If you attend church, sing Christmas carols, send and receive Christmas cards, set foot into any store that is somewhat decorated for Christmas, or watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” you will likely see or hear some reference to the birth of Jesus.
I think, however, that while many people are familiar with the birth story of Jesus, few of us recognize how religiously and politically subversive His birth narrative truly is. The birth accounts of Jesus undermine several core ideas in most religious and political worldviews.
In fact, as you prepare for Christmas, note when, where, and how you see these references to the birth of Jesus, and what these references are connected to. More often than not, these references to the birth of Jesus will be connected to things the birth of Jesus actually undermines.
Modern references to the birth of Jesus often support things that Jesus actually opposed.
But when we begin to understand the birth of Jesus (and His entire life), we begin to see how politically and religiously subversive Jesus really was. To see some of this, read my studies on Luke 2, and other Christmas posts.
We consider four of these subversive truths below.
1. The Kingdom of Heaven does not support the Kingdoms of this World
One of the most pervasive ideas in nearly all religious and political hierarchies is that God is on their side. Religious and political leaders claim that God has blessed them, their plans, and their goals. Religious and political institutions claim that everything they do is advancing the rule and reign of God on earth.
But usually, the goals and methods of the political and religious kingdoms of this world have little overlap with the goals and methods of the Kingdom of God. Those religious and political leaders which recognize this threat to their power often use the name of God in the attempt to destroy the Kingdom of God.
This is exactly what we see in Matthew 2 when King Herod feels threatened by the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem, and then uses the claim that he wants to worship the new-born Messiah as an excuse for trying to kill Jesus.
When we truly begin to understand the values of the Kingdom of God, we see that His kingdom has come to overthrow the powers of this world. The Kingdom of God upsets rulers and dominions and powers and authority. It rights what is wrongs, restores justice, and reintroduces righteousness, which are all things the religious and political kingdoms of this world claim to do why they are in fact doing the exact opposite. For more on this, see Wright, “Emperors and Angels.”
2. The Messiah did not come for the rich and powerful
This idea is similar to the one above, but focuses primarily on the leaders themselves. For some reason, we tend to think that the people in positions of power, the people with titles, and the people who get their voice heard are the ones that God has blessed in this world. Most of the leaders believe this too.
But if the birth of Jesus is any indication, one of the greatest lies of the religious and political world is that God is with the rich and powerful leaders. The birth narratives reveal that there were no rich and powerful people with Jesus at His birth.
The Messiah has come for the dishonorable, the outcasts, the uneducated, the poor. This is the kind of family He was born into. These were the settings He was born in, and these are the type of people who first learned of His birth.
The shepherds were considered by most to be dirty, outcast thieves, and while the wise men from the East are often called “Kings” (though they were likely not kings at all), most people in Israel would have considered them to be religiously unclean, astrology-practicing, sinful foreigners. Modern parallels might be street hustlers and fortune tellers.
So before you go envying the people at the top, who seem to be receiving blessing after blessing from God, you might want to take a closer look at the people who live in the gutter, for it there where you are more likely to find God.
3. Jesus often shows up in the most unlikely places
If you were to listen to most of the religious and political rhetoric at Christmas, you might get the impression that Jesus came to support the powerful in their goals for domination, the rich in their quest for year-end bonuses, and the elite in their self-glorifying causes.
But when God began to perform His greatest work in human history, He launched it in an animal feeding trough in the backwoods town of a tiny, poor, insignificant country.
I imagine that if Jesus were to show up again today, it would not be in Washington D.C. or Rome. It would probably be in some poor village of central Africa. If Jesus was born in the United States (or any of the ruling nations in the world … Jesus was born in part of the Roman Empire, after all), it would be to a poor prostitute who is living under a cardboard box in a back alley.
This leads me to believe that if you want to see God today, don’t look on your television, the internet, or in buildings made with marble and brass.
Instead, look where you would least expect him. Look where life is hard and people are dirty. Look among the homeless, the prisoners, the prostitutes, and the drug-addicts.
4. The birth of Jesus turns political and religious values upside-down
Power, greed, and manipulation are three central values of religion and politics. Wayne Jacobsen refers to them as cash, credit, and control. But such things do not describe the birth of Jesus in any way, shape, or form.
The values of Jesus at His birth (and during His entire ministry) did not include getting more wealthy, but in generously giving it away. Jesus did not seek to gain power or credit for Himself, but consistently gave glory to God and spread power among His followers. And Jesus never tried to manipulate or control anyone into doing what He wanted, but taught people that they were free to follow God and live as they pleased within His family.
In times when politicians promise change to the world, followers of Jesus can offer true and lasting change, based not on the principles of power or greed, but on service and generosity.
I am not sure what you have planned for this Christmas, or for the year that follows, but if you want to see Jesus, don’t look for Him among the rich and powerful, or among those who are famous and well-known (whether in political or religious arenas). Instead, look for Him among the poor, the outcast, the overlooked, the sick, and the weak.
And don’t run after fame and glory for yourself, thinking that such things are the way God keeps score. They aren’t. God doesn’t keep score at all. Such things are not God’s gifts to you. Instead, be generous, loving, gracious, and kind, for it is in these things that God reveals Himself to you, and reveals Himself to others through you.
Tony C says
This is a fabulous article which, in true Jesus fashion, turns the world’s ideas on their heads.
