Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Silence That Speaks Volumes

This season is so noisy.

There are crackers and pantomimes and those ties covered in elves or snowmen that will sing at you off-key and adverts that everyone has loud opinions on featuring that folk version of what used to be a normal sounding song and there are increasingly hideous Christmas jumpers and there's that house on the corner that looks like it has melting neon reindeers all over it and there is tinsel, a visual version of all of the above noise.

All this is going on over the top of a whole host of other loudnesses.

There's hatred, ignorance, heartbreak, persecution, desperate sickness, violence, war- and then countless, countless words being spoken about it. And what we need is Jesus. We need the Word made flesh; Light shining in the darkness; the Truth revealed.

And meanwhile, we sing:

How silently, how silently- the wondrous gift is given. 

Part of me wishes that Jesus had come to earth more loudly. Part of me wishes that it didn't seem, from a worldly perspective, so insignificant.

But actually, as I sing these words I feel such deep joy; the silence of his coming is joyful news!

Because his silence is his laying aside of his glory, it's good news of great joy being secured.

Jesus was born to us. Jesus was a child, given to us. He became vulnerable, tiny, dependent- so that he might truly be with us, truly be for us, truly be on our side,

His coming seemed quiet because he came in to our darkness. Churches in Burundi, for example, depict the massacre of the Jewish children and the fleeing of Jesus' family in their nativities, because that's how the people can best identify with Jesus. That's the kind of darkness Jesus came to be a light in; the grimmest, most brutal, devastating darkness there is.

As the carol goes, the King of glory, the God of gods and Light of lights, "abhors not the Virgin's womb!" So that he might be with us in our darkness, not only did he not reject the womb, but he also did not reject poverty, or danger, or becoming a refugee. He did not abhor weakness, he did not abhor rejection, he did not abhor violence, humiliation, shame, even death: he did not abhor the womb, and he did not abhor the cross. Christ the Lord was born to us, lived for us, and died for us. He was given in our place.

So he came quietly, and seemingly insignificantly, with glory and comfort and noise laid aside- but because he did, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. He has taken on our humanity completely, so that he might represent us perfectly, and give us Light eternally.

One day he will come, and it will not be so quiet. But until then, the kingdom continues to grow quietly- with light shining in dark hearts, one by one by one.

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. 

 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4: 30-32

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

What Won't Atone. And What Will.

When I sin- deliberately, rudely, brazenly- and know that I've sinned, I often decide that I'm going to go on a mission to make up for it.

The first means of atonement I tend to try is time. Once I become aware of my guilt, I just decide I'll sit it out. I decide that as time passes, I will become less guilty. Of course, as time passes- I may feel less guilty. But I won't be less guilty. Guilt is a legal status, not a feeling. And time can't make the act of lawlessness go away. 

If time won't do, I have to find another means. So I think about things that I can do that will be especially selfless, especially pure, especially wonderful to fill in the gaping hole I've ripped open by my rebellion. It doesn't take much effort before it's clear that my acts of selflessness can't plug the gap. Firstly, they're not really all that good themselves, so they just exacerbate the problem. And secondly, they can't take away the original act of sin. It's still there. 

Once I've surrendered to the reality that my goodness won't make up for it- on account of the fact that it's not really that good, I then opt for beating myself up. If I tell myself that I'm useless, and insist on pursuing misery (for what I deem to be an adequate amount of time), then I reason I will make up for my sin. But lurking at the back of my mind is the knowledge that the offence against God is eternal: my few days penance are a pitiful drop in an oceans' worth of debt. 

By now, I'm almost out of excuses. But I then try one last gasp of legalism, and offer up my circumstances as justification. Oh, but it was such a hard week. Oh, but I'm so tired. Oh, but I'm sad. Oh, but I'm in pain. But when you've turned away from the God of all comfort to find counterfeit comfort in sin, this excuse doesn't wash as a justification- and it doesn't atone for sin. 

All of my time, all of my goodnesses, my excuses, my self-inflicted punishments- even my most finely crafted apologies cannot atone for sin. 

I am guilty. I am stained. I am wretched. 

And Christ died for my sin. 

Christ. Died. For. My. Sin. Five words to blow the mind! 

Starting with his humble birth, through his obedient and completely pure life, and by his death, he knew my need and met it. He knew my weakness, and became my strength. He knew my guilt, and gave me his innocence. God's chosen King humbled himself, even up the point of his death in my place- and dealt with my sin. 

He came to me in my utter helplessness- and where I couldn't remove a single stain, he removed it all. Where I was too weakened by my own sinfulness, where I was steeped in my own brokenness, my own wretchedness- he reached down, he became my strength, he lifted me up. He washed away my sin, by his own blood. He became my refuge; he shielded me from the wrath that should have fallen on me. As the weight of my debt crushed him, he loved me, and as he was condemned, he said to me: "I forgive all your sins." 

"The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger, 
In all our trials, born to be our friend: 
He knows our need! Our weakness is no stranger! 
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!" 

I cannot atone for my sin. But Christ can. 

What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus. 
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