St Barnabas and St Michael’s 23rd December 2012
Reading – Romans 8:28-39
So here it is, merry Christmas. Everyone’s having fun. Or are they?
Over the past two hundred years an image of Christmas has been carefully cultivated which goes something like this. It is Christmas Day. Outside it’s snowing and the church bells are ringing. Inside the whole family have safely arrived, and an enormous roast dinner is cooking in the kitchen. In the lounge there is a beautifully decorated tree. The children are playing with their expensive new presents, while the grown-ups are happily catching up over the past year.
I wish with all my heart that everyone’s experience of Christmas was something like this. But I know that for many people the reality of Christmas is rather different. Christmas can be a time of great sadness, as we remember loved ones who are no longer with us, or those who cannot travel down to see us. It can be a time of pain and anxiety, with all kinds of worries as to what the New Year brings. It can be a time of family friction, where old wounds and deep hurts come back to the surface. And the fact everyone else seems to be enjoying a perfect Christmas – at least, if you believe the adverts – only serves to make things seem a whole lot worse.
And if you can in any way relate to this kind of Christmas, then I hope today’s reading from Romans can act as a comfort and an encouragement to you.
Because first of all, it reminds us that if we are in Christ Jesus, then God has a special plan for you.
Now preachers often talk about God’s plan for the world at Christmas. It’s hard not to, especially when we read those opening words from John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word. Most of us know that Christmas did not start with the visit of the angel to Joseph and to Mary, or with the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. God’s plan of salvation started even before the world began. He made us in the knowledge that one day we would reject Him, would try to live as if He was not there, and that the only way we could be saved would be through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
If, however, that is news to you, then I will gladly tell you more at the end of the service. But the point I want to make here is that God’s plan for the world is not some abstract idea, some vague theological construct that sounds good when preached at Christmas. God doesn’t just have some vast, overarching plan for the world. He has a plan for you. That is the stupendous and most amazing truth that Paul wants to communicate here. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28).
How do we know? Because when God made the world, He created us to love and to know Him: each of us in our own different way, each of us according to the infinite variety of His creative power. At Christmas time you may be feeling completely anonymous, as if nobody notices you, or you may be feeling anything but special. But God wants you to know He has made you, He has chosen you, and He has called you by name.
However let’s be clear. Paul isn’t saying that everything that happens to us is good. If there’s one thing we should learn about the Christian life from reading this wonderful chapter of Romans, it’s that we can expect suffering. We are part of a creation which groans for redemption as we saw last week in verse 22. According to Paul in verse 36 we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet Paul wants us to know that whatever happens to us, if we have said, “Yes” to Jesus, if we have decided to follow Him, then God’s plan for our life stands secure.
That’s what Paul means when he says: And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom 8:30). Of course there is a very real sense in which we have not yet been glorified. Again, we saw last week we are still waiting for God’s glory to be revealed in us when Jesus Christ calls us home. But Paul can speak as if we have already experienced the fullness of God’s glory. Because if we love God, we can be sure that our glory is guaranteed. However Christmas might seem to us, God’s hold on us is firm and He will not let us go.
How do we know this? Because secondly, by His birth, death and resurrection for us Jesus has come to put us right with God. This is something that we’ve already seen as we have journeyed through this chapter in Advent. We began by seeing how Jesus has come to set us free from the penalty of sin and even though we might still struggle with wrong desires and thoughts, the wonderful truth remains, as verse 1 says, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We then saw how Jesus has also come to makes us sons of the living God and how we now have a new and permanent status as members of God’s family, the church. And last week we saw how Jesus has given us a hope that is guaranteed by the presence of His Holy Spirit within us. If you are in Christ Jesus, if you accept He died in your place for your sins, then you have freedom, you have a Heavenly Father and you have a future. That’s what it means to be right with God.
It’s little wonder that in today’s reading Paul asks: What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Of course there are two ways to read Paul’s writings here. One is to treat what he says as a difficult theological problem, to argue what he meant when he talks about predestination or about God giving us all things. I suspect Paul would be amazed at how much scholarly ink has been spilt over these verses, or indeed at what certain people think he was trying to say.
Paul did choose his words carefully, and we can spend much time analysing his writings. But we should not miss the main point of what he is saying, that because we have been put right with God, our channel of communication is now open. Thanks to the blood of Jesus we can have confidence that when we approach our Heavenly Father in prayer He will give us whatever we ask for in His name. This does not mean we will necessarily be given what we want. We may sometimes struggle to understand how exactly our prayers have been answered. But if we are seeking after our Father’s heart and praying that His will be done we can have confidence that our Heavenly Father give us whatever we need.
So if this Christmas is lonely and difficult for you, remember this: you have God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit on your side. This same wonderful God who has called you into His presence delights to hear your prayer. In a very real sense you are never alone.
And just in case you are wondering what God can do for you, whether He can really make a difference in your life, then read on to the end of the chapter. Because the God we worship is a mighty God. Yes, we tend to focus on this time of year on the humanity of Jesus, on the fact He was born as a weak, helpless baby in a manger, and indeed there is much to ponder about the circumstances of His birth. But let’s not forget that this very same Jesus is now at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. In other words, He is reigning in the place of honour, in all splendour and power and majesty. And because He is interceding for us, we can sure that He is able to protect and provide for all who believe and trust in Him.
I wonder how the New Year seems to you at the moment. Maybe you can see exciting new possibilities. The birth of a grandchild, perhaps, or going off to university, or moving house. Or maybe your calendar is already filling up with hospital appointments. Maybe you are wondering just what to do when the next credit card bill arrives. Well, whatever you are facing, take to heart these words from Romans 8:37-39.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What does it mean that we are more than conquerors? Simply this, that the victory Jesus won on the cross is ours to share. We live in a world which is convinced that death has the last word, which fears for the future, which knows all too well the horror and evil being perpetrated in various corners of the globe. It can be so easy to fall in with this way of thinking. Because the powers of this world want to convince us that God can’t really make a difference. The last thing the evil one wants is a church confident about the promises of God. That’s why he works so hard to try and undermine our hope, and to make us doubt God’s love and care.
Yet the reason why Jesus came to this earth was precisely to defeat the evil one. No matter what we may be led to believe, there is no power greater than the power of God’s love. God is more than able to keep and protect us whatever circumstances we face. Whatever the New Year brings our relationship with Him is secure. Not because we have earned His love, not because if we try really hard He will love us more, but because as Paul says back in Rom 5:8, that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. So if at the moment you are struggling, go back to the cross. Stand before Jesus and remember just what His death means for you, that you have freedom from sin, you have a Heavenly Father and wonderful, guaranteed future.
God has a plan for you. And yes, I mean you. He has given us Jesus so that we can be put right with Him. And thanks to Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection He is more than able to protect and provide for you. That’s why as Christians, even when our circumstances seem so difficult we can look to the future. Because in the end we can have confidence that when it comes to God’s work in our lives, it has only just begun. So here it is, Merry Christmas!