O Holy Night is a Christmas hymn with which many are familiar (at least with John Sullivan Dwight’s English translation). Not only is the song beautiful in speaking about the greatness of our Savior and the good news of his work in the world, it also speaks about the gospel’s social implications.
Written in a day where slavery was still common among nations of western culture, the song says of such ill:
Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
The Bible often speaks about God’s justice in the face of oppression. On the spiritual level, sin has enslaved and ensnared each one of us. Thus, God sent his Son into the world to provide freedom from spiritual tyranny. Jesus redeems that which our rebellion against God’s goodness seeks to destroy and ruin, a gift of grace by faith in Jesus.
But this is not the end of the matter. When we experience spiritual freedom in Christ, we are led to bring the good news of such freedom to the world around us. And we are led to break the bonds of physical oppression as much as we can.
Jesus, born into the world as a baby 2000 years ago, was a declaration of war upon sin and its effects. Though the root of sin is spiritual, its effects have a far ranging physical reach. Physical oppression results where spiritual oppression is left unchecked. When Jesus returns, bringing God’s full judgment against sin and God’s full salvation for those who have followed Jesus, physical oppression and spiritual oppression will be no more.
The job of the church, then, has always been two-fold: work for the release of people under both types of tyranny.
Social justice has always been a call for God’s people. We are to fight for the sake of the least of these because God’s law is love and his gospel is peace. The problems come when we neglect one side of our call for the other. A church that emphasizes only the solution to the spiritual problem offers truth without the physical manifestations of love meant to go with it. A church that emphasizes only the solution to physical problems offers acts of love but without the truth that can free the soul.
Christmas reminds us to keep both in balance. God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save sinners and to bring justice and goodness to the daily operations of the world. Truly he taught us to love one another…