Christmas for the Loneliest Person on Earth
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, its traditional to give thought to those less fortunate than ourselves. Carol singers and street collectors draw attention to needy. BBC's Children in Need Appeal recently raised 12 million a couple for a variety of children's charities. At our Christingle service on Christmas Eve the collection will go to the work of the Children's Society working among the young orphaned and homeless. Christmas is also a time for families. For many families, Christmas is the only time of year when they all get together. A lot of us will be on the road over Christmas to be together with those we love and care for. And I hope there will be a place at our Christmas table for those you know will otherwise spend Christmas alone. For there cannot be a worse time of year than to be alone at Christmas. I wonder who you would consider will be the loneliest person on earth this Christmas?
Perhaps a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, desert-dwelling, Saudi-born millionaire named Osama bin Laden. The man President George Bush refers to as the evil one. The one New Yorkers refer to by names Christians can't repeat. The man newspapers call the "CEO of Terror Incorporated." The mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack in recent history - a monstrous crime of premeditated mass murder. If we could listen in on a one to one between Jesus and Osama bin Laden this Christmas, I wonder what Jesus would say?
I think the first thing Jesus would probably say comes as no
surprise to any of us: Jesus might say, "Do not be deceived: God cannot
be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) I don't think there's
any question in anybody's mind what Osama bin Laden deserves. He deserves to be
sentenced for his unspeakable crimes in a hellish eternity, devoid of any hope,
forever. And unless something happens between now and the end of his life, that's
exactly where he's headed.
As the recent US Marine bumper sticker put it, "Its
God's responsibility to forgive bin Laden. Its our responsibility to arrange the
meeting." Jesus described the judgement which is ahead of us all.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that is thrown into the water
and gathers fish of every kind. When the net is full, they drag it up onto the
shore, sit down, sort the good fish into crates, and throw the bad ones away.
That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate
the wicked people from the godly, throwing the wicked into the fire. There will
be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:47-50).
There's no question, that's what Osama bin Laden deserves. While that might make
many people happy, it will not make God happy. Because however hard it may seem,
God loves Osama bin Laden. He absolutely hates what he's done, but He loves him,
as much as he loves you and I. The Bible reminds us that God takes no pleasure
in the death of the wicked. God does not want "anyone to perish, but everyone
to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). So the first thing Jesus might say
to Osama bin Laden is that he will reap what he has sown unless, like you and
I, he repents of his sin.
There's a second thing Jesus might say to Osama bin Laden to help him understand
that God has done something for him that he cannot do himself. I can imagine Jesus
visiting him in his bunker, or wherever he might be hiding tonight, and saying
to him, "I am so much more than you've allowed me to be." The
fact is that Muslims do believe in Jesus, but they don't believe that He was God
in the flesh. They believe He was a great prophet of Allah in a series of prophets
that ultimately culminated with the last and according to them the greatest prophet,
Mohammed. Many in our own society view Jesus in the same way. They see Jesus as
the baby in the Nativity play or a great moral teacher, a social reformer, a Jewish
Rabbi. And so Jesus says to us also, "I am so much more than you've allowed
me to be." So I think Jesus would explain to Osama bin Laden, "I am
so much more than a prophet. I came to earth at Christmas because God loves you.
Only I can bridge what appears to be an unbridgeable chasm between the justice
of God that you are now facing and the love of God who wants to forgive and embrace
you." Make no mistake, God must and will punish sin to maintain his integrity
as a just God. And we can all understand that, because we are all made in the
image of God. We know instinctively that when wrongdoing is done, somebody has
When a child is abused we insist the guilty must pay. When someone is injured
by a drunk driver we insist the guilty must pay. But the dilemma for God is that
the penalty for sin is death, all sin, whether hidden or revealed, venial or mortal,
white or black is sin and it separates us from God eternally. That is why Jesus
came at Christmas. Out of love, He came to take away our sin. Yours, mine, and
Osama bin Laden's too. That's why at the birth of Jesus the angels proclaimed
Him the Saviour of the world. I think Jesus would say to Osama bin Laden, "I
came to be your substitute and pay for your sins." The Cross was the
amazing bridge that fuses the justice of God with the love of God.
So the first thing Jesus would probably say is, "You will reap what you sow unless
you turn and repent." The second thing Jesus would probably say is "I am so much
more than you've allowed me to be. Trust in me as your Saviour."
There's one final thing I think Jesus might say to Osama bin Laden tonight. I
think Jesus would look him in the eye and say, "Paradise is on a different
path to the one you're pursuing." Jesus disciples were also confused
about the path to paradise. Jesus told them, "I am the way, and the truth and
the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). Jesus
was saying, "I came to die in your place to forgive your sin but I am also the
path to paradise; the way to heaven." Repent, believe and follow me and you will
have your sins forgiven and live forever in God's presence. The thought that Osama
bin Laden could be forgiven for his sins, after all he's done, may be hard to
swallow. But he will not be the first. The question is will he ever hear the real
meaning of Christmas? The message of Christmas does not minimize the seriousness
of bin Laden's sin - it merely recognizes the magnitude of God's grace. That is
why its called amazing. That's why we celebrate Christmas. Because
its good news of great joy is for you and I too. The angels traversed the universe
to herald him. The Magi went in search of him. The shepherds said, "Lets go and
see". They wanted to see Jesus. To meet their Saviour. They were all earnest in
their search. One translation renders Hebrews 11:6, "God...
rewards those who earnestly seek him." Another reads, "God rewards those
who search for him." I kind of like the King James translation, "He is
a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Diligently - what a great word.
This Christmas be diligent in your search. Be hungry for a one to one with Jesus.
God rewards those who seek him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems
or creeds, still less those who want to throw stones. Too many settle for a passing
knowledge about Jesus. But the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less
than Jesus himself.
Adapted with thanks from a sermon
by Gene Appel, pastor of Central Christian Church, Las Vegas, Nevada, together
with material drawn from Max Lucado's One Incredible Moment.