being. If ever there was a great myth breaker, this is it. Some hold to a view of God being distant and uninvolved. But in this one story that idea is blown apart. The birth of Jesus reveals a God who cares enough about humanity to become human himself, to walk among us, and to be one of us. Astonishing.
Any God who is prepared to take on the form of one of his created beings, is a very different God from the one that many of us have in our minds. And this is what give us so much hope. One of the very names of Jesus - Emmanuel - means God is with us. We are not alone. God cares.
Saved From Our Sins
One of the primary reasons the Scriptures record for Jesus being born at all is that he was to “save his people from their sins”. Sin is not a very popular word nowadays, but the same Scriptures make it clear that each and everyone of us has ended up, in one way or another, living our lives without fully embodying the goodness we were designed to live out. To differing extents, we all lie, steal, cheat, lust, hate, deceive, and so much more. We hurt people, we make selfish choices, and we fail to ‘love our neighbour as we love ourselves’. And every time we don’t embody the goodness we were made for, we fall short of the life we were designed to live, and of the standards God planned for human kind.
And the outcome of this kind of behaviour is that it keeps building up a barrier between us and God. Step by step, it drives us away from him and from the life he would have us to enjoy. In Old Testament days, the Jewish people had a complex sacrificial system of sacrificing animals as a means of making peace with God for all their shortcomings. But that was always a temporary measure. Jesus, this little baby Jesus, was sent to earth to become the ultimate sacrifice - the sacrifice to end all other sacrifices.
Whether this makes sense to us or not, there is a price to be paid for stepping outside of God’s plans for humanity. In the same ways that so many things in life have inbuilt consequences, the same is true with regard to the things we do that dehumanise both ourselves and others. That consequence is death. When we step away from living life the way God designed it to be lived, we step away from the source of all life - eternal life, the life of the age to come. It is not that God strikes us dead, it is that we starve ourselves from the source of live by our wrongdoing.
This is what Jesus came to save us from. Jesus came to save us from our sins or, rather, the consequences of our sins. He came to save us from a trajectory that would lead us to ultimate death and invite us onto a path that would lead to life. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” said Jesus himself.
Talk about hope!
My prayer is that, this Christmas season, we would all know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we need hope. But not only that, I pray that each of us would open our hearts and minds to receive that hope. The hope that knows God is with us, that God cares, and that God has made a way to break the hold of the consequences of our sins off of our lives. May these truths permeate our souls. May we know the hope of forgiveness and of the life of the age to come like never before.