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?

1. Repent
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.

2. Believe
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 to pay.

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."

3. Follow
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.
Lets pray.

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.