Rowan Williams once commented that:
To believe in Jesus’ God of unconditional accessibility and even-handed compassion, to believe in an anarchic mercy that ignores order, rank and merit, is to accept that our projects and patterns are the mark of failure, of illusion, of the infantile belief that we can dictate truth and reality [Wound of Knowledge, 7]
This is hard for us and on us, and our natural tendency is to reject it and to retreat into the comfort zone of thinking that we can have some influence on the truth and the reality of God’s love; we cannot, and the sooner we see this, the calmer we shall be; we are told to trust in Him; we cling to trust in self-sufficiency: that struggle is one for us all.
There is always the temptation to assume that one is saved and to become a little self-satisfied and even judgmental; Paul saw it in the Corinthians and reminded them that it had been their weakness and their baseness which had led to their being chosen. If, as they seemed to believe, they are now more mature in Christ, then the signs are surely lacking. If they really possessed the spiritual riches of which they boast, they would not behave so carnally. God marks out his servants by their constant strivings and humiliations as ‘the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things’. Paul sees spiritual growth not as a ‘thing’ to be acquired, but as a daily reliance upon God – where obedience and self-emptying is required. Christ has been before us into the dark places of doubt, fear and weakness – he has suffered the pangs of the cruellest death; there is nothing we can suffer He has not suffered; nothing we have to endure He has not endured. As we are told in Hebrews:
though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him
Our hearts must be open to Christ, and perfect obedience carries with it the fear of not knowing what is coming, of abandoning the faith in ourselves and our cleverness, our wealth, our ingenuity, ourselves; we go to Him in trust, knowing that there is a cross to be borne, and that the way cannot be what we want it to be – soft and easy.
We did nothing to deserve salvation, and we cannot earn it. It is freely given to us if we will receive it. Jesus founded a Church which is the hospital of our salvation; we are not left alone in this world, and if we have fellowship with others then we have a foretaste of God’s mercy and His love. We cannot just sit back saying we’re saved and that’s that – Paul ticked off the Corinthians for such silliness, and there is no reason to suppose that reproach is not meant for us too. The Christmas message is that He comes to those who will receive Him – rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. His mercy is for all who will humble themselves to receive it.