Wednesday, December 4, 2013

R U Ready for Christmas? (Part 1)

This is the Advent Season in the Church's Liturgical Year.  It's observed over the four weeks before Christmas, and it's a time to get ready for Christmas, a time to take personal inventory of our lives, and a time to clean house.  Christmas, of course, is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.  But what does all this really mean?  Over the course of the next four weeks I'll be posting a series of articles to answer these questions.

How do we become better people?  How do we become more kind to others?  How do we live more honestly, decently, ethically, and morally?  How do we change ourselves for the better?  These are the sixty-four thousand dollar questions mankind has been asking for generations?  And there are no simple answers.  If it were so easy to become better people, we would be living in a utopia by now.  There wouldn't be war, terrorism, murders, rapes, robbery, injustice, poverty, starvation, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera....

So rather than first asking how do we become better people, let’s first ask how did we get into this mess in the first place?  How did our world become so unfair, unkind, and unjust? 

Christians believe that God is the Supreme Being who created everything in the universe, and according to His divine will and providence, keeps them in existence.  God is infinitely perfect and the source of all life, knowledge and truth.  God is all-holy, almighty, all-eternal, all-good, all-knowing, all-present, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-merciful (just to name a few). 

Surprisingly, Christians believe that just by natural reason we can come to know God.  All you have to do is consider the universe we live in….  All the created realities from the stars in the night sky, our sun and moon, the earth we live on, the wonder of nature, all the creatures that inhabit or world (from the smallest to the greatest), or our own human bodies give evidence of God’s existence.  Consider the phenomena found in nature and the physical, mathematical, life, and social sciences that study them and try to explain them with varying degrees of success.  Yes, mankind has learned much over the ages, but it’s still only a drop in the ocean compared with what we still don’t know.  But actually there’s a much simpler way to know God: just look deep within yourself—into the recesses of your mind and heart—and you’ll know there IS a God! 

In the beginning, men and women perfectly reflected God’s own perfect holiness, goodness, wisdom, knowledge, power, and love.  They were free from suffering and death and were given the freedom to choose or free-will.  By obeying God, they could remain in this wonderful state of perfection; but by disobeying God, they’d lose the wonderful gifts He gave them. 

Our God-given ability to freely choose or free-will means that God will not force us to love him or to obey him, nor will God force us to act honestly, decently, ethically, and morally in our dealings with other people; but ultimately, God will hold us all accountable for the way we lived our lives and how we treated other people.

Unfortunately, men and women fell from this original state of perfection through pride, selfishness, and disobedience to God.  They lost these wonderful gifts God gave them, and this is what brought suffering and death into the world. 

Since the fall of man and woman, all generations that followed have failed to live up to God’s moral and ethical laws; this is what Christians call original sin and it disrupted man’s intimate, loving relationship with God our creator.

As a result of this original sin every man and woman was born into a fallen state of separation and alienation from God and became subject to suffering, death, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin and to disobey God.  Men and women lost God’s wonderful gifts of holiness, justice, grace, great knowledge, control of their passions, and freedom from suffering and death. 

History has clearly shown that we cannot save ourselves or reverse the effects of this curse of original sin—only God can!  Every generation that has come and gone has tried and failed miserably.  Some would argue that the world is slowly getting better and we’re more advanced than previous generations.  Our technology and scientific understanding have grown.  They could argue that we’re no longer stuck in the dark ages and there’s relative peace in most of the developed world.  But before long, someone or something will change all that: murder, mayhem, misunderstandings, conflict, war, famine, natural disasters, sickness, disease, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera….  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  And deep down inside each of us we know that the world is basically unfair, unkind, and unjust?    

Fortunately, God didn’t give up on us!  He immediately began to save the human race from our fallen condition.  The history recounted throughout the Bible recounts the unfolding of God’s plan to save the human race from this curse of original sin.

God made covenants (or solemn, unbreakable agreements) with our forefathers beginning with Noah and continuing with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Moses.  He sent prophets (or seers) to tell us the right way to live and warn humanity of the consequence of bad behavior.

God spoke to us in various ways throughout the ages reminding us of his love for us and his desire for us to return to him through righteous living.  And eventually, God spoke to us directly through His own Son Jesus Christ.  God’s redemptive plan to free mankind from this curse of original sin and restore our original destiny to share God’s blessed life was fulfilled through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  We couldn’t save ourselves, so God sent His Son into the world to do it for us.

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