If 2020 has taught us one thing, it has been the meaning of “safety” and “being saved.” So often when I write or talk about Jesus as saviour, I have to explain what the word means because I am speaking to people who already live fairly safe and secure lives At this stage I’d normally insert a lame and unrealistic illustration about the Bradford City goalie saving a penalty.
This year changed all of that as fear and panic spread quicker even than the pandemic. We looked around desperate for safety and security. We realised that our governments, our borders and our medics were helpless in the face of a tiny virus. We even watched, waited and prayed as some of our leaders fell sick to it. To be saved from coronavirus individually means to be either protected from catching it or receiving treatment that helps us to get better. We look for individual rescue but also national rescue, the suppression of the disease through lockdowns and social distancing, the arrival of a vaccine. And when those things seem to be starting to work we rejoice but when there is a sudden spike in cases or a new, faster spreading mutation of the virus is identified, the fear and the panic return.
Before we talk about happier things, I need to tell you that as fearful as this virus is, there are deadlier things to fear. Jesus once said
“Don’t fear the one who can harm the body … fear the one who can destroy body and soul.”
There is something that spreads more effectively than coronavirus and that does far more damange. The consequence is certain, the result is death. Sin is the virus that has spread to every human being and brought death.
What is sin? Sin is the pride in our hearts which says “I can manage by myself thank you.” Sin is about putting me first, about believing that I don’t need God and I don’t need anyone else. It’s in all of us. Just as I don’t need to tell you what safety and salvation means, I don’t really need to tell you about sin. Deep down, you know that you end up letting down those closest to you. You know the hurt you’ve caused, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. You know what it means to nurse bitterness and anger. You know the things you have said, done and thought that cause you to feel dirty, guilty and ashamed.
And that is exactly why we need Christmas. Here at perhaps one of the darkest hours in one of the darkest years, we celebrate that there is light, that there is good news that there is rescue and safety available. There is someone who can rescue you and keep you safe from that something more deadly than Coronavirus.
In Luke 1, an angel appears to a young woman called Mary and tells her that she is the recipient of grace and favour. God has chosen her to have a special baby. What is it that makes the baby unique. Is it the miraculous nature of his birth? Well no, although this one was particularly extraordinary, there were other miraculous births, Luke tells us about another one in the very same chapter that Mary is introduced. Was it the manger, the star, the shepherds, the angels? No. The unique and special thing is found in his name, “Jesus.”
The name Jesus, Joshua or Yeshua means “God saves” or “The Lord is my salvation.” And in Jesus, God was stepping down into history, into our messed up world, a world devastated by sin and evil gone viral. How would he do that? Well, over the past few days as Christmas plans have been curtailed, it’s been suggested that Easter should be the new Christmas this time, that we should role the two celebrations into one. I fear that mainly that focus is on the big meal and present sharing but actually, there will be great benefit in bringing together two festivals that should be linked. You see, without Christmas, Easter is not possible but without Easter Christmas is meaningless. Yes we have a miracle baby but after all there have been many of them in history.
Easter tells us why the miracle matters. It tells us how God has acted to save in and through Jesus. Easter tells us about Jesus the saviour being falsely accused, publicly ashamed, mocked, abused, beaten and cruelly nailed to a wooden cross. It’s the story of:
- The one who was innocent bearing our guilt
- The King of heaven being stripped of his majesty and bearing our shame
- The Lord of life dying so that you and I might live.
This is Jesus our king and saviour. He offers life, forgiveness, joy peace and hope.
Now, I want to have your attention for just a little longer, because I suspect soon our attention will be on other things. This crisis will be over. We’ll “muddle through some how.” We’ll forget what it means to be faced with real and present danger and we’ll become comfortable again. Some of you through the events this year have begun to discover an awakening to a heart need, that desire for something more. Some of you today are very alert to your need for a saviour, for forgiveness, hope and peace. But it is so easy for us to forget that moment and get lost in everyday life. Please don’t do that. Please use the opportunity now to put your life into the trust and care of the saviour.