Christ's birth offers reconciliation to God


By the Rev. Gareth Scott


Dec. 3

Seeking Reconciliation

Purpose: To study Colossians’ view of Jesus Christ as the creator and ruler of the universe, to discern how the revelation of God in Christ impacts our faith, and to discover what the relationship between God and Jesus described in Colossians 1 means to us.

Bible Lesson:  Colossians 1:15-23

Key Verses:  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.” – Colossians 1:15-16


Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written in response to a difficult situation in the early church. There was a school of thought known as Gnosticism. Those who favored this school of thought were known as Gnostics, which was understood to mean the intellectual ones. The Gnostics were dissatisfied with what they considered the inadequate simplicity of Christianity. Their desire was to raise the intellectual level of Christianity, turn it into a philosophy and align it with other philosophies of the time.


The Gnostics believed that all matter was evil and that only spirit was good. They further believed that matter was eternal and that matter had always existed. Therefore, creation came from essentially evil matter. Another tenet of Gnosticism held that there were many intermediary powers between humankind and God. Therefore, to the Gnostics, Jesus was by no means unique, rather merely one of many emanations between God and creation.


Paul responds to such false teaching by insisting that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (verse 15). The invisible becomes visible in Jesus Christ.


The created universe, with all the physical and spiritual existence it contains, is an unfolding of the mind of God in Christ. Jesus existed before creation. It is for him and through him that “all things in heaven and on earth were created” (verse 16). God’s pure and perfect love expressed in creation through Jesus tells us that matter is not evil as taught by the Gnostics, for God is incapable of evil.


Also, according to Paul, Jesus is the only intermediary between God and creation. In Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (verse 19). How does all of this impact our faith? No longer is God far removed from his creation. No longer is he incomprehensible, invisible and unreachable. It is not through the intellect, but rather through the spiritual that we feel God’s touch upon us. There is a difference in knowing about and in knowing. God is with us. We are his children.


In the life and teachings of Jesus, we have a beautiful portrait of a forgiving and loving God. He is the window through which we catch a glimpse of God. His purpose is reconciliation. Paul tells us, “Through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (verse 20). God came to us in Jesus Christ to heal the broken relationship between God and humankind. He is the foundation of all creation. Upon this foundation, all of humankind is reconciled to God. As we are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, we are reconciled to one another, making peace on earth and establishing good will to all people.


Dec. 10

Learning About God

Purpose: To discover where Jesus Christ came from, how he is related to God, how he is able to reveal God to us and his relationship to the prophets and the angels.

Bible Lesson:  Hebrews 1

Key Verses:  “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”– Hebrew 1:1-2


This is the time of year that we tell the story again. Children tell it so well with their songs of a baby in Bethlehem, a manger, shepherds and a star in the sky.


God sent his son, Jesus, into the world. In Jesus’ life and teachings, God continues to speak to us. We read in Hebrews that “long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (verses 1-2).


The central theme of Hebrews is that in Jesus Christ we see the full revelation of God and that Jesus alone enables us to enter into the very presence of God. What was partial in the prophets is complete in Jesus. Throughout the ages the prophets had spoken, always “fitting” their message to their age and always proclaiming truth relevant to the people to whom they spoke. It was never “out of date, irrelevant, or incomprehensible.” Their message was adapted to the need of every age.


The message of each prophet was usually characterized by one idea. The prophet Amos delivered a cry for social justice. Isaiah spoke of the holiness of God. From his own troubled life, Hosea had experienced the forgiving love of God. Each prophet, out of his own experience of life, presented part of the truth of God. No prophet had grasped the whole truth of God.


It was different with Jesus. He was not a part of the truth. He was the whole truth, the full revelation of God. It was not so much what he said and did that shows us what God is like; it is what he is.


Having established the superiority of Jesus over all the prophets, the writer of Hebrews continues to establish the superiority of Jesus over the angels, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (verse 4). The fact that he devotes time to this proves the place that belief in angels had in Jewish thought of that day. The belief was that God had moved farther and farther away and had become unknowable and unreachable. According to Wainwright, people came to think of angels as “intermediaries” or messengers between God and humankind.


In Christianity, there is no one through which we make our approach to God other than Jesus Christ. He is God with us. God is not out there, distant, unknowable or unapproachable. There is no need for us to go in search of him. Through that baby in Bethlehem, he has found us.


Dec. 17

Walking in the Light

Purpose: To explore the characteristics of God as described in 1 John 1:1-2:5 and to discover how those characteristics affect our relationship with God through Jesus and our relationship with other people.

Bible Lesson:  1 John 1:1-2:5

Key Verses:  “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5


In God, according to the writer of 1 John, there is no darkness at all. Throughout the New Testament, darkness stands for the very opposite of Christian life. The writer provides an encouraging word to the early Christian community proclaiming that in the coming of Christ there is no more darkness. The light came in the darkness of Bethlehem. It came on a night we have named Christmas Eve.


The message is not one of prophecy, but rather one of witness. The writer of 1 John tells us, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, and what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (verse 1).


God has come to us in Christ. It is not something that is going to happen. It is not something someone else saw or heard about. The writer shares from his own experience of hearing, seeing and touching the word of life. It is an evangelistic expression of the Christian faith as we say, “Let me tell you what I know.”


God is light. In that light we see clearly. There is no distortion, no hidden places, no fear, for the mystery has been revealed. God is self-revealing in such a way that all can see him. In his light we experience the purity and the holiness of God. We see where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Our flaws and imperfections are revealed and visible. Such revelation of ourselves and others makes no difference. God, in perfection, comes to us in our imperfection. He accepts us as we are. We no longer need to hide in our darkness.


The purpose of the light is that we might have fellowship with God and with one another.


