The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: F

The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: F
This is the final in a series of sermons I gave on the Sundays of the Nativity Fast in 1995. You can read the previous sermon at The ABC’s of Why We Need Christmas: E Eve and the Ever-Virgin

There are many popular ideas about how confession and forgiveness of sin works and whether or not we really need to confess to someone at all. In as much as the forgiveness of sins is foundational to the Gospel Lesson of Christ’s Nativity (Matthew 1:21) and since repentance is both an initiating experience into Christianity (“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”) and at the center of the Christian life (“that we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance”), it is proper for us to consider the nature of God’s forgiveness, the manner in which we receive it, and its connection to confession.

In the bible, sin is portrayed as a debt that is incurred. A sinner is one who is a debtor to God. Our sin is the action which causes our debt. Debt as portrayed in scripture is not something merely to be repaid. Rather, debt separates the two parties involved from each other. It creates a disruption in relationships. Relationships become abnormal and unhealthy. Sin separates us from the Holy God. It builds a wall of separation between us and God. There is a debt that needs in some manner to be cleared away. Settling a debt is having the debt canceled and forgiven.

Feeling separated or isolated or alienated from God can be a good thing. Only when we experience the alienation, that sense of loss and separation from God, will we begin to seek reconciliation with God, to recover what has been lost, disrupted and diseased in our lives. That feeling of separation from God is a good warning symptom that something is wrong and needs attention. What is wrong is that our sins have made us debtors to God. We are not God’s equals, but rather we are His debtors. We are separated from Him and our debt alienates us from Him.

God in His love for us, His creatures, ends this separation and allows us to return to Him by His gracious, loving forgiveness. The image of the New Testament is that God remits the debt by His pardon. Jesus has made this reunion possible by His own life, death and resurrection. He has pardoned our debt making reconciliation with God possible. So Christmas, the birth of Jesus the Savior is the beginning of God reconciling Himself to us by pardoning our debt of sin. He pardons all of those who readily admit they are sinners, who are sorry for their sin and who beg his pardon by changing their lives (repentance = metanoia = a change of heart/mind). The goal of the Christian life is to enter again into the Divine presence, God’s holiness. We cannot do this on our own, no matter how good we are. We only have to accept the pardon by our own repentance. We demonstrate our own repentance and begin our life of reconciliation with God in Confession.

Let’s consider an example of how this works. King David is considered in one prayer of the Orthodox Church to be a model or image of repentance. He was God’s chosen King, yet he lusted after another man’s wife (Uriah was a loyal soldier of David’s as well as a God fearing man). David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife and she conceived his child. Ultimately David ordered the murder of Uriah so he could take her as his wife and hide his sin. David, however, was confronted with this sin by Nathan the Prophet and admitted his fault and repented. (see Psalm 51) Nathan told Kind David that he deserved to die as a result of his sin, but that God forgave him.

Forgiveness is the opposite of justice. Justice would demand that David die. Kind David betrayed the trust God bestowed upon him as king, he committed adultery and murder. God however does not decree justice but forgiveness. God says he will not die but will continue as King. This forgiveness does not undo the painful and grave consequences of the sin: an illegitimate child was conceived of the adultery, Uriah was dead, the child dies. Forgiveness cancelled the debt which justice demands from David – a life for a life. Thus David really is an important figure to what the Christmas story is all about. And we do remember King David the forgiven sinner on this the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ.

Forgiveness does not undo the painful consequences of sin. Think about Jesus upon the cross – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” They were forgiven yet the consequence of their act remained, Jesus still died at the hands of his murderers.
Confession is not a garbage can where you can dump your sins and forget about them and assume they have no consequences. I remember when I was a child that milk came in glass bottles which had to be washed and returned to the store. Sometimes those glass bottles were dropped and broken. They were in several ways inconvenient. Then came the plastic milk container. Once you used it, you simply threw it away. And I thought this is great, why would anyone ever use glass bottles again? I thought that plastic was a painless throw-away object. What I did not think about was that all those plastic throw away bottles had to go somewhere. I thought they went into the garbage can and magically vanished. However, there was a consequence of those plastic milk containers. They did not magically disappear. They were still there only now out of my sight. They were gathering in the landfills in my neighbors backyard. Though they were invisible to me, they were still there.

Sin is the same. Confession is not a garbage can which magically carries away sin so it’s consequences disappear. Our nativity3lives and the world are covered with the landfills of our sinfulness. The amazing thing about God is that He reaches over all of these landfills filled with our sins and reaches out to touch us, to embrace us and to forgive us. The landfills don’t disappear, God overlooks them to save us. Despite our sins, God forgives. In spite of the consequences of our sins which continue to impact our lives and the world, God forgives. He cancels the debts, doesn’t make us pay for the cleanup of the toxic wastes of our sinful landfills. We only need to accept His forgiveness by repentance. We repent and come to confession to admit our sins, to acknowledge that we created and filled these landfills of our sins.

The gift of God to us at Christmas is His forgiving the grave consequences of our sin. Christ is born! Glorify Him!