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Why the Details of the Christmas Story Matter

Over 2,000 years ago, God came to be with us. What an incredible, mind-boggling thing. Almost more unbelievable, however, was the situation into which Jesus was born.

If you didn’t know the story already, you might expect His birth and childhood resembled those of Prince George, the royal baby. He is the King of Heaven and Earth, after all. (Think “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” when the bad guy guesses that the bejeweled cup—not the simple one—is the Holy Grail.) But as you know, that wasn’t the case at all.

The Son of God was born to normal parents, Joseph and Mary. Joseph’s profession was a carpenter, and although he was a descendent of King David, that doesn’t mean he came from a perfect family line. Remember that the line runs through Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba.

The night of Jesus’ birth, there were no guest rooms available in the town of Bethlehem, so He was born in a manger, surrounded by animals. Hardly a birthplace fit for a king.

And the beginning of his life wasn’t exactly safe and uneventful. King Herod felt threatened by Jesus—the proclaimed King of the Jews—and wanted Him dead. So, the family was forced to flee to Egypt until Herod’s death.

All of this to say, when God became flesh in the world He didn’t avoid messiness. Jesus came from an imperfect family and was born in a dirty manger, in immediate danger. What does it mean for us that God entered the world in this way?

For one, we should be overwhelmed by the love and compassion of God. He brought Himself low, really low, for our sakes. This isn’t another episode of “Undercover Boss.” This is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe humbly entering into the mess of our world in order to save it.

“Jesus didn’t come to Earth to live a perfect life in isolation, and neither should we.”

Furthermore, as Christ’s body in this world, the circumstances of His birth and life have huge implications for how we ought to live our lives. Do we avoid brokenness like the plague, prioritizing our own safety, comfort, and peace of mind? Or do we intentionally insert ourselves into difficult situations, in order to redeem them? The story of Christmas suggests that we must choose the latter.

Practically, this means that community is incredibly important—engaging with our neighbors is an imperative. It would be irresponsible to live as hermits, fully disconnected from the world. (Even monks who are removed from society, are connected to—and care for—the world through daily prayer.) Our personal happiness, prosperity, or even purity cannot be the only things we care about. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to live a perfect life in isolation, and neither should we.

It also means that we should seriously consider what community we place ourselves in. A gated, spotless, worry-free, country-club-type community probably isn’t where Jesus would want His followers to be. He also wouldn’t want us to be quarantined off in a Christian subculture that claims to be morally superior to culture at large. Instead, just as Jesus was born into a flawed family during a dangerous time, we should expose ourselves to the evil of the world and overpower it with love, goodness, and beauty.

For examples of how to do this we can look to adoptive parents who lovingly bring orphans into their homes, doctors and nurses who risk contracting a disease (e.g. Ebola) in order to care for those who are already infected, and soldiers who sacrifice their lives so that the rest of us might be safe. These are macro examples, but we can also live like Christ in micro ways each day. Rather than turning a blind eye to the problems of our neighbors, we can boldly offer a listening ear and a helping hand. There is brokenness and suffering in each of our communities. We only need the watchfulness to recognize it and the willingness to do something about it.

If you are like me, this challenge makes you uneasy. Good news: God doesn’t ask anything more of us than He has already done through His Son.  And His Spirit is with us through it all.

So, merry Christmas. Celebrate the joyous miracle of Christ’s birth, and then replicate that miracle by bringing light to the darkest parts of our world.

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