Tag Archives: Christmas

For us and For our Salvation: Why God Became Human

A few kids in a youth group asked their United Methodist pastor: “Do we (i.e. United Methodists) believe people need to be saved? Our Baptist friends always talk about being saved. Do we believe that too?”

The short answer is yes, of course! Of course we United Methodists believe in the need for salvation (even if some unofficially find the traditional notion distasteful). But there is more to salvation than just getting a free ticket to go to heaven rather than hell when we die.

Genesis tells us that God created humanity in his image and after his likeness to be his royal representatives on earth. God intended to exercise his loving and righteous rule over creation through humanity. We were created not only to be blessed by a holy loving relationship with God, but also to be mediators through which the blessing of God would flow to the rest of creation. We were also created to lead the rest of creation in praise of God for the glory of God.

There are small, seemingly insignificant pipes that allow water to flow into and out of our homes. With the water we quench our thirst, prepare our food, and clean ourselves, our clothes and dishes and more. Large cables and thin and imperceptible wires also allow electricity to flow into and through our homes providing lighting, heating, cooling, and powering our electronics. Has the flow of water or electricity ever been disrupted at your house?

Recently a car ran off the road and hit a power pole in our neighborhood. It snapped a cable, which cut off all the electricity to our home and many others on a Saturday night. We ended up eating takeout by candle light. Fortunately my lap top was charged enough for us to be able to watch a family movie on DVD. But we all realize how much better things are with flowing water and electricity when they get disrupted.

When the first humans, Adam and Eve, gave into the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden and sinned against God it disrupted the flow of God’s blessing not only to them, but also the flow of God’s blessing to the rest of creation that came through them. Their hearts were corrupted and their minds were darkened; and the whole creation suffered as a result. Sin not only hurt their relationship with God and each other, it also brought a curse on the created world. Because the image of God in humanity was distorted, disharmony in the rest of the world followed. Like a disease, the corrupting power of sin spread to all humans who were born after Adam and Eve and the whole world suffered.

God called the nation of Israel to restore God’s blessing to the world, to be a light among all the other nations. He gave them commandments, summed up in the Ten Commandments. He promised that they would be blessed to be a blessing to the rest of the nations of the world if they would keep them; he warned them that they would be cursed if they rebelled. Although they had some shining moments, they were few and fleeting. After hundreds and hundreds of years of repeated rebellion, the nation of Israel was destroyed and expelled from the promised land. Like Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, Israel was exiled from the land that God had given them.

Israel failed to restore the blessing of God to creation. The power of sin that had been passed from Adam and Eve to the rest of the human race proved to be too strong for humanity to overcome on its own. The promised blessings of God depended on human obedience, but humanity, even Israel with a special relationship with God, proved to be utterly unwilling and therefore incapable of fulfilling its part of the covenant. God had made these promises that depended on human obedience for their fulfillment, now what would God do? . . .

 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. ~ Galatians 4:4 NRSV

Madonna and ChildGod’s blessing to the world depends on humans being obedient to God’s design for them. Humans are meant to live in peace and harmony with God so peace and harmony can flow through them to each other and the rest of creation. When fallen humanity proved incapable, God himself in the person of the one and only eternal Son of God became human and was born of the Virgin Mary. Evoking Isaiah 7:14, Matthew tells us he was Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Joseph, Mary’s husband, at the behest of the angel named him Jesus, which means “the Lord Saves” (Matt 1:21). As a full-fledged human, Jesus fulfilled humanity’s obligation of obedience to God. God in Christ Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and by grace through faith allows us to share fully in the blessing that he himself restored. Saint Paul put it this way:

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  ~ Romans 5:17-19 NRSV

Saint John put it this way:

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 NRSV

Jesus’ obedience to God cost him his life at the hands of sinful men (Philippians 2:8). But although evil people can kill, God can raise the dead. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus God offers us forgiveness of sins and new life as a free gift.

