Now that Christmas has passed us by, there are many people who are prepared to go back to the way that things were a few weeks ago before the Holiday season forced its way into our lives making our schedules very very hectic. But, the encouragement for us comes from scripture today to each of us to keep Christmas foremost in our minds even though the holiday itself has gone. There are those people who look at Christmas as merely a secular holiday and for
them, now that the presents have all been unwrapped and
the unwanted or wrong sized things have been returned to the department stores the holiday is truly over. However, for us as Christians the holiday hopefully reminded us of the fact that God has drawn near to us and we should not lose the spirit of Christmas even though we are turning another page on the calendar in a couple of days.
In fact, we should all be reminded that the real gift of Christmas is the ability to start all over with a new page in the calendar of our lives. Many scholars do not believe that Jesus was born at this time of year at all and they are probably right. But, whether or not the time of the year is the actual time of Christ’s birth, it is a good time for us to
remember the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. About the time that the young Jesus was taken to the temple and dedicated to God, we are celebrating the renewal of the calendar in our own lives. It is more than appropriate that we should look to the new year as the time when God makes all things new in our lives because the birth of Christ is what made it possible for us to make all things new.
After 12 months of carrying my palm pilot around in my pocket it can be rather cluttered with dates, appointments, notes and a host of other markings, If I were to look back at my calendar from the past twelve months there are many things recorded there that I would not even remember the meaning of. I would not know what the reason for their placement was and I certainly would not remember the appointment that I made the note for. Then there are those things that I remember quite well. There are those things that were truly transformational and life changing... this is particularly true for me this past year over many others. And then there are those things that fall somewhere in between on this "spectrum of memorability."
In any case the point that we should take for ourselves
as we enter this new year is that God, who made us and calls us his own, became flesh and entered our realm so that you and I could taste salvation. I know you have heard this from me, perhaps more than you care to over the past few weeks, but I still think that it bears repeating. Jesus came so that salvation would be possible... This was not an afterthought, but rather this was the plan from the beginning even before
Christ came to earth. That is the one thing that many people do not even realize or that we forget and could use an occasional reminder.
Our scripture for today was written by the prophet Isaiah at a time in Israel’s history when the people had strayed from the plan of God. While this word was prophetic in telling what would soon take place, it was also historical, recording the statements of fact that could be followed through the history of the people of Israel. The same thing is true for us today even if we read these words without knowledge of the
history of Israel.
When we read Isaiah’s words recounting the gracious and praise-worthy deeds of the Lord. He might have been referring to the leading of the Children of Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of fire and a column of smoke. We today can read these words and tell of the times in our lives that Christ has provided comfort through affliction, healing from illness, or certainly salvation from our sins. Then, in verse 9 of our passage Isaiah writes these words: “It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” How familiar this is to us today it is not just an angel or a messenger who saves us, but the very presence of God himself, through Jesus Christ. that demonstrates the love of God to the people of the world that would call themselves children of God.
Then, this scripture recounts the story of how the people of Israel rebelled against the good and perfect plan of God and ruined creation, grieving God and becoming the enemy of God. How fortunate we are that the world today is in line with the will and the purpose of God so that we too do not suffer the consequences of grieving God. How blessed we are that we do not need God to come to us and make all things new. How fortunate we are that we have modern science and media to set the world in order so that we don’t have to depend on God. I know that all of this sounds
ridiculous (at least I hope it does), but this truly is the attitude of many of the people in the world today. How absurd it sounds when stated in this manner and yet this really is the prevailing attitude of the people in our culture today.
The prophet’s discussion of the people of Israel
indicates that the problem of people trying to hard to do things on their own rather than relying on the action of God.
This not altogether a new problem. Rather, it is a problem that goes back to the dawn of time. Why, though, did God choose to lead the people of Israel through the wilderness? It was certainly not because God needed to do this for his own happiness. God did it because of the love that he has to share. God created mankind in the beginning out of love that was so great that it drove him to create. Then out of that
love God continually did what ever was necessary to provide for the salvation and the well being of his creation. The same is true for those of us that live by the new covenant under Christ, God provided a once-and-for -all way for you and for me to approach God without earning it on our own. If we had to earn our own salvation, none of us would be able to do it.
This once-and-for-all way out of sin and into the presence of God came on that first Christmas day when God himself became a human being and planned from the
beginning to become the sacrificial lamb so that you and I would never again be forced to live in exile from God’s presence. The story of the exodus, then, is appropriate for us to consider when we examine our own relationship with God. Just as the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, many people today are lost in the wilderness of sin and trapped in a life without the presence of God. And yet, God continually comes to us and quietly nurtures us back
into relationship with him.
Then, just as the calendar page that we will turn in a few days, the story of our lives is without blemish and is ready to let God begin to record the things on it that we must do in order to remain in relationship with him. So, once we become a Christian, the page is blank and sin ceases to occur, right? Far from it! Just like these children of Israel who repeatedly fall from the grace of God and are repeatedly redeemed from that falling away... The follower of Jesus Christ today is still living in the midst of a broken and sin
filled world where we will again be constantly provided for by a God who reaches out to us and shepherds us back into the fold of faith and forgiveness. There are many times each and every day that you and I will be asked to compromise the values that we know we should adhere to as Christians and it is just as certain that from time to time we will compromise those values.
God, however, does not cease to carry us ever onward
towards obedience and faith. That is what the grace of God is all about. It is certainly not that we ever could, or ever would, deserve what God has done for us, but God does it for us anyway.
Each and every day we have the opportunity to start our
lives with an unblemished page in the calendar of our lives. So while one does not have to wait for New Years Day to begin to live life as the child of a king, it is certainly a good time for us to take the opportunity to begin to live accordingly.
While our minds are consciously beginning to think of casting away the old things and ushering in new and life giving ways of carrying on our lives it is certainly a good time to begin to live as the child of the king as we were destined to live.
With God we have the opportunity to get nostalgic about the way that we have lived our lives and to see how we can better live our lives in obedience to him. As a result of the gifts of Christmas, let us each cling to them for all that we are worth and in so doing may we allow God to have control in our lives. Clinging to Christmas will allow us to know that as the new year dawns and through our relationship with
Christ all things are becoming new.