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If you look at your average nativity scene, you could be forgiven for thinking all was calm and peaceful and harmonic with the world and those gathered around the crib where baby Jesus lay. It all looks so serene…mostly unlike life then!
In actual fact, the immediate circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth involve the murderous rage of King Herod and his desire to have Jesus killed, thus his command to have all male babies in Bethlehem put to death. And a very merry Christmas to you too! While in the west we live a largely persecution free existence, in places like India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria and others, many Christians live in fear for their lives this Christmas time and persecution is daily experience. Christians in these places know trusting Jesus is a matter of life and death.
In the west, Jesus is often suffocated beneath the Christmas glitter and ‘feel good’ factor. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘talk show’ programs where the topic has been ‘What does Christmas mean for you?’, and the celebrity of the moment rattles off reasons like, “It’s a family time, it’s for the kids, it’s to have a good time…” etc etc. Of course there’s nothing wrong with these reasons, but conspicuous by its absence on talk shows is the message of the Christ of Christmas. Christmas, for Christians, is all about, should be all about, the birth of Jesus Christ, who, according to Old Testament biblical prophecy, would save the world from its sins. He would do this by being born into this world which had gone wrong (the incarnation), and being crucified on the cross for the sins of the world (the atonement). He would then rise from the dead (the resurrection) and, after a short time with His disciples, return to heaven (the ascension).
All this began with His birth in the ‘manger’ in Bethlehem…and while we sing the charming and soft, almost lullaby-like tones of Away In A Manger, it is worth remembering that the man in whom Christians place their faith for life, death, resurrection and the forgiveness of sins, and the man who came to save the world, started life on earth as a ‘helpless’ baby.
Our faith, on which we stake our eternal destiny, is centred on a baby who could not yet walk or talk, who was utterly dependent on His mum and dad for everything, who wasn’t yet even close to making sense of who He was or the world around Him. Aside from the lovely images of the Nativity which we see this time of year, in some ways, that child, that baby, utterly dependent on others for everything, represents our faith at its most vulnerable, with dangers all around, yet with a Father in heaven who had His whole destiny marked out, everyone He would come into contact with, the streets He would walk, the miracles He would perform, the persecution He would endure, the appalling death He would suffer, and the resurrection which would declare His victory to all creation. It all started in a scene of utter vulnerability.
Have you ever felt your faith vulnerable? Have you ever felt you couldn’t do it any more, that it was all too hard and you just weren’t up to it? You’ve reached the end of your tether and several notches beyond? Have you ever felt you had no words that would make any difference? Have you ever tried your best but still faced opposition from all angles? Have you ever been in the vulnerable position of having to depend on others for your needs, your food, clothes, finances, health? Have you ever felt there was nothing whatsoever you could do to help yourself, to just survive, that your very hope for life itself depended on other people?
Welcome to the baby in the manger in Bethlehem.
Welcome to Christmas.
Welcome to sheer, terrifying vulnerability…and the sheer, glorious, protecting, providing hand of God.
Jesus knows exactly how you feel and when your faith is struggling and vulnerable, when you’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth, and then you slip, and you’re hanging on to thin air…then Jesus whispers in your ear, “That was me as a baby, I was utterly dependent on everyone else, for everything.”
His Father in heaven provided everything He would ever need, from family to food and clothes and health and strength and rest and nurture. Even in the sheer vulnerability of newborn faith, of fragile faith in troubled times, the Father’s love for His children is as strong as His love for His Son, Jesus, in the manger in Bethlehem and He will provide everything that’s needed and He comes into our messy, imperfect lives to do it.
On his blog, Justin Hiebert sums it up perfectly, makes it all real:
“…the whole point of Jesus coming was to show us that he loves us in the midst of our dirt. He was born to unwed parents in an occupied tiny town in a stinky manger with animals covered in dirt. As a royal king his first audience was with rejected and despised shepherds that smelled worse than the sheep they cared for. In the shadow of Herod’s magnificent temple was born a King wrapped in scraps and leftover hay pieces. And shortly thereafter he narrowly escaped a mass murder of thousands of children at the hand of an enraged, jealous, frightened and mentally disturbed Herod. Jesus was born in the midst of some very unclean circumstances, and as he grew up he only continued to be found there. He gained his reputation as one that hangs around tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was OK with peoples dirt. In fact, he welcomed it. As his people we need to be following his lead. Christmas, the real Christmas story, isn’t about cleaning ourselves up so we can gain an audience with God. It’s about a God who desires to be in our presence, even if we are dirty, unclean or of questionable reputation. The Jesus of the Christmas story is full of dirt, yet he does that because he desires to be with us. In the midst of the dirty, his holiness shines through and begins to change us. But it is him changing us, and not us changing ourselves, that is the key thing we need to remember.”
What’s the meaning of Christmas? Jesus comes to us as we are, where we are, who we are, and offers to save us, forgive us, help us, provide for us, clothe us, feed us, give us hope, give us assurance. There is no-one better equipped to deal with this fallen, troubled, oft times terrifying world, than Jesus. There is no one better qualified to come to your aid than Jesus, no matter what condition you’re in.
That’s His promise, that’s the promise of Christmas.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Thanks for reading.