Adoration of the Shepherds by Rembrandt
Guest Post by Bishop Philip Wright
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-19
This chosen passage of scripture might not readily sound like one that belongs to the season of Christmas given the almost romantic attachment we have to the scene of the manger, the shepherds in the field, the choral angels, and the star in the East, thanks to popular Christmas card covers. However, in actual fact, this passage contains the very essence of the Christmas message; the Good News – the Gospel.
In much of the Christian world, what is commemorated every December 25th is a decisive moment in earth’s history when God entered that history like never before; to usher in, like never before, His act of redemption. The birth of the Christ child, the incarnation of the God-man, was to ultimately lead to that awesome scene on calvary’s hill when it appeared that heaven and earth had violently met, and the forces of evil staged their greatest attempt to undermine the purposes of God.
In the midst of this event that we must assume was of cosmic proportions, God was doing His thing; God was securing humanity’s redemption which we now have the opportunity and privilege to receive, and also in which we can now participate. God, as St Paul puts it, ‘was reconciling the world to Himself in the life of Jesus even as it tragically ended on the slopes of Calvary, and God was doing so in a manner which defies human logic and comprehension.
So the baby in the manger was born to one day restore the relationship between God and humanity (and all creation, for that matter). The baby grew up to show us through his life, message and ministry, what that restored relationship with God (reconciliation) looks like in real terms. In the Gospel narratives, we see Jesus, on a daily basis, mingling with the poor and outcast, bringing hope to the despondent, healing and making whole those broken in body, mind, and soul. So often those individuals touched by Jesus had become the ‘victims’ of marred and shattered relationships, not the least of which was their relationship with God Himself. No small wonder then that, before healing many of them, Jesus would say, “your sins are forgiven”, meaning, ‘your relationship with God has been restored.’
This same Jesus, the God-man, the baby in the manger, now looks to you and I who desire year after year to celebrate his incarnation, to do the same. He looks to us to live out this life of reconciliation with each other – on a daily basis. Once again, St Pauls gets it right when he says, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’
Indeed, we have been given both the ministry and the message of reconciliation to share with the world. It is a world so desperate for such a message and ministry. The stories that make the daily news headlines, the circumstances under which too many people live in too many parts of the world, the conflicts among individuals, communities, and nations, the barbaric actions of misguided and evil groups and regimes, and the pictures of the suffering of the innocent; these all undeniably point to a hurting and fractured and sad world. Into such a darkened and the desolate world must shine the light of the Gospel of Christ. We are those Gospel-bearers when we do what God has called us to do.
May the gifts we share this Christmas and throughout the rest of our lives be not only those that come wrapped in paper and perhaps placed under the Christmas tree but more importantly let them be hearts ready to forgive, ready to receive forgiveness, ready to embrace reconciliation; and may such hearts be wrapped with the very love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.