December 24, 2016

After being married for ten years Kim and I sensed there was something missing in our lives. We had a good marriage but we needed something to save us from ourselves. And by that I mean that everything had become far too familiar. Kim came from a tight-knit family in Timberlea. Everyone in Timberlea knew the Frasers! And I was sixth generation Haligonian, you couldn’t get much more Halifax than me. I had tried a political campaign and Kim tried Ministry in a variety of settings. Something was missing. We needed a light to our path.

After meeting another couple that had been to China and adopted a daughter we both thought we had seen the light. It took us two years of process but in the end we were ready for the trip. The only remaining detail was to select a name. Kim bought a thick book of names and listed her ten favorites. Then I took the book and did likewise. Only then did we compare lists and discovered there were two names we both liked. Lily was #8 on my list and #7 on Kim’s. But after saying Lily Little ten times we realized it would not work. Lucy was #3 on Kim’s list, #2 on mine. Lucy was also the name of Kim’s great Aunt, who moved from a small community in Newfoundland to the big city of Montreal, got a good job, dated many men and had an exciting and full life. We liked how independent Aunt Lucy was and hoped our Lucy would be so bold.

Which brings me to these two stories from the Bible, both of which tell us what the people of their time needed and the name given to the One who would bring the good news. If you want to dig deeply into the context of the Old and New Testaments and what they say about the Messiah you need to read Raymond Brown’s Birth of the Messiah. Brown begins with the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 42:6 says, “I have called you…I have kept you, I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” Isaiah 49:6 says, “It is not enough for you to be called my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob…I shall give you a light to the nations so that my salvation will reach the end of the earth.” The clear message here is that this servant, whom God will send, will be a light to the nations, a manifestation of who God is, embodied in the nation of Israel. Also, there is an assumption that these other nations live in a state of “darkness” and need some kind of light to shine and expose a different and better way. Specifically the expected One to come among them who would be an heir to the throne of David and thus the royal titles follow in Isaiah 9, “Wonderful Counselor, Divine Hero, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

In Luke 2:11 we read, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Brown reminds us that the name Jesus means, “he who saves” (Matthew 1:21). For the gentiles living in the Roman Empire these titles are given to Jesus, “Saviour, Christ and Lord.” As Brown points out “Saviour, Christ and Lord” would have been understood by gentiles as Divine titles and thus exclusively reserved for the Emperor Augustus. The Emperor was not just the head of the Roman state but also a deity and citizens of Rome were to worship him as if he was a god. There could be no other god.

Raymond Brown believes the term Saviour given to the baby Jesus provides an obvious contrast between a Lord who assumes authority based on wealth, celebrity and power and one who is given authority on the basis of humility, servanthood and vulnerability. No palace for this King, Jesus was born homeless to a refugee family. Brown explains, “This is a counterclaim to the imperial propaganda associated with the celebration of Augustus’ (the Emperor) birth.”

So there you have it, two stories, one with a people desperate for a light to save them from confusion and another about a people who wanted a leader to save them from fear and powerlessness. In the first story the people wanted to be saved from being lost and in the second story the people wanted to be saved from a system where might equaled right. 

I confess that at 40 I was still not sure what I was looking for and I needed to be saved. I further confess that I needed to be saved from the illusion I could find myself in the lure of a big pulpit or elected office. The name Lucy means light and she certainly was a light to my life. This Advent season she surprised us with the idea of creating 160 handmade Christmas cards and donating all of the proceeds to the Brunswick Street Mission ($1,022). That is light to me.

But personal stories only go so far. Churches like ours face the challenge of looking into the future and trying to navigate our way by the Spirit to be Christ’s hands and feet in our world. Many of us believe the church, like God’s people in Isaiah, have lost our way and need to be saved. Moreover many more of us see the dangers of churches seeking to recover our sense of power, prestige and entitlement we had only a few generations ago. When I hear some talk of growing our body of believers it sounds more like the Emperor Augustus than the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think what we most need to be saved from today is ourselves, the notion we can be happy if only our own needs are met on our own terms, the idea that if we had what we wanted others would look at us, be impressed and we would earn what we had been chasing for our lifetime. Such a course is bound to lead to confusion and disappointment. Life’s inevitable setbacks, illnesses, and betrayals will make no sense to us unless we reclaim the Saviour who came to save us in a place no one expected, in a manner considered a scandal at the time (unmarried Joseph and Mary) and a life that consisted of a mission to empower the powerless, not to bestow favor on the favorites.

I need to be saved, day in and day out. And so do you. And so does the church. Thank God for this Saviour who comes to light the path and show us how to walk it with humility and love. Amen.