How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
.. an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Simeon took [the child] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
As we enter the season of Advent – of remembering in advance what the Christmas celebration is all about – we are both looking back and looking forward. We look back to what happened in that disturbed season in the Roman Empire, when great movements of people in order to make a census, took a man and his heavily pregnant fiance down the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We look further back to millennia of Jewish expectation that something would be given, would come from their God, something that would make all the difference in the world to their relationship with Him – because it would remove for ever the barrier caused by the stain of sin in every human heart.
It is not easy to assert in our culture that humankind needs to be saved from itself, that every living soul is naturally oriented away from God, and that what is counted a ‘good’ life by our standards is yet in God’s eyes as far from his standards as that of the greatest tyrant. But this is what the bible tells us, and the work of salvation is assigned to the person of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – how wonderful to see the assurance in the angelic message, ‘he will save his people’, not ‘might’ or ‘will try to’! There was no doubt in the realms of glory that victory would be gained..
It is not easy to explain that we believe in judgement for sin – that a price must be paid in order to turn aside the just wrath of a holy God against the rebellion of his creatures, and all the destructive fruits of that rebellion. Once again, the bible is consistent in its message – sacrifice for sin is the only way to restore our relationship with God, and as imperfect, sinful creatures, we cannot provide the perfect sacrifice necessary to deal with sin once and for all. Instead, we have Jesus, recognised by his cousin John the baptiser as the Lamb of the world – why a lamb? Because this was the creature of sacrifice, and as Isaiah had prophesied – all our griefs and sins were laid on him, so that we might be saved and healed.
So we look back to the birth of Jesus as the coming of God’s perfect gift of salvation to the world, the full realisation of all the promises that the Jews had lived by, and on which the eternal establishing of God’s kingdom would rest. Without the work of salvation, without the brutal realities of atonement for your sin and mine, Christmas would be an empty celebration, a pointless party, with gifts of no lasting value.
But, because of what Jesus did, we can celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour as the beginning of a new reality, where sin no longer has the upper hand, and death is no longer the end of hope. Because of him, christians can live forgiven, can live hopeful, can live out grace to one another – because we have been saved from ourselves and all the old tyrannies, to love and serve another, in whose service we are fully alive.
Finally, we look ahead, to the great day when all those who have accepted the complete salvation from sin which is found only in Jesus, join together in the new heaven and new earth to celebrate that glorious work, and to praise the amazing love which conceived and carried it out.
I worship you today my God, generous beyond imagining and loving beyond reason. I praise you for the gift of salvation which came to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you that I can live forgiven; can live without guilt; can live with hope. May I know how to value this priceless gift, and seek to share it with all who will receive it. Because of Jesus, I can pray this prayer; praise to his name, Amen!