What’s happened to Christmas? Commercial superficiality has intruded on this once hallowed celebration and hollowed it out. All that’s left is a non-stop shopping binge and way too many obligatory holiday events to attend, leaving all but the most ardent Yuletide devotees, worn out and raring to get it all over with.
The consumer Church has had a hand in this too. It’s airbrushed all the scandal, drama and danger out of the story, taming and domesticating it. Turning Christmas into a rather romantic story of two teenagers facing the big bad world against all odds. We’re presented with images of peaceful nativity scenes with wise men, shepherds, and a bunch of cute farm animals looking on with a bright star shinning in a still, crystal clear night (is that a Christmas tree in the corner?) … all is peaceful and calm. This Disney version of the story has been all but drained of any spiritual strength to inspire and feed our souls.
If I seem grouchy and cynical, I am. Christmas is hardly recognizable anymore. Lost amid the shopping frenzy and the quaint storybookish tale is the fact that something dangerously disruptive is up. A larger story. Something bigger, something more perilous, more subversive, something altogether more explosive – the clash between kingdoms! The idolatrous powers that have arrogantly taken charge of the world are put on notice. There’s going to be a regime change. God is overthrowing their power and taking charge…Mary was giving birth to a revolution! Trouble is brewing! The kingdom of God was taking over!
Take a look at the birth announcements. They give us a clue of what’s really going on. Let’s start with the announcement to the prophet Isaiah:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This is king talk! This promise of a child is given authority to take over and rule the world.
Then there’s announcement to Mary:
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David… (Luke 1:30-32)
Again, this is king talk, rulership! The promised child will be a strong, liberating king like David and like David he will defeat the enemies of God’s people, bringing a forceful regime change that ushers in unity and peace.
Look at the announcement to Joseph:
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
The name Jesus means “Savior”, “Rescuer”, “Deliverer”. This child would grow to be a hero, a liberator,over throwing the idolatrous powers that hold the current world captive. Echos of Moses and Joshua. Hopes of a new exodus are raised. This savior would lead captives out of their exile. Saving his people from their slavery to sin, which is Jewish short hand for forgiveness, freedom, new life.
This is dangerous. You can get yourself killed talking like this!. These birth announcements point to impending insurgency, revolution, upheaval. They’re about the kingdom of God; a whole new reality of the way things are going to be. The evil, oppressive powers behind the powers are being put on notice; they’re going to get kicked out by Jesus!
This is a coup d’état – Caesar is no longer lord, the idols that control the lives and imaginations of people are going to be exposed as frauds. Jesus, God’s Son, is taking charge. No wonder Herod got so paranoid. He intuited that his power was being threatened! He had a rival and he must be crushed!
Now fast forward thirty-odd years. These predictions come to fruition. In a synagogue in his adopted hometown of Nazareth, Jesus, the leader of the revolution reads his manifesto putting everyone on notice, especially the powers behind the powers:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What was given birth to that first Christmas was now about to begin. The kingdom of God was now here in Jesus! A whole new reality had come to birth and Jesus was in charge running the show. From now on things would be different; the world would never be the same. A new exodus was taking place! Liberation! Peace! Forgiveness! Justice! Freedom! New Creation! Along with a whole new way of being human. A whole new world to follow!
This revolution continues. The kingdom of God is not heaven. It’s not a doctrine. It’s an event. It’s the rule of God on earth as it is in heaven. A revolution that’s continuing today. As the Church of Christ, we’re not simply the beneficiaries of this revolution, we’re to be the agents of it as well. The revolution that began on that first Christmas is happening to you, in you, revolutionizing your life and continuing through you, influencing others.
Neither is the Church the kingdom of God. It’s the instrument of the kingdom. The Church is not an audience, or a social club, or a gathering of nice, spiritually-minded people. Honestly, I find that uninspiring and boring, not something I can give my life to. Can you? The Church is to be his subversive revolutionary force for the renewal of the world, living under Christ’s kingly rule, controlled by his Spirit.
The same “Spirit of the Lord” that was upon Jesus is upon us, so that we can take a stand with Jesus against the idolatrous powers that are still trying to usurp God’s kingdom rule. The Spirit has been given to us so we can be his representatives, living like Jesus lived, doing the things that Jesus did to bring healing, forgiveness, wholeness, freedom to our neighbors and our neighborhoods.
The thing is, Christ’s revolutionary force is voluntary. We’re not drafted into his service. We’re invited to follow him. It’s a costly choice we make to give our lives over to his revolutionary kingdom cause. It’s a serious decision as to whether or not to align our lives to the new reality and make ourselves available to serve his kingdom purposes.
What choice have you made? Christmas is a perfect time to step away from the frenzy and reflect on the true subversive meaning of Christmas so that you can worship rightly, giving thanks to a God that “so loved the world that he gave…” and to ask questions like, “How involved am I in the revolution?… Am I all in or not?… And if not, why not?”
Have a holy, joyful… revolutionary Christmas!