Who cares this Christmas?
By Paul Witter, 27 Nov 2017
Who cares if we are lonely? Who cares if the loss we feel is crippling? Who cares if we struggle to get out of the house? In short: Who cares when we suffer either physically or mentally? This question lies behind our current initiative (in common with other churches) called "Who Cares?" And as we come towards Christmas it is worth reflecting on the fulness of what the child in the manger came to do.
A great many Christmas presentations rightly point out that Jesus did not just come as a baby, but grew up to be the one who would live the perfect life for us and offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. "Sins" in the Bible refer not just to wrong things we do, or think, or wish we could do; nor to the good things we failed to do (albeit all those things are included). "Sin" is something deeper. It like a soul sickness that all humans carry around with them. It is the thing that drives us to be selfish, self-centred and self-seeking, even when we desperately want to do better. It is what makes us do those things that we wish we could erase from our memories. Sin is, at root, the elevation of our own selves over God. We don't want a god to rule over us, and to decide what is right and wrong. So we set about making our own decisions based on nothing more than our own say so. The results are never brilliant. True we can do some amazing things. But we also end up thinking, saying, and doing some horrendous ones. We hurt people and they hurt us. But in setting out on our own, and choosing to discount God, we put ourselves at odds with him. God cannot have rebels in heaven with him. So unless we change from being rebels we cannot expect to go there. Further, no matter what we do, we cannot erase the offence we have comitted against God and which he has said he must judge. But God wants to save us from this. That is why Jesus came to the earth with the intention of dying. He willingly shouldered the punishment for us. All who are willing to turn from their sin and follow him, have the slate wiped clean and can expect to be with Jesus in heaven.
But Jesus came to do more than just earn us forgiveness of our sins. And here is where the answer to my opening questions kicks in. Have you ever wondered why Jesus is called "Immanuel" (which means God with us)? It is read out at almost every carol service throughout the land. God made us in order to share in the intimate relationship that he and his Son had from all eternity. But sin cast us out from this initimacy. And the result is that the human condition is often a sad, defeated, lonely existence. Sometimes that is because of a loss. But many people feel lonely without having suffered loss. And you don't need to be alone to feel lonely either. I used to feel alone in a crowd, even in a group of friends. Many people ache for a relationship with someone who understands them fully, at a deep down level, and still loves them. When Jesus came to the world as "God with us" his aim was bigger than just the forgiveness of sins. He came to restore a right relationship with God. A close, personal, intimate, and loving relationship that perfectly mirrored that which he has with his Son. God knows that we have an ache for more than we get in life. He knows it because he was the one who made us. And God cares that we hurt. Jesus says that he came into the world to "bind up the broken-hearted" (Isaiah 61:1) as well as to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). In fact both go together. In this world there will always be sadness and hurt. But Jesus, who himself suffered rejection, mistreatment, slandering of his name, shame and even death, knows how we feel. And he offers us a way into a relationship that is real, lasting, healing, and beautiful. And it is indeed with the one who sees and knows all there is to know about us, and yet, because of Jesus, loves us with a perfect and unchanging love.
That is the message of hope that starts with a baby born in a stable. Are you ready to get on board? Jesus says, "Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."