One thing I don’t agree with, though – Jesus’s family were not necessarily the lowest of the low. Joseph had a middle-class profession – he was a builder – and so he was skilled and therefore what we would call ‘professional’, these days. They must have had at least some money, to be able to do all the travelling they did as a family, firstly to Bethlehem and then later to/from Egypt.
But still, yes, His birth circumstances were indeed the lowest of the low, born in squalor. Can’t get much lower than that….
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, a builder was not the lowest of the low. Thanks for clarifying that.
Jean Colvin says
The Wise Men brought gold among their gifts which would have financed the family’s travelling.
Sven Weimann says
Such an excellent article.
The point is not whether Jesus had money or not. It is the value that he gave or did not give to it. His heart went out to the poorest. People mattered so much more to him than material things or conveniences. Even when the roof of his house was destroyed he cared for the sick man and commended his friends for bringing him in in such a way. When he sent his disciples out he strongly commanded them not to take any money. Not because he wanted them to be poor but he wanted them to go right to the people and not rent nice hotel rooms while traveling.
It is the attitude. The mixture of religion, power and money in our world is appalling. Even more so when at least one time a year Jesus is brought into the picture – the baby Jesus at Christmas.
Jeremy Myers says
Good input. Though it sounds like you might be taking a jab at Christian speakers who travel and stay in hotel rooms? I suppose we all have our areas where we are depending more on money than on God. I know I do…
Jack Land says
Good article and right on point, but I’m not so sure He would have been born to a prostitute since that would pretty much do away with the virgin birth thing. Perhaps to a homeless girl…
Jeremy Myers says
… Point taken. 😉
Ward Kelly says
Good article Jeremy. At this time of year many churches give the Christmas story in almost a pomp and pageantry style. The truth is much more compelling. Read a good book “The Jesus Style” by Gayle Erwin many years ago, where he expounds on this very topic in greater depth. Great book.
I live in the Bible belt and get a front row seat to much of the abuse of which you write. My current mega-church wannabe style church, the pastor is constantly name dropping all the famous people he knows, color me not impressed. I’d rather hear some non descript humble person who is serving God behind the scenes, or a broken person who is striving to serve God. The idea that wealth, fame, and size of churches is an indicator of God’s blessing saddens me. How can you compare the simple, humble, servant (Matthew 10:28) to the arrogant, worshiped, enriched mega church pastors of today?
Thanks for reminding us of the focus of Christmas Jeremy
Jeremy Myers says
Sorry you are experiencing this, Ward. Thanks for the comment. Hang in there!
Maru Sunday says
It’s very sad to see the Christian, churches and the so called people of God see their calling today. We’ve made ourselves to become the problem instead of solution. All we are after is money the love of God is gone out of our heart instead we chase shadows. Or how do we described what we do to people God send us to we deceive, lies ,cheat even kill to get money from them. We exploit them to get power and fame. Oh Jesus Christ help us to retrays our step back. So its not surprising how we view and towards the birth of Jesus Christ our saviour. May God have mercy.
Many good points / insights…
Adrian Butt says
What interesting reading, thank you all.
What troubles me at this time of the year is the main News of the Day…How much prophet has this or that store/ company/ supermarket made more than last year. Made because a Saviour of the world was born. Yes, tremendous amounts of money are raised for charity but how many of these companies making their millions believe in Christ? and Charity boses now being paid more than our Prime Minister.
News a few days ago (UK) 50% of people in the UK have NO faith in ANY God.
As churches we have not given people the facts of believing. Again in the UK a belief in the VIRGIN BIRTH is opptional, so faith and the presence of God at the birth of Jesus is watered down, there was nothing miraculous, the Bible must have it wrong.
Well for me, if we no longer believe in the Virgin Birth Jesus cannot be the God of St. John’s Gospel, The WORD was made flesh and dwelt amonst us, or the creator of the world an universe of the first page of Genesis. Thankfully Jesus became God/Man, not God and Man for our sake and our salvation, wonderful.
I do wish you all a beautiful Christmas in the presence of Christ.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, the virgin birth is central to the Gospel. It would be interesting to find out why these 50% of people in the UK profess no faith in God… I imagine it is because they believe the “God” of the Bible is full of anger, wrath, and violence, and they cannot believe in such a god.
Elaine Holmes says
A good fictional book depicting a story about what it might be like if Jesus were born today is “Eli” by Bill Myers. Really makes you think.
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the idea that somehow God wanted His Son, or any other person to be born in a stable, does not sound kosher to me. Mary’s cousin was the wife of a chief priest. They could have given them shelter and protection.
Great article but just one aspect that i have problem agreeing with. To say that a modern day Jesus would be born to a prostitute is simply wrong. Firstly, to associate prostitution with poverty would be wrong. Probably many who are very wealthy from their ‘profession’.
Secondly, Mary the mother of Jesus was highly favoured. She was a virgin. She was chosen by God due to her holiness and sexual purity.
Still today God would look for that same characterstic.
Sarah Whittenburg says
I am reminded of the fact that “God’s ways are not our ways” and He often does not fit the mold we have created for Him. He can do whatever He wants, whether at the birth or the crucifixion or in-between. He has never ask my opinion or my advice though I used to wish He would. What He did ask was for me to trust Him, acknowledge His ways and to follow just as His Son did…The details pale in comparison to the life He calls us to. Love the article..thanks for giving me a wonderful Christmas wake-up call.