We are big fans of Christmas at our house. We don’t start decorating until after Thanksgiving, but the Christmas spirit hits us pretty early, long before the Halloween candy is all gone. Christmas is the story of the gospel, and we always want to think rightly about the gospel. In this blog, and in my blog for December, I want to share with you some of how we think and talk about Christmas in the Gravely house.
Luke 2:29-38 is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas story.
[Simeon] took [the baby Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” . . . And there was a prophetess, Anna . . . She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour [that Jesus was presented to the Lord] she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Gospel of Luke is a Gospel for the nations. That’s surprisingly easy for us to forget. We know that God loves us and that God has blessed us. But Luke wants us to see the bigger picture. Luke arranges his account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the way he does to teach his readers that the good news about Jesus isn’t just for us. Luke writes for a non-Jewish reader, and he focuses on telling stories about Jesus that include Jews, gentiles, foreigners, outcasts, sinners, women, and other marginalized people. The Gospel of Luke is a Gospel for the whole world.
The global scope of the gospel is easily seen in Luke’s account of the birth narratives. Notice the text of Luke 1:29-38 again. Simeon’s prophecy confirms what we already know: Jesus is the messiah, the salvation of God’s people. But Simeon says something that the faithful in his day found quite surprising. God’s messiah is also “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.” In other words, God isn’t just interested in us. He loves them too.
That God always intended to save all the nations and include them in his plan is no surprise to faithful readers of the Old Testament. God promised Abraham that through Abraham’s seed, God was going to bless the whole world. But the people of God in Jesus’ day had become so nationalistic and so insular that they couldn’t imagine that God would love and save people apart from them. Thankfully, they could not have been more wrong, and God’s plan to save the whole world began when God himself, the second person of the Trinity, became a human being in the person of Jesus in space and time so long ago. We celebrate this miraculous event at Christmas, but as we do, we should ask ourselves: Do we have the same love for the nations that God has?
We have to be careful that we don’t make the same mistake as the Pharisees. It is easy for us to live our lives as though God only loves people like us. We would never say that, of course, but so long as we build churches for people like us and spend mission dollars on people like us and focus our ministries and energy on people like us, that is the “gospel” that we ultimately believe.
But the hope of Christmas is a hope for the whole world, and it is not only the structure of Luke and his birth narratives that point to the global scope of the gospel, it is the incarnation itself. This is a good time of year to remind ourselves that regardless of how we depict him, Jesus was not a white middle-class American. He didn’t have a “good job.” He didn’t have a loving family; most of his family thought he was crazy right up until his crucifixion. He wasn’t a southerner, and he wasn’t “local.” He didn’t live in a respectable neighborhood. Jesus was born in a small back-water town in the Middle East. He was born to a peasant girl who was married to a manual laborer. Jesus never owned a home. He never saved for retirement. He never voted. He was everything that middle-class America finds so utterly forgettable. He was brown, poor, foreign, homeless, and constantly in trouble with the law. And yet he was also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
What are we to make of this? We constantly try to make Jesus to be like us, so we can feel close to him, like he is one of us. But he isn’t just “one of us.” Jesus is the savior of the whole world. Jesus wants us to be close to God, to know God, and to be saved from our sins, but he doesn’t just want that for us. He wants that for everyone in every nation. Simeon and Anna understood that. They were blessed by God to see the baby Jesus and to recognize him as the savior of the whole world. Simeon proclaimed, “I have seen the salvation of all people!” May we be blessed with that same vision of the savior this Christmas. And as soon as Anna beheld the baby Jesus, she went out to tell everyone she could about the savior.
What a great way to spend Christmas.