Advent and Christmas are a wonderful time of year. This should also be a very important season for the Church. We do not really know the exact day that Jesus was born, but the birth of our Lord and celebration of the incarnation (God becoming flesh John 1:14) should be important to all Christians. Although many people outside the Church may enjoy the decorations, music, giving, and spirit of the holidays - what makes Advent and Christmas really special to us is our understanding that it commemorates God acting to save us, and it also reminds us that Christ will come again.
Although Christmas should mean much more to Christians than just a season of giving and good cheer, a survey of Presbyterians revealed that a “significant minority of Presbyterians do not believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation.”
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of our savior. If, however, we do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate or that through his death Jesus sealed a new covenant with God so that we are saved by faith, then it is good for us to stop and consider what Christmas and Good Friday/Easter do mean to us. Both Christmas and Good Friday/Easter declare that God loves us and has acted in history in a unique way to reveal that love and provide a means for our salvation. The importance of these holy days to Christians should not be separated from the essential belief of the church as expressed in Scripture and the Apostles Creed.
Now does this mean that only Christians will be saved? I do not believe that any of us are fit to answer that question. The Bible declares that Christ will be our judge. It also reveals God’s love for all God’s children. As a Christian I am confident that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. I also doubt the claims of those who declare that any faith is equally effective at bringing us to God as long as we are sincere. To believe that would seem to make Christmas and Good Friday/Easter entirely irrelevant. Why would God need to go to such trouble, pain, and suffering if giving us a good course in meditation or positive thinking would have been just as effective?
The ultimate fate of non-believers has long been a sticky question for Christians of every denomination. A 2001 statement by the Office of Theology and Worship of our denomination may help us with this dilemma. In seeking to respond to the question of the place of Jesus in God’s plan for salvation the OTW wrote a 4+ page paper. The heart of the paper is found in the following summary. “Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him. No one is saved by virtue of inherent goodness or admirable living.... No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of ‘God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith.”
I like this statement both for its strength in declaring the importance of our faith in Jesus and its openness in confessing that God’s grace through Christ may extend to others who have not yet declared faith in him.
Linda and I hope that you have both a meaningful and blessed Advent and Christmas.