(This post was originally published on 12/06/2017.)
I loved birthday parties as a kid. I remember one of the first birthday parties I was invited to in elementary school. I went to a small Christian school which meant our class size was also small. So, if you were not invited to the birthday party that happened over the weekend it was pretty obvious that you were left out. You were not part of the “in” crowd. I was invited to a kids house who was generally liked by everyone. The guys thought he was cool and the girls thought he was cute. That was pretty much the formula for popularity in elementary school.
A typical birthday party with my friends usually included basketball, pizza, and video games. My birthday was in August and we had a pool. This meant my party included swimming too. I am not sure any of my friends thought I was that cool, but my neighbor had a paved and painted basketball court. So, between the pool and the basketball court my birthday was usually well attended. I remember my mom always encouraging me to invite the “other” kids too. The kids that weren’t always invited to other parties. A couple of times, I was encouraged to invite a kid from my class who wasn’t exactly my friend. We were kind of like “frenemies”… Anyways, inviting someone to a birthday party was about more than getting presents. It was a social statement about who was part of your friend group. It was a clear indication of who was “in,” and who was out.
Baby Jesus’ Birthday
I love the Christmas story. For many of us, the Christmas season is just about this nice children’s story and the nostalgia of the old Christmas carols. For many of us, we are so familiar with the story that we completely miss how scandalous and not-so-child-friendly the story actually is. The details the gospel authors include are raw and incredibly human, but they paint a compelling and beautiful picture of God’s love for humanity. I love the story. I love the theology of the incarnation–God became flesh. I love the characters the authors include. Almost every main character in the story highlights God’s love for the underdog.
It all really starts with the genealogy. Matthew opens his gospel with a really long and seemingly boring genealogy of Jesus. Most of the genealogy goes like this: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father…” (Matthew 1:2). I know, it sounds real invigorating to read right? But, here’s the thing: one’s family name was and still is derived from the father. Therefore, the mother was not as significant to the establishment of the bloodline. Yet, Matthew includes at different points in the genealogy a couple of women.
The text reads, “So-and-so was the father of so-and-so, and blah, blah, blah” until the author breaks rhythm and occasionally the text states, “..the son of so-and-so by (insert mother’s name).” You would think that the names of the mothers included would be great heroines of the faith right? Nope.
Matthew includes a woman named Tamar who intentionally seduced a married man (Genesis 38). He highlights a Gentile prostitute from Jericho named Rahab (Joshua 2:1-7). Ruth gets her name in there too. She was from Moab—a nation that can trace its origins back to an incestuous relationship (Genesis 19:30-38). Matthew also highlights King David’s not-so-shining moment by mentioning that he was the father of Solomon “by the wife of Uriah.” That is of course a reference to Bathsheba, and Matthew apparently had to make that clear.
After the genealogy, we have the main characters. Mary is one of my favorites. God asks this poor, teenage girl from a really small and insignificant town located in a disreputable region of Israel to be the one who would bring God’s Son into the world. Due to the unbelievable explanation of Mary’s pregnancy, Jesus’ entire birth was likely surrounded by disgrace and scandal. This is one of the most sanitized details about the entire story. I love that God came under the most humble of circumstances.
I love that when the Savior of the world, the creator of the cosmos, the Word at the beginning was born, God commissioned an army of angelic beings to announce it to….Shepherds.
Shepherds were not the most liked, trusted, or respected members of that society. Their occupation likely left them ceremonially unclean most of the time. This means the more orthodox, religious types looked down on them. God announced the arrival of our King to shepherds.
Let us also not forget the Magi from the East. While these guys were likely incredibly intelligent in philosophy, astrology, and medicine, they were nonetheless Gentiles. Israel’s Messiah was supposed to come for Israel’s redemption and liberation. Why on earth would God reveal the birth of the Christ-child to the Magi?
I love the Christmas story because every aspect of the story is drenched in God’s unfathomable grace and his preferential love for the have-nots of society. Jesus’ entire birth narrative communicates that God redeems the past, uses the unlikely, loves the outcast, and invites the unqualified to the table of grace.
If you think your past is too messy, that God would be ashamed to mention your name—you’re wrong.
If you think you are too young, too insignificant, or too simple for God to use—you’re wrong.
If religious people have told you that you don’t belong at the party, that your lifestyle is just not squeaky clean enough—they’re wrong.
If you think God’s good news is only for the “in” crowd and not for outsiders—you’re wrong.
God isn’t ashamed of your story. He can write a new story on the pages of your life. God not only can use you, but He wants to use your life to make a lasting difference in this world. Jesus came for the outcast, the marginalized, the oppressed, the enslaved, the broken, the unlovely, the unclean, the too-far-gone, the sick—Jesus came for you. You are invited to the party. You belong. The table of grace has a spot for you.
Read the Story Again.
If you are a Jesus follower and the focal point of your gospel message is God’s wrath—you need to read the story again. If you claim Jesus and you are more concerned about drawing the lines dividing who’s “in” and who’s “out”—you need to read the story again. If you are a Christian and you find yourself making judgments about a person’s lifestyle rather than finding your heart filled with compassion—you need to read the story again. If you’re a disciple of Jesus and your “good news” message is reserved for those who look like you, think like, vote like, live like you—you need to read the story again.
The entire story, from beginning to end, paints a picture of a God who traveled across the universe to declare His undying love for the pinnacle of His wayward creation. The entire story paints a picture of a God who runs after the prodigals to the disdain of the self-righteous. The Good News is about grace. The Good News is—Jesus came.