Jesus takes beggars and makes them princes

Imagine the Managing Director of a major business stripping off his pinstripe suit and dressing instead in the clothes of the lowest job in the company, and then quietly, without anyone noticing, he slips downstairs to the basement and he takes on a job that pays him just enough to survive. And later, when he leaves for home, no doorman salutes him and no chauffeur driven car awaits. Instead, he joins the other basement workers to find his own way home.

Because in effect that’s what Jesus did: He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness,” Philippians 2:7. Our Creator became his created. He stripped off his Managing Director’s clothes and clothed himself in our humanity to be one of us.

But why? Well, it clearly demonstrated that God isn’t like your typical human leader, who loves lording it over people and living a life of privilege and riches with servants doing all the menial work. Instead, it was his pleasure as God to leave the haven of his Father’s love and get down in the dirt where we are. But what that did was enable him to absorb all that we are into himself, like a prince who leaves his Father’s castle and seeks out the worst-off beggars in the city and joins them in their misery, sharing their ragged clothes, scraps for food, and humiliation from the public.

But Jesus went one step further. He not only took the life of the beggars into himself, he also gave the beggars his life instead. He put on their ragged clothes and gave them his princely clothes so they could enter the castle any time they wished. Dressed in his clothes they had free access. They could walk right in and be treated like the prince himself, as a member of the Father’s household. All the privileges of a son of God were now theirs. And nothing they’d done had made it so. They had simply found themselves in princely clothing ever since Jesus had joined them.

And that’s why Jesus joined us, to exchange his clothes for ours, to make us into princes. He lived the life that God intended humans to live, so that he could clothe us in that life too. We could never do it for ourselves, so he left the castle to do it for us. And here we all are standing before God as his adopted sons, “holy and blameless in his sight,” Ephesians 1:4-5. We’re all princes, Christian and non-Christian alike. And all because Jesus came as a human to wear our beggar’s clothes and give us his princely clothes instead.

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Did a star really guide the Wise Men to Jesus?

To many people the idea of a Star guiding a camel train of Wise Men from Persia to Palestine to present gifts to Jesus at the house where he was living as a young child is ludicrous and laughable. They are convinced that no such Star existed.

They have their own explanations as to what “really” happened. The Star, they say, was really just a natural phenomenon, like a brightly burning meteorite or comet that appeared in the night sky that year. Or that the Star story was really just a myth, like all the other tall tales people used to spin in those days. Or that the Star was really just a symbolic picture of Jesus “the Light” coming to earth. In other words, the Star wasn’t real. And if by chance there really was an exceptional light in the sky that year, it wasn’t supernatural and it wasn’t connected to Jesus, either.

But in Acts 2:22, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.” God “accredited” or proved to people who Jesus was by clear “signs” – astronomical signs too, as we see in verses 19-20. These were signs that could be easily observed by people like the Wise Men – and their significance noted. So what would be so surprising about God designing something extraordinary in the night sky from the creation of the universe for the time of Jesus’ birth that could be detected and understood by people who had both a working knowledge of the stars and of Scripture? Because the Wise Men knew the Scriptures too. They knew about an eternal king being born one day. How? From the famous prophet Daniel, held captive in their country, who had foretold of such a king (Daniel 2:44-45, 7:27).

The Wise Men were also astrologers, interpreters of signs, just like Daniel had been (Daniel 5:13-30), so why couldn’t God have given them the same gift of interpretation that he’d given to Daniel?

But how do you explain Matthew 2:9 that says the star “stopped over the place where the child was”? How could a star stop and point to a house? But angels were on the scene directly influencing events too, verses 12-13, so was this an angel now directing them to the actual house? But why shouldn’t it be? This was the birth of God’s Son, the most important event in human history up to that point, and God wanted people to witness it – people like the Wise Men who actually understood the enormity of what was happening.

So was there really a star guiding the Wise Men? It’s a lot easier to prove there was than there wasn’t.

