A Season of Mercy

In last Sunday’s blog Dan drew our attention to Advent, not a big thing for Christadelphians but a time when the wider Christian church looks forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and remembers his first coming, the birth of the Saviour. Advent is seen as a season of mercy. Pope Francis in 2015 wrote that “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy … Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him … Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions and his entire person reveals the mercy of God”.

Reference to mercy will always at some stage take me to Shakespeare’s
Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes …
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings
It is an attribute to God himself …
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Mercy, unlike justice, isn’t based on an equation (eg if
x happens, y must ensue). It is a step beyond where, as Portia argues, it benefits both recipient and donor and elevates the latter to a godlike status, since mercy is an attribute of God himself. Mary, in the Magnificat, refers to this attribute when, in Luke 1:50, she says that “His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation”. How then is God’s mercy seen in the birth of Jesus? How does mankind receive mercy from this particular event?

Mercy is not a new attribute of God as seen in the birth of Jesus. It has been an attribute for ever. It is a companion to his grace. While his grace is the unmerited favour whereby he gives us what we do not deserve, so then his mercy is the way in which he withholds what we do deserve. “
The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23): another kind of equation; a justice-like approach to the human condition. To this can be added the layer of mercy. It runs through the Old Testament: “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9); “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). It is by God’s mercy that he withholds the logical judgement upon our sin.

But the judgement doesn’t entirely go unsatisfied. Enter Jesus upon whom God meted out his judgement of our sin. “
He was made sin for us” and “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Christ has died for us, in our place, paying our penalty so that God can withhold from us our deserved judgement. Mercy awaits us and we go free from the moment we trust Jesus as our personal Saviour, trusting nothing of our own position or effort. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

God’s commitment to a merciful approach sees a culmination in the birth of Jesus. Justice is an equation; mercy requires the giver to go that bit further. How much further could God go than in introducing his son as a factor in granting mercy, in tempering the justice we deserve? That particular step illustrates the lengths to which God was prepared to go to demonstrate his mercy and forgiveness. Just as, in a human parallel, when someone forgives a wrongdoer and does not press for the full weight of justice to run its course, the wrongdoer has an obligation to recognise that; to be grateful for that; and to respond accordingly, so then do we, in seeing God forgive us through the birth, life and death of his son, have an obligation to recognise, be grateful and respond, remembering that “
the Lord is not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

There’s a theological argument to be had, I suppose, between the ultimate contribution to demonstrating God’s mercy between Jesus’ birth and his death. The old Christmas classic,
Mary’s Boy Child, contains the line that “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day”. Some might argue the technological exactitude of that but we can recognise and appreciate the sentiments.

We know the message conveyed by the angels to the shepherds, captured in the traditional Christmas carol,
Silent Night:

“Shepherds first saw the light,
Heard resounding clear and long
Far and near, the angel song.
Christ the Redeemer is here.
“Son of God, O how bright.
Love is smiling from Thy face!
Strikes for us now the hour of grace,
Saviour, since Thou art born.”

The hour of grace emphasises the occasion of mercy and, as we approach the Christmas season, at this Advent time, we would do well to focus as individuals on how God’s mercy can transform our lives and release us from an inevitable equation. Jesus Christ was the ultimate development in preaching the Gospel to the poor, in healing the brokenhearted, in preaching deliverance to the captives, in recovering sight to the blind, in setting at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18). We can see just how much of himself God has invested in a merciful approach and consider our response to being healed, delivered, restored and freed, and our resultant prayer for mercy should teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.

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