It was Black Friday this weekend. And I have to say, I was challenged two weeks ago, by my own sermon. Just so you know, every week, when I get up to preach, the sermon is for me. I know you think it’s for you… but it’s for me. I love Black Friday. I love going out with my sister in law. I love having warm caffeinated coffee in the middle of the night… and finding deals on Christmas gifts. It’s almost like being a kid again, staying up to late, sneaking out of the house, to have fun with one of my best friends.
So this year, Black Friday, after preaching on the importance of giving as worship, I was convicted. We did go shopping, but really we went out with my brother and law and sister in law, they wanted one thing at Best Buy, and we waited in line at Target to see about one thing there. We ended our night at Gander Mountain… my brother in law can spot a Gander Mtn. in any town… and what did we do, we looked at guns. Or rather my husband and his brother looked at guns. I just hung my head, and had a little “Come to Jesus” what has my life become. It’s Thanksgiving and I am at Gander Mtn. looking at guns.
Our sermon series this Advent is Conversations that Matter. We are going to take a closer look at the Christmas story, and hopefully inspire some important conversation about the real meaning of Christmas. I hope to confront your assumptions about Christmas and maybe make you a little uncomfortable at times, all in the name of connecting with God.
There are few details in this Christmas story that we often miss. So often we want the Christmas story to be a beautiful, sweet story about a baby being born to a sweet young mom, and somewhere in there, Santa comes and gives everyone new tv’s, video game systems and toys… Okay, so that’s a bit much. But really… the way in which we approach this story should impact how we celebrate this story.
1. Born to unwed parents
I want to start with the family situation. We recognize the virgin Mary, as if that’s just part of the charm of the story. It’s easy to romance the idea of this beautiful young mom having a beautiful baby with her handsome fiancé. In today’s world, no one would blink an eye at this idea of an unwed couple having a baby. But in Mary’s world, that was dangerous. It was the ultimate taboo. It would immediately cause them to be confronted with prejudice.
2. Small Town Politics
When Mary was pregnant they had to travel to town that was not their own. In 2,000 years, small towns haven’t changed that much. A small town is a small town, and having to go to a new small town to have your baby, that’s a big deal. So when Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, they didn’t have their OB, they didn’t have their midwife, they didn’t even have Mary’s mom. They were in a new town, not married, and ready to have a baby. It would be like showing up in Wisconsin, on a Vikings/Packers Game day and your wearing purple, oh, and your insurance isn’t accepted there. So the only place that was available, was a barn.
When Jesus was born, he was essentially homeless. When they went to Bethlehem, it wasn’t a quick, check in and then go home. They didn’t have computers or social security numbers. They had to meet with Roman officials and give a detailed account of their family lineage in order to show their family line and to update the census.
They came with the intention to stay for a bit… a few days to a few weeks.
So there was that barn. Jesus was born in a barn. Now, people sometimes stayed in barns. When the word says there was no room in the Inn, there weren’t hotels like there are today, there were usually a few homes that had extra rooms for people to stay.
But Jesus was born… born… in a barn. In today’s world of hand sanitizer and don’t even think about touching my baby without washing your hands… Jesus was born in a barn! It was still a barn. There is only so much you can do with animals and cleanliness in a culture where all the water you use you have to gather at the well, and all soap is handmade.
4. Jewish in a land ruled by Rome
Jesus was Jewish. Sometimes we don’t really think about what that means. Certainly being Jewish in Israel is not the biggest stretch two thousand years ago, but, they were Jewish in Israel during a time when Israel was governed by Rome. They were the not the ruling culture. They were at the mercy of the governing culture. They were natives under foreign occupancy.
5. And quickly became refugees.
And if you keep reading the Christmas story, you find out that they quickly became refugees. Herod had issued a decree that all baby boys were to be killed, so Mary and Joseph quickly escaped into Africa, Egypt, as political refugees.
So this very sweet story o f a young mother and father, and precious baby is true. But it’s also much more complicated. If we really look at the facts, Jesus was the homeless, oppressed, refugee son of an unwed mother in a born in town that wasn’t his own.
Jesus was born with almost every kind of disadvantage. Now, God is still God in this story. God could have brought Jesus into the world as royalty. He could have been the son of a privilege. But he wasn’t.
He could have been the born in a house, with family and a midwife. (He may have had a midwife, there is no mention of a midwife, just fyi.) But he wasn’t.
He could have been born at a time when his parents didn’t have to flee their country as refugees. But he wasn’t.
So what do we do with this as 21st century Christ followers? I think there are a couple of challenges that should strike us right away. And, just a warning, they aren’t easy or popular.
The first is that everything about Jesus’ birth was unexpected. It was completely upside down from what one might think if God was going to bring a savior into the world. In Jesus, God turned everything upside down. But I think a better way to look at it, is he turned everything right side up.
In Jesus, the focus is not on power. It is not on politics. It’s not on position. It’s not on money. It’s not affluence or influence. In Jesus, the focus is on a gift. But because we know the end of the story, it’s not just a simple gift. It’s a sacrifice. God gave us atonement for Christmas. God gave us himself for Christmas.
So, what kind of gifts do you give for Christmas? How does your family celebrate the giving part of Christmas? How does that honor the birth of Jesus?
The second question is beyond Christmas, but it’s related to Christmas. Our experience at Christmas has trickled into our overall church culture. Often we come to church and we come to get something. We come to get filled up, encouraged, see family, see friends. We come to receive. And that’s okay, sort of. Because what has happened in our culture, in our churches is that we have made church something else to consume. People go to this church because it has a bigger youth program. Or we go to that church because of the children’s program. Or we like that church because it has a really good band. Now, I believe that absolutely God is doing things in these mega churches that cater to the comfort and lifestyle, but I also believe that there is something dangerous about making Christians consumers of church.
We live in a consumer Christian era.
It is seen in how the church collective worships. It is seen in how we celebrate one of the most holy events of all time.
Jesus was the homeless, oppressed, refugee son of an unwed mother in a born in town that wasn’t his own.
This should impact how we relate to immigrants and refugees. It should impact how we relate to the homeless. It should impact how we relate to the poor. It should impact how we relate to single mothers. It should impact how we worship. It should impact how we give gifts. It should impact how we celebrate Christmas.
And there are a lot of nice things we can all do, Christmas sharing, Salvation Army. I know some families that don’t give gifts anymore, but volunteer or give a charity as a family. I know some families that only give three gifts, a need, a want and a surprise. I know some families that only do handmade gifts. I challenged you a couple weeks ago to tithe your Christmas giving, to give to God 10% of every dollar spent to keep us focused on God. No matter how we respond, the birth of Jesus demands a response. I’m pretty sure, it’s not looking at guns at Gander Mtn.
So I offer this challenge. How do we honor Jesus in our worship? How does our celebration of Christmas reflect our experience of Christmas?
I am not going to answer that question for you. I am going to challenge you to continue this conversation around the table. Continue this conversation in the car. Continue this conversation at lunch. But please, continue this conversation, because it matters.