For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
When we say the words ‘and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord’, we are using titles for Jesus rich in association and importance. The world ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah. To be anointed, that is, to have oil put on your skin in a special ceremony, was the sign, among the Israelites as among other people, of appointment to a position of importance in the community, such as that of king or priest. The word came to refer to a high calling, a particular vocation, a divine designation for a purpose of significance. However, the anointed one came as one who served.
‘His only son’ is a challenge, when the whole people of Israel had been described as the son of God (Hosea 11:1), but it comes with the personal devotion of Son to Father. Jesus, of course, was son of God in a way different from the way in which we are sons and daughters of our parents.
When we speak of Jesus as ‘our Lord’, we run some fairly important risks. One is the danger of possessiveness in ‘our’, for the remaking of Christ in our particular image is a constant temptation. Another risk is the removal from our devotion of the details the Gospels give us about Jesus, with the result that Jesus is nothing more or less than an alternative word for God, defined not by his life but by some vague notion of what a God should be like.
So, may Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord show us the closest that we can see of God, and remind us of how God spires to see the best of humanity.
Jesus Christ, barrier-breaker, lead us from our comfort zones. We often want to surround ourselves with like-minded people; help us to be open to those who are different.
Jesus Christ, risk-taker, free us from our fear of all that is strange. We are often afraid of what we don’t know and understand; help us to see everyone’s in your plan.
Jesus Christ, hope-giver, show us how to be like you. We don’t always willingly embrace change, or always welcome the stranger; Help us to open our hearts and minds, so that your kingdom may grow. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of Farnham and Elstead United Reformed Churches, and Clerk of the General Assembly