Christmas is for “Those People”

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The Ins and the Outs

If you read the narratives about Jesus’ birth, you notice that two very different groups of people came to celebrate the event: the magi and the shepherds.

These groups could not have been more different.

  • The magi were “wise men from the East,” whereas the shepherds were local.
  • The magi who educated whereas shepherds were uneducated.
  • The magi were trained in astronomy: a practice common amongst social elites at that time. The shepherds were illiterate.
  • The magi were wealthy. The shepherds were the poorest of the poor.
  • The magi were elites: they easily got an audience with the king. The shepherds were outcasts: dirty, smelly, and looked-down upon by others.

The wise men were the 1%-ers. The shepherds were the undesirables.

Honored yet Disgraced

Then there’s Mary. When the angel came to her to tell her that God had chosen her to be the one through whom the promised Savior would come into the world, her response was:  “Me?   Really?”  Later on she says that God had “looked upon her lowly estate” (Luke 1:48).

Mary was a young woman and she was poor. She was engaged to a blue-collar construction worker. We know that together they were poor because when they dedicated Jesus as a baby in the temple, they gave an offering of two turtledoves (pigeons), which was the sacrifice that the poorest of the poor were allowed to make (the wealthy were required to sacrifice a lamb, but this allowance was for those who couldn’t afford to buy a lamb). Truly: he was was rich became poor… (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Furthermore, since God’s plan necessitated that the Messiah, the promised savior, be born of a virgin (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23), that necessitated that whoever would be chosen to bear the Messiah would become a social pariah by doing so, because they would become pregnant outside of wedlock.

Mary had to be content with knowing who she was in God’s eyes, because in the eyes of those in her community she was disgraced. In fact, John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had to deal with insults and people calling him a bastard because of his mother’s assumed impropriety (John 8:41). Scholars also note that when Mark’s Gospel reports that Jesus was called “the son of Mary” rather than the common way of referring to a child as the son of their father, i.e. “the son of Joseph” – that this was a slight, insinuating that Jesus was the product of Mary’s adultery.

Hope for “Those People”

Sometimes people look at Christianity and say, “the problem with Christianity is that it is so narrow and exclusive,” because Christianity says that if Jesus is God, if Jesus is the Savior, then you have to put your trust in Him and follow Him in order to be saved.

But here’s what’s interesting: I have met many people who say: “All you have to do to be saved is: be a good and moral person.”

Most people don’t believe that all people will be saved. They fully expect that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot will go to hell, as well as those who hurt children or the weak. They believe that those who are cruel and mean, and those who do bad things and hurt others deserve Hell rather than Heaven.

In fact, many people find it scandalous that by just believing in Jesus, a person like Jeffery Dahmer, who has done truly terribly things, could be forgiven of their sins and still go to heaven. People even go so far as to say things like, “If someone like that is in Heaven, then I would rather not be there.” The assumption is that for God to forgive someone like that would be a grave act of injustice.

The problem, though, with saying that “All moral and decent people will go to Heaven,” or “If you live a good life, then you will be saved,” is that not all of us are moral! Not all of us have lived good lives! Some of us are failures. Some of us are broken. All of us have done things that we’re not proud of. We have all done things that hurt other people.

To say that “good and moral people” will be saved, or that in order to be saved you must “live a good life” is narrow and exclusive, because it puts “those people” on the outside. The gospel, on the other hand, offers hope to “those people” because it says that anyone who comes to Jesus will be welcomed, received, forgiven, and transformed.

The message of the gospel is good news for all people – for the elites and the outcasts. For the decent and the indecent. For the good and the bad (see Matthew 22:10 – both “the good and the bad” were invited to the wedding feast). The gospel is scandalously open to all people who will come and receive the free gift of redemption through Jesus. That’s good news for “those people” like me and you!

Merry Christmas!

…The Harder They Fall

On my way home from church on Sunday I saw a Facebook message saying that the pastor of the largest church in the movement I’ve long been associated with had resigned due to moral failure.

I hate hearing this kind of stuff.

Over the last several days I have seen tons of posts on social media from other pastors about this pastor’s fall. I understand that they want to address what’s going on. I understand that they are upset and want to talk about it. I’m not sure if we should be posting that kind of news everywhere though. At what point is it just gossip? Gossip is still gossip if you present it as a “prayer request”. Isn’t it spreading sensational news about someone else’s junk that really has no bearing on us personally?

I opened the CNN app on my iPad on Monday, only to see an article on the front page about this pastor’s moral failure and resignation. Great – more fuel for those who are always looking for fodder against Christianity and the Church.

I’m upset that someone in that man’s position would risk his legacy, his family and the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ for some fleeting moments of pleasure.

I am sad for his wife and kids who have to go through all of this in the public eye. I am concerned for that church, and pray that the people who attend there will have the maturity to walk through this process as a body, faithful to the heart and will of God.

I am glad to see that high moral standards are upheld, and exceptions aren’t made for someone because they are gifted, talented and popular. Personally, I loved listening to that man teach. He is truly a gifted communicator. I heard someone put it this way: “David kills Goliath no matter how you read the story, but some teachers are able to make the story come alive – whereas other teachers make you wish someone would hit you in the head with a stone and put you out of your misery.” This man is a great teacher. But I am glad that his skill and celebrity were not used as an excuse for making an exception to the rules for him when it comes to moral standards for those who will serve as leaders in the God’s church.

This situation is one more sober warning for Christians, and especially for those of us in leadership and ministry, that we must watch over our hearts with all dilligence, because it is from the overflow of our hearts that our actions proceed.