Christmas time is a time when we remember that God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s called “the incarnation.” As Eugene Peterson put it in the message, “The Word” (Jesus) “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” But why? Why did Jesus come? The simple, answer, of course, is that God loves us.
But couldn’t God have loved us from a distance?
Another simple answer, Jesus came “to save us from our sins so we could go to heaven.” Of course! Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, to take our place. But again, couldn’t God have done that in a simpler way? I mean, to play with the idea, couldn’t he have saved us if he had died in an obscure way? Did he have to die on a cross as a public figure surrounded by drama? If Jesus had died quietly by falling off a mule when he was eight years old, would that have paid for our sins? Why didn’t God do it like that?
I can hear the the objections coming. “But if we didn’t know about how Jesus died, we wouldn’t have faith. And God wanted us to have faith in Jesus.” (Warning, if you are new to this sort of thing, know that I’m playing with ideas and questions that flirt with heresy in order to take us a little deeper. Hang in there.) Does God need our faith to save us? Couldn’t he just write off all our sin like a bank writing off a bad debt and let us into heaven. That would be a lot less trouble.
But when I read the story of Jesus, it seems to me that God wanted to go through a lot of trouble. According to the Bible, in Jesus, the Word who is fully God – who made all things and for who all things were made – becomes fully human. God the Creator becomes a part of the Creation. That was a lot of trouble. Why?
God had more in mind at that first Christmas than getting us into heaven when we die. Theologians talk about the Missio Dei – the Mission of God. God’s mission is rescuing, redeeming, healing, and restoring all that was his. If we think God’s purpose is only for you and me to believe in Jesus in order to get to heaven, we may miss the larger point. God’s intention for our world was for a thriving humanity to lead purpose-filled, satisfying lives in this creation enjoying open, joyful relationships with other human beings and in partnership with himself. That got messed up in Genesis 3. And God’s doing something about it. God has a mission.
God’s mission includes our salvation, but that we go to heaven when we die, as wonderful as that will be, is a stop gap solution. According to the Bible, the end of the story happens when creation (all things) are being made new. The end of this story is the beginning of a better one. Revelation 21-22 talk about the holy city, the new Jerusalem, being remade and coming down out of heaven to the earth. Get that. It doesn’t end with us all going to heaven. It ends with heaven coming to earth. And in that city on earth, God will live with the people, face to face, marking each as his own. The people will enjoy and open, joyful relationship with one another. The curse which seems to touch everything will end.
In that made-new earth there will be healing, abundance, worship, music, feasting, and life. No illness. No war. No injustice. No death. No regret. No un-wiped tears. No more curse.
God has a mission and here it is. What God created rightly belongs to God, and God is at work reclaiming it all and making it as it should be and even better.
In Jesus Christ, God entered into his creation. All of history before that point set it up. And all of history since that point is the unfolding – hard as it may seem – of finishing the work. It was the strategic invasion and everything in this great mission turns on it.
When God became one of us in Jesus Christ, he showed us what God himself is truly like. No more trying to figure it out. Just look at Jesus. In the Old Testament, we learn that God, “The Lord is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin, yet not leaving the guilty unpunished…” By looking at the life of Jesus, by walking with him, we grow and learn what this means. But also, by looking at Jesus, we see what a human being’s life can be like. And it’s clear from the life of Jesus that he lived like a man on a mission for the last three years of his life.
Now, that raises questions, doesn’t it?
We know that Jesus grew up. He was part of a family. Jewish kids were educated with some formality. We don’t have stories from the Bible, but we can be sure Jesus went to school. We know he worked. The Bible says he was a builder/carpenter. But we can gather that he also went to markets. His parables show he was very familiar with the agricultural life that dominated 1st century Palestinian life. His best friends were fisherman. God, who became a human being, participated in those everyday little things that make up life. In Jesus, God was doing more than just living so we could be forgiven. He was redeeming the everyday things. He was redeeming family life, childhood, education, work, commerce, and culture. And at Christmas, Jesus became a baby. Weak, helpless, vulnerable. Yes. Jesus was on mission – at work redeeming human life from beginning. He lived every moment for the glory of God.
And the Resurrection shows that it wasn’t just wishful thinking. The resurrected body of Jesus, free from the curse, life so vibrant that wrappings, tombs, and doors could not keep it out or keep it down. Jesus redeems humanity even through death! In his resurrection, God was showing us what “all things made new” looks like. And that is our future, too.
God had a mission. God’s mission was Jesus’ mission.
And into that work, Jesus was sent. And into this work, into the work of making all things new, Jesus has invited us.
Jesus mission is our mission, too. When we accept that God has a mission and God’s mission includes us – that’s when we are ready to live missionally.
Do you want to know how to have a missional Christmas? Know and accept that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us because he loves you. Know and accept that died on the cross to take away your sins, and to give you a place in his family, a home in heaven, and a life worth living. Know and accept that in Jesus Christ, heaven has come to earth, God has given you a new identity. Know that God invites you into the work of making all things new, leading toward a thriving humanity leading purpose-filled, satisfying lives in a redeemed creation enjoying open, joyful relationships with other human beings and in partnership with God. Missional living. It’s the family business of the family of God!
Scriptures: Genesis 1-3, Exodus 34-45, the Gospels, especially John 1:1-17 and Matthew 28:16-20, Acts, I John 1:1-4, Revelation 21-22.