The Christmas Purpose: to Points Us to Jesus and to Our Holistic Salvation
Dear CME Family: We awake every December 25th to be reminded that God is sovereign – especially over God’s creation, but beyond that creation into eternity. In many of our congregations, for the last four Sundays (beginning November 27th), we celebrated the Advent Season, lighting the Advent candles. We gathered in and read – one person lighting the candle and reading in some services, one family on behalf of the church in some others, while all in some ways participated in the worship rituals that heralded God’s love, God’s hope, God’s joy, and God’s peace. For many of us, looking at it from the smaller scope of Christian Year symbols can seasons (Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost, Kingdomtide), we were pointing through the Advent Season toward the coming of the Christ child to the earth (while simultaneously highlighting – sometimes to a lesser degree – that He will come again to receive us to Himself). But the message beyond the narrower scope of Advent is the message of God’s eternal purposes for and presence with us, and God’s holistic salvation for all of us. (By holistic salvation, I mean, the healing from our sins, from our fears, from our wounds, from all things earthly and finite; it is our healing from all that makes us seem less than God created us to be into the joy and fullness of all God intends us to be.) The journey toward God’s holistic salvation begins with recognition in our minds, our spirits, our spiritual awareness that God was always with us, calling us into a divine/human relationship. We’ve called it many things, chief among them being “saved,” “converted,” and sometimes “changed” – oftentimes as if the acting is done by us. The truer thought is that the action is begun by God, who prods us to awaken to God’s creative salvation in during God’s eternal process. God’s eternal process means that since our beginning, God was at work in us, God was creatively working to guide us into being whole in God. And “us” in that sentence is every one – not just every Black one, or every Caucasian one, or every European or Asian or African one … but everyone. That process we know to be this: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Whoever you are, Reader of this short message, God is at work in you, prodding you, pulling you, embracing you (with all your faults, failures and doubts) with God’s encouragement, comfort, consolation, and God’s healing graces. You are not hopelessly lost: God is working in you, and God is reconciling (the word reconcile means “to bring back together”) you and me and the rest of God’s creation to God’s very own self; and God has done it by bringing into creation a picture of the fullness of God’s nature in a human body, born in a manger in Bethlehem, but living His life through the struggles and strivings, the gains and losses, the ups and downs which are the plight of every human being … while yet remaining godly. That’s why Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Thus we are right to take Advent as the time to point to the coming of the Christ into the world, so that we may know that we can be reconciled; and yet, we are also right to point to and beyond the life, the death, the resurrection, and the resurrected spirit of the Jesus Christ to our own entrance into the life that trusts and follows Jesus into becoming whole, complete, mirroring Him, and growing up into His nature and into His eternal holistic salvation. I close with a hymn that is short, that has almost always been in our hymnals, yet seldom sung in CME churches. It expresses, better than any other I see today, our moving from Advent to Christmastide as a part of God’s eternal process of moving us from finite to infinite and from weakness to wholeness. The words are from Charles Wesley: Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a king. Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne. The hope of Christmas is its message that God is sovereign – over God’s creations, but even beyond God’s creations into an eternity of holistic salvation.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick