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Feeling the pinch?

December 2008 | by Mark Johnston

Feeling the pinch?

 

We’ll all have to tighten our belts this Christmas as the credit crunch takes its toll on the festive season. Despite the grumblings of recent years about cash shortages and low sales on the high street, the current economic crisis has taken things to a different level.

 

It’s not a new level – plenty of people still remember hard times at Christmas – but it is new for a generation accustomed to high spending and easy borrowing. Suddenly money is harder both to get and to pay back!

Yet, strangely, that may not be a bad thing. If the extravagance goes, Christmas might recover its Christian significance.

Christmas was established to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – the most extraordinary event in human history. Other religions and cultures have myths about gods coming down to earth, but there is something utterly unique about the Christian story – something that takes it beyond the realm of human invention or fantasy.

It is the fact that God entered our world in the person of Jesus Christ and ‘he who was rich became poor that we through his poverty might become rich’ (to paraphrase the apostle Paul).

 

Poorest of the poor

 

The King of kings and Lord of lords – to whom the universe belongs – identified himself with the poorest of the poor. He was born into a working-class family. Before he was two, his family were forced to seek asylum in another country to escape a homicidal maniac.

And when that crisis was past they settled in a less-than-desirable town. When, around the age of thirty, Jesus began to attract public interest (which could have given him a lucrative income) he chose instead to rely on the kindness of others and was content to sleep rough when a bed was not available.

When he went on trial, he had no legal representation. When he died, it was as a common criminal. And when he was buried, it was in someone else’s grave.

Jesus knew what poverty was all about and showed in a powerful way that it isn’t all bad. He spoke about contentment in life, about learning to trust God each day for every need.

He taught us to share with others in need. He warned that money can become a god-like tyrant in our hearts – robbing us of peace rather than bringing real rewards. He made it clear that there is more to life than food and clothes.

 

A fresh look

 

This puts Christmas into a totally different perspective. What for many has become a season of enormous expense bears little resemblance to the event it commemorates. Christmas has gone over the top and maybe a credit crisis will make us take a fresh look at what it means.

There is, however, an even greater reason to think again – the fact that Jesus came into the world to purchase something money cannot buy.

Again and again in the Bible Jesus is called the ‘Redeemer’. Today the word has a religious meaning; but in Bible times it was commonly used in the secular world. It spoke of a person who paid for a slave to go free. Slaves had neither rights nor assets and were prisoners of their circumstances. But a kindly redeemer could grant them freedom at his own expense.

The Bible says we are all ‘slaves’ to sin. We are in bondage to the wickedness that lurks within – prisoners to its guilt and consequences. No amount of New Year resolutions will make us better people. We are bankrupt and hopeless in the face of that need. But that’s where Jesus comes into the picture.

Coming into the world as the Redeemer, he paid for human sin and guilt so that sinful human beings can go free. That is why he died on the cross – to clear our liabilities before God.

Jesus did not become poor for the sake of being poor, but so that all who put their faith in him might receive liberty from sin and the gift of eternal life. They will, ‘through his poverty … become rich’ in the fullest sense of that word.

Have a truly Happy Christmas!

Mark G. Johnston

 

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