God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
I just love this time of the year as we journey into advent and head towards the Christmas season. For Christians, it is packed full of hope and expectancy. I am sensible enough to realise that some of this is a cultural thing as my hope for the future is conditioned by the excitement of the Christmases that I experienced in the past and particularly in my childhood. However, even those experiences were wrapped up in the promises of this journey through the scriptures that we make every year in expectation of what God has and will do.
Perhaps my favourite promise is found in Isaiah 7:14 when in the middle of quite an odd passage there is this amazing verse “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” At Christmas, this verse is recapitulated in Matthew 1:23 after the angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The narrator says “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” quoting the Immanuel passage from the prophet Isaiah. In the space of two verses we are given two names for this tiny baby that God is sending: Jesus and Immanuel. These two names hold the solution to every problem experienced by humanity.
A full sweep of the bible shows that humanity faces two inter-related difficulties. Firstly, we have this deep desire to be close to God. However, we also have a deep desire for our own free will that obscures our way to God. The bible describes this as sin – it is actually a term for an arrow missing its mark. Mixing metaphors, if the mark we are aiming for is God, then we will always miss him because of our human choices. God cannot abide sin. Yet, Immanuel is God-with-us. God’s plan to save humankind demanded he came to us himself, sending his only Son. Jesus dealt with our sin on the cross and became Immanuel, God-with-us, to bring us close to himself and reconcile our relationship with God.
But you may say, all that happened two thousand years ago how is it relevant to me right now? Christian belief is grounded in faith and we are called to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. If we are asked to have hope in something without any proof whatsoever other than words that are several thousand years old, then we are right to ask why. The Lord does not leave us without proof. This last week at the funeral for Revd Chris Whitehead we heard how Janet and I had just the smallest of opportunities to pray with Chris and anoint him with oil before he died. We both recognised that palpable sense of God’s presence in his room. At his thanksgiving service I was reminded of that verse from the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind that says
O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!
I am absolutely sure that Jesus was kneeling in that room to lead Chris home to the “silence of eternity:” God-with-us. This is a proof of our faith. I wonder what experiences you can recall when you felt the loving presence of God so close that it was like a warm blanket keeping you safe?
The amazing thing is that Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us came to over-turn all the times we have felt forsaken, isolated and alone in our life. He did this on the cross as he experienced the pain of our loneliness in those haunting words “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that moment he exchanged places with us in order that we can have a deep and intimate relationship with God.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Our motto verse for 2020 is at the top of this article. When we are brought into a relationship with God through Jesus, then it is for a purpose. We are called to a ministry of reconciliation too, because Jesus shares not only his salvation and forgiveness, but his ministry as well. This is the third theme in our four-year series on the purpose of the church. We have already thought about worship and fellowship and this year we turn to ministry and in particular the ministry of reconciliation. Think how powerful this ministry could become with our nation being so divided at this present time.
As you journey through advent this year, you may wish to pray for our nation, or the broken relationships that you see down your street or in your own families. Perhaps, you could even ask the Lord if he would equip you with opportunities that might lead to the reconciliation of these people. When you see this happen, why not tell people what God has done. Giving testimony is how our faith becomes real, in knowing that those Advent promises that are so full of hope come true now as much as in the future.
Have a happy and blessed Christmas and a peaceful new year, from Richard