2 Cor 5:19 might not be the obvious place to go for a Christmas Day meditation but it’s where my thoughts are this morning. Actually I was thinking of the older English translation, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” I was thinking about that expression, “God was in Christ.” It’s probably an overly literal rendering of the Greek (and Latin) θεος ην εν χριστω. The ESV is more accurate: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” Nevertheless, the phrase, “God was in Christ” is striking and still true.
Of course the older rendering is also liable to the misunderstanding that “God was in Christ, bt he isn’t any longer.” That would exactly opposite of what Paul intended to say! Thus, better to put the locative phrase first: “In Christ, God was….”
Still, God was in Christ. He was doing something in Christ. The incarnation happened for a purpose: reconciliation between God and man. As Mr. Murray was fond of saying, the first sense of reconciliation is that of God to man, i.e. God needed to be reconciled to us. That is absolutely true and should be observed. It is nevertheless true that, in this passage, Paul was thinking about his ministry of reconciliation and the act of God to reconcile the world, i.e. sinful rebels, to himself.
Ever the gospel preacher Paul turns to the Corinthians to “implore” (ESV) them, to beg them to be reconciled to God and that through Christ. Why did he do it? Because, among all our needs, the chief need of humans is to be reconciled to God in Christ. Without that nothing else matters. In this season, and in our time, when all the emphasis in Christian teaching seems to be on the “vertical,” on the social implications of the gospel, let us remember what the gospel actually is: God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.