Santa’s great pleasure is Jesus’ pleasure too

For most people, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ or his birth, it’s about the mythical Santa Claus bringing gifts to children on Christmas Eve. But isn’t that the secret behind the enduring success of Christmas? It’s the pleasure of giving gifts to children. “It’s for the kids,” people say, because it’s the wonderful reaction of children to receiving gifts “from Santa” that makes Christmas so appealing.

How interesting, then, that Jesus was also deeply touched by children. When children were brought to him for a blessing in Mark 10:14 – much like parents take their children to Santa Claus for a gift – Jesus cried out to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The great gift Jesus had come to bring to all creation was the kingdom of God, and everything he said and did illustrated the presence of that kingdom on earth. In effect, then, he was like Santa Claus. He’d come bearing gifts, the best gifts ever, that would bring joy and peace to the earth at last, just like Christmas, and children had no trouble accepting him.

But “when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things Jesus did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant,” Matthew 21:15. The children better understood who Jesus was than the high-minded religious adults did. No wonder Jesus made the rather startling statement back in Mark 10:15, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

A child simply accepted Jesus for who he was and what he’d come for, to be their messiah, king and saviour (all of which was included in their shout of ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ in the temple.) They also went to Jesus willingly, just like children accept Santa Claus for who he is and what he’s come for, and go to him willingly.

Just like Christmas is “for the kids,” so, then, is the kingdom. It’s for those who react to Jesus like a child reacts to Santa Claus. That’s why children were such a pleasure to Jesus, and why he lifted them in his arms “and blessed them,” verse 16, just like Santa lifts children onto his lap and it’s his great pleasure to bless them too.

It can seem unfortunate that the mythical Santa Claus is replacing Jesus, but in what gives Santa great pleasure we have a wonderful visual clue as to what gives Jesus the greatest pleasure too.

Christmas seemed so wrong and pointless until….

I never liked Christmas as a child, and especially as a teenager. It was all such a “put on.” Everyone had to be nice, we had to buy gifts, we had to say “Merry Christmas” to everyone, which stuck in my throat, and old geezers dressed up in Santa suits yelling “Ho, ho, ho” made me want to throw up. I was hopeless at finding the right gift for people, and I couldn’t see the sense of chopping down a perfectly good tree just to decorate it and throw it out a few days later. And what was the point of Christmas anyway, when the very next day, Boxing Day, we all went back to being normal, elbowing our way through the crowds looking for bargains?

Then I found religion, but that only made things worse, because now I saw Christmas as a huge excuse for self-indulgence and “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature” (Ephesians 2:3). And choosing December 25th as Christ’s birthday, the date when pagans celebrated the birth of the sun in self-indulgent revelry, fit that picture perfectly. Christmas was pagan in origin as well as practice, so I rejected it outright.

Then I discovered what Christians called “Advent.” And that was intriguing because Advent meant “Coming,” to picture the coming of God himself to this Earth, not once or twice, but three times – first of all, as the human Jesus in the first century, then as the Spirit Jesus now, and finally as King Jesus in the future. It focused entirely on what Jesus did for us on the Earth in the past, what Jesus is doing for us on the Earth in the present, and what Jesus will do for us on the Earth in the future. And that I liked, because it was so practical, real and encouraging. It’s practical because in Jesus I can see what God’s up to; it’s real because I can experience it personally; and it’s encouraging because it gives me real hope that our world isn’t going to hell.

Why not? Because Jesus came to save us from hell. How? By living the human life we couldn’t live ourselves, and then living that life in us – both now and forever. And I could see that being true at Christmas-time, because it’s the one time all year we really try to be good. It’s just a glimpse, but a very real glimpse that God is real and he’s on the job doing exactly what he said he would do in Jesus. And for that reason, Christmas for me doesn’t seem quite so wrong and pointless.