We are saved by grace (i.e. what God has done for us in Christ Jesus), through faith (trusting in Jesus), for good works, a new way of life in the world.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV

The incarnation of the Son of God, his life, death, and resurrection planted the seed of the new creation within the midst of our fallen world. It was a seed that sprang forth with Jesus from the heart of the earth when he arose from the dead. It continues to grow even now, and we can participate in its transforming power by grace through faith.

In the Methodist tradition we believe God’s grace leads us and empowers us to believe. When we believe we are justified and forgiven by God on account of the shed blood of Christ. At the same time we are also born anew from above by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the new birth we receive a new heart for a holy life that we must grow into. It is God’s grace that helps us grow. In this process called sanctification we are enabled to shed ourselves of the corruption of sin and to be renewed into the image and likeness of God as God intended when God first created humanity. It is a process where God heals our distorted desires and corrects our false beliefs. Sin makes us want to do things selfishly that are not right; in our darkened minds we seek to justify ourselves with falsehoods and lies. The grace of God renews us “in true righteousness and holiness” (see Eph 4:17-32).

To help us in this renewal of the image of God in holy love in us, God has given us certain practices of discipleship, spiritual disciplines, that we are called to practice together in the church. These are called means of grace. Means of grace are like channels that connect us to God so God’s grace in Christ can flow to us to renew us. If you want to receive the benefits of the internet, you have to get connected, right? You have to get access to the right signal. The means of grace and the practice of spiritual disciplines gets us connected to receive the grace of God that renews us into the image of God. But the reconnecting to God the Father through the Son is not merely restoring power, it is the restoration of a relationship that was lost. It is the restoration of friendship with God.

The means of grace include prayer, Bible study, worship (including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion), fasting, fellowship with believers, works of mercy and compassion in the Church and world. These practices put us in the best position to receive the signal of God’s grace so we can grow. But we must not forget that the means of grace all have an end, meaning a goal.

A basketball coach gives basketball players certain drills to practice so they can become good, hopefully even great, players. A band director gives students certain things to practice so they can become good musicians. But becoming a good basketball player is not just meant to benefit the individual, but also a team and a school or a city. A good musician is meant to benefit a band and those who will be enriched by the music.

God gives us certain practices to help renew us into the image and likeness of God, but not just for ourselves. God wants to not only bless us, but to bring blessing to the rest of the world through us. The goal of renewal in the image of God will be complete in the resurrection of the body when Christ comes again. This is called glorification. It’s the goal of the means of grace and the practice of spiritual disciplines, including all the gifts of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Corinthians 12-14). Completion of renewal in the image of God will not only restore blessing to humanity, it will also restore the fullness of God’s blessing to the rest of creation (Rom 8:18-30). But whenever we faithfully practice spiritual disciplines now, a measure of God’s blessing will not only flow to us, but also through us into our families, to our friends and even our enemies, to our communities, and to the rest of creation, which God is renewing as he renews us.

By practicing spiritual disciplines we work out our salvation as God works in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure”(Philippians 2:12-13). By participating in our own jesus-bridge-1transformation, we participate in God’s transformation of the whole world. In other words, the means of grace, made possible by the obedience of Jesus Christ, are a bridge to somewhere. That somewhere is the kingdom of God fully come in the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21-22).

Joy to the world!

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground:
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic* and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The United Methodist Hymnal # 880.



What Christmas Reveals about God

As with so many words, the word God when used by different people may mean very different things. Below is a general sketch of some of the different ways God is conceived in the minds of different people.

