One of the finest ways of sucking the joy right out of the Christmas season is to subtly refashion the gracious “good news of great joy to all people” announced by the angel to the shepherds at Christ’s birth into the Scrooge-ish bad news of great judgment to all people who aren’t like me and who don’t think like me.
The church of Jesus Christ has struggled through its history to uphold this basic message of the gospel of grace for everyone. From the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts that met to decide whether one ought to become a Jew first in order to be a Christian, to the with-holding of membership to African-Americans in certain churches in the 20th century, to the just plain ignoring of the poor and marginalized among us, we must be intentional and deliberate about reaching and ministering to all people. The joy of salvation is that I do not need to jump through certain spiritual hoops to enter into Christianity, nor be a certain kind of person. The church is not an exclusive club of one particular sort of people based in race, gender, ethnicity, class, spiritual pedigree, or even certain preferences on issues. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, all may come to God.
All people have intrinsic worth as individuals created in the image of God, and therefore need the attention of Christians in bringing the gospel to them. It is much too easy to ignore people we do not understand and who are different from us, or to look down on those who do not agree with me on disputable matters. When it comes to the good news of Jesus, having people out of sight does not mean we keep them out of mind. Too many people are often off the radar of many churches for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because poor and needy is trumped by wealthy and powerful for attention. To intentionally reach and minister to a different class or generation or race requires much love and many resources.
Jesus had a big enough inner space to accommodate prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, and a whole variety of sinners. How big is your inner space? Is it big enough to allow people in your life who are not like you without you feeling threatened and insecure? The Pharisees feared being contaminated if having table fellowship with such people; the Sadducees were afraid of losing their religious power over people if the status quo was changed in ministering to such low-lives; and, the Zealots feared continued Roman domination if Jesus kept up spending his time in graciousness to all kinds of sinners. So, all the religious people killed him.
We enter this Advent season and celebrate the incarnation of Christ; the Son of God was born in order to die for us. The gospel of Jesus is the good news of great joy for every person who will look to him. We are to work together to propagate this message by having the shared purpose of evangelism to everyone without discrimination. When we together engage in this critical endeavor, there is tremendous joy, and the giant sucking sound of the joy going out of the season is gone. May you find the joy that is yours in Christ. May your heart rejoice and be glad, for salvation has come to every person who believes.