“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” Luke 1.31
Stories of death and suffering are fairly common place in the media. That’s probably because there is so much evil prevalent in our world. Whether it’s Syria or Irish sectarianism, Congo or a lone gunman in a crowded cinema in America, the stories have an all too familiar, predictable ending.
Just occasionally, however, a story captures both the headlines and our imagination perhaps because it seems to say something about us as a society.
The tragic suicide of Jacintha Saldanha is one such story. Falling for a prank call from a couple of Australian DJs left this capable, popular nurse unable to cope with the shame of having been “had”, especially since the prank involved the royal family and made international news. The whole story seemed to sum up what happens to a culture that values celebrity so highly.
It was hard in the wake of such a tragedy to have any sympathy for the pranksters. Two relatively unknown radio presenters had exploited the trusting nature of a hardworking nurse in order to promote their own celebrity. Of course they had never intended their practical joke to end so tragically. Now it was their turn to feel shame and remorse.
No doubt everyone, or at least most reading this have their own opinions about what happened. And it has to be said that perhaps the initial reaction to the hoax by the press wasn’t entirely helpful.
However, I want to ask a question, and I think it is an important one: “What do you do when you make a mistake as tragic as that made by the radio show hosts?” Perhaps the deeper question is “Where can you find atonement for your sins?”
It seems to me that the best that society can do for us is offer us therapy whilst at the same time treating us like social lepers. Sadly, we sometimes don’t do much better in church. I read an article about the fallen church leader Ted Haggard recently. Here was a man, who was a leader of the church in America, who has clearly repented of his sin, but is still kept at arm’s length by most Christians.
The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to call her child Jesus. The Hebrew for Jesus is Joshua meaning the Lord saves. Joseph had the same message concerning the name of this child: the baby was to be named Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.
During His three years of ministry in Galilee and Judea, Jesus time and again pronounced people forgiven and healed, and the forgiveness and healing included their reintegration into society. He restored people who were lepers socially as much as they were physically.
In a world that at times offers therapy, at times resorts to denial, and much of the time offers a strong dose of social ostracism, Jesus says that we can find real forgiveness. We can actually have our sin taken away. However great that sin is. People might not forgive us. Society might not forgive us. We cannot change the past. But Jesus can change us.
However we might feel about the royal hoax and the terrible loss of the nurse who took her own life, with Jesus there is always the hope of grace and the prospect of real forgiveness. Whatever tragic circumstances we have contributed to. Whatever we have done.