December 23, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Hallelujah, by loving God, we’ve been saved!

What does it mean to be “saved”? Are our evangelical friends who claim to be in that happy condition somehow spiritually superior to the rest of us? Are we chopped liver compared to that religious elite?

Personally, I believe it would be presumptuous to claim salvation before we’re dead and gone to God’s judgment. Indeed, I thought that was the object of earthly life, to keep striving to earn salvation in our humanly flawed way.

Those who say they’re saved do so because they believe in Jesus Christ as their personal savior. They consider faith alone to be the arbiter of gaining heaven so that, if they accept Jesus Christ as God, when the roll is called up yonder they’ll be there. Automatically.

Actually, we believe much the same thing. If we didn’t believe that Jesus is God we wouldn’t be Christians at all. Duh. The difference is we think faith implies a responsibility to follow God’s will in this life in the hope of gaining the next. Note the operative word “hope.”

Which brings us to Christmas, the great feast in which God introduces the instrument of our salvation into earthly life. It is an ongoing mystery, divinely revealed 2,000 years ago and understood intuitively by everyone since, from the shepherds in Bethlehem to the Magi to the saints and on down to us.

This wonderful mystery is wrapped in the kind of symbolism we human creatures can relate to. There’s the good dad, the loving mom and the sweet new baby, nestled with kindly shepherds and animals in a hay-strewn stable on a cold winter night. They’re all reminders of our natural existence, not intimidating in spiritual grandeur.

Still, the baby’s divinity fills us with awe in the knowledge that, in him, God has given us an example to follow and an inspiration that transcends time and place. Christ was sent to show us the way and to give us courage for the journey.

We enjoy seeing the boy Jesus grow up as we and our own children do. He helps his dad in his shop, obeys his mom’s requests and listens to his parents’ instruction. He’s a good boy.

But, when Jesus remains behind after his parents take him to the temple, we’re shown that this is not disobedience to them, but a fulfillment of his duty to God the Father. So the theme of divinity is woven into the story of Jesus’ human life. We’re led to understand that the just God of the Old Covenant of Moses and the prophets is also the merciful God of the New Covenant brought by Christ.

It seems that much of what Jesus taught is contrary to human nature. He didn’t always follow the rules if they interfered with loving. He associated with public sinners because they sought healing and redemption, and he condemned the Pharisees who thought themselves morally superior to ordinary people. He denounced human greed, meanness and despair.

Most importantly, Jesus came to teach us that God loves each one of us personally and wants each of us to live with God forever. That includes Christians of all kinds, non-Christians and, in fact, everyone who does not reject God’s love outright. Even the “saved.”

Merry Christmas to all!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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