By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
As we draw near to Christmas—after a year that posed many faith-testing issues in our global community, in our country, and in our denomination—I find myself spending time in reflection about what the Christmas season means for humanity. We will soon celebrate and be filled with hope by remembering the birth of our Lord and Savior. What peace it brings to us to know that God loved us so much that Jesus was sent to take our place on the cross and was resurrected so that we might have the opportunity for life eternal through him. But in a time of uncertainty and unrest, are these truths enough to help us get beyond the reports through the news outlets that we hear or the posts on social media that we read (or write ourselves) that can prompt anger or grief? How does the message of Christ’s birth change our perspective and how does that perspective reach a hurting, angry, lost world?
I struggle with all of this. These are questions I find myself wrestling with personally and as I serve our denomination. I try to remind myself that it is not my political identity, my theology, or my personal opinions that define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus Christ. What shapes who I am is connected to who I serve and what I believe in. The day I accepted this “babe born in the city of David” into my life, into my heart, as my Lord, Savior, Master, Redeemer, is the day I died and was resurrected with a new Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that entered Christ on the day of his baptism. It’s the same Spirit that cast out demons, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and brought a sick girl and Lazarus back from the clenches of death.
On the I dedicated myself to Jesus, my life was no longer my own, but his. My thoughts are not my own, but his. It is not about my will or my wants, but his will. Does the church need to regain this vision? Have we listened more closely to the rhetoric of the world than to the powerful voice of the One who created all things and for whom all things were created?
So God sent his Son—now what? We could almost stop there, and, indeed, let’s sit with this challenging question for a moment and let it linger in our mind and wrestle with our spirit. However, let’s also look at Hebrews 2:10-18 to learn more about this babe lying in a manger.
“For this reason he [Christ] had to be made like them [us], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus is our leader, our captain of salvation. He was made to be like us so that he could later intercede for us. Because of this, he and we are one, and he is not ashamed to call us “brethren,” his brothers and sisters. He knows us as his family.
He understands what it means to be in our skin—figuratively and literally. He suffered so that through his sufferings we would be given a way to reconcile ourselves back to our Heavenly Father. He died and came back from death in order to conquer it so that we—as his brothers and sisters, joint heirs of the Kingdom of God—no longer need to fear the grave. Death has no meaning to those who have accepted the gift of the One whom wise men traveled to see, and shepherds visited to worship.
He became human in order to become a compassionate High Priest and an atoning sacrifice for our wrong doings through his own suffering and temptation. Because he physically lived on this earth, he more fully understands our lives and can identify with our human struggles. Living and dying as a human and then being resurrected, and thereby conquering death, puts him in a unique position of being both sibling and Savior to us.
Since Christ entered our world and scripture has imparted this understanding about him to us, how might we bring this transformative message to others? Here are two thoughts for us to consideration:
1. Personally, we work to move beyond the political and social noises that attempt to make everything acceptable and pleasing to us, so that we can hear God’s voice guiding us to be “light and salt” in the world. In 1 John 2:15-17 we are told, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Our love and attention for God is to surpass all earthly things.
2. Together, we continue the work of Jesus, to share and live out the good news of his peace, his unconditional love, his way of reconciliation, and his gift of salvation.
Even after Christmas and into the new year, may the Christmas story that tells of Christ’s first coming also transform us in ways that will show the world “another way of living”—one that is counter-cultural and against the norms of the world, and one that continues the work of Jesus until he returns.