Friday, December 20, 2013

a Christmas story for the rich and poor

Lately, I've had the privilege of teaching our mission team kids' weekly Bible class and we've read through The Story, looking at the major events in Scripture to help them get the big picture of the biblical narrative.  These kids are enthusiastic and so smart - they often have their hands raised to answer questions even before they've finished coming out of my mouth!  But, one question I asked had them stumped.

We read the story of the birth of Jesus and then I got them to imagine the places they thought kings should be born.  They decided that royalty should begin their lives in palaces or castles or maybe nice hospitals with all the latest technologies.

So, why then, I asked, was the Son of God born in a barn?

Silence.  Puzzled faces.

Jesus has many titles - Lord, Savior, Christ, Messiah, Prince of Peace to name just a few.  But, that day we talked about what has to be my favorite title for Jesus - Immanuel.  He is 'God with us'.  I love the way that John 1:14 is rendered in the Message: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."

From the very beginning of his life we see that he isn't like other kings.  He willingly took his first nap in a manger because no one could find him a room.  He truly identifies with us - even in poverty and rejection.

He was born in a barn because as Ben Witherington says, God especially loves the last, the least and the lost.

What is fascinating to me is how the birth of our King is portrayed in the different gospels.  In Luke's gospel, where Jesus is consistently on the side of the poor, the first people to hear the announcement of his birth are lowly shepherds (2:8-20).  Instead of taking the good news of the royal birth to rich and powerful, the angels go straight to a group of men whose word wouldn't be accepted in a court of law.  That would be like choosing to make a PR announcement to people sleeping under a bridge instead of getting the word out on CNN.  So, the shepherds are the first ones informed and they are intrusted with spreading the news.  The rich and wise men (the Magi), though, aren't even mentioned in Luke's account.

But, in Matthew's gospel where Jesus is presented as a sage and a prophet, the birth narrative skips over stories of smelly shepherds and tells us only of wise and wealthy men, visitors from the East, who come to pay their respects to the baby King (2:1-12).  Their journey is certainly not easy though, they experience difficulties and danger.  Although they are able to meet with rulers on their way in, they have to head back home in secret.

What strikes me is that the New Testament contains two versions of the Christmas story.  One about the rich and one about the poor.

What holds these tales together, though, are these three things:

1. God is with us and humbly chose to move into our neighborhood.

2. God is on the lookout for people humble enough, whether rich or poor, to hear his invitation.  So the church that truly reflects the nativity, as Don McLaughlin puts it, will include all kinds of people from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

3. And God especially loves the last, the least and the lost - which, whether we are rich or poor, ultimately describes us all.

So, Merry Christmas to ALL!

Grace and Peace,

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