Picture the scene:
There’s a teenager who lives in poverty in a town with a terrible reputation, who suddenly gets pregnant outside of marriage. Alongside being poor, she’s now at risk of becoming a social outcast. However, the guy she’s engaged to for some reason decides to stay with her, leading to further social humiliation for him. Just when she’s about ready to have the baby, they need to travel hundreds of kilometres at the request of the oppressive regime they are under, to a small, lowly town that really has nothing going for it.
Once they get to this strange place, no guest rooms remain. The situation gets so desperate that they can’t even find somewhere proper to give birth. It ends up happening in what is likely to be the middle of some stranger’s house, and the baby is laid in what would normally be a feeding tray for animals.
Soon, a bunch of people arrive who have no place in civilised society. They are expected to stay out away from populated areas, as they are despised and marginalised. But, they seem to want to meet this baby.
Fast forward a year or two. The leader of this region orders a genocide of infants. The young parents are forced to flee to another country, just to escape the violence.
Poor. Homeless. Refugees. Happy Christmas…
The Christmas story has since been dressed up and sanitised. At best, it’s a beautiful coming of God to be with his people in a serene and peaceful stable, at worst it’s just an excuse for a celebration of positivity and human achievement. How much has been forgotten of the absurdity of how God chose to become human? The present danger that faced this young couple. The way that our God chose to become a victim of the same injustice that he later proclaimed an end to.
When we understand the Christmas story in these terms, for what it really was, we understand in a whole new way who Jesus Christ really is. And when we understand who the Son is, we get a clear idea of who the Father is, and where His priorities lie.
God could’ve brought about the incarnation through a Queen, living in the highest of society, attended to by many servants and in the most comfortable of settings. Surely, this would have been befitting of the birth of a King. However, He chose Mary, a poor virgin living as a part of a people under Roman oppression, in a town that has no prestige whatsoever. Jesus was born outside of wedlock, meaning the announcement of this pregnancy was no cause for celebration but instead a condemnation to public ridicule. To make matters worse, Mary and Joseph were called away from their home, to the lowest town of the tribe of Judah, where they likely knew no-one but some distant relatives. They must have presented an especially unattractive prospect to people there. As Jesus was born, his earthly family lay rejected and extremely vulnerable.
Add to this the appearance of the shepherds, the lowest in society yet deemed worthy of an angelic visitation, who were among the first to meet the incarnate God and who became the first evangelists, and Herod’s genocidal tendencies which caused this young family to flee and become refugees in Egypt. This leaves a desperate situation, and that’s before you look to Jesus’ family history and see the many people who were themselves social outcasts, derided and ridiculed: these ancestors – much like every other character in this story – are not left out or overlooked but are championed as trophies of God’s ability to restore and work through anyone.
Before he even becomes a toddler, Jesus knows what it’s like to be poor. He knows what it’s like to be homeless. He knows what it’s like to be a refugee. He knows what it’s like to be oppressed, socially excluded, and marginalised. God chooses to be born and appear first to people exactly like this.
We need no clearer indication of God’s heart than the fact that His dramatic entrance into human history was done through such people.
The pivotal event in the history of the world was completed through poor social outcasts. And yet, in this, God reveals His glory.
So, what does it say about God that He brought about the incarnation of His Son in this way? It shows that He chooses, prioritises and loves these people. It shows that God is able to use anyone – even those we write off – to bring about His plan. And, in His very coming, it shows that God’s love works through a ridiculous and extravagant form of self-giving.
So, what does this mean for us? It means that we are called to choose and prioritise the same people that God does. It means that we don’t have the right to write off anyone from being used by God. And it means we get the opportunity to participate in the same self-giving love that God demonstrates in Jesus. To quote the Hillsong lyric, ‘If you gave your life to love them, so will I’.
However, there is one more important lesson to take from this Christmas story. We are not able, and have never been able, to do this by ourselves. Far from popular notions that Christmas celebrates all that is good about humanity, it actually reveals how thoroughly limited we are. God came in Jesus to bring about a salvation we could never have managed ourselves, to deliver us from sin that crushed us. In the same way, we are not able to love, choose, and prioritise those who are marginalised by society unless we are fuelled by God’s love for them. We can only see how God is able to work through people by getting His eyes for them.
And we are only able to get this self-giving love if we receive from the One who gave Himself away in the first place.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you rediscover the absolute craziness that God not only chose to become human but chose to enter fully into the midst of the worst injustice and vulnerability. I pray this shocks you, challenges you, and inspires you to do the same.