Yesterday, an insecure king ordered the death of every male child in Bethlehem under the age of two. It was a decree that revealed the nature of people when they are given thrones to rule. Today, we are shocked by the mindless deaths of people at a concert in Paris. It was a tragedy that reveals the nature of people when they are not given thrones to rule. Yesterday and today, bad news continues to shock our minds, break our hearts and numb our spirits to the very idea of hope.
Every election cycle in the West and the East only seems to affirm there is nothing new under the sun. New leaders emerge as shiny new alternatives to the old ones—manipulating the fears of the multitudes, building a campaign on empty platitudes, listing the failures of their predecessors and promising to be worthy successors. Change You Can Believe In. Achhe din aane waale hain. Make America Great Again. But after votes turn into victory promises turn into excuses, new leaders return to old ways and the old days seem like the better days.
Our hope for a changing world is not a new king, leader or political party. It is the broken body of Christ that birthed a new body of Christ.
Any city, state or nation with a new leader has known the euphoric joy that comes with the hope of a new leader and the familiar feeling of disillusionment that comes with the sound of hopes being shattered. As author and theologian N.T. Wright says, “It should be obvious by now that nobody locally or globally has the slightest idea how to address, let alone solve, the crisis that has come swiftly upon us.”
Before the birth of Christ, the Hebrews had been ruled by Romans, Persians, Greeks, Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians when the news came to them of another king. But this king was unlike any other king of ages past. He was not the king they wanted, expected or respected. His enemies were not their enemies. His vision was not their vision. His way was not their way.
No Saviours come out of Bethlehem. It was a small town of no significance. No rulers are born in a manger. It was a pointless place of no consequence. No kings are announced to shepherds. They were a forgotten people of no importance.
A new kind of King was announcing Himself in Israel with a new kind of kingdom—the rule of God in the hearts of people. The hope of justice brings joy to all people except the unjust. The promise of peace brings hope to all people except the violent. The idea of equality means life to all people except the ones who benefit from inequality.
When Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem, he upset the economic corruption of the temple. When he turned the hearts of the multitudes to Himself, he was turning them away from the hypocrisy of the religious. When he announced the rule of God in the hearts of people he was subverting the rule of Caesar in the region of Israel. Any idea that Jesus was a nice person, a good moral teacher, a great prophet are deeply undermined by His crucifixion. “You don’t crucify nice people. You crucify threats,” says author and Pastor Timothy Keller.
We think of God in religious terms and we create religious labels for each other but the Gospels tell us that God does not think of us in such religious terms. He thinks of us as sheep without a shepherd, people who do not know their left hand from the right hand, lost at sea and powerless to turn the ship around. To this bewildering and broken world, He reveals Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
The death of Christ is a sign that God was moved to love us when we were His enemies so that we can be moved to love our neighbours, even if they be our enemies.
The birth of Christ is history, interrupted. It is a tear in the fabric of time. It is the breaking in of a new kingdom into an old one. It is the announcement of a self-giving king who is unlike the self-serving kings who left a stench throughout biblical Israel’s self-centred history. It is the revelation of a King who rules by the power of His love, not His love of power.
“His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Ephesians 3:10-11
To anyone who scoffs at the idea of love changing anything, the early church is a case study in the power of love to overthrow those who love power.
Our hope for a changing world is not a new king, leader or political party. It is the broken body of Christ that birthed a new body of Christ—the people He called out to be in the world, but not of it; to love our neighbours, even if they are enemies; to serve the least of these as if they were the very Son of God. It is the birth of a new community—Jew and Gentile, Dalit and Brahmin, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor—setting aside our earthly, temporal and divisive identities to see ourselves as one in Christ—healed, whole and complete.
Religion tries to control people through fear, guilt and shame. Non-religion tries to persuade people through reason, research and persuasion. But human history is witness to our inability to live up to our own moral ideals, leave alone God or government.
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ—the Gospel—is the good news that we are loved by God, so we can love like Him. He was treated as an enemy of God, so we can be treated as friends of God. He gave Himself to the wrath of God, so we can be given to the grace of God.
God’s foolish plan for changing the world is ordinary people doing everyday things to subvert powerful people doing terrible things. Yesterday, it was the ordinary love of the early Christians that chipped away at the self-serving values of the Graeco-Roman empire. Today, it will be the ordinary love of Christians that chips away at the self-serving values of every oppressive empire.
To anyone who scoffs at the idea of love changing anything, the early church is a case study in the power of love to overthrow those who love power. The present-day church has a historic opportunity and calling to return to its roots and recover the radical love that relegated rulers to irrelevance, making ordinary people doing everyday things the chief agents of change.
The birth of Christ is a time to remember the invitation we are given to love our neighbour as we have been loved by our Neighbour. It is not religious or non-religious. It is simply reality. It is simply true. It is simply good news.