looking to Jesus (in his nativity/birth)

Scripture directs our attention to Jesus. It’s a matter of learning to fix our gaze on him.

Christmastime is a good reminder of that, as we remember the birth of Christ. Much of the church sets apart this time as the season of Advent, which refers to our Lord’s first and second coming.

God reveals himself in the person of his Son. And that revelation in history began in a stable on that blessed, wonderful night, when the virgin Mary gave birth to a son, even the son of God, the Messiah, Jesus. It is a wonderful story that can help set us on the path we need to take if we are to be truly Christian in this life.

All the rest of scripture derives its meaning from this. Jesus is the focal point through whom we see it all, the end to which all points- as dim as that is to us at times. And this is where and how life is to be lived. Turning our attention to, and learning to follow him, letting the story do its work on us to change us. Including the story of his birth.

naming one’s sin

Scripture doesn’t hide sin, in fact it is replete with sin, sometimes to the point that it is hard to read (or listen to). Sin is defined here as that which is contrary to God in attitude or act, such as an anger which can give rise to murder, or at least murderous thoughts. The saints are not excluded: David, if I may include him, notable. And the New Testament does not shy away from this problem, either.

There is something to be said for naming one’s sins at the proper time, place, and to the proper person. There is something of wisdom and insight in what in some church traditions is called the confessional, in which one names their sin to a priest. The priest in the name of Christ, then pronounces absolution, meaning forgiveness of their sin, in and through Christ. Of course there is only one mediator between God and humanity, even if God’s people are a kingdom of priests, as well. All forgiveness is in and through Christ.

In evangelical circles, I’m afraid that people are largely left on their own. Not so in terms of preaching the word, though that can be spotty, as in hit or miss. People need pastoral care and spiritual direction. We are so removed from that, that we probably often don’t see the need for it. We think we can get along quite well with life on our own, and we can deal with our sin. After all, everyone sins, we are no exception, we go to church and hear the word preached, the gospel proclaimed and taught. What else do we need?

Of course we need what we find in scripture. Our spirituality is to be rooted in Christ and found in the church. And that finding is in terms of the gospel and within the life and practice of the church. An important aspect of that spirituality is the ongoing need of confession. And pastoral care along with spiritual direction, which helps us, as those righteous in Christ who also sin, to receive forgiveness of sin. Call that righteous and sinful at the same time, or not; let’s not quibble about that, I think. And by the Spirit to grow so as to overcome that sin.* I’m not referring to sinless perfection, but toward maturity in Christ. Too many of us for too long have been on our own. And the result is not pretty, sometimes actually catastrophic.

Yes, we need to personally appropriate the truth of God’s word and the gospel. But that should be from the church. We are not on our own, we are members of one body in Christ. Therefore we are to get help within the church. We are to take responsibility and grow up into Christ within and as members of his body, the church. A church which fails to work out some way of helping its members deal with sin is one in which its members will fail to find the help they need. I’m afraid too many evangelical churches neither have this in their practice, or their life. It is not a part of their DNA. If people get help in these churches, it is because of a pastor bent that direction, or them taking the initiative. Churches simply are not set up, it seems, with this in mind.

The church Deb and I are members of actually is much better with regard to this, even if it could be better still. We need help beyond what we can get just between ourselves and God. Life is not meant to be lived out that way. It is lived and we grow in community. And an important aspect of that, like it or not, is naming one’s sin.

*Not excluding professional counseling at times, which can be part of God’s general revelation in common grace- of wisdom. See this post from a fallen evangelical leader.