When I was a young man in the 1960’s the “good news of great joy” of which we sang was about the new institutions and movements that seemed bright and promising. We relished throwing out the old and, rather uncritically, embracing the novel.
Now, many years later, all of these institutions have proven themselves to be flawed, delivering as much down side as up side. The hard and gritty realities of life in this world have emerged as the formidable obstacles they truly are; technology has proven to be a poor, soulless substitute for the development of real, human capability and interaction; creeping ignorance continues its march in the face of educational opportunity.
It is easy to be disappointed in such a world, to question God. But do we have that right? After all, who is responsible? All our blaming and finger-pointing just adds to the dysfunction and chaos we have set loose in this place. The One who should really be disappointed is God. What kind of a world does He have to look at?
It would have been easy for Jesus to have finished His prayers in Gethsemane, gotten up, washed His hands of us, and walked out of the garden, out of the city. His thirty or so years in this place were more than enough time to draw the conclusion that there is no deserving here. So why did He do it? Why did He let us kill Him?
The only answer is the greatest mystery of all: God’s mercy. Martin Luther observed that in Jesus, God has refused to pull rank on us. That is the mystery. There is nothing more unfathomable in all the Christian faith than this one, simple fact: faced with the enormity of His disappointment, His grief over the mess we have made of this good earth and our lives, God has chosen to have mercy on us. Paul called this salvation by grace, apart from anything we can think, say or do.
In our broken lives and world we receive what we have coming, for this is the harvest of weeds we have sown in the landlord’s vineyard. But in Jesus we receive what we do not have coming, what God would give us: pure, unmerited, undeserved grace and mercy. This is the “good news of great joy” of which the angels sang – and so may we.