The Minister’s Letter (December/January 2015)
Christmas is coming and for most people Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. For some, if Christ has anything to do with Christmas at all, he will be limited to the image of the baby in the manger. It’s the one you find on religious Christmas cards, with an antiseptically clean stable that’s all nice and cosy, with fantastic lighting, highly attentive animals and the baby Jesus is right in the centre with a warm glow all around him. It’s a lovely image, but there’s a real danger that we simply leave Jesus in the manager at Christmas.
We know all about the events of that very first Christmas. Children can easily grasp the details and the story is sentimental enough to be inoffensive, even these days. That’s why our schools generally remain happy enough to dress our children up with tea-towels on their heads and tinsel in their hair to act it out in a nativity play. Yet, if this is the only image of Jesus that is presented at Christmas, Jesus is disguised and sanitised and easy to ignore. Of course, we do need to know the historicity of the events surrounding the incarnation, but we also need to be clear on who the baby in the manger really is and why he came. If this is absent from the Christmas message, then its true significance is missed and Jesus is misunderstood.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians (about 30 years after Jesus' death and resurrection), he was writing to people who were in danger of misunderstanding Jesus. Like many today, their image of Jesus was far too small. Yet, the astounding reality is that Jesus is nothing less than God in human form. He is more than a baby, a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker, a good example and all the other things people say he is. Jesus is God. That’s why the message of Christmas has enormous implications for every one of us as we celebrate God entering into his world as a human baby.
Paul writes about the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20 because his readers needed to know, and so do we, of the sheer magnificence of Jesus Christ; who he is, what he has done and what he will do in the future. The Christians in Colossae were at risk because of some false teaching that diluted the supremacy of Christ. It was the kind of teaching that seeks to make Jesus less than he really is, which is still around today outside and even inside the church.
Paul says that Jesus existed long before he showed up in Bethlehem in the year 0. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” (15). Jesus is the God of eternity shrunk down as a human being. Jesus makes God visible to us which means all the guessing games about what God is like are over. Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation” (15). This doesn’t mean Jesus was born first or created first because ‘firstborn’ has the notion of supremacy and priority.
Paul goes on to say, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (16). Jesus created all things, everything we can see and everything we can’t. So whatever you see, whatever you touch, or taste, or smell, or experience, all of it was made by Jesus. We are talking at the macro level with the universe, the stars and the galaxies as well as the micro level with the subatomic particles and the DNA because everything owes its existence to Jesus. Yet, Jesus is not just the creator but the goal of creation because everything was created “for him.”
Did you ever have name labels sewn onto your school uniform when you were young? It helped me when the bell rang at the end of break-time to find my jumper amongst the many that were piled up as goalposts! From Paul’s words, it’s like everything in creation is labelled stating, ‘Made by Jesus’ and ‘Made for Jesus.’ Abraham Kuyper (the Dutch Politician and Theologian of a century ago) said “There is not one square inch in all of God’s creation that Jesus does not cry out, 'Mine!” There is nothing in this universe, including you and me that doesn’t belong to Jesus.
So Jesus is the creator, but Jesus is also the sustainer of his creation. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (17). Paul is saying that Jesus keeps everything in the cosmos working, so the fact that the world keeps spinning, that planet earth remains the exact distance from the sun, that there’s enough oxygen in the air, that there’s something called gravity, that we’re alive right now and have the capacity to read this, all depends on Jesus. However, Jesus is not like human creators who’re no longer involved in their creation, like the late Steve Jobs for example. Steve Jobs was the designer and creator of Apple technology, but he doesn’t need to be around for all the Apple products to work. His death made no difference to iMacs, iPhones, iPods or iPads because they still work without him, until you drop them! Yet nothing would work without Jesus. That’s how dependent our world and our lives are on him. So Jesus is essential for life.
Now, I suspect many people reject Christianity these days today because they have been offered a different Jesus. The image of Jesus they have, or the one they have been presented, is the wrong one. Jesus is often presented as too small and insignificant, proclaimed as irrelevant or supplemental, rather than the supreme Lord of all. Many are sadly sold a weak god, one who, if he’s there at all, is totally incompetent when it comes to doing anything about this messed up world of evil and injustice. He is either portrayed as one who is so remote and uninterested in us, or as one who is so safe and containable and would agree with us on everything. Many continue to be offered a false imitation of the one true God who is not worthy of our worship.
The Christmas message is more shocking than sentimental because the extreme contrast between the identity of the baby Jesus and the circumstances of his birth could not be greater. At Christmas we find the creator, sustainer and Lord of the universe wriggling and crying in an animal feeding box in a tiny place called Bethlehem. But why did God come to us? In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul goes on to tell us that Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself. God became man in order to die. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on a cross” (19-20). In Jesus, God came to reconcile and to put things right through his death on a cross. God has come to reconcile and make peace. As sin has wrecked our world and our lives, everything needs to be reconciled both at a cosmic level and an individual level.
Jesus will reconcile all things, meaning the entire cosmos where everything will be restored to how it should be, with all the disharmony, pain and suffering of the world gone. This is the kind of world we all want and the good news is, so does God and he will make it happen. When my children have friends over to play, the house quickly descends into chaos with toys everywhere. But eventually, there’s harmony when everything is put back in its rightful place. That’s a poor illustration of what Christ will do to our world. He will make all things right with the curse of sin undone and he will bring peace. This cosmic reconciliation is coming but it also impacts us as individuals because we need to be reconciled to God. We have not treated God as the supreme Lord over all and have lived in his would rejecting his rightful rule over our lives. The seriousness of this sin makes us God’s enemies. Yet the fantastic news of Christmas is that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus' death on the cross. That’s the shocking truth of Christmas that blows all the sentimentality out of the water.
So if God became man in order to die to reconcile us to himself, then there is nothing more important in this life than to know peace with God through Jesus Christ. Let’s make sure that our family and friends can see the real Jesus this Christmas.
Sheona, Joshua, Matthew and Rebekah and join me in wishing you a very Happy Christmas. May you, and those whom you love, experience peace with God that comes to us in the gift of Jesus.
Your minister and friend
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters