Friday, December 6, 2013

R U Ready for Christmas? (Part 2)

Christ's redemptive act is beautifully summarized in St. John’s Gospel (3:16, 17):  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Why would God do this?  Because he loves us all dearly!   We’re his children.  He could no more abandon us than a good mother could abandon her children. 

This in a nutshell is the Good News (or Gospel) of our salvation: God offers this free gift of redemption and salvation from original and actual sin to anyone who will believe in Him or have faith, is baptized in His name: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or the Holy Trinity), and then perseveres in a life of love for God and their neighbor by striving to live honestly, decently, ethically, and morally good in accordance with God’s teachings.

Since the early years of the Christian Church they have faithfully recited the Apostles Creed (or variation of it) during their worship services.  And it succinctly describes what Christians believe in:  I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.  He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

When people asked Jesus how a person should live a truly good life he answered (Matthew 22:37-40): Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

This is the law of love that Jesus commanded for his followers, which is beautifully described in detail in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  In His Sermon on the Mount, he made the practical connection between the written Jewish law and loving God and others. 

He taught that it’s not enough to have faith in God to save us we must also persevere in love for God and others.  For example, He taught that it wasn’t enough to love our friends and relatives or those who love us; we must also love our enemies or those who treat us poorly. 

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (13:4-8,13) explained this law of love further by describing the virtues of faith, hope, and love that practicing Christians should strive for: Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

Persevering in a life of love for God and others is what practicing Christians strive for their whole lives.  Salvation is a process of being liberated or freed from evil or from the undesirable through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  We can’t simply say, “I believe in God!”, and all our troubles and bad habits will magically disappear.  It doesn’t work that way.  Ask anyone who’s addicted to alcohol, drugs, or anything else?  God certainly didn’t need our help to create us, but He certainly won’t save us without our help.  It takes time and effort and perseverance.  The old adage God helps those who help themselves is quite true.  There’s also an old adage that says For every step you take towards God, God takes two steps towards you.    

And remember, that God has given all of us the capacity to choose good rather than evil; although, our freedom to choose good is wounded by this curse of original sin.  We overcome sin and bad behavior in our lives through our daily, continued faith and trust in God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and through our continued obedience to His will and moral edicts. 

When we fail to live up to God’s high standards, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness, and continue on our Christian struggle.  And, if we’ve wronged anyone, we need to reconcile with him or her by asking forgiveness and making amends.  But what we don’t do is give up and become despondent because it’s too difficult!  It is more challenging and difficult to live a life of love than it is to live a life of hate.  It’s harder to be good than it is to be bad.  If you don’t want to be good, then all you have to do is nothing! 

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