  1. Theism – the view that God is a transcendent, intelligent, and personal being who created our universe and remains actively involved in and concerned with our world. God is also concerned with human moral behavior and will judge humans accordingly.
  2. Deism – the view that God is an intelligent being who created the universe, but who allows the universe to run its course through the cause and effect processes that God set in place. In other words, God does not remain directly involved or intervene in the world God created. Historically, some deist have also denied a future judgment for humankind, while others have held to the view of a future judgment of some sort.
  3. Pantheism – the view that the universe itself and/or the material properties of which it consists are eternal and is pervaded by a mystical, impersonal, co-eternal divine force that manifests itself within the universe in a plethora of ways such that everything and everyone is tinged with the divine. With this view all beings, humans on earth or the gods in the heavens are less than the overall unifying force of the universe but are a part of it. In this view God is not distinct from the universe.
  4. Atheism – generally a materialist view of the universe that rejects the belief in God or gods or other supernatural beings. With this view the universe is the result of natural, random forces, and processes period. Although, it may seem odd to imply that this is what some mean by the word God, there are people who consider themselves Christian Atheists. In this case an atheist “Christian” would use the word “God” to refer to something along the lines of the natural force that gives rise to all existence, “the ground of all being” (See Article: “What Does it Mean to be a Christian Atheist? here). Practically, it might be difficult to distinguish this view from some versions of pantheism. The militant atheist Richard Dawkins basically conceded in a debate with John Lennox that he could believe there might be a deistic or pantheistic sort of being, but not a personal god who would care about sin and morality (see debate here). One of the most infamous atheist “Christians” was the cult leader, Jim Jones, a communist progressive, who, for a short time, was a Methodist student pastor. He went on to found to be ordained by the Disciples of Christ denomination and founded The People’s Temple. In time Jim Jones came to believe in God; unfortunately he believed it was he himself who was God.

The meaning of the word God, as with any word, is determined by more than a basic dictionary definition. Context, in a profound way, also determines the meaning and significance of any particular word, and not only a single word but also sentences and entire passages of a particular text.

For example, take the scenario of a man who leaves home jogging. He runs a little ways and turns left, then runs a little farther and turns left again, then a little farther and turns left again, only to return home to find two masked men waiting for him. What’s going on?

Given this scenario most will guess a robbery or kidnapping is taking place, or perhaps even a political assassination or a mob hit. This very well could be the case, but let me give you one word to “bring it all home for you:” baseball. That one word provides the framework for you to understand that the guy who took off jogging from home hit a home run and the two masked men are the catcher and the umpire. If I gave you the word mobsters or espionage you would know that we were talking about something very different. Context determines meaning.

In the context of the Bible God is revealed to be the Sovereign Creator of the Universe who created the world by speaking it into existence. This God is distinct from the universe and in no way subject to forces within the universe and outside of himself; he exercises sovereign control over all that he has made. He is revealed to be the Creator of the whole world and every nation of people within it. The God of the Bible created humanity in his image with limited freedom to have dominion over the earth. And he cares about what we do. The God of the Bible didn’t just set things in motion with no care or concern for what the creatures within his creation do. God cares, not only for humans, but also for animals and the rest of creation over which he gave humanity dominion (see Jonah 4:11; Luke 12:6).

With a world of humans in rebellion against his reign over the universe and blinded to his will by idolatry and the distorted conception of the divine that goes along with it, God called a special people out of the rest of the nations and made a special covenant with them. He called them to be a bright witness for the one true God to the rest of humanity. This witness included the witness of a moral life to which God called them. Through Israel God sought to reveal himself, who he really is and what he is really like, and to call the rest of humanity back into relationship with him. He is a personal and a relational being.

He called Israel out of a pantheistic worldview and the worship of many gods through idols. Throughout its history Israel struggled unsuccessfully to maintain the worldview, and the holy and moral life that goes with it, for which God called them. They were continually lured back into idolatry and its consequent immorality. They continually failed not only to love God above all; they also failed to truly love and care for each other as God had commanded them. The Church too has always faced the same temptations.

Even during their best of times, one of the most renowned of Israelites, King David, at times even wondered how such an awesome and majestic Creator could actually care for individual human beings, who are less than a speck of dust in the whole scheme of things (Psalm 8). Israel certainly wondered whether God really cared during their worst of times when it seemed as if God had abandoned them completely. I would imagine that many of them wondered whether the God of their ancestors really existed at all.

