I think most of us recognize that Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth as God’s gift to the human race. This recognition is demonstrated in our long-standing tradition of gift giving (though the commercialism may obscure that fact for some). Yet, for many the true significance of God’s gift of His son is lost, even to those who consider themselves ardent Christians. The gift wasn’t just His divine status, but what He brought to the world – His impact, how he would change life on earth for the whole human race.
To understand the significance of this we have to start back in the Old Testament. So many Christians today have become so “heavenly-minded” that we’ve lost sight of the fact that earthly life was from the beginning how God related to man. He walked and talked with Adam in the garden. Whether punishment, forgiveness, or blessing, God always related to His people in concrete ways that impacted quality of life.
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. -2Chron 7:14
Notice that restoration – “healing the land” – is the expression of God’s forgiveness. Always in scripture life-centeredness is at the core of man’s relationship to God. Leading His people from captivity to a land where “milk and honey flowed.” The Bible is a life-centered story of man’s relationship to God.
In this pre-Christian relationship to God He repeatedly promises them that He would send a Messiah, a servant, who would come to bring healing and deliverance to His people.
The Lord says,
1 “Here is my servant, whom I strengthen—the one I have chosen, with whom I am pleased. I have filled him with my Spirit, and he will bring justice to every nation.
2 He will not shout or raise his voice or make loud speeches in the streets.
3 He will not break off a bent reed nor put out a flickering lamp. He will bring lasting justice to all.
4 He will not lose hope or courage; he will establish justice on the earth. Distant lands eagerly wait for his teaching.”
5 God created the heavens and stretched them out; he fashioned the earth and all that lives there; he gave life and breath to all its people. And now the Lord God says to his servant,
6 “I, the Lord, have called you and given you power to see that justice is done on earth. Through you I will make a covenant with all peoples; through you I will bring light to the nations.
7 You will open the eyes of the blind and set free those who sit in dark prisons.
It is worth noting that not a word is mentioned about punishing evildoers, fighting immorality, and so on. His entire purpose was to do away with injustice on earth — in fact, it’s mentioned four times in cased we missed the first three.
So now, when we move into the life of Christ (the greatest Christmas gift of all), we find Jesus echoing and confirming this very mission Isaiah prophesied.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.” -Luke 4:18
Again, Jesus mentioned nothing about His mission involving setting folk’s theology straight, passing laws against specific sins, making sure people believe the right things. It wasn’t even primarily about getting forgiven so you can go to heaven someday – though that is certainly a future benefit. No, he came to bring immediate benefit – to minister to the poor, heal the sick, end oppression – in short, establishing the social justice God had promised through his prophet Isaiah many years ago.
So what does all this mean for us?
It means that Christ came to begin a work, not complete it. He was only on this earth for a few short years, only three of which were spent in ministry. He began a work that He intended His followers to carry on. A Christian’s purpose, then, is to be the hands and feet of Christ. As a body, the church is commissioned to complete the work he started; namely, restoring the world to it’s pre-fallen state, reversing the effects of sin and the curse — and this doesn’t just happen in the sweet bye and bye; it starts here and now, and it’s our job to carry this work on.
If you are thinking, “If I become a Christian will God give me this or that, do this or that for me, give me prosperity, and so on”, you are not yet ready to be a Christian. The question is, “If I become a Christian what will I do for others to bring Christ’s mission closer to completion.”
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27
Imagine if every person who came to follow Christ fully committed and immersed themselves in the work of ministering to the poor, healing the sick, visiting shut-ins, ending poverty, discrimination, oppression, social injustice, etc., as they are sharing the good news. As every new convert joins Christ’s following they too become fully committed to carrying out this mission and work of establishing peace, justice, healing and restoration.
If Christians were the kind of disciples Jesus envisioned when He commissioned His church, in a country like America where the majority of citizens profess Christianity by name, there should be very little poverty, oppression or injustice. The fact that America is no better than other developed nations on the social justice scale (and falls behind many) is a clear indicator that most who spend the season railing on those who are
“taking Christ out of Christmas” have no idea what the real significance of either Christ or Christmas really is.
I wonder what would happen if Christians spent as much time and money lobbying for health care and poverty relief programs as they do lobbying against gay rights? If one dares, imagine if Christians actually spent time and money investing in and spearheading relief programs? It’s hard to imagine in our world, isn’t it? It makes one wonder if Jesus has given up on His dream yet. Somehow, I doubt it – and neither should we.