then as i was planning Sunday school on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the JOY Sunday, i found myself again asking, "What is the Good News? What is it about Christmas time that is so joyful?"
there is a handout i ran across a few years ago with many definitions of the Gospel form past and current theologians. it's quite interesting (if you want to see it, i can send it your way). i'll try and summarize these definitions:
the Gospel is Jesus, God in the flesh, who came to save humanity from sin by dying on a cross and raising from the dead. in dying and rising, Jesus cancels our sin and makes it possible for humans to once again be in relationship with God. and finally, Jesus ascends to the Father where he is seated on the throne. those who believe in him have access to eternal life through the forgiveness of sin, and are privileged to participate in God's kingdom. this is Good News!
but there's something that appears to be missing, or at least underemphasized in this "classic" Gospel message. something subtle, but something that i believe matters - especially as we communicate the Gospel to young people. it is the invitation to BELONG. it is the sense that God is again calling a people to follow him, to participate in something bigger than individual fame or fortune.
i've been reading through Isaiah this Advent, starting in chapter 40. i'm struck by the language God uses to remind the people that they are his - they belong to God. today i read Isaiah 44. verse 5 caught my attention, and i connected it to verses 21-22. check this out. remember, i'm reflecting on the Good News, the Gospel, and communicating it to young people.
"Some will say, 'I belong to the LORD';other will will themselves by the name of Jacob;still others will write on their hand, 'The LORD's,'and will take the name Israel."
there's the identity, the belonging, piece. and then, verses 21-22:
"I will not forget you.I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,your sins like the morning mist.Return to me,for I have redeemed you."
The Gospel: We BELONG to God. He created us. He formed us in our mother's womb. Though we've strayed, he has not forgotten us. He is calling us to repent, to RETURN to him. And he has REDEEMED us. This work of redemption is DONE. Jesus did it - he accomplished it - it's done.
The BELONGING piece is huge. Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is about a father welcoming his son; it's about a father throwing a party for the child who returns; it's about a father who has already forgiven the son before he can say a word. And this is the story some say is "the Gospel in a nutshell." And...this is the story JESUS tells.
How do you define, or how would you present, the Gospel? What "Gospel presentation(s)" do you remember?