This reflection was originally delivered during a 2012 Christmas Eve Service at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Castle Rock, CO.
Do you believe in aliens? There’s an entire genre of horror devoted to them. There’s also a subgenre about parasite aliens. They invade human bodies, and use them as hosts. I recently saw that there’s a new movie coming out in early 2013 called The Host. Parasitic aliens are injected into humans, and take over the earth. I believe in aliens—not the kind depicted in The Host, but something alarmingly similar.
If you follow the story of sin through the entire Bible, you will find that its alien to the world God created. Even for people who are uncomfortable with the idea, sin is depressingly familiar. But it’s never normal. It’s always a departure from the way things are supposed to be. As one theologian expresses it, “…sin is an anomaly, an intruder, a notorious gate-crasher. Sin does not belong in God’s creation….”
Sin is a horrific spoiler of the good, as the mass shootings we have witnessed in 2012 have grimly reminded us. The good news of Christmas is that sin cannot finally overpower the good purpose that God has for His creation. Sin is a parasite that depends on its host for survival. It’s power, persistence, and plausibility is stolen from its host. C.S. Lewis insightfully put this way: “Goodness is, so to speak, itself; badness is only spoiled goodness.”
Jesus came to expel the parasite of sin.
Christmas and Sin?
There is no doubt that sin is an unpalatable subject. But when you read the Bible, its impossible to ignore. Similarly, in the last year we have witnessed the theater shooting in Aurora, a mall shooting, and now the shooting in New Town. The problem is that if you dismiss sin, you are left with some depressingly soulless explanations of those despicable acts of evil. Sin perverts, pollutes, disintegrates, destroys, and devastates. It leaves us grieving.
In the movies I mentioned earlier, the aliens are unwelcome parasites. In the same way, few people actually welcome the effects of sin. But part of what’s so problematic for us is that we have welcomed the parasite of sin. We opened the door and invited it in. That’s certainly what we see with Adam and Eve. The same story unfolds in Genesis, and down through the rest of the Bible. Our problem is that we are just like Adam and Eve. It was not just they that welcomed sin; each of us does the very same thing.
Christmas Grief to Fuller Joy
To know the full joy of Christmas you have to grapple with the horrendous grief of sin. To personally know the fullness of Christmas joy, you have to personally recognize the hideousness of sin. Though sin is a parasitic alien, sin doesn’t sin. We sin. It’s us. We are the ones with the problem; we are the ones who need to be delivered. It’s one thing to have a category for sin that includes elementary school shooters and Hitler. It’s a very different thing to look into the mirror, and to have a category for what lurks below the surface there.
It is a general truism that we are strict judges of others, but lax judges of ourselves. Sin may describe the murderers, the slave-traders, and the Osama bin Ladens of the world; but I am none of those things. It’s relatively easy to see the sinfulness of real monsters; it’s even easier to think that I am innocent since I am not them. But the Bible explores the reality of sin in such a way that it compels us to grapple with our own personal problem of sin.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters. The premise of the book is that a senior demon, Screwtape, is mentoring his protégé, Wormwood—he’s mentoring him in the art of oppressing people. The objective is to keep people separated from God. In one scene Screwtape describes to Wormwood how a person can be drawn from God by nothing.
He goes on to explain how nothing is strong, powerful enough to steal away a man’s best years. By preoccupying his charge with nothing, Wormwood can make him too weak and befuddled to be concerned with God. The gratification of feeble curiosities, the drumming of fingers, the kicking of heels; the whistling of tunes he does not even like, or even the dim labyrinth of vapid daydreams—all of these things are effective in separating people from God. Nothing can easily come between a person and God.
Supra-earthly Christmas Joy
Some sin isn’t so obviously sinful. Lewis understood that at its core sin separates us from God. That, more than anything else, is what makes it so terrible for us. But the sinfulness of sin encompasses more than obvious evil on the human plane. Sin is rebellion against God. It’s perverted and disgusting to the core because it revolts against the holy, righteous, and good God. Whether the sin is murder, or indifference toward God, it’s cosmic treason.
There can be joy in gathering with family this time of year. There can be joy in giving and receiving gifts, and in the sights and sounds of the season. But you can’t experience the supra-earthly joy of Christmas, apart from wrestling with the hideous reality of your own sin. For some of us, our sin may be obvious. For others it may be less obvious: pride, arrogance, self-centeredness; or, simple indifference toward God. Either way, we are led to the same place: we have to acknowledge that we are sinners. We’ve shaken our fists at God. We need someone to deliver us from our sin.