Christmas is God’s incredible act of downward mobility.
Remember the plot? It involved a couple of dispossessed paupers in enemy-occupied territory at the mercy of an interfering bureaucracy imposing citizen-checks, set against a backcloth of grinding rural poverty, social anxiety and the stigma of illegitimacy. Sounds like rather a grim East European movie, doesn’t it? Kosovo, perhaps.
Christmas helps me remember that God is always partial to the poor. He chooses Egypt’s slaves and makes them into “a chosen people. Jesus chooses fishermen for followers and pronounces blessings on the destitute, the impoverished and the down and outers. He offends “substantial people” with his readiness to party with drop-outs.
We struggle against a precisely opposite dynamic. Whatever we proclaim to the contrary, our entire social network is geared to an upwardly mobile drive mechanism that celebrates wealth, class and education. Bigger is always better. Some high-profile Christian talkers promote it as an enviable lifestyle that indicates the blessing of God.
Christmas should remind us that that just ain’t so.
But despite our agreement with my opening statement up there, for us, Christmas becomes a spiralling orgy of over-consumption. We are bloated on our own greed. Even the official “churches” promote this weird snowy Victorian theme-park concept, fabricated out of a few of Charles Dickens’ cheesier fantasies and the soft-sell of some 1930s Disney ad-men.
The Bible is quite tough on us, you remember, and advises us not to give special care or attention to those who are well dressed or wealthy.
The trouble is, if God is on a journey of downward mobility and we are caught in the throes of upward mobility, aren’t we in danger of missing each other completely?
Especially at Christmas.
So… if that’s the downside – if that’s the “What Christmas Isn’t” side fo the story- then what is the other side?
What will happen when Messiah comes?
Isaiah 61 is explicit: He offers mercy to the broken, judgment to the unbelieving and comfort to the exiled. He brings restoration to a people who have lost home, hope and a sense of identity.
He does this as the fully commissioned Agent of God, “anointed” by the “Spirit of God.”
And this is the best of good tidings for poor people, for those broken by calamity, destitute in circumstances and impoverished in spirit. Only losers need apply!
And this is how Jesus explained his own ministry: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” ( Matthew 11:5 )
He will proclaim liberty. This is the “liberty proclaimed” to all bond-servants in the year of Jubilee. The proclamation of liberty meant the setting free of slaves. There is no chain so heavy that it cannot be broken.
He will open prisons and blinded eyes. The Hebrew means (literally) “the most complete opening,” that is, of the eyes to them that are bound, that is, deliverance from prison, for captives are blind in the darkness of prison ( Isaiah 14:17 ,35:5 , 42:7 ).
The New Testament carries this double reference. Check out John 9:39 and the picture of prison in Romans 6:18 , Romans 7:24 Romans 7:25 Hebrews 2:15. He breaks the worst kind of bondage.
He will proclaim the “acceptable year.” Again, this is the year of Jubilee on which “liberty was proclaimed to the captives” Check out 2 Corinthians 6:2 .
He will inaugurate a day of vengeance–The “acceptable time of grace” is a “year“; the time of “vengeance” only “a day” (so Isaiah 34:8 ,63:4 , Malachi 4:1 ). It’s interesting to notice that when Jesus read this passage in the synagogue (Luke 4:21 ), He “closed the book” before this clause. Perhaps because the interval from His first to His second coming is “the acceptable year” of grace and liberation, and the “day of vengeance” will not be till He comes again (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 ).
He will appoint/ give “beauty for ashes” There is a play on the sound and meaning of the Hebrew words, peer, epher, literally, “ornamental headdress” or tiara ( Ezekiel 24:17 ), worn in times of joy, instead of a headdress of “ashes,” cast on the head in mourning (2 Samuel 13:19 ). There’s a glorious exchange -a rags to riches transfer.
He will give the “oil of joy” Perfumed ointment was poured on the guests at joyous feasts whilst on occasions of grief its use was laid aside. What does that mean for us?
“If there is no laughter, Jesus has gone somewhere else. If there is no joy and freedom, it is not a church: it is simply a crowd of melancholy people basking in a religious neurosis. If there is no celebration, there is no real worship.” ― Steve Brown
He will give garments of praise–bright-coloured garments, indicative of thankfulness, instead of those that indicate despondency, as such sackcloth. Party clothes!
I remember an old Keith Green song with the line, “We are the daughters and sons! We are the colorful ones!”
He will plant trees of righteousness. The Hebrew refers to terebinth trees, strong and straight, symbolical of people firm in righteousness, instead of being a people swayed about with sin and fear. It means integrity under pressure.
A people of integrity, vibrant with creative expressions of praise, living in the grace of being set free from every addiction, every oppressive chain…
That’s Christmas. That’s what happens everywhere Messiah comes.