Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sin, salvation and Santa


In 'The God Delusion',  Richard Dawkins writes, 'Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin.  What a nasty preoccupation to have dominating your life.'  I typed the word 'sin' into a word search for the Bible.  It told me that 'sin' is mentioned one-thousand-three-hundred-and-sixty four times in the New International Version.  You could add to that all the times 'transgression', 'rebellion', and 'iniquity' are mentioned and it is clear that Dawkins is right, Christianity is preoccupied with sin.
But then sin is an undeniable reality.  An atheist friend of mine admitted, 'I am a flawed human-being, like everybody else.'  I know that I fail to live up to my own standards, let alone God's standards.  So if God is perfectly holy, refuses to tolerate sin, and will not allow the guilty into his presence, I am in trouble.  This emphasis on sin spells bad news.

However, Dawkins has missed the point.  For while Christianity has a preoccupation with sin, it has a greater preoccupation with the solution to sin.  That's salvation!  This solution comes in the form of the person of Jesus.  The angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son, "and you are to give him the name Jesus [which means 'the Lord saves'], because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

Because of Jesus I can admit that I am a flawed human being, like everybody else, and yet be confident that I am a dearly loved child of the one true and holy God.  John begins his account of Jesus' life telling us that, 'to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God' (1:12).  This child will die so that we can live eternally.  This innocent one will take the punishment for our guilt.
Finally, this salvation is to make us happy.  The news of Jesus' birth is greeted with joy.   Mary rejoices, 'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour' (Luke 1:46-47).  The angel tells the shepherds, 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy' (Luke 2:10).

Do you remember the bus campaign in England, where an advert on buses read, 'There's probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'?  One of the problems with that advert was that it is simply not true.  Religion has been demonstrated to make people happy.  Professor Andrew Simms, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, comments that the 'advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally.'

It won't be anything Santa brings, nor the gifts that you give, that will bring your children joy in this life and in the life to come.  The thirst people have for religion shows that possessions don't ultimately satisfy.  Among religions, Christianity is unique.  It gives flawed human beings a special reason for joy.  For Christianity teaches grace (getting a gift you do not deserve) rather than Karma (getting the results of what you do deserve). 

In the run up to Christmas many boys and girls are told that, if they are good, Santa will bring them a present.  But every day the best of all presents is offered to those who admit that they are not good, not deserving, and are flawed people in need of a perfect Saviour.  Only he can make us truly happy this Christmas.

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