Will our world ever change? We know it is a world filled with injustice, inequality, and evil. Wars continue to rage across our planet. Many historians argue that there has never been an absence of conflict on our planet.
Others have maintained that of 3400 years of human history, there have been only 268 years of peace, or just 8 percent of recorded history.[i]
25,000 people, including 10,000 children die from hunger and hunger-related issues every day, and as many as 828 million people or about 10% of the global population regularly go to bed hungry.[ii]
One billion people make less than $1 a day in our world.[iii]
While many of us live rather insulated lives, there are so many people struggling with life and death issues. We could continue and talk about those who are struggling with life-threatening diseases, or devastating relational losses from death or divorce, and so we all at some point are confronted with pain and suffering in our world.
There is a longing within each heart to be loved, shown favor, experience peace of mind, to feel secure, to enjoy friendship, and have material security. Christmas is God’s approach to addressing both the human condition and our longings. What our society has made Christmas about is far removed from the actual story. When God wrote His story, it is one that we would not have considered. How would you change the human condition without taking away the freedom of choice that God endowed human beings with? Rather than come as a ruler to conquer us, God came to us in disguise. He came to our world as a baby.
Subjugated by a foreign power, Joseph was compelled to bring his wife, heavy with child, to Bethlehem to register in order to comply with a Roman census. It was a four-day trip over rough terrain. Once in Bethlehem, there was no place to stay, and now homeless, Jesus was born in a stable. Later, endangered by a jealous ruler named Herod, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus, and they flee as refugees to Egypt.
When Herod the Great finally died, God revealed to Joseph in a dream that it was safe to return to the nation of Israel, and so they moved back to the little village of Nazareth. It was there that Jesus lived in obscurity, working as a carpenter, until he was thirty. Then Jesus began his ministry which was to last a little over three years. Jesus began by announcing the Kingdom of God had come, and as king, he was among them, serving his nation by healing the sick, freeing the tormented, and teaching about the Kingdom of God.
The ongoing tragedy in that hour as well as our own is that people often have an incorrect understanding of how God comes to us. They were waiting for an all-powerful conquering King, but Jesus came disguised as a lowly servant.
Barbara Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize book, ‘The March To Folly,’ states that “the process of gaining power employs means that degrade or brutalize the seeker, who wakes to find that power has been possessed at the price of virtue – or moral purpose – lost.” Tuchman is saying that the road to power is at the expense of ‘moral virtue’ and high purposes are lost in the process.
Jesus, however, approaches the problem from the position of laying down His rights, rather than assert them. Paul in writing to the Philippians in addressing conflict within their church family, commended that this same approach needed to be taken. When we lay down our rights for the sake of others, we facilitate community but when we demand our way or our rights, strife continues. We are currently living in an hour where we witness the continued diminishment of community not only within families and other social institutions, but across every spectrum of society. Why? Because as a culture we are advocating rights at the expense of community. The greatest example for us is to follow is Jesus, and that is the goal of the Christian life is to become like Him. Here is how Paul expressed it and reveals to us the approach God took in reaching humanity:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross![iv]
The writer to the Hebrews gives us insight into the reason why God choose this path.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil–
and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.[v]
How can our broken, rebellious, demanding-of-rights world ever find the road to renewal and restoration? Where can we turn for stability and answers to our challenges? God invites us to come to him. He has made himself approachable by becoming a man and living among us, not on the top end of the social structure, but one who knows what it is like to experience the pain and sorrows that we all encounter. He has made a way for us. Even now Jesus is actively engaged with us. As our high priest he is both the sacrifice for our sin and also the one who prays and advocates on our behalf.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -yet he did not sin.
Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[vi]
Why did God write his story by demonstrating humility, weakness, and service to others? We realize that we are intimated by people’s strengths, but we identify with people in their weaknesses. This helps us to embrace God. It creates a climate of approachability. When we see Jesus, we see God and what He is like. We see His love in action, His warnings regarding the dangers of sin, and His willingness to forgive and restore us to wholeness.
Certainly Jesus’ birth, life and death was extraordinary because Jesus was not only fully human, but he is also God, the creator; redeeming his creation back to himself, by paying the penalty for our sins. He came to conquer evil, the devil, and death, the final enemy of humanity. Jesus overcame evil by doing good and was raised to life on the third day. What can we say to such an amazing plan?
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out![vii]
We know that God’s ways are certainly not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts. As Isaiah tells us, ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8).’
So, what is the true meaning of Christmas? From a biblical perspective, it is about Jesus coming to earth, born of a virgin, living a sinless life, and providing a way to be reconciled with God through his sacrificial and substitutionary death. By choosing this road of suffering for us and making a way for us to come to the Father, Paul explains that Jesus was willingness to lay down His rights in order to benefit us is actually the means of exaltation. We could easily say that when we are willing to lay aside our rights for the good of others, we are not diminished but enriched. What was the result of Jesus laying aside his rights for our sake?
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[viii]
How would you write your story? Would you remove all the moments of pain, disappointment, sorrow and suffering? What kind of person would we become if we removed the challenges that were designed by God to make us into the person we should become? The greatest gift we can receive is the gift of love. God’s love was wrapped up as a baby in swaddling clothes lying in that manger 2000 years ago. God gave himself to us and for us to deal with the sin issue in all of our lives. The greatest gift that we can give to God is the gift of ourselves, the surrendering of our lives to Him. If we do that, our world will change, and as people surrender to God as king in their lives their world will change. Ultimately, it will change when the King comes again and addresses all evil and sets up his forever kingdom on earth.
When we lay down our lives, including our rights for the sake of others, and surrender to Jesus we will be able to thrive in our upside-down world.
[iv] Philippians 2:5-8, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[v] Hebrews 2:14-18.
[vi] Hebrews 4:14-16.
[vii] Romans 1:33.
[viii] Philippians 2:9-11.