William Erps: Consider this as reason for season
How many special interests and topics this Christmas will you see touted as worthy of our attention and deemed necessary for our focus? Cooking the perfect turkey, getting the most bang-for-your-buck in electronics, avoiding insanity at overcrowded stores, tolerating your in-laws and more will be offered up for your consideration.
When the word "Christmas" rolls off one's lips, few thoughts would rival the image of Santa, and he as the quintessential Giver of Gifts. We relish the idea of tearing through packages to the delight of discovering that new, bright, shiny something lavished on us by those who care, or from a stranger who trespassed through our chimney. Gifts, then, hold a place of tremendous significance as to the meaning of Christmas.
When we consider both giving and receiving gifts, we often do so on the ground of the worthiness of the one in view. The "Naughty or Nice" list is the criterion used by Mr. Claus to distribute his product and by parents to keep their kids in line for at least a month. Worth in the individual as the basis for gift giving, by definition, negates what is given from being a gift. If someone did something to deserve it, to earn it, it is a wage.
Few of us move very far from this concept when we consider Jesus Christ as the greatest gift given. As with our notions of being good to leverage both our parents and St. Nick to bestow on us their "gifts," we think God loves us because we are lovely. In this view, God sent his son into the world to serve as an example and teacher, helping generally good people to be better. To describe the theological current of his day, Richard Niebuhr once wrote "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." As was the current of his day, our waters are 10 feet high and rising.
Distinguished professor and author C.S. Lewis noted that men believe in democracy because they hold to the inherent goodness and wisdom of man to govern himself and others. He said he was a proponent of democracy for the opposite reason: "The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they're not true. ... I find that they're not true without looking further than myself. I don't deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation ... Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows."
If what Lewis describes is true of us, then Jesus Christ came not for the good people but for the bad. He is the archetype of all gifts in that God gave us not something but someone, and not just to those who did not earn it but to those who contemptuously scoffed at the Giver. As the old spiritual goes, "I wonder as I wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die, for poor on'ry people like you and like I; I wonder as I wander out under the sky."
What then is the reason for the season? Sin is.
William Erps is pastor of Missio Dei Church in Huntington.
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