The greatest gift

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see  him with my own eyes – I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

(Job 19.25-27)

Jesus said.. ” I am the resurrection and the life. One who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” [Martha] told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

(Jn 11.25-27)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 6.22&23)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him … and so we will be with the Lord for ever.

(1 Thess. 4.13,14&17)

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn; 

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born.

(P Cappeau, translated by JS Dwight, 1855)

I don’t think I have ever been more thankful in my life that my Christmas celebrations are based on the historical person of Jesus, and on what He came to be and do for me. As I look around at a weary world full of pain and struggle, a society which is grasping vainly at ‘tradition’, family, or some nebulous ‘hope’ as the basis for a party, and see so many hurting people for whom the whole idea of ‘celebration’ is both insulting and painful, I grieve and pray God’s mercy.

But I also give thanks because as a follower of Jesus, I have a hope which is certain, based on something outside human fallibility, outside this broken but beautiful world; something which is more real than I can begin to understand. Christmas is not ‘just for the children’. Christmas is not some general season of goodwill and superficial cheer. Christmas – the birth of God as a human baby, come to dwell among us, to die and rise again – is for the lonely and desolate; for the abused and the abuser; for the tyrant and the oppressed. Because He came, everything can be different, every heart re-born into hope and humility, grace and generosity, praise and perseverance.

I can sing and be glad because Jesus came; came for me and for you; came to make a difference for ever, and it depends not on my feelings about it, but on God’s truth and love and power and faithfulness to His own promises. This greatest of all gifts comes to set aside all human striving and delusion; comes and says, ‘Believe in me, and stop chasing peace in all the wrong places.’

Jesus is God’s hope for the hopeless; God’s healing for the broken; God’s forgiveness for all us sinners; God’s love for the unlovely; God’s home for the exiles; God’s light for the rest of our journey in this sin-darkened world.

Celebrating Christmas does not mean pretending that there is no pain, or that life is perfect. For some, and sometimes for me, Christmas has been viewed through tears, through a shadow of bereavement or other major source of pain and weariness. But I think that when we choose to give thanks through our tears, God is even more honoured than when we find it easy to be glad. No, we celebrate because the coming of Jesus makes all the difference to the pain and imperfection – we see their transience, see that under God’s providence they are not in charge. We are no longer alone in the dark, and it doesn’t all depend on us to make it right – what a burden that is, and how good to lay it down!

In Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the King, whose kingdom is now established among us in all who believe. I hope that for you and those you love, this coming King is welcomed as Lord and Light, Saviour and Friend, so that no matter what darkness is in your life at the moment, you can rejoice in Jesus and be encouraged and strengthened for the year that lies ahead. We do not know what the future holds, but – as the old song says – we know who holds the future, and we trust ourselves into his nail-scarred hands.

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