Christmastime is a great time to talk about evil.
I hope everyone is having a good and cheery and reflective advent and Christmas season. Merry Christmas to you!
I figured this season would be a good time to talk about evil because that makes sense, right? Presents and gifts and tinsel and a little baby in a manger, and... evil. They all fit together, right?
Well, actually, in a surprising way I think they do.
If you read the Christmas story, you are struck by the fact that even if it were a fictional story, it's an actual good story. There are heroes and villains, and there's suspense and drama because what we see in the Christmas story is that a ruler tried to prevent it from happening.
Herod, hearing of the birth of Jesus, whom the wise men wanted to go worship, sets out to actually kill all of the boys that would be the age of Jesus. So there's even evil in the Christmas story, the Christmas account. “Story” is an interested word because often stories are what we tell our children before bed, and they're fictitious. Now, we can also talk about true stories, but sometimes it's actually more helpful to use the word account, or to at least clarify when we're talking with someone that we think this thing that we're talking about from the Bible, this "Bible story" actually happened. It's an account, like you would read in some sort of testimony. It's recorded for us to understand events that actually took place in time.
So as a part of the Christmas account, or story, there's even evil in it. Evil is not far from Christmas, but there's a greater point to be made here. I actually think if someone raises the problem of evil around the Christmas season, it's fair to ask them, "What do you mean by evil?" In fact, we should ask this question all of the time when someone complains about evil in the world. There are a couple different paths we could go. We could actually talk about evil as a philosophical notion, what it is and how is it grounded?
What makes something evil, and the idea that evil is actually kind of the opposite of good and you can't have good without God. So to complain about evil actually presupposes the existence of God. We've talked about that numerous times before because the problem of evil is probably the most common objection to Christianity, both from Christians in their internal struggle with this, which is understandable, and from non-Christians.
But there's another way to talk about evil. I actually think we should, perhaps, do this more often than we talk about it abstractly when we're trying to get to the gospel in a conversation. Here's what I mean:
It's easy to talk about evil out in the world. Look at the wars in the Middle East, or look at genocides in Africa, or things like that. It's a totally different sort of thing, oftentimes, for a person to consider the evil that exists in their own heart. So I think it's fair to ask the person, "What is evil to you? Could you give me some examples also?" (Those are different questions.) Perhaps they give you examples like rape and murder, and genocide and things like that, but you could also ask about theft and lying. Have you done those things? Have you committed things that even on your own definition would be evil?
Of course, the person, if they're honest, will have to say, "Yes." Then, this is where we can point out that, "You know what? Evil is not just an out-there problem, is it? It's a problem in my heart. It's a problem actually in your heart by your own admission. We all have done evil things," and so the problem of evil is not an abstract problem. It's a very personal problem because it effects us all. This person probably believes evil should be punished, or they wouldn’t have brought the complaint is that God doesn't do something about evil. Well if God should do something about evil, then shouldn't God do something about the evil I have committed? If I have committed evil, that means I am guilty of committing evil.
What should happen to guilty people? Wouldn't it actually be an act of evil not to punish guilty people? The answer would have to be yes. If someone is a just judge, they punish crimes. They punish evil things. If you're an unjust judge, you let guilty people go free. That's what happens in corrupt countries where the judicial system and the legal system is corrupted as criminals run the counrty, because justice is not done and evil is not punished.
We all revolt and cry out against that when we hear of that sort of thing. It is an intrinsic reaction in the human heart that justice should be done. So when we're talking with someone who complains about evil, we can ask them, "Should evil be punished? Should people who hurt other people be punished? Should they be made to pay for their crimes?" I think the answer is going to be yes if they're honest. We need to also remember and point out that this means their crimes deserve to be punished. Our crimes deserve to be punished, and therein brings us to Christmas.
Here, we find our passage for today in Matthew 1:18, which says,
“Now, the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and because he didn't want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"
This is key.
“’She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.'"
Isn't that interesting? In spite of the evil that was even done before the birth of Christ and after the birth of Christ in that Christmas narrative, what we see is that the reason Jesus came into the world is so closely tied with evil. He actually comes to save people from their sins. What is sin? Evil.Perhaps, a more personal term for evil.
It's easy to talk about evil as an abstract notion like we've talked about, but when we talk about it as sin, well sin seems more connected to a justly deserving punishment that's required for it. Sin is something I do. Sin is something you do. So right here, when the angel is cluing Joseph and Mary in on the birth of Jesus, he's telling them explicitly why Jesus came, and it's related to the problem of evil. So Christmas is a very important step in God's plan to do away with evil.
Easter, you could also say, is part of God's plan to do away with evil, so when people complain about evil, let's not just talk about it as this abstract notion. Let's talk about it and use it as a bridge to the gospel, to the Christian story of reality. In the Christmas story, right here, we're told what it all means, and why did this baby came and why we celebrate this season around December and December 25th? We're told that it is part of God's plan to do away with evil, to do away with sin, to save people from their sin because remember, evil is sin. Sin requires punishment because a just judge will punish evil, and only an unjust and evil judge doesn't punish evil.
So we, who have committed sin, justly deserve punishment from God, and yet this is where we have to go a little beyond the Christmas story, right? We have to actually go to Easter and what Paul tells us looking backwards about what happened there in terms of filling out the gospel, but that's when we have the opportunity to say, "Jesus came to save you from your sins." That implies you have sins that you need to be saved from, and here's how he did that:
He didn't just come at Christmas. He goes to the cross at Easter, and at Easter we celebrate the fullness of what Christ actually came to accomplish and started accomplishing here at Christmas. So this Christmas season, I would encourage you, if you're paying attention when people talk, and you're talking with non-Christians, and they talk about evil, use that as a bridge to the Christmas story. If people are talking about Christmas, and you know they are non-Christian, use that as a bridge to talk about evil to then talk about the gospel, and even Easter.
These things link together biblically and scripturally, and we should link them together in our conversation to show that the same baby who came in a manger was not just a baby. He was the King, but he's also a savior. He's the Savior of people who place their trust in him because all of us have a sin problem. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God in Jesus Christ— that baby who came in a manger—is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Everyone who calls on the name of that baby in a manger—who grew to be a man, who was truly God and truly man, who went to the cross and died for sin—will be saved.
That's the good news of Christmas. Not simply that a baby came. That's exciting, but it's that a baby came to die and save his people from their sins. If Easter hadn't happened, Christmas would be unimportant. It would be unimpressive. Another baby born, oh that's great. But this baby is important and special because from the very beginning, as we're told here in Matthew, he will save his people from their sins.
Let's not just talk about evil as something out in the world. Let's always make it personal for the person, and this season, connect it to Christmas. It's a great segue because Jesus came to deal with evil. If Jesus does not deal with your evil, you will have to deal for your evil. The punishment of sin is justly death from a just judge. People need to understand that, that Christmas is only a happy time, in some ways, for those who are in Christ.
For everyone else, it should remind us that the baby who came in the world is the King who will come back to judge the world in righteousness. We must present both of those. A gospel with only the happy parts is not the gospel. The good news is only good news if you understand the bad news. So let's make evil a personal thing in love, in kindness and out of concern for people, and out of worship and love for God, that more people would come to praise Him and appreciate what He came to do thousands of years ago in a manger and ultimately on a cross.
Well, I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.