The Wonder of Reconciliation

Tony Sammut   -  

As we’ve been journeying through our Advent sermon series on Wonder, we’ve been exploring themes of the Christmas season that are indeed reasons for us to pause and discover something new and life-giving about the coming of Jesus into the world.  But there is something about each one of these themes we’ve been exploring that is not necessarily intuitive – at least in terms of how we normally think about things that give us wonder.

Slowing. And, Giving.  These are themes we’ve explored for the last two weeks.  But they’re often difficult, and go against so many of our natural inclinations.  These words don’t describe our normal pathways to wonder.

Well, the same can be said for this week’s word of Wonder – Reconciliation.  If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, then this probably isn’t an unfamiliar word or idea for you.  But it’s definitely not one we typically associate with Advent and Christmas.  We talk about it a lot more when we celebrate Easter – Jesus’ death – not Christmas, and Jesus’ birth.

But as we’ll see in this week’s readings, the Christmas story – the story of God taking on flesh and coming into the world as a human being – is actually filled, front to back, with the heart of God that longs to be reconciled – to “be made friendly again” to His world.  The whole world!  And as we discover this incredible heartbeat of God in the birth of Christ, may our own hearts be filled with the Wonder of His love for us and for all people!

Day 1: John 1:1-14

As we heard in this past Sunday’s sermon, this familiar Christmas passage is actually filled with the message about what God did to reconcile the world to Himself.

He came into the World.

We hear this phrase so often at this time of year, so it’s easy for it to lose its wonder.  But John tells us more about what that actually meant for Jesus.

In coming into the world, it actually meant that He had to leave his place in heaven.  He left a place filled with the light and glory and goodness of God, to come into the darkness of the world (v. 5).  He left the place where He was known and worshipped as the Loving Creator who made all things, and came into a world that didn’t even recognize him (10).  He left His status and wealth behind – the One to whom all things belonged – to come into a world that would not even accept him (v. 11).

He not only made the first move toward.  But in doing so, He gave up His power, status, wealth, and comfort to meet us in our poverty, darkness, and even opposition toward Him.   He didn’t have to do any of this.  But He did, because He loves us.

Consider the length that Jesus has gone to to reconcile you to himself.

What darkness in your life has He entered into?

In what ways have you resisted or opposed His presence and work in your life?

When have you been unable to see or recognize Him for who He really is?

How has He met you in grace and truth (v. 14) in any of these situations?

Day 2: Read Luke 2:1-7

Making the move to restore a broken relationship sometimes involves the risk of rejection.  Jesus was no stranger to rejection throughout his entire lifetime.  But this was also true to those he called to share in his ministry.  And his first partners in ministry – though we may not often think of them like this – were his own earthly parents.

Mary said yes to being the mother of this miraculous Child.  And though Mary had become pregnant by someone else, Joseph had said yes to remaining with Mary (rather than divorcing her for dishonoring their marriage), and to raising this Child as his own.

But in opening their lives to Jesus, it meant that the rest of Mary and Joseph’s family would shut their doors to them.  In those days, to have a child out of wedlock – and worse, to an unknown father – would have been a deeply shameful thing to do.  And when Luke tells us that “there was no guest room available for them” he is making a veiled statement to what was most like a very painful reality.  In all likelihood, the town of Bethlehem would have been a place where many of Joseph’s relatives would have lived, because this was where his lineage had come from.  And more than that, all of his relatives would have travelled there along with him, since they were required to for the census.  Yet there were no guest rooms available.  This isn’t just about the local inns being all filled up.  It’s about family members being unwilling to be in the same home with a shamed couple about to give birth to a bastard child.

In participating in the greatest act of reconciliation, Mary and Joseph were subjected to great personal rejection.

And there is a dynamic in their experience that we ourselves are sometimes called to share in as well.   Sometimes rejection is what happens when we share the Good News of Jesus with those we know – even if they are those we love.  By aligning ourselves with Jesus and His message of reconciliation, it can mean that others may oppose us, reject us, or distance themselves from us.  Yet, this is exactly what Jesus himself experienced.  And it is something that we are told we need not fight or resist ourselves, but come to expect if we are to share in his ministry.

Is there any way you have been rejected because you have tried to share your faith in Jesus?

Is there anyone who is staying distant from you because they know you follow Jesus?

How can you learn from Jesus’ humble approach to those who rejected Him?  How can you learn from the willingness of Mary of Joseph to share in Christ’s rejection for the sake of bringing Him into the world?

Day 3: Luke 2:8-20

As the Christmas story unfolds, we’re given one look after another to see the reconciling heart of God in every part of it.  And in today’s reading, it’s through the eyes of the shepherds.  We may be certain to see these important characters in every Nativity play and movie today.  But they wouldn’t have been such welcome guests in the time of Jesus’ birth.

In fact, at that time, a visit from a shepherd would have been more like a visit from a homeless man.  And many of them were indeed homeless.  They lived out in the fields with the sheep, going where the flocks went.  And the nature of their job didn’t just leave them homeless.  It left them “unclean” – in every sense of the word.  It was a dirty job, working with animals and being outside all the time.  But more, all of this meant that shepherds were never in a state that allowed them to enter the Temple, and to worship in God’s presence.

So, these shepherds were people who had been pushed out, in almost every way, from the communities of which they were supposed to be a part.  They were seen as unclean, defiled, and unworthy to be with others or to be with God.

But it was the Shepherds who God came to first.

It was the Shepherds who heard the Good News of Jesus’ birth.

And it was the Shepherds who were invited in, to the ultimate place of worship, to see the glory of God made flesh for themselves.

Is there anyone in your life who rubs you the wrong way, makes you feel uncomfortable to be around, or just bothers you when you’re around them? What is it that makes you want to keep your distance?

Take some time, and ask Jesus to tell you how He feels about this person. Ask Him to reveal His heart for them to you.

After you’ve taken some time to listen to Jesus, pray for this person (or people) who have come to mind. Pray over this person anything that Jesus has revealed to you.  Pray that God would meet this person in a way as powerful and miraculous as the way He met the shepherds and invited them to come near.

Day 4: Read Matthew 2:1-12

Reconcilitation isn’t something that’s just difficult most of the time.  If we’re honest, it can be something that’s down right scandalous.  It goes against many of our natural inclinations – to justify ourselves, to hold on to our need to be right, to excuse our own faults while we point out the faults of others, etc…

Reconciliation often requires crossing some difficult boundaries, radically changing our perspectives, even giving our presumptions and expectations up entirely.

And all of that would have been the case when the Magi showed up at Mary and Joseph’s front porch.

Magi would not have been people who anyone from Israel would have expected – or welcomed – onto the same scene as the Messiah.  We often call them wise men.  And there must be some truth to that, since they knew who Jesus really was!  But they were also “magicians”.  That’s where the term “magi” comes from.  They were people who practiced magic arts.  They looked to the stars for their direction – possibly even worshipped them.  These weren’t merely practices that were different from the people of Israel, they were downright condemned by God (Deut. 18:10-14).

But the scandalous truth is that God somehow chose to lead these Magi to His Son through these very same practices.  They studied and worshipped the stars.  But God used their worship of the stars to lead them to worship the true Light of the world.  God didn’t wait for them to get their worship “right”, to get things in order, before He felt comfortable enough to draw them near.  No.  God crossed every bridge, spoke to them in the language they could fully understand, and drew them to Jesus so that they could be brought to a whole new understanding, and a whole new place of worship.

Reflect on God’s scandalous approach with the Magi. Does this break any paradigms that you might have had around how he works?

Consider others you know who may worship other gods, practice other religions, or don’t practice any religion at all. Pray for them.  Ask God to speak to them in the language of worship that they can understand, so that they may be led to the true Light of the world.

Day 5: Isaiah 9:1-7

The promise of Christmas was ultimately a promise of reconciliation – of “being made friendly again”.  A promise of Peace.  And it was given originally to a people that struggled to find this on every level.  They struggled within, between their own people.  They struggled with the nations around them, warring and competing, often under the oppression of greater nations.  And they struggled with God – that’s what the name Israel actually means! – always wrestling with His loving Lordship over them.

Yet the promise of Christmas was that one day all this this struggling and wrestling – within themselves, with others, and with God – would cease.  Peace would come.  More, God would come – Immanuel.  And a whole new reality of restored relationship would be offered to us.

Merry Christmas!!

Take some time today to worship Jesus, Immanuel for being our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.