January 1 is the feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ. You can read about these events in Luke 2:21-40.
The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves!’ And when he is presented before God [the events of v 22ff take place 32 days after the event of v 21], an old man called Simeon held him in his arms and declared:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
My eyes have seen your salvation. Have seen. This is important. Evangelicals tend to over-emphasise the cross as the place of salvation, Jesus’ death as the work of salvation. But that is only a part-truth and, like all part-truths, to put more weight on it than it can bear results in heresy. If salvation occurs at the cross, Simeon had not seen it. Our salvation is not found at the cross, or any other single event, but in the person of our saviour, Jesus.
By Jesus’ birth God saves us from darkness, from despair, from the heart-sickness that results from having our hope endlessly deferred.
By Jesus’ hidden – unrecorded – life God saves us, because we are no longer left alone: God has determined that he will live with people, people who are damaged and who cause damage, whatever it costs; not turning up and waving a magic wand, but committing to live-out reconciliation.
By Jesus’ public ministry God saves us, showing not only what we have been saved from – through acts of salvation from sickness, demons, death – but also what we have been saved for – multiplying-out those acts of salvation.
By Jesus’ death God saves us, as the one who takes upon himself the consequence – death – that we deserve for rebellion against God. (This ‘penal substitution’ has caused difficulty for some evangelicals lately, but ought to be understood in terms of covenant, which is the exchange of a life for a life.)
By Jesus’ resurrection God saves us, as Christus Victor, the Victorious Christ, who has fatally wounded death itself, and irreparably broken the prison gate of the kingdom of hell.
By Jesus’ present intercession at the right hand of the Father, God saves us, as our advocate in the face of the accusations of the satan (the accuser).
By Jesus’ future return God saves us, by ushering-in the kingdom of heaven in all its fullness, where we, reunited with him, will be free from everything we presently need salvation because of.
Each of these parts of the story of salvation are definitive victories, but on their own each is incomplete. And so each should be celebrated for the part they play, without worrying that it is, in itself, an incomplete telling of the story. The genius of the Church calendar is that we journey together through the story, giving each part the recognition it deserves. It is entirely unnecessary to point to the cross at Christmas (done on the basis that this is an evangelical opportunity, and therefore we must get the cross in to our presentation), because the story is too big to condense into one telling, and the fact that ‘God saves’ us through Jesus’ birth is no less significant that the fact that ‘God saves’ us through Jesus’ death. Jesus himself – who spoke of his death and his resurrection – never attempted to present the whole story in one telling. Perhaps we need to learn from him...
May you know Jesus – ‘God saves!’ – more fully in 2010, in every sense.