The 1950’s film biography of reformer Martin Luther shares the story of Luther’s complaints against unbiblical church practices. The church had added practices that suggested there were things we had to do to help with our salvation. His protests had created an uproar in the Christian world and Luther’s Abbot and spiritual advisor (Von Staupitz) was being pressured by bishops and other ecclesiastical leaders to bring Luther in line. There is a scene in the movie where the exasperated Von Staupitz states, “You not only want to correct the abuses you want to eliminate many of these practices.” He added, “if we get rid of all the practices the common people cling to and treasure most, what will we give them in their place?” To which Martin Luther replies “Give them Christ”. Give them the Gospel and let them know that Jesus is sufficient for our salvation. Adding to Jesus’ message “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15b NKJV) diminishes the message God wants us to know.
Can you think of any non-biblical practices pushed on the world today that waters down the Christmas story? For example, children are told that to get a Christmas gift they must make the NICE list and stay off the NAUGHTY list. On the night Jesus was born, the angels spoke these words, not to the religious leaders in the temple, or the privileged in society, but to the simple shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 NIV). Jesus was given to people whether they have been good or bad.
The gift of Christmas is the opportunity to be reconciled with God and be saved from eternal damnation. God’s gift did not end Christmas morning or with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God the Holy Spirit is given to all believers to help them with their faith; their efforts to focus on who Jesus is, not on our efforts. Repentance and faith go together because if you believe that Jesus is the Lord who saves (faith), you have a changed mind about your sins and yourself (repentance); and if you repent, it’s because you trust that Jesus is the Lord who saves.
It would be great if we can share the true reason and meaning behind that first Christmas morning. However, to do so, we must know, agree with and rely on Jesus ourselves. Have you repented of your sin and your efforts to save yourself? Have you come to rely on Jesus alone for your salvation? If you haven’t, would you repent and trust Jesus today?