As we become aware of God’s acceptance of us, we also are called to be accepting of one another. In this way, the Christian community is established. Just as there is a difference in knowing about God and knowing God, there is also a difference in knowing and doing. If we are truly who we profess to be in Jesus Christ, we move from knowing to doing. John tells us,” If we say we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (verse 7).


John Wesley said we are moving on to perfection. God’s light in Jesus Christ guides us on that journey that only death concludes. Along the way, there is no more darkness. We walk in the light that came to us in Bethlehem a long time ago.


Dec. 24

Receiving the Word

Purpose: To study the images of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John and to ponder the implications of the Word becoming flesh and living among us.

Bible Lesson:  John 1:1-18

Key Verses:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14


The New Testament gives us accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Each of the Gospels paints a portrait of God in their story of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke are so similar to one another they can be placed side by side and “seen together.” For this reason they are called the Synoptic Gospels. John, however paints a somewhat different portrait of Jesus and therefore of God.


John does not include most of the stories about Jesus that are found in the Synoptics. In the Synoptics, Jesus performs miracles to help people in need. He refuses to do anything to prove his identity. In John, Jesus does miracles precisely to prove his identity. John refers to the deeds of Jesus as “signs” rather than miracles. The signs are proof that Jesus is the Son of God and all that he does is to glorify God.


John shows us that Jesus is much more than a man. He is God who has come to earth to provide salvation to the world. Jesus is the word of God who existed from before the beginning of all things. Through him, God created the universe and has now become a human being (verses-1-4). God took nothing and from nothing, through Jesus, created all that is.


God actually came to live with us. Not only live with us, God came to stay. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (verse 14).


One of the most inspiring sermons I have heard was titled, “Whatever You Are I Am,” by the Rev. William Holmes. When the word became flesh and lived among us, God, in Jesus, became what we are. As Jesus associated with sinners, in the eyes of religious leaders he became a sinner. As he touched the unclean, he became unclean.


In this image of God, we see more than what God is like. We see what God expects of us. In the giving of ourselves to the will of God, proclaiming his word, and being in ministry, should not we say to those to whom we minister, “whatever you are, I am?”


Jesus made the promise as he said, “I will not leave you comfortless” (John 14:18). “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). Therefore, we live not in virtue of an absent Lord and teacher, but a present and abiding spirit of light and truth. Jesus is seen through this spirit even when he, Jesus, is unseen.


On this Christmas Eve, the night of the birth of our Lord, what do we now know about God? As we visit the manger again, what will see? In the Christ child, we will see that God is near and accessible. We will see that God is love and compassion. We will see that God is righteousness and justice. We will see God who made us and abides with us now and evermore. We will see the word living among us.


Dec. 31

Keeping the Balance

Purpose: To study the balance of humility and self-esteem in Jesus Christ and to seek an appropriate balance in our lives as we, as Christians, grow as his disciples.

Bible Lesson:  Philippians 2:1-11

Key Verses:  “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3


The letter to the Philippians is the letter of the humble heart. Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It is about the desired attitude and behavior of Christians. The model of such behavior is found in the life of Jesus.


The letter tells how Jesus in his humility emptied himself of his glory and became human and a servant. As a servant, he did nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. He was humble and never regarded himself better than other persons.


Paul, as the founder of the small congregation at Philippi, is appreciative of the people’s love and their support of his ministry. He is saddened by the lack of unity within the congregation, which is fueled by selfish ambition and conceit.


According to Barclay, Paul addresses two kinds of behavior, “one negative and the other positive.” First, Paul addresses the negative behavior concerning believers’ ambitions. Such behavior begins with conceit and selfish ambition that leads to a false sense of one’s importance. The Interpreter’s Bible compares Jesus “divesting” himself of deity with the ambition of little cliques at Philippi. Their focus is no longer on Jesus but upon themselves, and their behavior is disturbing the harmony of the church. In the teachings of Paul, when a person comes to Christ, the old dies and the new is born. Paul reminds the congregation at Philippi of their new birth and admonishes them to live accordingly.


Paul teaches them that humility is not false modesty or lack of self-esteem. Such, according to Wainwright, “is detrimental to Christ-like joy and obedience.” Humility, Paul told them, begins with the recognition of the rights and needs of others while acknowledging the various and different ways in which God’s grace flows through others. Paul later wrote in Romans, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” we should use them in community for the purpose of accomplishing the will of God for all people. All gifts or abilities are of equal importance and are to be shared in community.


True faith of Christians, as seen in Jesus, included a different perspective and attitude for the Philippians toward themselves and other people. They were now concerned with, and attended to, the well-being of others.


They find their purpose and sense of worth as they discover and incorporate the mind of Christ into themselves and their relationship with others. They become humble, self-emptying and obedient. They understand that how they feel about themselves and their relationship with God determines how they feel toward other people. In Christ, they see the proper balance of humility and self-esteem and seek that same balance in their lives.


Life that God has given us is not meant to be lived in isolation apart from the community of faith. Individual life is a part of the whole. What we are, individually, is a gift of God and is of great value. That value is realized when we share in the community. In giving, we receive. We become a part of the whole of creation.


Jesus emptied himself of all claims of divinity to live within the human community. In a life of caring and sharing, he found life.


Maybe that is precisely why he came and maybe that is what he meant when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”


As we step into a New Year, may we know the way, believe the truth, and live the life we have witnessed in Jesus Christ.


Note: The primary resources for this month’s commentary are “The Works of William Barclay, A Guide to the New Testament” by William W. Wainwright, and “The Interpreter’s Bible.”


Scott is pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, Greenville, S.C. The Mississippi and South Carolina United Methodist Advocates share Sunday school lessons.