For whatever reason, my parents stopped going to church when I was little, or maybe they stopped before I was born. We didn’t consistently go to church.
But we did have a church. It was the Garfield Baptist Church. All of my sisters and brother remember attending that church. This was my family’s church even though we were, well, sporadic in attendance. Maybe my parents were just millennials before their time.
Though we didn’t attend regularly, I do remember going there, one Sunday in particular.
The pastor was preaching about sin. And he was getting pretty excited. The sermons at that church were interactive in a way that we aren’t at College Church, with people shouting “Amen” whenever the pastor was trying to stress an important theological truth.
On this particular Sunday, the pastor pointedly asked the congregation about sin in their lives. He repeated the question, asking if there was anyone sitting in the church that morning without sin. No one responded.
The pastor asked a third time if there was anyone in this church who did not sin. If so, raise your hand, he said, challenging us to come face to face with our sin.
I was right there with the pastor.
I knew that Jesus had washed away my sins. Whiter than snow. As far as the east is from the west. Nothing could undo what Jesus had done.
I didn’t realize it, but that was not the point.
Every time he asked the question, the volume in his delivery got louder and more intense. It seemed to my young mind that he was not happy that no one was responding.
So after that third time asking, I shot my hand up into the air as far as it would go. Yes pastor, I was without sin!
The pastor and everyone else in the room saw my raised hand. The congregation erupted in laughter. The pastor was taken aback. My mother was mortified. She pulled down my raised hand as fast as she could.
Especially during the preaching, people didn’t really laugh at church back then, at least not at the level that happened that morning. And they were laughing at me. I didn’t understand why people were laughing. It wasn’t funny. I didn’t want to let Satan blow out my little light. I wanted to let it shine. And the pastor was asking for a response, just like he often did for people to come forward if they wanted to make a decision or have someone pray for them.
I didn’t really think that I had never committed a sin, it was just one big misunderstanding between the pastor and me. Afterwards, I felt bad and tried to explain, but there wasn’t really anything I could do. I was young enough that people were forgiving. And I think in a subsequent Sunday the pastor even joked about asking for a show of hands, looking over at me, and people chuckled in a more acceptable level.
Sometimes at Christmas, we put ourselves on the nice list. We get caught up in the moment and think of ourselves as good. We raise our hands up in the air like I did those many years ago. And then, the wonder of Jesus can get lost in our sense of goodness.
This Christmas, I’m thinking of my favorite quote from a book I read this year:
“…we sin even in our best moments as we serve God. There has never been a single moment when we have loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29, 30). In our most sincere time of prayer, the pure eyes of our holy God see the unbelief, lukewarmness, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness that is in our hearts. We grieve over the sins we see, but God sees far more. Our sins are like the dust on a gravel road. My sins and yours are beyond number.” (The Psalms Volume 1—Psalms 1 to 41, Rejoice the Lord Is King by James Johnston, p. 415)
Though our sins may be beyond number, even more measureless is the great God who gave his only Son. He laid down all the glories of heaven. He laid himself in a manger. He washed dirty feet. He spoke to waves and storms and demons and pigs and Samaritans and tax collectors. He laid himself out on the cross. He laid aside his very life. He was laid in the tomb.
And then, wonder of wonders. Savior, Redeemer, Friend, Mighty God. King everlasting.
Let’s think more about Jesus this Christmas and less about the lists, be they naughty or nice.