How do you view God? Some view God as an angry demanding being who is out to spoil fun, and take the joy out of life. Others think of God as a harmless, gentle being who accepts everyone and is not worried about how you live. The Christmas events show us a God very different to both of these. In Luke 2v9 the shepherds were terrified when they saw the glory of the Lord – God is awesome in holiness, perfection and power. To even get a glimpse of his glory is terrifying for humans. Yet the message God gives shows how we can move from fear of God to joy:
“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. (Luke 2:10-11)
Why is this news of a saviour such good news of great joy?
1) Good news of gracious forgiveness
Some of you may think this idea of a saviour being born is more of an insult than good news.
A couple of weeks ago, I was riding my bike for the first time in awhile. I was obviously pretty rusty because when I needed to stop at one point, I couldn’t get my cycling shoes out of the clips in time and I fell over. It was a bit embarrassing as you can imagine, and it was worse when a concerned lady pulled over in her car to see if I was alright. I know she was being thoughtful, but I didn’t think I needed any help (some of you may say this is typical of blokes!) I just said to her, ‘I’m fine thanks’, jumped on my bike and rode off. I didn’t stop to look down and see how badly I was grazed. I just assumed I didn’t need any help.
It’s like that with this idea of a Saviour being born. Our first reaction may be, I’m fine thanks, I don’t need saving! Don’t insult me, by telling me I need a Saviour! Yet when we take an honest look at ourselves, we realise that all of us, even by our own standards have done plenty of wrong. We all have a sense of right and wrong, and none of us live up to even our own standards, let alone God’s standards which are much higher.
Non-Christian author Sir Kingsley Amis, gave an interview just before he died. He said: One of Christianity’s greatest advantages is that it offers an explanation for sin. I haven’t got one. Christianity has got one enormous thing right – original sin. One of the enormous benefit’s of Christianity is that you can be forgiven your sin, which must be a wonderful thing…I carry my sins around with me, there is nobody there to forgive them. He knew he was dying soon, and sensed a burden of guilt that he felt unable to get rid of. Some people just carry their guilt around with them like he did, others try to escape it in various ways, others try to work it off – we live on a very religious planet, all over the world people are doing all sorts of religious rituals and acts to try and get rid of their sense of guilt. Yet often our attempts at dealing with guilt, are like hiding clothes under the bed.
There is such a thing as false guilt, feeling guilty unnecessarily, but there is also real guilt – there are things we’ve said and done, that we are rightly ashamed of. There are things that God would be right to judge and punish us for. The angel brought good news of great joy, of how God can forgive us, through the saviour he sent to take the penalty for all who turn and trust in him.
2) Good news of power to change
A couple of times I’ve been awake around 3am and I’ve made the mistake of turning on the TV. The main thing on free-to- air channels at that time are infomercials. Most of them have a common theme about ways you can change – there are various exercise machines to help improve your body shape, different types of cosmetics, schemes to help you get ahead financially, and motivational speakers telling us we need to buy their talks and books if we want to make real change.
It’s possible to make outward changes in your life, yet not change on the inside. You can lose weight or put on makeup, but still be a slave to what other people think about you. You can get out of debt, yet still be a slave to money, you can go to anger management classes, andchange the way you express your anger, yet the anger is still there, it may just get expressed in different ways you hold onto it, and become bitter and hateful on the inside.
The news of a saviour is good news that enables us to change from the inside out. As we turn to God we can experience the power to no longer be concerned what other people think of us, because we’re secure in the love of the one who knows our rebellious hearts better than anyone, yet loved us enough to send us the saviour we need. As we begin to grasp the love God showed in Jesus we are motivated and empowered to be able to love and forgive others.
3) Good news of a better world to come
There’s a lot of things about living on earth that I enjoy. I love spending time with my wife, my family, with friends, I love watching Parramatta win Grand Finals, (though unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often!) I enjoy finding out and exploring the many amazing things we have on our planet. Yet life on this earth also involves pain. Work can be rewarding yet difficult. Human relationships can be enjoyable yet involved pain. Sickness, tragedies and death are all painful realities in our lives.
The Bible and history show us that Jesus who was laid in a manger grew up to die as a saviour on the cross, then on the third day rose again showing that death is not the end. In Jesus we have a saviour who is able to be with us now as we experience pain, but also promises a better world to come for all those who turn and trust in him. The Bible speaks of the new heavens, and the new earth, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
I don’t know where you are today on the spectrum from not caring about God at all, to loving God with all your heart. My prayer for you today is that you might take a step to move a little further along that spectrum towards gettting to know God for yourself, and know more about this good news of great joy which is for all people – the saviour who has been born. I’d encourage you to start by reading one of the biographies of Jesus, like Luke.
I hope you have a great Christmas but I pray most of all that this Christmas you’ll come to grasp a little more of the good news of great joy that is the heart of the Christmas message.
(This talk was given at our church carols in Decmember 2009. The three headings are very similar to the three points Tim Keller makes in his helpful article The_Gospel-The_Key_to_Change which you may like to read if you’d like to think further about the gospel’s power to change.)