The Invitation of Christmas

The Invitation of Christmas

Christmas means a lot of things for me - time with family, connecting with friends, remembering the stories behind traditional Christmas hymns. But in the busyness of the season I can easily fail to fully live into the invitation that Christmas holds - an invitation to a kingdom way of life.

At the ripe age of ten years old I got my first big break: I got to play Mary in our church nativity play. I remember rehearsing the scene kneeling in the manger, trying to remember the difference between the shepherds and the wise men, and hoping my plastic baby doll looked real enough to pass for baby Jesus. I probably only had one line in the whole play, but I rehearsed it in my sleep. To this day I can’t see a live nativity scene without reliving that moment as the mother of Jesus.

Outside of that play, Christmas holds a lot of wonderful memories for me. I have fond memories of making gingerbread houses at my grandmother’s house, waking up at 3:30AM to go Black Friday shopping with my mom, my grandpa putting on his Santa hat to hand out presents. I remember going with my dad to chop down a real tree from the tree farm only to bring it home and have pine needles cover the floor as he dragged it through the too small patio door into the living room. (This was a point of tension between my parents every single year – I remember thinking, “Come on guys, couldn’t we have foreseen this and put down a tarp or something? It literally happens every year.”).

As I’ve gotten older, Christmas looks in some ways very different and in some ways much the same. On Christmas Eve my children will go make the same gingerbread houses with the same grandparents that I made when I was a child. On Christmas Day I’ll have the same hash brown, sausage, and cheese egg bake that my mom makes every year and drink coffee until late into the afternoon. In certain moments I’ll feel the full beauty of the season, my eyes welling up with tears as I sing the words to the traditional Christmas hymns, remembering the true “reason for the season.” And in other moments the joy will get squeezed out between mailing out Christmas cards, keeping spreadsheets of where to find the best deals on Christmas gifts, and various holiday commitments and events. So. Many. Events.

Going into Christmas this year I want to be intentional about taking a moment to reflect on all that this season holds. I want to make sure I don’t let another year go by where my experience of Christmas falls short of all that it invites us into.

The Christmas Story

Many of us are familiar with the Christmas story from the Bible that I reenacted in my youth. Luke tells the story this way:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Luke 2:8-12

Good news. Great joy. All the people. Is this how we’ve experienced Christmas?

Good News for Today

The angel of the Lord came to announce to the shepherds good news. The Greek word here for good news is evangelion, which is where we get our word gospel. The angel came to announce the gospel: a savior was born, the Messiah.

When we think of the word ‘gospel’ I’d venture to guess that many of us think of the afterlife - the idea that Jesus came, died, and rose again so that we can spend eternity in heaven. We picture a place that holds our loved ones until we get there. The gospel gives us hope for the future.

The good news that began at Christmas is about the future. It’s a story of the hope that awaits us in eternity when we are reunited with Christ. But it’s not just a story of the future. It’s a story of the past – of a miracle that happened in a manger over 2,000 years ago. And it’s also a story of the present. Of a new way of life for today.

The good news that began at Christmas is about the future. It’s a story of the hope that awaits us in eternity when we are reunited with Christ. But it’s not just a story of the future. It’s a story of the past – of a miracle that happened in a manger over 2,000 years ago. And it’s also a story of the present. Of a new way of life for today.

I love this quote from David Seemuth about what the gospel means for us today:

[The] ‘Gospel’ is the announcement that everything has changed in the coming of Jesus and it leads us to a new kind of living. It is a Kingdom of God lifestyle with allegiance to a King as the ultimate restorer. We are his workers to reflect that good news and a new way of life in a world that is seeking answers…1

The announcement of the angel that first Christmas was the ushering in of something spectacular. It was more than just the birth of a new spiritual leader, more than the start of a new religion, it was the grand commencement of a new way of life – a kingdom way of life.

A Kingdom Way of Life

When we study Jesus’ life and ministry in the New Testament gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – we see someone whose very life put on display the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us what the kingdom of God looks like when it crashes into the kingdom(s) of the earth. Jesus was more than just a nice religious figure who handed down proverbs and imparted wisdom to his followers. Jesus challenged the status quo. He said and did things that were provocative and disruptive to the world around him– he confronted power structures and challenged political orders that oppressed people and perpetuated injustice.

Jesus’ message of good news offered a hope for eternity while also radically challenging the way things are done here on earth – ways that are incompatible with his kingdom.

A Kingdom of Justice

In Luke 4 he tells us,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (the Messiah)
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to announce release (pardon, forgiveness) to the captives
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed (downtrodden, bruised, crushed by tragedy)
to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord (the day when salvation and the favor of God abound greatly).

Luke 4:18-19 (AMP)

Preach good news to the poor. Announce release to the captives. Recovery of sight for the blind. Set free the oppressed. Proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. That last sentence is a reference to a Jubilee Year in the Hebrew tradition. Jubilee year occurred every 49 years, during which debts would be forgiven, lands would be restored to their original owners, and slaves would be liberated.

It's not difficult to see why this way of life would have been provocative at the time of Jesus. And perhaps it’s no less provocative now.

