For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
With these familiar words, the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus Christ – the son of God who will be with us (Matthew 1:23) and take away the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:28). As Christians, we all know and have internalized the essence of this theological and practical truth – that as a result of man’s sin, and our “missing the mark” of God’s desire for us, God himself, out of an abundance of love for us his people, sent his son Jesus Christ to be incarnate with us. His Son suffered all of the indignities, and ultimately, death on a cross for the sake of bringing us closer, and restoring us to full relationship with God the Father. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s coming, and exult in the joy of this incarnation.
The dilemma – Finding Hope in the midst of Sin
And yet, we still live in a sinful, fallen world. Though Christ came to save us, there are many elements and circumstances of this creation that we cannot control. But there are other things for which we are asked to take responsibility. This latter category concerns Jesus’ commands to us even as he was being taken back to the Father after his crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus reminds us that the Greatest Command is to love God, and to love each other as we love ourselves.
We live in the reality of a world and a people for which Christ gave his life, and yet, we still suffer many of the afflictions of living in a world broken by sin. Christ came to give us hope – and we are called to live in the reality of this hope, and be a light pointing to him that the rest of the world can see. This is the call of the church – this is the reality in which we are commanded by God to live daily.
Over the last several months I have had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of these truths and the seeming polarities that they reference. Hope and love come from Christ, and these exist amid the sin, destruction, and ongoing hate that inhabit the world. Chances are, in whatever geography you live or whatever call God has placed on your life, you’re still faced with this polarity. Christ calls us to hope, and to love – and yet, the world often shows us a daily diet of hate and destruction. What are we to make of this?
Our Response – Praise and Worship
I believe the Bible gives us many stories and images with the appropriate response to this dilemma. In the midst of our circumstance, in the midst of our pain, even as we live in the reality of conflict, we are called to worship and to praise God. This was true from the time when the early Israelites were delivered from captivity in Egypt through the present day.
The first task given to the early Israelites was not to confront their enemies, but they were commanded to embrace God through worship. At God’s direction, they built the tabernacle and created a culture and a process by which God will be remembered and worshiped day by day. As I’ve heard many a preacher say in the midst of our pain – we must “praise God anyhow, for he is worthy to be praised.” As we do this, we live in the reality of the hope that Christ provides. This hope, inspired by the Holy Spirit, dwells within us, and allows us to do great things even in spite of ourselves. This hope allows us to live in this sinful world while yet showing that there is a better way. This better way is different, it is the way of Christ, the way of love – the way that directs our path even as we anticipate God’s perfecting second coming of Christ.
Wherever you are this Christmas season, know that you are never alone, and God is never far from you. You can live in the reality of this truth even as you worship and praise God – praising him anyhow regardless of your circumstances.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege of traveling across several states and internationally to visit family members and friends, and I’ve been struck by one thing. Wherever I’ve gone, there is an excitement about preparing for Christmas – about preparing to celebrate what God has done in showing his love for us. So whether we celebrate Christmas in a location that has copious amounts of snow, or just a bit of cold, or in tropical climates, the one thing that stays the same is this truth – that Christ came to restore all of us, his children, and to give us the opportunity to call on his name in prayer, in worship and in life. God calls on us, not only to live in the hope that he provides, but he calls on us to live in such a way that makes our hope evident to all. Our hope must reflect who we are through the power of the Holy Spirit – our hope must empower us to do what God has commanded us to do. Our hope must empower us to love God, and to love each other deeply.
Prayers for the World
There are many conflicts and tragedies within our world today. It can be argued that every major conflict that faces our world was begun because of the sinful premise held by some that their people – tribe, race, country,or nationality – are superior to those upon whom they wish to impose their will, dominate, or subjugate. If everyone who claims to be a child of God acted accordingly, and treated each other as if we are equally children of God, maybe healing could begin.
Would that we could all face and live in the reality that we are all created in the image of God – we are all Imago Dei. This is our Christmas Hope.
So let us pray for ourselves, for our families, and for the world. Pray for the needs of those suffering in North America, the Caribbean, and in the rest of the world. May we, the church, project Christ’s hope – A Christmas Hope – so, as Jesus prayed in his final high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, “that the world may know”that we are his children.
May it be so – Amen.
Colin P. Watson Sr.
Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA)