Thursday, December 25, 2014

The implications of Christmas

Foyer of the Jakarta Grand Hyatt
It's our first Christmas abroad. We attend church services, meet lovely people, and feast during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When we head home on Christmas night, rain pours down and little streams gush along the sides of the road. The motorcyclists push past, eager to get off the wet roads of Bandung.

We've been praying for people we know, for IES Jakarta, and for our future. As we pass a university, we make a request: "Dear God, protect the students. Give them peace and keep them from moral failure."

Which leads us to wander into theology. What did we just pray for?

Friends by the
IESJakarta Christmas tree
Our trail of thinking starts with this question: is it significant to pray that people live good lives, whether or not they are Christians?

Scripture says sin separates us from God. It also says that Jesus came into the world to redeem us, paying the penalty for our sin. In this way he reconciles us to God. Therefore, Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God-among-us. God-with-us, called Immanuel.

We read in the Bible that when we try to save ourselves by keeping the law and living "righteously" by religious rituals and rules, we must keep each and every law perfectly. (James 2:10)

Once we've made one mistake, we are separated from God. We are imperfect before a Perfect God. It might make us angry to think that Someone has the right to judge our limitations and flaws. But not liking God's standard doesn't negate it.

Which leads us to consider the effects of sinning. Does committing a lot of sins - or do the kind of sins we commit - matter?

Exquisite food
1. Sinning more doesn't separate us more from God. Our relationship is already broken by our first sin.

2. In our separated state, "more sins" do have an effect. They harm us and our fellow creatures. So when we pray that students will avoid moral failure (lying, cheating, sexual sins, etc.), we're praying for their protection. That they do not harm themselves or others by their actions.

All of us suffer from bad choices and sins. Sometimes those decisions are ours, but sometimes other people have followed evil desires with consequences to us. When we pray for each other, we plead for reconciliation and reconnection between us and our Maker. But we also ask God to keep us from hurting each other or from damaging our reputations and our futures.

A selfie at Starbucks on Christmas day
3. By accepting God's forgiveness and forgiving others, we purposefully do less harm to ourselves and to others.

We choose freedom to live graciously, to love wisdom over convenience, thoughtfulness over self-interests, and longterm good over temporary pleasures. Imagine a world filled with people who lived this way!

Let's extend the freedom and generosity offered by God's Christmas gift to others. Then the blessings and peace of the season will be ours all year long.


Read more:
*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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

*Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV

*(Jesus says,) "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:10 NIV

*God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. Romans 2:6-11 NIV

*For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:10-13 NIV

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