There’s a lot of talk in the church, and rightfully so, about the death of Jesus Christ, his atoning death in our place which is the source and wellspring of our salvation from sin. We wear crosses on our necks, and tell people “Jesus died for you.” This is good. I hope you know, and believe, that Christ died for you.
But I also hope you know, and believe, that before Jesus died, he lived among us, and he’s alive now. He is only able to be our living hope because he was, and is, aboundingly alive. Life itself is fashioned after him.
He came to earth eating and sleeping, laughing and weeping; he was tempted and grew tired. He was hungry and he ate. He worked for his dad. He had friends.
Christmas reminds us that Christ is not only our savior, but also our friend, brother, co-laborer, co-sufferer—God with us, in every way with us. Together in this life with us.
John says it this way, in his telling of the Christmas story: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
And I love the way he phrases that; the defiance of this joy and hope he has. Light shines in the darkness. I get an image of a campfire in the snow in the middle of the wilderness; darkness all around, but in this one place, there is light and heat and life.
Joy and hope in Christianity should always be defiant—not some vague, smiling notion of being blessed, but a defiant, day by day, in-spite-of-it-all, choosing to spend time waiting and watching the light in the darkness, knowing that very soon the sun will rise and the world will be light and heat.
Maybe this year it’s a little easier to conceive of the world as a dark place, but the world has always been dark—not in a hell-in-a-handbasket kind of way, but in a do-you-know-what-it’s-supposed-to-be kind of way. We fail sometimes to see the brokenness of the world because we lack wisdom and imagination to conceive of the world as it should be, with peace on earth, joy and kindness in every heart, all wrongs undone, justice accomplished in every corner of the earth, all sad things miraculously come untrue, and God himself dwelling with us.
In this world, the life of Jesus, the light of Christ shines in the darkness. I’ve asked at other times, and I’ll ask again, what the death of Christ means for us today, but today let’s take a moment to ask: what does the life of Jesus Christ mean for us today?
In the life of Christ, the law and their prophets found fulfillment. All of the promises of God find their yes in Jesus, so we are able to trust God in the promises he has made to return and restore the earth. In the life of Christ, the apostles received their calling to follow, which they passed to faithful men and women, and which has been passed through the generations to you, and so you are able to be his disciple as they were. Because of the life of Christ, we have a high priest who is able to empathize with our weakness, and intercede, meaning he understands you, he knows you completely, even the parts of yourself you’re too afraid or ashamed to share, and still he loves you.
Because of the life of Christ, we are able to know the true nature of his kingdom and God’s people, which means we aren’t left to sit in the darkness without any glimpse of light on the horizon—we’ve seen the kingdom breaking through. We know what it looks like, what it feels like, and we can wait for it with patience. Because of the life of Christ, we have a basis for our morality and humanity. He was the new and better Adam and Israel, humanity, the people of God, as we should always have been.
His life teaches us to be exiles in the world, to be a friend to sinners, to confess, to pray, to serve, and on and on and on. If we were to write a book on everything Christ did with his life, the world would not be large enough to contain them.
So we praise him, for his death in our place, but also for his life. As we move into the Christmas season, I would invite you to have faith in Christ, to hope in him, to find joy in him, and peace.
Now to him who emptied himself and took the form of a servant,
Who taught us abounding vitality,
Who revealed true and better humanity,
Who fulfilled the promises of God,
Who lives and reigns and is returning again,
“to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”