Summary: If the Apostle Paul Were to Write A Christmas Letter…it would be all about YOU. And what Paul has to say about you depends on what he has to say about Christ.
I have a confession to make. It’s been seven years since I’ve written a Christmas letter. I know, I know. I have no excuses. Everyone else is busy at this time of year and yet manages to get a Christmas letter written, edited, addressed, and posted to a million family and friends. If I were to write a Christmas letter, it would be like most Christmas letters – a run down of the year’s events with wishes of good cheer and God’s blessings for the year to come. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of letter. It’s what you’d expect to receive at Christmas. Yet if the Apostle Paul were to write you a Christmas letter, it would be a lot different. He wouldn’t talk about himself much. Instead he would talk about…YOU. Imagine that - a Christmas letter from a friend that was all about you. What would Paul have to say about you? What he has to say about you depends on what he has to say about Christ. Let’s find out what that is.
Although not a Christmas letter, Paul did write the Christians in Rome and calls them those “who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7a). That was an amazing thing to say of the Romans really, for Paul also wrote: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Romans 1:18). What counts as godlessness and wickedness? Paul lists sins like sexual impurity, shameful lusts, and depravity but he also counts envy, gossip, and disobeying parents as sins that make us wicked in God’s eyes (Romans 1:29, 30). Were the Christians in Rome not guilty of these sins that Paul would call them “loved by God”? No, the Roman Christians were not only guilty of these sins they were hypocrites for pointing out these sins in others but failing to acknowledge these sins in their own lives nor did they have any plans of stopping them (Romans 2:3). They didn’t see a need to quit these sins because God didn’t seem to care.
Don’t we think that way too? Let me illustrate what I mean. The sign at the doors of lodges, schools, and gyms at this time of year asks us to take off our muddy footwear before walking on the polished floors. The first time we’re confronted with the sign we hesitate. Do I take off my shoes or not? Then we look around and see that no one else has taken off their shoes and figure that if we wipe our shoes a bit we won’t make too much of a mess. The mud streaks on the floor testify otherwise of course. And yet we continue to ignore the sign because if no one is actually standing at the door asking us to take off our shoes, we figure the cleaning staff must not mind the mud too much.
Is that the way we think God deals with sin? He’s put up the sign asking, actually demanding that we bring no mud into our life and yet we ignore Mom’s instructions. We continue to be jealous of a classmate’s good looks. We gossip about the new office manager. We know it’s wrong but we keep doing these things because God doesn’t seem to mind. If he cared, he’d set us straight with a lightning bolt from heaven, wouldn’t he? No, says the Apostle Paul. “…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4, 5).
Just because the cleaning staff hasn’t said anything about your muddy shoes doesn’t mean that they don’t care. They care because they are the ones who have to clean up after you. And so just because God hasn’t struck us down for our pet sins doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about them. He cares about them but he also cares about us. That’s why he’s postponing judgment so that we will repent before he drops the hammer.
Does all this talk about sin get tiresome? I mean it’s Christmas, aren’t we suppose to be talking about cheerful things? That’s what the people of Isaiah’s day thought yet God said of them: “They say to…the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. 11 Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” 12 Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message…13 this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. 14 It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found for...scooping water out of a cistern.” 15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Isaiah 30:10-15).