Christmas Compassion

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish, but have eternal life.

 

The Bible describes a compassionate God. Over and over, the Old Testament testifies to God’s compassion. 

It’s out of compassion that he responds to Israel’s predicament in Egypt: 

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” 

Compassion is on his mind when he describes himself to Moses:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…

Compassion drives the message of the prophets: 

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for

Out of compassion God sends an ark, a law, manna, judges, prophets, and kings. And then, at the turning point of the Biblical story, out of compassion, he sends himself. The word used most often in the gospels to describe Jesus’ emotional condition is compassion. 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

The Greek word for compassion connotes a sort of visceral unction. It’s an emotional condition that comes from the gut. And it relates to suffering. The English word combines the idea of suffering and camaraderie. Compassion means to “suffer with.” 

The incarnation was an act of compassion. 

God heard the cries of humanity, saw our harassed and helpless condition, and was moved in his gut to suffer with us. And so he sent the one thing that could help. A baby destined to suffer. A compassionate Messiah on his way to Easter passion. 

Immanuel, God with us, is God suffering with us. 

That is the good news of Christmas. 

But Christmas is not the end of the Biblical story. The next chapter, after the Messiah’s compassionate gift, is the commission, when God sends his compassionate Spirit into the church and says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 

If you are called to follow Jesus, you are called to a life of compassion. To hear the cries of humanity and incarnate in response. To suffer with them.

Receiving the gifts of Christmas is one thing. But following Immanuel is another. Disciples of a compassionate Messiah must be marked by the compassion the incarnation shows us.