A closed system is an important concept in many fields such as chemistry and physics and even cyber security. It’s the basic idea of system or a region that doesn’t allow anything in or out. So, imagine one of those really neat terrariums – like an aquarium without the water – with it’s own micro-ecosystem totally isolated from outside in which plants and micro-organisms exist in their glass enclosure without any external input. A true closed-system terrarium is pretty much impossible to achieve. But most people today live like they’re in one. Because they live like there is nothing beyond us to break into our existence.
But closed systems are without hope. Because there only is what is there. There is no hope of something breaking in to renew or redeem.
Which is what makes Christmas such an incredible celebration. Because Christmas is all about hope. Christmas is a celebration of the hope that comes when God breaks through.
With a quick skim read of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 you’ll see that neither Matthew nor Luke actually use the word hope in their accounts of Jesus’ birth. But the concept is everywhere.
In 4 chapters that feature more angelic messages than pretty much any other time in the history of the planet, the core message those angels brought was all about hope. Hope for the childless couple Elizabeth and Zechariah that they would have a son. Hope that “he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:16). Hope for young Joseph, confused by his fiancé’s pregnancy, that their relationship remained intact. Hope that somehow Mary’s unborn child would “save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21). And then there is the promise that this news of great hope wasn’t just for the individuals to whom the angels appeared. The angels weren’t just breaking through into the ordinary lives of a handful of people, but into the whole system of human life to share “news that will cause great joy for all the people”(Luke 2:10)
All of this hope is only possible because God breaks in. Over the last few weeks we’ve been reflecting on the nature of God’s coming kingdom – a kingdom which has broken into the pages of human history, but is still to be fully experienced with Jesus’ return. It is a kingdom that is beyond us, but is for us – if we will bow the knee to the king. And that’s the reason the message of Christmas is a celebration of hope. Because it’s not just from within us. Despite the world’s attempts to cut ourselves off from God and his reign, in his kindness he breaks through and reaches in and comes to us. And right at the heart of all that is the forgiveness that Jesus came to make possible. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). Jesus is the king of all glory, who descended from highest heaven to bring us peace. And he brings us peace by bringing us forgiveness. In a world screaming for justice, we’ve lost the hope of forgiveness, because we just can’t muster it from within ourselves. We can’t create a system that can be both just and merciful. Somehow sin has to be extracted, somehow someone beyond ourselves needs to instil an empowering grace. Your friends and neighbours who don’t know Jesus don’t know the hope of real forgiveness.
So when Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our sins”, he is really teaching us what it means to live in the kingdom that has broken through, the kingdom that he brings from beyond us with a grace that we cannot manufacture from within.
That’s the hope of the gospel that we’ll be unpacking this Sunday. “Our father in heaven… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” The hope of forgiveness that is only made possible because of the hope of Christmas: that the king has stepped in as the source of both justice and mercy. And that’s why we want to make a fuss at Christmas, because it is such an amazing time to invite our neighbours and friends to celebrate the hope that God is not distant. He is not on the outside looking in through the glass bottle at us gasping for grace. He has broken through, bringing hope of forgiveness now and on that day when he will make all things new. Let’s rejoice in what it means to pray for God’s forgiveness! And in light of that news of great joy for all people, who are you praying will join us at church as we celebrate Hope this Christmas?
Trinity Church Brighton
0401 387 908