That may seem like a gloomy sentiment for this time of year. Christmas is for rejoicing, for happiness, for celebration. Don’t remind us of the sequel to the crib. Especially don’t remind us that followers of Jesus – serious followers – can expect something like the same fate.
Well, Christmas is a time for celebrating. We say: “This is the birthday of our Savior.” We rejoice in the fact that God has given Himself to us, has saved us.
Saved? Do we have any feeling for that, any since of having been saved, any sense, even, of a need to be saved? Sure, it’s nice to know I am loved, but basically I am doing OK. I go to church regularly and pretty much keep the commandments. Salvation for me is more a catechism concept. It happened long ago, before I was born. From what am I saved now?
The Lutheran pastoral theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, preached an Advent sermon 70+ years ago at the time of the rescue of German coal miners from a mine disaster, precisely to make the fact of salvation tangible to his congregation. The passengers of the U.S. Airways jet that landed in the Hudson River a year ago felt that they had been saved, too. That kind of salvation is something we can identify with. The mine rescuers and the plane captain had saved people from likely death. They knew what they had been saved from, and they knew who had saved them.
From what and for what did Jesus save us? These are questions we must ask ourselves. For a new Christian in the first century, the answer was clear: It meant saved from despair, helplessness, meaninglessness – features that characterized the cultural world of the Roman empire. Even though, as Christians, they became subject to persecution and possible martyrdom, those first Christians found that their lives now had meaning, that what they did made a difference, that they shared God’s life now and would do so forever in eternity – the pledge of their baptisms.
In our increasingly secularized, post-Christian society, there is plenty of helplessness and meaninglessness to go around. Jesus not only saves us from that, but saves us for something – for taking the message to our world that life does have meaning, meaning found precisely in the self-giving of Jesus, as modeled by those who go by the name of Christian. Paraphrasing one of the great Roman collects, “Christian is the name you call us; Christian is the Gospel we preach. Help us to live what we are.”
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