So often in our churches today we are preaching and teaching a religion of dread. We believe that we will never be good enough and that God will never really love us. Tom Long once said, “No matter how often the good news of God’s forgiveness and gracious providence is preached, the idea lingers deep in the consciousness of many that they are watched disapprovingly by the stern Father God who glowers his disapproval upon all humanity.”
Maybe that’s the kind of religion you grew up on. Perhaps you believe that God cannot or will not accept you. Religion, for you, is that certain feeling of unworthiness and the desire to “get right” with God through some right actions. The religion of dread. For many years I personally struggled with these same feelings. I rejected God’s love while hoping to finally live good enough to deserve God’s approval. I wanted salvation on my own terms, earned by hard work.
Thankfully, religion like that finally ended for me. The coming of Christ, as a child weak and vulnerable, is not some abstract thought but concrete and real proof that God really loves me personally. The true gift of Christmas is the gift of God’s love, made incarnate, real, and personal in Jesus. I realized that I couldn’t earn that love and frankly I quit trying. And I finally saw a God who watches over me but not in stern judgment but in lavish love. My actions, imperfect and always falling short, are no longer a desire to win God’s loving approval but rather my response to his perfect gift of love. So, let your religion of dread end here and now!
Prayer: Loving God, in the birth of the Christ child, remind us of your unfailing love for us. Amen.
-Darryll Rasnake From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013