There’s a certain irony in the timing of the failed Copenhagen climate conference isn’t there? Just a week or so before Christmas but there was little in the way of Christmas spirit in evidence with the leaders of the nations involved in the conference wheeling and dealing to get their own country the best possible deal even if it was at the cost of weaker countries who are most endangered by the effects of climate change.
It seems almost surreal to turn from the news of Copenhagen to the Christmas story, to a message of peace, goodwill among men and women.
Or is it? Do we actually notice the contrast? It’s such a familiar story that it would be easy to overlook the amazing, surprising truth contained in those few words: “11to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Or these words: “And on earth peace among those whom he favors!” A Saviour; a Lord, who brings peace.
I wonder was the promise of peace more surprising then than it is today. Here we are 2000 years later and there seems to be no improvement in the peacefulness of our world. In fact it seems to be getting worse. Not only are nations still at war with other nations, ordinary people are at war with one another. The divorce rate is at an all time high; domestic violence is commonplace; alcohol fuelled violence is a scourge on our cities. We’ve even seen clashes between players in the cricket lately! And as I just said we’re obviously failing in the fight to bring peace to the earth. The effects of climate change are destroying communities, possibly even nations, causing droughts and bushfires and abnormal weather events like the sudden cold snaps across Europe and the US this week and we seem to be powerless to do anything about it. Even with an international summit being held we seem to be incapable of coming to a common mind on a solution.
It leads you to ask “Is peace possible in this world?” What is needed to bring about a lasting peace? Do we all need to work harder at it, do you think? Do we need to convince our political leaders that action must be taken? Should we be taking our protests to the streets? On the domestic front, is the answer stronger policing? Or better education? Or greater deterrents so people learn to control themselves?
Unfortunately those approaches are never going to be fully successful are they? Why? Because the problem is with our basic human nature. Our basic human condition is what causes the rifts among us, both at a personal and at an international level. No, what we need is for God to intervene and change how we work on the inside, how we think, how we relate.
In other words, we need a saviour. Here is the news of great joy that the angels brought to the shepherds 2000 years ago. A Saviour has been born who can save us from ourselves.
Listen to how Paul puts it in Titus 3: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Not because of anything we’d done. God knew we couldn’t help ourselves, that we were incapable of changing. So God, in his great mercy, has sent Jesus to save us by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. God has put a piece of himself within us to bring us back to life. To change us back into his image, the way we were originally meant to be. He says God has poured out his Holy Spirit on us richly. It’s like someone has been drilling a well in a parched part of the outback and suddenly they hit the artesian basin and what happens? A stream of water starts pouring out; refreshing and renewing the land around it. There’s a certain generosity or lavishness in the way this is described isn’t there? The Holy Spirit is poured into our lives richly, to fill us and renew us.
And then what happens? What do we read next? Having been justified by God’s grace - that is, having had our sins washed away and ourselves made clean again, what does God do? He makes us heirs; heirs with Jesus Christ. Heirs of what? Heirs of life; heirs of hope; of the hope of eternal life.
You see this peace that Christ brings isn’t just peace between people, or even nations. It’s peace between us and God. Jesus Christ comes to end the hostility that exists between us and God. You may not feel like there’s any hostility between you and God but look around you at the world today. Listen to those people professing to be atheists. Listen to the aggressive way they speak about God and religion. Listen to those people who want to assert their independence, their right to choose their own lifestyle, their own morals and ethical standards. Listen to how they respond if anyone questions their decisions or criticises their lifestyle.
But then think about your own decision making. How often do you ignore what God says because you'd rather do something else? That’s the nature of sin isn’t it? It’s not actively hostile. It’s just doing the opposite of what God wants. If you were talking about someone you know who goes against you in that sort of subtle way you might call it passive aggressive behaviour. Not overtly hostile, but nevertheless by its subtlety it makes the hostility clear.
But Jesus has come to end that hostility, to bring peace that arises out of a changed heart, out of a renewed mind. He’s come to bring us into his family as one of God’s sons and daughters. That’s what it means to be an heir. Jesus is Mary’s first born son, but he’s also the firstborn of the Father, the first in a long line of children who come into God’s family by adoption through their faith in Jesus Christ. That’s a message of great joy isn’t it? That we can be called children of God!
Christmas is the ultimate family celebration isn’t it? In Australia at least. Families do all they can to gather together to celebrate Christmas, even if they have no religious affiliation. There are even Churches that don’t have a Christmas day service because it’s a time for families to get together. But you know, I think those churches miss the point. Christmas is the ultimate family celebration because Jesus’ coming among us is the means by which we’re now able to become part of God’s family. Jesus is born as our saviour, to save us from our sins, to send us his Holy Spirit to renew and cleanse us so we can be fit members of the family of God.
The message of the angels was that everyone who believes in Jesus can be part of that family, whether they be poor shepherds or wealthy kings. God’s mercy extends to every person who will come to him and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, their Lord. When they do that they automatically become part of the family of God. That’s what we celebrate each year as we remember Jesus being born as one of us. He came to save us from our sins and to bring us into God’s family.
So I hope when you sit down to celebrate Christmas tomorrow with your family, or your friends, or whoever it is you’re with, that you’ll begin by thanking God that he’s made you an heir of the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ his son.