Christmas Joy

November 29, 2010

I wonder how many of you own a Christmas compilation album? You’ll find shelves stocked with them everywhere during the festive season, but despite the many different CDs available, they generally all have the same songs on them. They’ll all feature ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ by Slade and other cheery, upbeat songs that get you in the mood for a party.

Not many of them will feature ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s as much about Christmas as Noddy Holder’s hit but it doesn’t get a great deal of airplay. It begins with the lines “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace” – what’s not Christmasy about that?

But Joni goes on to sing “I wish I had a river I could skate away on”. ‘River’ is all about wanting to escape the pain of celebrating Christmas alone after a relationship has ended.  Though everyone around her is “singing songs of joy and peace”, Joni mournfully sings of how lonely and empty she feels.

I wonder how many people feel that way as we approach this Christmas? For most people it is a time spent with friends and family, going to parties, receiving presents and generally enjoying themselves, but there are those for whom Christmas holds no enjoyment. On December 25th this year there will be many people sitting alone, with no family coming to visit them, no friends to celebrate with, no presents to unwrap and no turkey to enjoy. Perhaps you know some of them; the grieving  widow, the orphan, the man who’s lost his job, the young single mum. Do we expect the pain of life to magically disappear because it’s a special time of year?

I’m sure those people who find Christmas a difficult time look at those who have it all – the tree, the lights, the mountains of presents, the family gatherings, the parties, all those things we picture when we think of Christmas – and wish they could have that life. It must be tempting to think that if they had all that, then they’d be happy, then they’d rejoice that December was finally here.

Though there certainly is much pleasure to be had from a Christmas with all the trimmings, that isn’t where the Bible tells us we should find our joy. In fact, if our Christmas lacks one vital component, then it doesn’t matter how we spend the festive season, any temporary happiness we find will soon give way to emptiness.

In Luke chapter 2, we read the words the shepherds heard when the very first Christmas was announced.

 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

There may not be any mention of turkey, snowmen or Santa Claus, but nevertheless we are invited to a great celebration. Jesus has been born! The Saviour has come! Here is the source of all our joy. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has come to rescue us from our sin. What better reason to celebrate could there be? We can try all we like to find that joy in other things, but ultimately it’s like planning a birthday party for someone and then forgetting to invite them – it doesn’t matter how great the party is, it’s not serving its purpose.

You may have seen the story on the news a few months ago about the miners trapped underground in Chile. At the time the story broke it was estimated that the men would be freed around Christmas time. I wonder, if those men could choose between being rescued from their underground prison and celebrating their freedom on the surface, or having their families sent down to them with a Christmas tree and a turkey and beautiful gift-wrapped presents so they could have a Christmas party underground, which would they choose? How much more joyful would their celebrations be on the surface than those with all the trimmings in captivity?

The angel says that this good news of great joy isn’t reserved for those who can celebrate in style. The angel declares that this joy is for all people! There are many stories in the gospels about Jesus spending time with the less fortunate of society, and the true joy of Christmas is no different. The joy the angel talks about comes from knowing Christ as our Saviour. We celebrate his birth because without it, there would be no hope for mankind. The invitation to rejoice at his birth is extended to all, whether you celebrate in a big house with family around you, or you’re alone and struggling to pay the rent. The truth is that it’s possible to have the most joyous Christmas you’ve ever had this year. You can rejoice that Jesus came to save you, that he will always be with you, and that following Him makes you part of His ever-growing family.


Forgiveness

November 1, 2010

Channel 4 broadcast a series of programmes called “The Bible – a History” earlier this year.  Each episode was presented by a well-known figure who investigated a certain part of the Bible as a historical text. A glance at the line-up of presenters is enough to show that Channel 4 are trying to be provocative, and though I’ve not seen them all, I’m told that some instalments have been very controversial. Ann Widdecombe’s lively exchange with Stephen Fry about the Ten Commandments is now a much viewed video on youtube.

I happened to catch the programme featuring perhaps the most surprising presenter; Gerry Adams. The programme focussed on the life of Jesus, and followed Gerry Adams as he sought to find out “what Jesus means to him”.

Adams, who calls himself a ‘devout Catholic’, reveals a great deal about himself and the state of his soul during the programme. In his own words, Adams sums up his Christian experience thus “’I like the sense of there being a God, and I do take succour now from the collective comfort of being at a Mass or another religious event where you can be anonymous and individual – just a sense of community at prayer and of paying attention to that spiritual dimension which is in all of us; and I also take some succour in a private, solitary way from being able to reflect on those things”

The programme focuses on The message of Jesus’ life and a particular emphasis is placed of Jesus’ teaching with regards to forgiveness. Now why would a man like Adams be interested in forgiveness?

Gerry Adams is the President of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Party. He comes from a long line of IRA Members and supporters. Though Adams himself claims to have never been a member of the IRA, he has spent time in prison for his part in the Bloody Friday bombings in 1972, which killed 9 people and injured 130. He is a man who does not shy away from taking extreme measures.

During the programme Gerry Adams is asked whether or not he feels he has blood on his hands – and he replies by saying that the ends justified the means, so no.  Later on in the programme, as he visits what is considered to be the location of Jesus’ trial, he sees himself as more of a Barabbas than a Jesus, correcting the historian’s description of Barabbas as a terrorist by saying “some might call him a freedom fighter”.

And yet, he is obviously touched during the programme by the way Jesus lived his life. As the historians he speaks to deny the historical facts of our Saviour’s life recorded in the gospels (see earlier post, Good and angry), he seems uninterested in investigating these supposed falsehoods, because he is looking for something else. He’s interested in what Jesus did, he’s interested in what Jesus taught. He’s interested in absolution. And he’s not the only one.

Gerry Adams represents most of the population of the world. He’s guilty and he knows it. Why else would he make the statement that “One thing I always liked about Jesus was his lack of condemnation”? He may say he feels no responsibility for the things he’s done, but in his heart of hearts he knows what he’s done and knows he is guilty – just like the rest of us. He also, just like the rest of us, wants to be free of his guilt. But, and here’s where it gets tricky, he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong.  He has misunderstood how God’s forgiveness works. 

If our entry into heaven depended on our good behaviour and moral lifestyle then it would be a very lonely place.  But because bringing a sinner to true repentance and faith is an act of God, and not of man, it is possible for us to be forgiven. We can be washed clean of every sinful thing we’ve ever done. But that’s only because someone else has borne them for us, and taken the punishment for them. Had Christ not paid the price for our sin, there would be no way for a righteous God to even consider forgiving us. What’s more that forgiveness is freely offered to those who ask for it, but that is where the problem lies. In order to ask forgiveness we must first see ourselves as we really are, and that can’t happen without God’s help is removing our pride. If only Gerry Adams knew that he can be free of that guilt he feels for the things he’s done, if he could only let God show him how much he needs it.