Yesterday we started a three part series looking at the topsy-turvy nature of Christmas. What do I mean by this is? Well, have you ever stopped for a moment to consider how topsy-turvy, how upside-down and back-to-front, the story of that first Christmas really is? It may be familiar to many of us, but there is nothing normal about the story. Let me show you what I mean with the second of my three simple examples:
A topsy-turvy stage
Its setting, which we considered last week, isn’t the end to the topsy-turvy nature of this story. When we’ve zoomed in on Bethlehem, we see that the stage of this awesome drama – the location where Jesus was born – was . . . a cattle shed.
Now let’s just stop for a moment and ask ourselves a hypothetical question. If, as we saw last week, all the political and administrative powers of the Roman Empire were at our disposal, would we have chosen a cattle shed for the birth of the long-awaited saviour? Jesus could have been born anywhere. He could have been born in the finest of palaces, with the finest of physicians to aid his first few breaths in this world. Yet, in the squalor of a cattle shed, God was showing us something amazing about the mission and purpose of Jesus’ birth.
The “No Vacancies” signs that hung above every hotel and guest house door in Bethlehem was a visible sign that “for our sake he [Jesus] became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). If God was able to guide the heart of Caesar, then surely ensuring the availability of at least one room in one hotel in this one little up-north place should surely have been possible! Yet, in this topsy-turvy story, as Jesus was taking his first breaths of damp, smelly air he was demonstrating to all of history that he had willingly come to be poor for our sakes.
If that were not enough, for Jesus this was not just a taste of poverty and then back to normality for the rest of his life. One steady road led out of the little town filled with “No Vacancies” signs, and this road led to a cross, where once again Jesus would become poor, mocked and rejected for our sakes. On that cross he became poor as he took all of our sin-debt – those thoughts and actions we’ve done that leave the world and relationships around us marred. If, like me, you would need all the fingers and thumbs of all of the population of Peterborough on which to count those thoughts and actions, then suddenly this squalid cattle shed becomes a wonderful and glorious symbol that Jesus, in this topsy-turvy story, came as a poor servant to cleanse us from all our sin. That’s got to be the greatest Christmas present ever, hasn’t it?
More next week …