Isaiah 52:7-10 Psalm 98 Hebrews 1:1-12 Luke 2:1-20
An African Proverb says: “If you keep your head and heart going in the right direction, you do not have to worry about your feet.”
Christmas time is when we remember that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son to redeem it…to ransom us from slavery to satan…to pay the penalty for sin by giving His life in place of ours. It is truly the good news of peace and salvation – the news that the God of Israel reigns! The coming of Jesus signalled the end of the darkness…the end of the reign of the ruler of this world.
But this good news came with a price. The Christmas story is essentially a story of suffering. Israel had been in bondage in one way or another since the Babylonian exile. Their current rulers were harsh and demanding and people were crying out for deliverance. The Shepherds responded to the angels’ proclamation immediately because they were waiting expectantly for the Messiah. Simeon, a righteous and devout man Luke tells us, was waiting for God to come and rescue His people. Anna, a prophet of God too talked about Jesus to all who had been waiting expectantly for deliverance. All had lived for years filled with patient hope…believing that God would fulfil His promises…that God would rescue His people.
But Simeon’s prophetic words were dark words, filled with ominous warnings. When the kingdom of God confronted the kingdom of this world, the opposition was sharp. Simeon’s narrative invites us to watch as his words are fulfilled through the rest of the Gospel story. This Child was born to take upon His shoulders the hopes and fears of all the world…He was born to undo what our first parents had done…He was born to crush the head of the serpent, but in the crushing, His own heel would be bruised and His mother’s heart pierced through with a sword.
But the Child was destined to overcome the darkness and in the blinding brilliance of the resurrection the God-ordained goal for Israel was revealed. This Child was born to be a light to the nations. God’s salvation was for all people without distinction. That was and still is the good news of Christmas.
What is interesting about the birth narratives of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels is that while all yearned for a Saviour only some bothered to seek Him out. The shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the Wise men were all examples of those who followed their heads and their hearts and were rewarded when their feet led them to Jesus. But others, like Herod, the leading priests, and the teachers of the law – who were all only two hours walk away from the place Jesus was born – did not move a toe as their heads and their hearts were already going in the wrong direction. Political power is what they sought and they would resort to whatever tactics necessary to keep that power…even if it meant wholesale slaughter and murder.
If heads and hearts are already moving in the right direction, the feet will follow.
This is perfectly illustrated in the life of our Lord Jesus. His head and His heart were set on doing the will of His Father regardless of the consequence. On the night in which He was betrayed, He pleaded with the Father that if there was any way He could avoid the bitterness of suffering that awful and painful and shameful death on a Roman cross, He would allow Him to do so. But there was no other way…Paul tells us that He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on the cross. Why? Because through His blood shed on the cross, Jesus reconciled everything to God by cancelling the record of the charges against us and took it all away by nailing it to the cross.
This is the good news we have been given to share with the world. We all were once dead because of our rebellion against the only source of Life. But in Jesus God offers us a free pardon – some reject this offer, but to all who believe Him and accept Him, He gives the right to become children of God.
This acceptance is illustrated in the sacrament of Baptism…where we are symbolically buried and raised with Christ, having been set free from the spiritual powers of this world and raised to new life in Him with our heads and our hearts set on the realities of His Kingdom and His ways. And since our heads and our hearts are hidden with Christ in God, so our feet will lead us into the fullness of the good news…to be the holy people God has chosen us to be…to mirror His tender heartedness, His mercy, His grace, His love, His compassion, His humility, His gentleness, and His patience.
But a profession of faith is only the beginning of the journey. If we are to walk as Jesus walked, we need to have our heads and our hearts checked often. We need to hide the very Word of God in our hearts so that we will not be led down the wrong roads. We need to spend time with Him if we are to know Him and if we are to be like Him. We need to be reminded that the Christmas story led to the crucifixion before it led to the resurrection, and if we are to find our lives, we too may need to lose them…if we are to follow the will of the Father, it will demand that we deny ourselves and put to death our own desires so that our feet might follow Him.
That was the one major difference between Herod, the leading priests, the teachers of the law and the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and countless others. Heads and hearts set in the wrong direction will not direct our feet into the way of peace.
The Eucharist serves to remind us of the cost of discipleship…the cost of following Christ…the cost of life in a world bent on self-destruction and death. It demonstrates that while we are in the world, we too will suffer…swimming upstream is not for the fainthearted…but it also shows us that Jesus has overcome the world and that even though the world might persecute us and ridicule us and resist us and even kill us, they can never take away the gift of eternal life given to us by the Babe of Bethlehem…the one born to die…the one born to live again…the one born to reign as universal King.
© Johannes W H van der Bijl III 2018-12-19