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FIRST-PERSON: Forgiveness at the heart of Christmas story

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Christmas story is timeless. Its fascination never grows old. It is simple in its brevity, yet profound in its message of hope and deliverance. In it, our Heavenly Father engages every part of the human psyche -– the soul and its delight in a poignant tale; the mind and its imaginative powers to fill in the gaps; the heart and its potential to be stirred with compassion; and all the human senses.

One well-known Christmas carol asks these three questions, “Do you hear what I hear?” “Do you see what I see?” “Do you know what I know?”

God has always engaged his children through sight, sound and knowledge. On numerous occasions, He commented that His people had eyes, but could not see; had ears, but could not hear; and had minds, but could not perceive (Deuteronomy 29:4, Isaiah 6:10, Jeremiah 5:21-22, Ezekiel 12:2). Jesus underscored this same truth when he explained to His disciples His reason for speaking in parables (Matthew 13:15-16).

The Christmas story is filled with visual imagery. The angel appeared to Joseph (Matthew 1:20), Zacharias (Luke 1:11), Mary (Luke 1:29), and the Shepherds (Luke 2:9). The star appeared to the wise men, led the wise men, and reappeared when they left Jerusalem for Bethlehem (Matthew 2:7-11). The shepherds ran to Bethlehem to see the sight they had been told about (Luke 2:15) and returned rejoicing over all they had seen (Luke 2:20).

The birth narratives of Jesus recorded in Matthew and Luke occupy only a very small piece of the biblical portrait of redemption. Far more significant is the depiction in all four Gospels of the suffering of Christ. The New Testament is actually the “New Covenant” -– the covenant God established through Christ to bring us deliverance from our sins by the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

Many of us have missed “seeing” what the key people in the birth narrative saw. But, they got it. They understood the angel’s announcements. “A Savior.” “Call his name Jesus.” “He shall save his people from their sins.” From the very outset, the purpose of His birth was that Jesus might die for sinners. Hymn writer Harry Bollbach captured it well in his Christmas hymn “Ring the Bells.” He wrote, “Born to die that man might live; came to earth new life to give; born of Mary, born so low, many years ago.”

Is it really possible to have our sins covered by the death of the innocent Lamb of God? Hidden in the midst of the Christmas story are the angel’s words to Mary: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

How does God deliver us from the pull, the power and the penalty of our sins? How do we experience fullness of joy and a liberating release from sin’s chokehold? Step forward from the birth of Jesus to the time of His public ministry. Hear His words: “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to me and drink! The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” (John 7:37-38). This is a striking visual image of liberation and deliverance from sin. Can it happen for me? Hear again the angel’s announcement to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

The Liberating Forgiveness of our Past Sins

Perhaps you are consumed by the ghosts of sins from your past. Perhaps you feel that your sins are too deep, too big, too wicked to be forgiven. Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize. Do you see the archived library of your sins? Rows and rows of videos on which Satan has captured every sinful thought and action. Is there one sin that particularly stands out?

Now imagine a rushing river ripping through the walls of that vast library, sweeping away every evil deed with its mighty power. Do you see the debris of your past life being washed out into the sea?

Micah, the same prophet who prophesied of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, also proclaimed this grand truth, “[The Lord] will have compassion on us; He will vanquish our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Through His death on the Cross, Jesus has washed away your sins. Trust Him, and you will be saved. Sound too good to be true? Hear again the angel in the Christmas story: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Our God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is well able to forgive us of our past and to deliver us from the ghosts of guilt that haunt us and daunt us.

The Liberating Deliverance from our Present Sins

Imagine again a sparkling, clear river; an inviting river; a river shimmering with light, rippling with the gentle play of the wind on its surface. Visualize the joy of wading, diving, splashing in the water with your family and closest friends. Now imagine the river becoming clogged, choked with boulders, tree limbs and other debris. How many Christians have lost the joy of their salvation through the accumulated filth of unconfessed sin?

Picture the powerful swell of water pressure building up behind the dam. One word of confession, one extended session of cleansing repentance releases the mighty weight of water. The dam breaks. The debris is dislodged. The rushing, mighty river again runs free.

The Apostle John reminded the believer, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Visualize again the accumulated debris of your poor choices washed far out into the depths of the sea. Sound too good to be true? Hear again the angel in the Christmas story: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Our God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is well able to crush the oppressive weight of accumulated sin and cleanse us through the blood of His Cross.

The Liberating Confidence concerning Our Future Sins

Imagine a helicopter high overhead carrying a massive log from the mountaintop to the saw mill in the valley below. Just as it passes over your river, the harness slips and the log begins its long fall into the waters below. How deep under the water’s surface will the log’s momentum carry it? How long will it be gone from sight? But wait, will not the natural buoyancy of the log inevitably pull it back to the surface? Will not the current of the river carry it far down the mountain to its ultimate destination?

Many people have feared to come to God, thinking they lack the strength to “hold on.” The marvelous news is this: when we call on the name of the Lord, He saves us by HIS mighty arm!

One day Peter walked on the water. Suddenly, distracted by the wind and the waves, he began to sink. He had the presence of mind to call out this prayer, “Lord, save me!” Jesus lifted him from the waters and walked with him to the safety of the boat (Matthew 14:28-32).

One day, King David, the sweet singer of Israel, was overwhelmed by his own weakness. In quiet trust, he lifted his eyes heavenward and wrote: “He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2).

Do you fear that you will let God down if you place your trust in Him? Release your fears and entrust yourself to His unfailing care. The Heavenly Father will comfort and keep you. He will secure you by His grace. Sound too good to be true? Hear again the angel in the Christmas story: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

Our God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is well able to keep us in His care. There may be times we may stumble. We may fall. We may feel the pangs of fear as we sink deeply under the surface. But, when Christ lives in us, we have the supernatural buoyancy of His presence. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Ah, the joy of the angel’s tidings! “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Do you know the Christ of Christmas? Don’t let the season sweep by you, carrying you downstream without hope. Turn your heart to Him by faith. He will save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. He will place in your innermost being a river of living water, a cascade of joy and peace, the cleansing of forgiveness and deliverance. It can happen for you! Hear once more the angel in the Christmas story: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention Relations, SBC Executive Committee.

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  • Roger S. Oldham