December 30, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Monday after the First Sunday after Christmas

Morning - Ps.147, Is. 62, 1 Jn. 2:18
Evening - Ps 90, Dt. 10:12-11:1, Heb 3

Commentary, Isaiah 62

Isaiah 62 looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon.  But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies.  It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ.  Jerusalem here represents the entire people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages.  The love of God is poured out upon them forever.

A Saviour Born
Psalm 145, Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
The world seemed to be falling apart that night in Bethlehem.  A declining Rome controlled the Mediterranean world, and the decay was sensed throughout the Empire.  Law and justice were being replaced by corruption and graft.  Art was being replaced by gladiators.  Morality was being replaced by relativism, and human life, meaning the lives of people other than those in power, had little value.  In short, the world was much as it is today.  How comforting to be reminded at Christmas, 2012, that God has not forgotten us, nor left us to the ravages of an evil and ignorant world, or even to the evil and ignorance of our own sins.  How comforting to be reminded that unto us is born a Saviour "which is Christ the Lord."

When we hear the word, "Saviour," most of us think of the forgiveness of sins; of being saved from the penalty of our sins and being allowed into Heaven when we die.  We are right to think of these things, because a major reason the Saviour came into the world was to accomplish our forgiveness and allow us into Heaven.  We are all sinners, but Christ receives sinners.  He came into this world to save sinners.  He went to the cross to die for our sins.  He took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them on the cross.  He dresses us in the robe of His absolute righteousness, and now God regards us not in our sin, but in the righteousness of Christ given to us by grace.  "All have sinned," the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23.  The wages of sin is death, it continues in Romans 6:23.  But, thanks be to God, that is not the end of the story.  The same verse that tells us the wages of sin is death immediately says, "but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."   "There is," as the Bible says, "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."

When we hear the word, "Saviour," we should also think of being saved from the destructive life of sin, which includes both our attitudes and our actions.  I am talking about being delivered from what the Bible often calls the bondage, or slavery to sin.  It means sin is like a power that enslaves us and forces us to do its bidding.  It binds our souls with hate, greed, dispair, lust, grief, anger, conceit and self-doubt, fear and fool-hardiness.  When these attitudes control us, we commit sinful actions.  In other words, when we have an attitude of hate, we hate. Or, we could say a hateful attitude leads us to do hateful things. 

Anyone who cares to take an honest look at sin will see that it has devastating consequences for us in this life.  It destroys lives, homes, families, nations, and empires.  It kills the soul.  These are the natural consequences of sin, as we reap what we have sown.  But Christ lived and died and lives again to save us from all of that.  We no longer have to live in hate or greed or sorrow or anger.   I don't mean we won't experience these things, we will; and sometimes they trouble us for long and dark times in our lives.  But they will pass, and we don't have to live in them as attitudes or habits.  We don't have to dwell in them.  They don't have to frame our thoughts or control our actions.  We don't have to be slaves to them any longer, we have been saved from them.  We are free to love, forgive, hope, and rejoice.  We are free to fill our souls with truth, honour, justice, purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, and praise.  "Think on these things," wrote St. Paul in Philippians 4:8 and 9, and "Those things which ye have both learned and received, and heard and received in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

So the Saviour came to forgive our sins, and to save us from the destructive power of sin in our lives.  He came to give us love and peace and joy and hope, not as empty words or slogans, but as real attitudes and as the frame of our hearts and lives.  The person who is truly saved is delivered from the penalty of sin, and the power of sin.  You are receiving the forgiveness of your sins, and receiving deliverance from the old habits and attitudes and life-styles of sin, and receiving a new way of life lived in communion with God.   This new life yields conformity with His will as naturally as springtime yields flowers, all as the free gift of God through Christ our Saviour.

I need to make it clear that I am not saying we are saved to a condition of sinlessness in this life.  We are not.  We continue to struggle with the world the flesh and the devil, and we sometimes lose the fight.  I also need to make it clear that I am not saying we don't have a personal responsibility to do right and seek the kind of life that leads us into the peace of God.  We do, and we are accountable to God for our actions and choices, and they will affect our lives, and the lives of others, both in this world and for eternity.  God have mercy upon us.  I am saying God wants to give us new life, peace, joy, love, and all the good things the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit, and He will if we let Him.  Please let Him.

How does God impart the new way of life to us?  The means of grace. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you?  God imparts the new life to you through the Scriptures, prayer, the Church, and the Sacraments.  Devote yourself to these things, and you will find yourself growing in Christ.  Ignore them and you will find yourself languishing in the faith, if you even continue in it at all.

One more point, and I will make it brief; when we think of the Saviour we should think in global and cosmic terms.  One of the primary messages of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is going to Return, and when He does, He will set things right again.  He has not abandoned us.  The universe will be gathered together in Him.  His enemies will be vanquished, and His people will dwell with Him in unbroken peace, forever.
I can identify with the ancient Judeans.  It sometimes seems to me that the world is falling apart.  I seem to see the same departure from justice, beauty, morality.  Like them, I am comforted by the angel's words, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."