A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Looking for a Savior
December 10, 2015
Advent is a season in which we stoke our anticipation of a Savior who will deliver us from all that harms and destroys. God’s people have carried that yearning from time immemorial. The irrepressible hope of a Messiah who saves us courses through the entirety of Hebrew Scripture. As Christians, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior our ancient ancestors in faith had long awaited. In his coming, we testify that salvation came to the world. Yet the people of God did not receive him when he came.* And we acknowledge that we do not yet see his victory complete, as we await his coming in fullness of power and glory.
Exactly what is this “salvation” that Jesus brings? What does it mean to be “saved,” and why do we need it anyway? Much about the meaning of salvation can be learned simply by considering the root of the word “salvation” itself. It comes from the Latin salus, which means “safety” or “welfare.”
From this root we get the word “salutary,” a word describing something that is truly good and beneficial for us. Salvation is God’s goodness poured out on us for our benefit, given to us freely and abundantly through Jesus. In a world where many are deprived of basic human needs, salvation is first of all God’s action to grant us all that we need for the living of our days. It is about our full and final deliverance into a new world that is yet to come, to be sure, but it is first of all about granting us what we need for living here and now.
This little word salus is also the root of our word “salve.” It is the divine administration of healing and comfort to those who suffer. The salvation Jesus brings is demonstrated first of all in his healing ministry, and can never be separated from his passion and power to mend the broken. Jesus enacts the saving purpose of God by renewing both body and spirit, by bringing wholeness to individuals and societies alike. Salvation is balm for the wounded and comfort for the distressed.
Again, salus is the root of our word “salvage.” Salvation is both rescue from the trash heap and re-purposing for benefit of others. My first exposure to salvage operations was with automobile junkyards, where ruined vehicles were collected for parts that were still sound, which were then sold for use in working vehicles. I found those junkyards absolutely fascinating, full of treasures that only a youngster avidly in love with old cars could fully appreciate. Nowadays, after their useful mechanical parts have been stripped away, the bodies of ruined vehicles are crushed, their metal salvaged for recycling into new manufacture. Everything in the trashed vehicle becomes useful once again. This is exactly what happens with salvation – God saves us not just for our own sakes, but that we might minister to others.
Perhaps the most compelling understanding of “salvage,” for the purposes of understanding salvation, is the creativity of some sculptors to refashion trash into prized art pieces. What was previously considered worthless becomes highly valued because someone has imaginatively set it into an entirely new context. This is what salvation does with those ravaged by sin – Jesus transforms us into a new creation by reconciling us to God and to one another. Graciously invited to and seated at the Lord’s Table, we who had been rebels and rejects are honored as royal sons and daughters, full heirs of heaven’s wealth. Once defaced by sin, we are now treasured beyond comprehension.**
This is the Savior whose coming we await – the One who is truly salutary to us in all our need, the One who anoints us with healing salve in all our brokenness, and the One who salvages us from rejection, declaring us worth more than we could possibly imagine. While we will not know the perfection of this wonder until his reign comes in fullness, already those who recognize and welcome him as Savior begin enjoying these salvation benefits. Here and now. Taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)
In salvation joy,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
**Romans 8:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:1-19; Ephesians 2:14-16
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