By now, I am sure you have heard about what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut with the murder of the 20 children and 6 adults. You may also have heard of the 22 children that were stabbed to death from YuanChuan Elementary School in the village of Chengpin in Henan, China that happened the day before. If anything, what happened so saddened even President Obama that he cried as he shared his condolences and support to those that died.
After hearing the news on Friday morning, I was so heart broken that I felt led to go and make some major changes to my Christmas service sermon that I was sharing because I felt that it was so important not to forget what had transpired. What I share next is not meant to take away from the pain, heart break, loss, suffering or aching that the families and their loved ones may be feeling, but I feel it is important to explore an important topic together… that is this concept of sin.
The truth of the matter is this: This is not the first time nor will it be the last time we will hear of such horrific things happening. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, such terrible things will have happened and will continue to happen. We must take a moment then and ask ourselves, what drives such activity?! What I write to you after this is related to this because I believe what motivates such an action is this concept of sin which leads to such evils. A quote I saw on my friend’s Facebook said this:
“The presence of evil does not imply the absence of God, rather the presence of evil demands a God who must be present — present to judge, heal, restore, and to save.”
I think that this is so true… that what sin reveals to us… what this evil shows what the world needs and has is a God that is able to judge, to heal, to restore and to save. You see, sin is this corruption… this separation from God and what He originally planned for humanity. It is a break from this vertical relationship with Him. Originally, God intended for humanity to glorify Him, love Him, worship Him, love others, and to care for His world. From the beginning with Adam & Eve till now, humanity has willfully disobeyed God. We have done so by going against God’s original plan and desire for us … and have placed our own lives and priorities before what God has planned. By doing so, we have disconnected the vertical relationship with God and we have placed our own desires before God’s By doing so, our sin has separated us from God and because of the inability to be perfect, our sin always now disrupts this relationship with God.
The truth is this… sin is nasty… it is what leads us to place these other plans and purposes (what we want) before God… and by doing so… we have started to worship creation and created things rather than the Creator! God is no longer first. As a result, our sins manifest themselves in two ways. One is outward and are actions that place one’s own desires above the care and consideration of others. This often leads to acts of violence, exploitation, murder and taking advantage of others; it is about putting oneself before others. This is what happened in China and Connecticut; it is this outward display of sin by selfish, sin-corrupted, evil people.
But you must be wondering, I am no nowhere near as messed up or evil as such folks, but the truth is sin is not just an outward display of selfish action, but it is also an inward disposition of our heart. It is the corrupted selfish thoughts, feelings that we may have… the intentions, the desires, the bitterness, the jealousy, the greed, the rage and the pride that may lead us thinking about hurting others and putting ourselves first. Trust me, the only reason sometimes we don’t act on these thoughts is simply our fear of self-preservation; we are afraid of the consequences of our sin and going to jail and being victimized as well. The reality is we have the potential of great sin as well. Humanity is unable to escape from this slavery of sin, and this is what brings us to where we are today. As imperfection due to our sin, we cannot attach ourselves to a God that is so perfect because our sin now makes us imperfect. Perfection and imperfection cannot mix! You see, what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and at YuanChuan Elementary is not alien to humanity, but common; it is the unchanging reality of our lives apart from God… the date, title and story of the News event may change, but these things will continue to happen because of sin; sin is the lowest common denominator of human reality!
In light of the Christmas season and preparing a sermon, I realized that ultimately the failure of Christmas for many Christians is not that we don’t remember it is about Jesus, but that we fail to remember the entirety of the story and just the birth of Jesus. For some, we may only see Christmas as an occasion to deal with food, relationships and gift exchange; it becomes only about the horizontal relationships. I think Matthew had a different idea when he wrote these words coming from an angel as it spoke to Joseph about Mary:
“She (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
What Matthew shares is that what Christmas needs to be about is remembering this story of restoration of the vertical relationship between God and humanity through the physical reality of Jesus’ coming.
All our questions, our doubts, our pain, our heartbreak… we need to see that God about 2000 years ago answered our cries about sin and the brokenness of humanity. It can be found by Matthew’s hinting using the name of Jesus at his birth. Consider Jesus in verse 21, which means “God saves”. Consider Immanuel in verse 23, which means “with us God”, or “God with us”. What Matthew is pointing out is that in Jesus, God has answered our questions by sending Jesus to finally resolve this break in the vertical relationship between God and His people. God is here to save and He has not left us alone… but has entered into the historical timeline as a physical reality both as God and as man… the 2nd person of the Trinity, God’s Son, Jesus Christ has come so that He will know our pain as a reality. Despite being tempted, with opportunities to outwardly sin, and inwardly sin, Jesus resisted and lived a life without sin. Yet despite his sinless life, he was persecuted unjustly and put to death in the most humiliating way … through the cross! Yet despite this, after three days, He resurrected, overcoming sin and the consequence that is death and separation from God, and now sits at the right hand of God, the Father advocating on our behalf. By such actions through Jesus, God has taken all of humanity’s sin: past, present and future sin, and has washed those that call on the name of Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior… a restored vertical relationship that gives humanity hope despite this world’s hopelessness.
In Christ, I don’t have an answer, but every time we see acts of incredible evil and sin, we realize the Author has written Himself into His story (History) and is here to save us. It does not take away the pain and the inexplicable acts of violence and evil and suffering of this world, but these things should drive us to see that this is not the way God intended things to be; God had such a better plan that would lead to no heart break, and so now, God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that He is bringing about a restoration and hope. He comes alongside the brokenhearted and He lovingly embraces us and says, He understands… He knows because about two thousand years ago, He, a Father as well… lost His only Son to sin too. He lost His beloved child and knows exactly how it feels.
During this Christmas season, do NOT forget this true Christmas story about Jesus. God has come to restore the vertical relationship that was broken due to sin, and Jesus is God saves, God with us. May you continue to pray for the children and the adults that have died in such senseless tragedies and consider your own need for the love and redemption of God. Remember,
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).