If you are tired of the guilt trip you usually feel at church, here’s a different perspective

I am counting the days until I fly to Fort Lauderdale to see Mom for Christmas. Yes, I speak with her every day, sometimes twice a day. But as you know, phone calls just aren’t the same as being with someone you love. I look forward to seeing Mom’s smile, to holding her hand, to going for a drive along the beach with her. Spending time in the presence of someone we love enriches our relationship with them.

I believe the love I feel for Mom, is a sliver of what God feels for each of us. I believe God longs to share that love with us. Which is why we are called to spend time in God’s presence daily. We experience God’s presence when we meet him in our prayers, in church, and hopefully in one another. If I could make one wish for each of us, it would be that at some point during the next four weeks of Advent we would experience how much Jesus loves us.

During my morning devotions, I read these two verses of Psalm 117:

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord.[a]
Psalm 117

That’s it. That’s the entire length of the 117th Psalm. As I thought about today’s faith column, it occurred to me that if I were to capture one sentence that sums up the entire message of the Bible and God’s purpose in our lives it would be this: “For great is his love toward us, the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”

The Christmas season often reflects the message of John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes will not die but have everlasting life.

But why did God need to come into the world as a vulnerable infant child? We are told that it is to become the sacrificial lamb, to atone for our Original Sin, carried by each person since the creation of the first man and woman. That we carry this original sin, can make us feel as if we carry an original guilt, leaving many people feeling resentful and to view God as holding a long-standing grudge.

I’d like to consider that perhaps God has not been seeking to punish us for all these millennium, but rather he has been pursuing us with a love and faithfulness that motivates every interaction between God and man in the Bible.

After the Fall, God came to Adam and Eve in the garden. They had chosen to do the one thing that God asked them not to do. The knowledge that they sought in their choice to eat of the tree of Good and Evil suddenly made them acutely aware of their nakedness.

Nakedness was not the sin. Awareness of good and evil created an awareness that their disobedience was. And so, they hid from God as he walked through the garden. They hid, not because they were ashamed of their God-created bodies, but because they were ashamed of what they had done and sought to hide themselves from God.

Of course, their awareness enabled God to see what they had done. Yet, God still pursued them. Not to punish them, but to ask why? Yes, there will always be consequences to our actions, especially those that cause harm to ourselves or others. Yet, God pursues us and seeks to continue the relationship. Adam and Eve turned their backs on God. And yet, God pursued them. God is always seeking us, out of love, out of a desire to reconcile us to himself.

The first act of reconciliation is the same love and forgiveness that motivated God to send his son, Jesus Christ, to earth, not as a Messiah King to enslave us or rule over us. If the Messiah had been born to royalty as expected, it would have maintained the distance that already existed between man and God.

Instead, God sought to break down the barriers between us and him. Jesus came as one of us, born to a working-class family, in a working-class neighborhood, raised as a carpenter. He freely chose all of this, in order to better experience what it meant to be fully human, to understand our daily struggles.

The entire Bible is a journey from the encounter in the garden, forward, of God’s pursuit of each of us. Not to punish, but to heal, to reconcile, to demonstrate a love that has no limit. Because God loves us so dearly, he pursues us and eventually chooses to become human, to be with us, here on earth, as in Heaven.

If we can see Godpursuing us throughout the Bible, then we can believe that pursuit did not end on the last page of the Bible, but most surely God’s pursuit of us, his unending love for us, continues today and will extend through every moment of the future.

The Christmas story is the culmination of God’s pursuit of us, God becoming man. But it is also just the beginning of the greatest love story of all time. I have decided that every day of Advent, I am going to pray for each of us to experience God’s love in a beautiful and tangible way, so that we can know that God’s love for us is as real as our love for one another.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of TheBest Christmas: Unwrapping the Gift of Love that Will Make this Your Best Christmas Ever, available on Amazon.com


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