Does the Creator really care? What if God is really just an impersonal force to be harnessed through impersonal spells, rituals, and incantations? What if God really doesn’t care about what we do in terms of morality and behavior? And if God really doesn’t care about what we do, could he really care about us at all. Could you say a parent who really doesn’t care about what his children do really cares about them?  Is a caring and personal God really with us and for us? Or are we simply subject to capricious impersonal forces that might or might not bring us good luck and fortune, or worse yet the indifferent, impersonal random forces of nature?

The unique revelation of the Bible, is that the God who gave us life, cares about how we live. He cares about morality. As Saint Augustine noted in The City of God and as John Oswalt notes in his book, The Bible Among the Myths, pagan religions were really not concerned with morality. Morality in the pagan world was determined relative to who held political power, and the concern was to establish order to secure that power. Pagan religion was about attracting the favor of the gods who were often quite capricious and just as immoral as any human being, as Saint Augustine argued with regards to the Roman pantheon. Pagans worshiped to attract the favor of the gods through rituals, sacrifice, spells, and incantations among other things, but not through moral obedience.

The God of the Bible is unique in insisting that his blessing comes through obedience to his will, especially in terms of moral behavior. God cares not only about how we relate to him, but also how we relate to each other, every human being created in his image. And the God of the Bible doesn’t just care from a distance, he dwells among his obedient people. He meets with them. He miraculously intervenes on their behalf. Indeed he does demand obedience, but not as a pitiless taskmaster. He is a gracious and merciful God who forgives and provides the means of forgiveness for his people.

After exile and the departure of the glory of God from the temple, which was eventually destroyed, Israel wondered if God had forgotten them, had he abandoned them for good. Through prophets like Isaiah he assured them he had not.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15 ESV

Christmas is the confirmation that God did not forget us. God has not and will not abandon us to our own devices or to the impersonal forces of the universe. In Jesus Christ God has come to be with us in the most intimate and personal of ways.Star-of-Bethlehem

Christmas is not just the celebration of the birth of a legendary religious leader. Christmas is about the incarnation of the one who created us. That is, Christmas is about a God who cares, who loves us so much that he became one of us. In Christ God became human to saves us and to guide us a our Shepherd. The first Christmas was replete with miracles, but the greatest miracle of all is that God became human. Jesus wasn’t just the greatest prophet; he was God in the flesh as the first chapter of the Gospel of John reveals. And he wasn’t just God in the flesh in a generic sense, but the particular God revealed in the words of Israel’s sacred Scriptures.

Because of the paradoxes that emerge when we begin to contemplate how the infinite was combined with the finite in one person, Jesus of Nazareth, over the centuries many have objected that Jesus could not really be both fully divine and fully human. Some have erred by exalting his divinity at the expense of his humanity; others by exalting his humanity at the expense of his divinity. But the human Jesus was the embodiment of the God of Israel. (In a later post I’ll explain in more detail how this is revealed in the Bible).

Christmas is a reminder that God really does care about us. He cares about what we do because he cares about us. Therefore, even when we fall short of his will, he is gracious and merciful, plenteous in patience and abundant in forgiveness. In Christ we not only know that God is with us, our Emmanuel, we also know that God is for us. He doesn’t abandon the wayward to their own devices; he doesn’t abandon his sheep to the whims of cruel and selfish shepherds. As he said he would do in Ezekiel, God, himself, in Christ seeks his lost sheep.

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”  Ezekiel 34:11

My wife and I have five kids and one on the way, due in June. With so many kids sometimes things can get a little confused. Once when we returned home from somewhere, my wife got our youngest daughter out of the van, and I thought, one of our older kids had grabbed our 3 year old son. I was wrong. We had left him for just a couple of minutes alone in the van in the garage. When I went to get him, he was not only terrified, but also emotionally hurt. Crying, he said, “Daddy you left me!!!”

“Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15 b

The message of Christmas is that God has not forgotten us. Jesus, is a revelation like none other, that God really is with us, and that he really does care about us. In Christ, our Emmanuel, God really is with us and he will never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 1:23 & 28:17-20).

Christmas is about a revelation of God, the eternal Word who became flesh (John 1:1-18).  This was not just any kind of god in some generic sense, and not just about one manifestation of God among many. Christmas is about the revelation of the merciful and gracious God who is described in the pages of Israel’s sacred Scriptures, the one who claims to be the one and only true God and the Creator of heaven and earth, the one who is greater than and wholly other than the universe, yet intimately involved in it. The meaning and significance of the Word in the flesh is determined by the context of the Bible.

The message of Christmas quite simply is that we are loved. We are loved! and eternally so by our eternal, all powerful, yet intimately personal God.

Merry Christmas!

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16



Mercy for Christmas

We didn’t get the sermon recorded this morning, so I thought I’d share the essence of the message I preached this morning here.

As you read through Luke chapter 1, especially Mary’s song of praise during her visit with Elizabeth who was in the third trimester of pregnancy with her son John the Baptist and the prophecy of John’s father, Zechariah, the word mercy appears repeatedly. As the virgin mother, Mary, who was just a few months behind Elizabeth in her pregnancy with the Messiah, Jesus, extols the virtues of the Lord she refers to God’s mercy twice. Mary and Elizabeth

“And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50 ESV

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, ..  Luke 1:54

Zechariah, as his tongue is mercifully released after being stricken mute by the angel Gabriel, also praises God. Zechariah too describes God’s action in bringing the Messiah into the world as an act of mercy (1:72, 78). In both cases, Mary and Zechariah speak of future deliverance as if it had already happened, interestingly as does the prophet Isaiah in his prophecy of the child to be born who would inherit the throne of David and reign in justice and righteousness forever (Isaiah 9:1-7).

The mercy of which Mary and Zechariah spoke was an essential part of the fulfillment of long awaited promises made to their ancestors, Abraham and the long line of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. The fulfilled promise of mercy brought great joy, and with it the promise of greater joy still to come.

Christmas is about God’s gift of mercy, given in the most intimate and personal of ways. In fact Christmas reveals and confirms that the God who made covenant with Israel for the blessing of the whole world, really is a God of mercy. Mercy is at the heart of who God really is and what God is really like. And this is what God claimed to be like all along. As he reveals himself to Moses after making covenant with Israel in the first place, God describes himself thus:

….. “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Although grace seems to get more attention, mercy and grace are really two sides of the same coin. Grace is divine unmerited favor and blessings. Grace is receiving something good that we do not deserve and could not earn. Mercy, on the other hand, is the withholding of or relief from deserved punishment. Mercy is the removal of something bad that we do deserve.

Neither mercy nor grace should ever be used as an excuse to continue in sin, although it often is. We see warnings about that very thing all over the New Testament itself (i.e. Romans 6; Jude among other places). It’s certainly not true that God really doesn’t care about what we do. God does indeed care what we do. He does because he really cares about us. God cares about what we do, but not as a pitiless taskmaster who just wants to get all the personal benefit he can out of us.

One of the most important aspects of the Gospel, the Good News, is that God really doesn’t need us anyway. Now that may leave you wondering how that’s good news, but it really is. God is by nature a personal being, one God in three persons, a tri-personal being, who is completely sufficient in himself. God needs nothing outside of himself. God doesn’t need us, but the good news is, God really wants us because he loves us. Creation wasn’t born of any necessity in God; creation was born of love, you and I are the product of love when it comes to the Maker of us all.

God loves us, therefore God has compassion for us, knowing our frailties. Knowing our sin and rebellion, every bad thought, desire, and deed we’ve ever done, he loves us anyway and offers us mercy.

