As we approach the Christmas holidays and head into 2021, I wanted to share an encouraging word. My family and I had spent the first half of 2020 (and in 2019) overseas serving the Lord in Taiwan and the Philippines. Whenever we have lived or been travelling in another country during the Christmas season, we have always missed home. We missed the festive feel of the holiday season and our family and friends.
If you have ever lived in a developing or non-Western country during Christmas time, you know that Christmas feels quite different than it does in the West. The many decorations, traditions, and Christmas atmosphere of Western nations are often driven by prosperity and culture. And these days as I go about my city, buying presents and visiting family members, I can’t help but think that Christmas how we experience it in the West was so much different than the very birth of Jesus Christ himself.
When we look at the Christmas story in the Bible, I like to take a look at the big-picture story that we sometimes miss when we focus on a few scriptures. From the end of the Old Testament to the start of the New Testament, 400 years had passed, often known as the silent years. In the midst of this period of time, the land of Israel as we know it was repeatedly conquered and occupied by various empires. At Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people were now occupied by the Romans and were acting more and more like the pagan Greek lifestyle. They continued their seemingly-endless struggle with idolatry, debauchery, and a compromised faith in God. In other words, by the time Jesus arrived, it seems like the Jewish people had done very little to earn the arrival of their Savior. They were struggling more than ever. They were looking less and less like God.
And so Jesus comes. God chooses a 14-year-old virgin out of wedlock to birth the Lord. This alone was worthy of death in that Jewish culture. When the time for Jesus’ birth had come, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem. Unfortunately, there were no hotels or motels available for them to give birth in, so they turned to what we think was probably a cave where animals slept. Surely if this was the moment of all moments in history, the birth of our Lord and Savior, God could have arranged better housing. At least a hotel! Better yet, why not a palace?
But no, Jesus was born in a cave. No doubt, it stunk, it smelled, it wasn’t clean. The first people that we read that come to give God glory were shepherds. Shepherds were the outcasts, the scoundrels of society at that time. God chose scoundrels to worship him first, not the esteemed leaders or religious figures of the day. When Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem 8 days later, they were met by a few old prophetic, intercessors who sensed what the Lord was doing. Moving on from the story, a group of mystical Jewish pagan men come from an unknown nation to give God more glory. As Jesus was probably several months old, they arrive, bearings gifts fit for a king. The first people to give God glory were scoundrels. The second were some old prayer warriors! The final group was a bunch of mystical, hippie-like men from the East. Still, no leaders, no men and women of fame or renown.
Hearing about rumors of the Messiah, Herod, one of the Romans’ Jewish puppet rulers, decides to kill all of the children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. This was probably about 30+ children or so that ended up being murdered. Warned in a dream, Jesus and his family flee to Egypt as refugees. They lacked the stability, the rootedness that every young family yearns for. They were on the run, hoping to live another day. Later after Herod dies, Mary and Joseph move to Nazareth so they wouldn’t draw attention to themselves. Nazareth was a small, backwards, redneck town as we would know it. It definitely wasn’t Jerusalem! And most of what we read about next is silence. There was no glory, no more worship. It was a simple, ordinary life that Jesus would grow up in until he was about 30 years old when he would begin his ministry.
As I reflect on this Christmas story, it pales in comparison to the Christmas that I am experiencing here in the United States. The birth of Jesus lacked the warm, festive traditions as we know them today. There weren’t relatives gathered around an impressive Christmas dinner. There were no gifts at Jesus’ immediate birth and then the only gifts to arrive were from some strange men from the East. There were no Christmas lights, tree, or general holiday buzz. It was just another day, another birth.
I think we can all agree that God chose the most humble of circumstances to bring his son into. He could have chosen the streets of Rome or Jerusalem. He could have brought more attention to Jesus, more people wishing to help shepherd this boy into his destiny. He could have at least secure stability for Jesus’ parents. Instead Mary and Joseph moved from town to town, hoping for their son to simply live another day, let alone become the Messiah.
There is no shame to enjoy a festive, wonderful Christmas season wherever you may be living. However, let us not forget how Jesus came. Today we may be living in a community that looks much different than the setting that Jesus grew up in, but there are people around the world that still live in a similar context as Jesus did. I am reminded that if God deliberately and specifically chose to come in the most humble of circumstances, then we, too, have an obligation to also choose to minister to people in similar circumstances.
At Continents For Christ, we feel called to go to the bush villages, to the “Nazareths” of our world and support local church leadership with teaching and evangelism. Many of these Believers and pastors are living in an environment like how Jesus lived—little attention, little glory. We have an opportunity, like the shepherds and Magi of Jesus’ days, to bring them our gifts and attention. To look at them, to notice them, to go to them.
2020 has been a bazaar year for international missions. In these extraordinary times, I am still reminded of our need to go to the highways and the byways to minster. We have seen simple food distribution programs in Uganda, India, and Thailand, lead to hundreds coming to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Some of these communities were even facing the realities of starvation. We were able to feed them both physical food, but also the spiritual food that satisfies their souls in a relationship with the Lord Jesus.
So I pray that as you head into 2021, you will see those opportunities around you to minister to the least of these. I pray that as you enjoy the blessings of the Lord upon your family, you will also lift up your eyes and see that the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few. I pray that as you continue to enjoy deep revelation of your Savior, you would feel deep conviction that there are still millions who are perishing without ever knowing Jesus Christ. God bless each and every one of you.
-Daniel, Continents For Christ