Week 4 Jesus

4.1 You shall call him Jesus

for he will save his people from their sins.

A great symphony returns to the key themes and develops them. While it moves to a climax and an end, it also re-works themes, and we find many of these themes re-worked in the key names given to the Son of God.

He shall be called ‘Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’.

We know what the word “save” means but we can forget this when we treat it as too religious a word.

What images come to mind of “saving people”? I suspect first up is the life-guard, or the Fire and Rescue Service. Rescue is a more vivid word. The person was rescued from where they were trapped, and they needed rescuing because, and this is important, they could not rescue themselves.

Jesus means “rescuer”. But the modern world doesn’t really think it needs rescuing by Jesus, or should we say, many modern people don’t feel the need to be rescued – as they don’t even feel they are trapped or in need.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the remarkable German theologian and pastor, who first explored the challenge of preaching the gospel to a world which no longer felt in need of it. What do we say to those who have sufficient material prosperity and who view the world as somewhere to be managed and who see life as something we have, not a gift from God. A materialistic view of the world has written out the divine, though we may still like the feel-good of carols, and traditions. Since the 1960s we have put our trust in development and we trust science and technology to improve things for us (and of course they have in so many ways).

A post-modern view of the world allows for spirituality or actually, lots of forms of spirituality; let your inner being express itself,  connect with nature, find the natural rhythms. We should go with what works for us.

Probably these are the two dominant world-views at the moment in the “West” and neither think there is need of a Saviour, though the latter is not averse to some sort of pilgrimage to Bethlehem if that is what we would like to do.

The Christian message is out of tune with these ways of thinking; it is drowned out, and often mis-translated. And churches are at fault for not understanding and responding to the changes around us. Priests are reminded at their ordination that they are ‘to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation’. And that is the call to all Christians not just the clergy.

The Roman satirist, Juvenal, claimed that the emperors needed to satisfy their people with “bread and circuses”, that is: – the basics of food, and the luxury of entertainment. That would keep the people quiet.

The modern world may operate pretty closely to this maxim; life is about what we need and sufficient entertainment to keep us happy.

Juvenal was writing around the same time as Luke and Matthew were writing their gospels.

Does our modern world want a Saviour, and if so, does it want a Saviour like Jesus?

The early church understood Jesus to save us from our sins, the impact our sin has on us – shame and guilt; on others – where we have hurt or broken others or worse; on our relationship with a holy God offering us forgiveness and restoration.

A holy God has imbued this world with a morality. We know right from wrong, but since Adam and Eve and Cain we have pretended and dissembled and avoided facing up to what we have done. We make excuses and the small voice of conscience can be quenched – or the ears to hear it become calloused with indifference.

In fact since the opening bars of our symphony, the first humans have ignored the call of God and have made excuses for their behaviour. This is portrayed as a rebellion against God, a choice of living without the guidance of God, of going our own way. And in the symphony God has continued to call. Materialism and spiritual relativism are just modern examples of this age-old human condition.

The arrival of a Rescuer may jar with many. “I don’t need rescuing” / “I’m ok as I am” / “How dare you”

The offer of Rescue will be the sweetest note for others – a restoration and a recovery; a new chance, and to discover I am worth something, that shame and failure can be forgiven. You will call him Jesus, for he will save his people, but will they call on his name?