I didn't really understand what a saviour was when I was growing up. My family wasn't religious, I didn't spend much time thinking about God, and I considered the Bible a rather inspirational myth. I believed that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem riding a donkey in the same sort of way I vaguely believed in hobbits going to Mount Doom (I was an avid LOTR fan). A good story, and one that sometimes made my heart beat faster for the sheer beauty of it, but not one that could impact my life in the here and now.
Then, at fifteen, I ran into some discipline trouble when I tried to cheat on an exam. There wasn't any excuse; I couldn't rationalise it in any other way than to realise that I was a cowardly, unprincipled person. There was no way around this reality, but I didn't have the guts to face it, so I tried not to think about it. As I remember, I was expecting detention, but instead I got assigned compulsory community service at a centre for students with special needs. I went along in mild confusion and tentative interest, but as the days passed I found my heart awakening, feeling and loving in a way I had not expected. Those children are so precious, and serving and caring for them gave me a sense of purpose and hope. By all accounts, this "discipline" had been resoundingly successful.
But I still didn't understand what salvation was. And it wasn't until one evening after a session as I walked down a quiet road in a heartland neighbourhood, as the setting sun caught the edges of an old block of flats, that something clicked, and everything I had ever half-heard of a saviour who reaches out, who gives grace to the lowly, who offers His hand to lepers and promises paradise to a thief, collided with what I knew of myself. With the fact that out of a foolish, prideful mistake had come one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. That instead of punishment and rejection I had been given peace and joy. That I, a sinner stained and broken, am deeply, intimately, fiercely loved.
In Isaiah 40, God tells Israel, His unfaithful chosen nation, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. This promise has been extravagantly fulfilled in my life. And immediately following this passage, the prophet says, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God...", the words that the gospels quote as foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ.
Do I fully grasp, even now, what this means? I cannot say that I understand any better than I did on that evening that changed the course of my whole life, when for the first time I saw that the mercy I have received was won by the judgement Jesus bore. Yet across the past few years it has been the greatest of joys to slowly realise, time and again, the unfathomable depth of His heart, this infinitude of grace, this saviour who knows fully and loves fully. And I pray I might dwell in the light of that tender, treasuring gaze, knowing the joy of searching that limitless heart, all the days of my life. For He is so very, very good.