“Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets … But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: ‘No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: I’m the Messiah. I’m saying: I am God incarnate.’ And people say: ‘No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take.’” — Bono of U2.
Christmas is one of the few holidays that the rest of society wants to get in on. Over the past two months, ads, editorials, TV specials, TV programs, Christmas cards, etc. have done their very best to try to extract the principles or spirit of Christmas, without the person of Christmas. That is, they promote peace, love and joy, but not Jesus.
But the fact is, you never will be able to know these things outside of Jesus because Jesus IS peace, hope, joy, compassion. The “good news of great joy” announced by angels on Christmas is Jesus himself : “a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.” Why a “Savior?” It implies that we needed saving; that we needed to be rescued. From what? We all know that there is a life that we owe. We all have some set of moral standards. We see it in how we judge others; what we expect of them. But if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t even live up to our own standards, not to mention God’s. None of us live the life that we owe. And God isn’t indifferent to that reality, just as we aren’t. Suddenly “savior” becomes very good news! It tells us what Jesus is all about, and what he came to do. He didn’t come to teach or show how to live, but he came to save us from the judgment we deserve.
Not only that, he also saves us from empty lives. We’re all living for something. If what I am living for is success, riches, popularity, power, pleasure, then a savior being born really isn’t good of news is it? But the question is this: Is what I am living for giving me the life I truly want and need? Does it bring joy, satisfaction, life? Can it save me — from despair, trouble, purposelessness, guilt and shame, death? If not, then why bother living for it? Again, a “saviour” being born being good news that brings joy makes a lot of sense.
Sadly, some of us live as if the message of the angel was: “Unto you is born Christ the Lord, so, be good; change your ways, or else.” Tell me how THAT is “good news;” news of joy?
The good news of Christmas (which has year-round implications) is that God became one of us, that he lived the life we should have, then died the death we should have, and rose from the dead so that we might have life, eternal and full. The way to joy, peace and love is Jesus himself, and Jesus alone. It all becomes ours as we believe this good news.
By the way, if you’re one of those who finds it a stretch that Jesus is Christ and Saviour, consider what you are left with. Either he is who he said he was, or he was a nutcase. But, as Bono argues: “The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.” Me too.
Dave Bootsma is pastor of Free Grace Vernon (www.freegracevernon.com).