A few years ago I had an experience that caused me to begin to grapple with this idea of justice as central to the gospel. I was part of a book study that brought my awareness to verses in Scripture that I hadn’t given much thought to in the past (verses like Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 29:7, Jeremiah 22:3, and Matthew 25:40). Studying these passages opened my eyes to a whole new dimension of the gospel that challenged and stretched me–revealing my prior understanding of the gospel to be simplistic and shortsighted. I went from seeing the gospel as primarily transactional - the idea that we adopt certain beliefs in order to go to heaven after we die - to seeing the gospel as something much deeper than that, something that has profound implications for the here and now. This message helped me see Jesus’ life and ministry as equally important as his death on the cross.

The truth that the gospel compels its followers to work for justice in the world - to advocate for the needy and stand up for the powerless - challenges a version of Christianity that has been widely adopted in recent history.

This message challenged me and changed me, but it isn’t well received everywhere. The truth that the gospel compels its followers to work for justice in the world - to advocate for the needy and stand up for the powerless - challenges a version of Christianity that has been widely adopted in recent history. Many have embraced a Christianity that allows us to live a comfortable life primarily focused on our own personal well-being, disconnected from those who are hurting in the world. Many have been handed a gospel that is all about salvation in the afterlife rather than kingdom living today.

This kingdom-of-justice-gospel won’t allow us to stay in a place of passive indifference or self-focused convenience. The way of Jesus demands a response from us–a response that makes demands of our time, our possessions, and our lives – one that moves toward the world in humble service. This is the gospel we see Jesus embody in his teachings and in his life here on earth.

A Kingdom of Life

Jesus’ teachings contrast the kingdom of God with the kingdom of darkness:

The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.
1 John 10:10

Jesus tells us that he comes to offer life to the full–not only in eternity–but also for here and now. The gospel of Jesus leads to a life rooted in love, overflowing in generosity, steeped in forgiveness, and anchored in peace. Jesus calls his followers to a different way of living - one that calls us to forsake our agendas, to forget ourselves for the sake of others, to refuse to be burdened by the worries of the day. He promises that when we seek him first he will make us a light for the rest of the world - a beacon of hope in the face of darkness.

So how do we get that life?

Recall that our passage from Luke above announces Jesus’ birth as good news for all people. A faith that was once available only to a certain people group in the nation of Israel was now available to everyone. Because of Jesus this kingdom way of life isn’t limited to any nation, class, race, or religion. It’s available to all. But it will cost us something to get it.

The gospel of Matthew tells us:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

Twice in this passage we hear the phrase “sold all that he had.” But the kingdom of God can’t be purchased with money. So what is this telling us?

I like how NT Wright unpacks this parable by explaining what Matthew means when he describes the kingdom as a treasure and a pearl:

"The gospel of the kingdom isn’t a pleasant religious idea that you might like to explore some time when you’ve got an hour or two to spare. It isn’t an attractive object in a museum that you might visit and look at admiringly the next time you’re in the district…. It’s like the biggest, finest, purest pearl that any jeweler ever imagined, and it’s yours for the taking – if you’ll sell everything else, including all the other pearls you’ve ever owned, in order to purchase it." 2
– NT Wright

Because of Jesus we have an opportunity to participate with God in proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel – bearing witness to the good news in a world that so desperately needs it. We are to put on display a new way of life – life to the full – a life that brings great joy for all people.

Because of Jesus we have an opportunity to participate with God in proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel...

But living the kingdom lifestyle means we must desire it more than anything else. We can’t have kingdom life while also clinging to other things to give us life – success, careers, possessions, popularity, power, money. Whatever we grasp at to give us value, worth, a sense of identity – these things must all go. Kingdom living beckons us to see them for what they are – vain attempts to construct an identity upon things that can't possibly support its weight– idols that compete for the rightful place of God in our lives. The good news of the gospel is an invitation to open our eyes to see that these idols never deliver on what they promise. It’s also a challenge to release them.

But in exchange we get life. We get peace. We get joy. Real joy. Not the kind that comes from getting the best deal on Black Friday or a few days off from work. Joy that comes from joining with the God of the universe in the work of offering new life. A life of forgiving debts. Of setting the captives free. Of proclaiming good news to the poor and downtrodden. Of bringing joy for all people. Of offering hope for eternity and justice for today.

The birth of Jesus means the opportunity for us to be kingdom-bearers to a broken world. To offer a new way of life to all people. It’s a celebration of what happened in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago and of what awaits us in eternity. But even more than that – it’s the ushering in of a new way of life for today.

The birth of Jesus is good news. It’s the gospel. The proclamation that everything has changed.

Action Steps / Reflection Questions:

  • Take some time to reflect on what Christmas has historically meant to you. What formed these thoughts and traditions?
  • What stands out to you as you read about the invitation to a kingdom way of life in the here and now? 
  • Are there any ways you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to live out a kingdom way of life? Consider spending some time in the gospels for help here. Notice what is important to Jesus.
  • Meditate on Matthew 13:44-46. What does God show you?

1 Seemuth, David P. The Gospel and the Kingdom of God.

2 Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002.

Katie Ignatowski

Executive Director
React to Post
Share Post