Advent Reflection – Week 2
She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because he will save His people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)
In the recent months it seems like it’s become normal to see the flags at half-mast. Events in Paris, Beirut, San Bernardino (to name a few) jolt us to sobriety as we reckon with the evil and brokenness that permeate both East and West. We mourn. We pray. We empathize. We call out to God, “How long, O Lord?”
As citizens mourned the deaths of the San Bernardino massacre, a recent newspaper headline read “God Isn’t Fixing This.” This call for “action” over empathy creates a false, and idolatrous, dichotomy. Could it be that silence is necessary before speech (James 1:19)? Could it be that speech before silence simply leads to hubris and polarization? For a detailed, thoughtful response to “God Isn’t Fixing This” read Andy Crouch’s recent article “On Thoughts and Prayers.”
So, is God going to fix this? Will He mend this world filled with sin and death. The message of Advent is that He is fixing it and will fully fix it at His return. In Matthew’s account of Christ’s nativity, Mary’s future husband Joseph isn’t sleeping well. He has received news that Mary is pregnant (and the baby isn’t his). In his mercy, he decides not to shame her publicly but to call off the marriage secretly. Yet, more is going on than Joseph knows. The Holy Spirit has come upon Mary and is preparing her to give birth to the God-Man who will reverse the curse of a war-torn, sin-soaked world (Gen.3:15).
In Joseph’s fear and anxiety, an angel comes to him and tells him “don’t be afraid” (Matt.1:20). Similarly, God’s Word comes to us, in the midst of fears and anxieties, and tells us “don’t be afraid.” Why not? “He [Jesus] will save His people from their sins.” SIN is what is wrong with this world. And the problem isn’t just that sin is outside of us, but also within us. The message of Christmas is that God has stepped down to this earth to do for us what we cannot do on our own. The truth is that we cannot fix this; but God can. Jesus came to save His people from their sins.
Firstly, He came to save us from the penalty of sin. In his famous work Cur Deus Homo, the medieval theologian Anselm wrote, “The debt was so great that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same Person must be both man and God. Thus it was necessary for God to take manhood into the unity of His person, so that he who in his own nature ought to pay, and could not, should be in a Person who could.” Humanity’s fundamental problem is that we are guilty before God, yet unable to save ourselves. The good news of the incarnation is that, in love, God took on our humanity (the God-Man), and paid the penalty of sin. Jesus was born to die. On the cross, He took on the judgment and wrath of God for the sins of His people – all so that we could be delivered from the penalty of sin. Because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sins, He serves as the perfect substitute to pay the infinite debt that we owe. “He [God] made the One [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Secondly, He came to save us from the power of sin. Not only did Jesus clear the guilt of His people on the cross, but He purchased the benefits of the new covenant for His people (Luke 22:20). Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension mean “new creation” for His people. It means that the promised Holy Spirit is able to come and dwell in and amongst God’s people. In short, His people are able to be saved from the power of sin. If rescuing us from the penalty of sin were enough, we should suppose that God might as well “beam up” every person the moment they become a Christian. Yet, God’s purpose in saving a people is that He might make them new creations – at peace with God and spreading the message of His peace in the world (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Part of the way that God is “fixing this” is by calling people to Himself and rescuing them from the power of sin so that they might be liberated peace-makers in a dark and broken world. As Jesus prayed for His disciples – “I am not praying that you would take them out of the world, but that you would protect them from the evil one.”
Lastly, He came to save us from the presence of sin. Christians have no dreams of utopian society, whether through gun control or the protection of 2nd amendment rights. The truth is that the world will always be a place filled with evil and sin. This is not pessimism, but a realism that can be observed from the witness of history. G.K. Chesterton was onto something when he said that original sin was the one doctrine that is empirically verifiable. It’s during the season of Advent that we long for the day when we will be ushered into the world where sin will be no more. Jesus came to save His people from the presence of sin, and at His return, sin, in every form, will be banished. A new world will be ushered in where we will fully experience “Immanuel – God is with us” (Matt.1:23). Revelation 21:3-5 – “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: ‘Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.’ Then the One seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making everything new.'”
Jesus came to save His people from their sins. This Advent we look back to the humble manger where He took on human flesh and the cross where he took on sin so we could be saved from the penalty of sin. We press on in holiness as those who have been made new by the Spirit and are being saved from the power of sin. We look forward to the day when sin and death will be banished as a faint memory, and we are saved from the presence of sin and live in the presence of God our Savior.
If you’ve never responded to the good news that God saves His people from their sins, turn to Him in faith as your only hope. Confess your sins. Abandon your own fading kingdom and align your life with His eternal kingdom. Look back to His love displayed in the life and death of Christ; and look forward by faith to the day when He will make all things new.
The flags won’t always be half-mast. They will be raised.