Christmas – when non-Christians live the gospel too

Christians are often blamed for dumping a wet blanket on “the other Christmas”, the secular, worldly Christmas with all its stress, self-indulgence and exploitation by business. But why shouldn’t Christians be miffed? Christmas is our day. For 16 centuries it’s been set aside by Christians to celebrate God coming to this Earth to live and die as a human being on our behalf so that we can be what God created us to be. And, what’s more, Christ is coming in the lives of people right now to make it happen, and one day he’ll make it happen for everyone.

But the culture ignores all that. It’s not the least bit interested in why Christ was born. It uses Christmas for its own ends and celebrates Santa Claus instead. But why? Why on earth would non-Christians take a Christian day, keep its Christian name, and carelessly risk preserving the Christian message by keeping Christmas alive?!

But non-Christians can’t stop keeping Christmas. They love it, despite its Christian origins, despite the blatant Christian message being pumped out in Christmas carols, and despite the Nativity scenes in Malls and store windows. But isn’t that the delight of Christmas for Christians, that non-Christians can’t resist a season promoting peace and goodwill? And they can’t resist being kinder and jollier at Christmas-time, either. And they love doing all kinds of “Christiany” things too, like giving to charities and feeding the hungry, and Christmas probably does more for family togetherness than anything else all year.

In other words, non-Christians are getting the message. They may not be consciously celebrating Christ’s birth, but they’re experiencing and enjoying what Christ was born for. The promise made at Christ’s birth was “peace to everyone on whom his favour rests,” Luke 2:14. And on whom does his favour rest? On EVERYONE. He showed us through Jesus’ death that he loves us all, and Christmas is a perfect proof of it, because NON-Christians get to experience the peace that comes with it too. Talk about mercy. Non-Christians don’t want anything to do with God all year but at Christmas the purpose of Christ’s birth is being fulfilled in their lives too.

It’s also the season when Christians and non-Christians can celebrate together, proof yet again that Christ’s birth would bring peace. But that’s the magic of Christmas; it brings us together. It’s a convoluted, awkward way of doing it, with its mixture of Christian and non-Christian reasons for celebrating it,  but at Christmas we all share the same dream. We long for peace on earth – and for a few brief moments we all get to experience a taste of it together, just as God intended.

What would I love my children to know?

I would love my children to know what love is, what it feels like, what it looks like in the face of someone who loves them, what it does in a marriage, what it does in a community, and what it does to their own relationships with people in how they view other people and how they treat them, and the love and honour they receive in return. I would love them to experience how love frees them from self-condemnation, frees them from not feeling valued, frees them from the fear of feeling inferior, frees them of comparing themselves to others, and frees them from being affected by the lies and accusations made against them.

I’d like them to know that love really does conquer all as we go through life together with all its mess ups and mistakes. I’d love them to see there is nothing in this world that can stop the flow of love. Love can survive even the most heart-rending stupidity and turn it round, and make a hurt relationship closer. They can see it in such practical situations too. They see that love doesn’t disappear when they produce a poor report card, or break a favourite pot. Yes, love is saddened, love can be disappointed, and love can often be expressed as anger and frustration too, where for a while it seems like love has been beaten, but love has a way of bouncing back to full power again, enabling people to forgive, put the past behind them, and erase the hurt from memory.

Imagine growing up in a home where you’re loved no matter what, where love is not determined by behaviour, or by a child fulfilling his parent’s expectations and dreams of perfection. Imagine not having to be the best in school, the hero in sports, the teacher’s favourite, the highest achiever, the life of the party, the big personality, the beauty queen, or the smartest brain. Imagine being able to go through life happy at being average and not having the biggest house, the best furniture, the latest fashions, a bloated bank account, or headhunters wining and dining you to win you over, or needing millions of friends stroking your ego to make you feel valued.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to simply be content? Well, that’s what I’d love for my children, that they are content for the moment wherever they are and in whatever they are doing, even if there is no great reward, appreciation or promotion. They are content because they know they are loved, and if not loved perfectly by me, then loved by their heavenly Father who does love to perfection.