A Christmas Culture Clash
The whole Christmas story is one big culture clash. Heaven and earth collide with a loud: BANG! What did the God of heaven and earth, who arranged for three men to come from a far away land following a star, but didn't arrange proper lodging for Joseph and Mary on the night of Jesus' birth, want to communicate to us?
I just love pastoring an international church. Because of the constant turnover, it is hard to say at any point how many countries are represented, but I know for sure that at any service, all continents are represented. That’s pretty incredible.
Part of being in international community is the risk of a culture clash. With so many different forms of greeting, concepts of time and other habits, there is always a big chance for misunderstanding.
When two different cultures meet and there is confusion because of a difference in cultural values or understanding, we call that a culture clash.
In a sense, the whole Christmas story is one big culture clash as well. In the story of Christmas and the person of Jesus Christ, two worlds collide with a loud: BANG!
The Christmas story is messy, full of contrast and altogether quite odd. We’ve just grown so used to the imagery that we think of it as normal. Let’s read.
Luke 2:1-20 (NLT)
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.
The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
There are two sides to the same story. There is heaven’s side of the story, and the human side of the story. Let’s investigate.
Heaven’s side of the story is that finally, after a very long period of waiting and anticipation, God sends His Son to the world. The Saviour is born!
Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve there has been a divide between humanity and God. Humans have rebelled against God, but God has not given up on them. He chooses a man named Abraham and out of him comes the nation of Israel which would belong to God. With them, God would begin the history of salvation, preparing His people for this very day! The Word became flesh. God came down to earth to shake earthly kingdoms, destroy the powers of darkness and take away the sins of the world.
Just think of the excitement among the angels! I imagine that there was a whole bunch of angels goes to the throne asking – we’re so excited, can we please just go and tell someone?!?! Gabriel got to do two cool announcements already, but we are super excited as well! And God says: “Alright, go tell it to those shepherds there watching the sheep, but don’t wake anyone up! It’s the middle of the night.” The angels leave the throne room, fist-bumping each other and rehearsing their glo----ria and reminding each other that the first things you say to a human is “fear not”.
The whole story is full of angels and miracles, excitement and expectation. Yet, it is a clash of two worlds. Here is the human side of the story.
A small-town girl in the last term of her pregnancy travels with her fiancé to the birthplace of his ancestor because for some reason their foreign oppressors demand so. Joseph decided to take her along on this journey, because he feared the small-town gossip about his fiancé.
When they arrive in Bethlehem, where they know no one, the labor starts, but there is no AirBnB available anywhere. There’s also no time to go to uncle Zach and aunt Liz anymore. They find shelter in a stable and in this very unhygienic place the girl gives birth, wraps the baby in cloths and puts him in the thing that looks most like a crib – an animal food trough. I just hope that Joseph cleaned it first and put some hay on it first. And in the middle of that night a bunch of men smelling of sheep are the first visitors.
We know this Christmas story so well, that I wonder if we can really see the contrasts in it. I wonder if the God of heaven and earth who also arranged for three wise men from far-far-away to come to the scene having followed a star, yet didn’t arrange a proper guest room for Joseph & Mary, wanted to emphasise the enormous distance between heaven and earth the Messiah would bridge.
In this culture clash of the Christmas story we discover that God literally stepped down into the messiness of life.
Paul would later refer to the Christmas story with these words: Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being. (Philippians 2:6-7)
I believe that the Christmas story is such a strange mix of the miraculous and the ordinary because this is exactly what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to infect a perishing world with eternal life, to bring the light of heaven into the darkness of this world and to bring the Kingdom of God to a world suffering under the oppressive systems of greedy kings and violent nations.
In this culture clash of the Christmas story we discover that God literally stepped down into the messiness of life. Jesus wasn’t born in a royal family growing up in very privileged circumstances, but in a very ordinary family in an underprivileged part of the country.
A different Kingdom
I believe that God arranged for this Saviour King to be born in such humble and messy circumstances to emphasise that His Kingdom was going to be so very different from the kingdoms that have always ruled the earth.
Please remember that from 700 BC onwards, there were foreign kingdoms that oppressed the nation of Israel. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and then the Romans. But the dream that Daniel interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar was one of a big statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a waist of bronze legs of iron and feet of clay mixed with iron – symbolising all these foreign kingdoms that would rule the Middle-East, but a huge stone would destroy this huge statue.
Daniel 2:44 (NLT) During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever.
Jesus is this rock. He came to bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, a new order, a new reality, which would break the power of these kingdoms that symbolised human rebellion against God, marked by pride, power and greed.
Before Pilate was pressured into pronouncing the death sentence on Jesus, Jesus said to him: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Jesus’ whole life would be a culture clash.
There are three things in the Christmas story that I’d like to work out a bit more and translate to our lives today. What happens when this King enters our lives?
1. The King steps into the messiness of our lives
I believe that God arranged for Jesus to be born in such humble circumstances because wanted to communicate that He gladly steps into the messy reality of our lives.
Life can get pretty messy. There are things that we do, that others do or things that just happen that can make life messy and dirty. We may feel a certain sense of embarrassment or disappointment when we look at our lives wondering how we ended up here.
I believe that God wants you to know that He is not afraid of the mess. If you will invite Him into the dark places of your life, He can shine some light into it.
Baby Jesus being laid in a food trough for animals is not bad luck, but heaven crying out that God gladly joins you in the dirty, hidden and smelly places of your life. Don’t be afraid to be completely open with God about what is really going on with you. He doesn’t meet you with rejection or judgement. When you invite Him in, He will birth hope and new life in that manger.
2. The King identifies with the messiness of our lives
I believe that God arranged for Jesus to born in such a chaotic situation to emphasise that this Saviour would be fully acquainted with human suffering.
Hebrews 2:18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
When you invite Jesus into your life, His reality will become your reality.
In His life, Jesus had endured every type of testing and suffering possible. The loss of a dear friend, betrayal, intense pain and humiliation, stress and deep disappointment.
So, when we invite Him in to the dark and dirty places of our lives, we may know that He doesn’t just want to sit in the rubble with us, but can also truly understand and identify. He understands your suffering. He is able to mourn with you, and wrestle through it with you.
3. The King changes the messiness of our lives
The story of Christmas is, of course, only the beginning. The baby became a man, whose life changed the course of history. When you invite Him into your life, even in those hidden places, something will begin to change. You will begin to experience a deep sense of peace about the circumstances you are in. You will begin to receive some divine wisdom about how to handle with the situation you are in. You will receive the strength to deal with anything that life could throw at you from here on out.
When you invite Jesus into your life, His reality will become your reality.