Mercy is about relief, relief from suffering and punishment because of sin in the world in general or specific sins in our own lives individually. Jerry Clower told the story of coon hunting with his friend John who liked to climb trees to knock the raccoon out amongst the coon dogs. Once when John had climbed a really tall tree to knock the coon out, he soon realized it wasn’t a coon at all; it was a wild cat! After a long struggle, John yelled down for somebody to shoot the thing. They said, “No! We can’t really see good enough; we might shoot you.” John yelled back, “Well, just go ahead and shoot up here amongst us anyway, ’cause one of us has got to have some relief.”

God’s mercy is about relief, but it’s better than what Jerry Clower’s friend was asking for! On Christmas day, mercy was born and could be found in a manger. On Good Friday mercy pleaded from the cross to which he had been sentenced and nailed unjustly by those he came to save, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)

Do you need mercy! “Mercy there was great and grace was free!” (Hymn “At Calvary”) God in Christ offers each of us, who deserves far different, the gift of mercy.

Sometimes, even at our best, we feel like we just haven’t quite done enough, that somehow God loves us less because we haven’t perfected our performance. In times like this we need to remember God’s mercy. It’s not about the perfection of our performance, it’s about the sincerity of the efforts that we make in faith. All of us will fall far short of perfection in our attempts to please and represent God. We will make mistakes. But God’s love for us is none the less. God looks own our hearts and our efforts and rejoices as much as parents or grandparents do over their own portraits drawn by their small child or grandchild. Even before we’ve done anything at all, God’s loves us, and he knows our frail frames and has compassion (see Psalm 103).

Mercy is never earned – it is a gift – but it must be received. Even when we sin egregiously and give into temptation, mercy is still there for us. When we repent and confess our sin, God in his mercy forgives us (1 John 1:9). But mercy is received in the presence of God. We must turn away from sin and turn back to him! And mercy is all that we will receive! Justice is what we get when we refuse to repent and confess our sin, when we continue to try to justify ourselves rather than seeking to be justified by God. Justice and punishment only happens outside of the presence of God; in God’s presence there is only mercy (Luke 15) and therefore joy!

R.C. Sproul, the wonderful Reformed theologian and teacher of the faith who recently went home to be with the Lord, said this of mercy:

“God does not always act with justice. Sometimes he acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”

In Christ God provides all of us mercy! It is never earned and never deserved. That would be justice. Mercy is God’s gift. It’s a gift that must be received. And it’s also a gift that must be given and shared with others. That’s one way you will know you’ve trully received God’s mercy in the first place (see Matthew 18:21-35), when you are eager and willing to extend mercy to others, even those who have hurt you or seek to hurt you or the Church deeply. Even when it comes to people who actively conspire against the Church and the people of God, we are called by God to offer mercy in compassion. Mercy is a gift to be received and a gift to share with others.

How ’bout a little mercy for Christmas this year. Receive it and give it in the name of Jesus and for his sake.

This doesn’t mean that we pretend like evil actions don’t matter. It doesn’t mean that we should not speak against sinful actions or demand that perpetrators cease and desist from committing evil. Indeed, mercy would demand that we warn evildoers about the consequences of their actions and the judgment to come. We can renounce evil actions without hatefully condemning evildoers to life devoid of our compassion and mercy. Whether it is received or not we are called to offer it. After church today, I saw a report that radical Muslim suicide bombers attacked a Methodist church in Pakistan. I pray for the victims’ families, and also the terrorists. I pray that the victims may be comforted by the hope and peace of Christ. I also pray that the terrorists would be convicted of the sin of murder in their hearts and repent and receive the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Contempt long harbored in the heart can quickly metastasize into hate, and hate will eventually consume all who stew in it.

The one born and laid in a lowly manger (Luke 2:7) grew in the wisdom of God (Luke 2:52), and eventually taught:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36

How about some mercy for Christmas this year?