The Heart of the Christmas Story

The heart of the Christmas story

Editor’s note: Welcome to Sit & Listen Saturdays with Devotionals Daily. We hope you enjoy reading as well as listening to this version of today’s devotion from Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder, excerpted from their book Advent Conspiracy.

The Heart of the Christmas Story

God came to the poor — in other words, to each
 of us.

The apostle Paul reminds us that

[Jesus] set aside His infinite riches and was born into the lowest circumstance so that you may gain great riches through His humble poverty. — 2 Corinthians 8:9

What does this mean? Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to be born into a sin-scarred world. That glorious night in Bethlehem, every day of His life, and in the deadly pain of the Cross, Jesus became poor for our sake. Jesus entered our poverty so we would no longer be poor. The priceless gift of a restored relationship with God and others is now offered to those who could never afford it. The outrageous wealth of His righteousness is credited to those who don’t deserve it. To those of us who are poor, this is very good news.

But is it still relevant news? Can Christmas still change the world? We’re discovering that the answer is a resounding yes! But how exactly does that happen? How can Christmas and the way we celebrate it still change the world?

As poor people who have met with the righteous wealth of God, it is now our turn to model his generosity by sharing our wealth with those in need.

Christmas is our chance to move closer to those in crisis, not further away. It is our time to notice those who are normally ignored. In short, it is our turn to love as we have been loved. In practical terms, our love must include caring for the poor in our midst.

Over and over we see Jesus teaching that God is on the side of the impoverished, even when no one else is. Throughout the Gospels, He raises the status of those the world mistreats and marginalizes — people who are deemed hopeless and beyond help. Jesus is clear: He expects His followers to do the same.

There’s no way around it: Jesus calls us to love and care for the poor.

At Christmas, one of the things that should distinguish a Christ-follower is a love that reaches out to the hungry and thirsty and sick and imprisoned. Such giving is an act of true worship. There is a close connection between how we treat each other and how we treat God. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that whatever we do for one of the least of His brothers and sisters, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). God takes these acts of love (or moments of rejection) very personally.

And why wouldn’t He? Jesus Himself was poor. He chose to be born into the poverty of a family struggling beneath the heel of Imperial Rome. Writer Scott Bessenecker suggests that “the very first statement Jesus ever voiced about his concern for the poor, oppressed, marginalized people was when he cried out as one of them — eyes shut tight, mouth open wide, wailing, kicking… It was one of the most profound acts of solidarity with the poor he could make.”1 For all of the other aspects of His Advent we celebrate each year, let us not forget this part of the story: “When God voted with His birth, He voted for the poor.”2

Our Turn

We cannot allow the broken and vulnerable to become invisible. Which brings us back to how Christmas can still change the world. Let’s return to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:

You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

These are very simple acts of service being described — giving someone something to eat or drink, welcoming them, clothing them, visiting them. Simple as they are, these gifts matter very much to Jesus — and to those in need. So why not start there? Sometimes we will be led to huge, global strategies (more on that in the next chapter), but

it’s usually the simple, common-sense acts of love that make the difference.

Think of a single parent “adopted” anonymously
by someone at church, provided with toys for the kids, groceries, gas cards — that’s the world being changed. Think of a family that decides to serve in a local shelter — the poor are cared for and the family members’ hearts become a bit more like God’s.

Picture entire churches deciding that some of the money they are saving by giving relationally and resisting cultural norms should be given to the “least
of these” in our communities and world — that’s when Christmas still makes a difference. Businesses find ways to get involved. Students get creative about giving to other kids they may never meet. The presents around the tree aren’t stacked quite so high, but the stories of worship and love grow richer and deeper. Children start telling their parents they want less for Christmas so that others might have more. People of all ages are finding themselves with generous hearts, offering their time, money, and selves to others because they are compelled by the love of God.

Through this kind of radical but practical giving, we are transformed by the Advent story. But make no mistake: the changes that occur are not simply about us. God is up to something in His world. When God’s people serve the poor in humble, generous ways, the story of Jesus is told again and again.

The poor in our world will be touched by God through how we choose to celebrate Christmas.

Of course, as Reggie McNeal reminds us, “God is the One doing the heavy lifting!”3 Through His trustworthy Spirit, God is sending us into a broken but beautiful world on which He will never give up. When we show up and love in the name of God, God shows up. That’s part of the mystery of partnering with Jesus in the work He is still doing.

  1. Scott A. Bessenecker, The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006), 59 – 60.
  2. Ibid
  3. Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 35.

Excerpted with permission from Advent Conspiracy by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder, copyright Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder.

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Learn More about Advent Conspiracy

Your Turn

Today is a great day to plan a way to bless someone or a family in need in your community in the name of Jesus! A Christmas tree to a family who can’t afford one, gift cards before Christmas to help a single mom buy a few presents for her kids, a visit to senior housing to spend a couple of hours with a new friend. Your love can make all the difference for someone in need today! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Advent Conspiracy

Advent Conspiracy
Rick McKinley
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