Consider the story we sing about at Christmas, depicted by snow, roasted chestnuts, big red bows, and the smell of pine needles. That story is a lot of fun, but, unfortunately, even the best parts of that Christmas story have a scandalous side, such as cheap goods produced by underpaid laborers half-way around the world and post-holiday debt. Charity increases at Christmas, but the poor in our country still go with needs unmet. Some are hungry, while others make resolutions to shed added pounds after the season.
There are plenty of contradictions in this Christmas story, and these questions of consumerism, fair wages, economic disparity, justice, and environmentalism all matter. I work with a population of young people who know these questions matter. Students are looking for a story with solutions, and they reject stories that fall short. As a result, many place Christianity on the chopping block, believing Christmas is nothing more than a fun time without any relevance for pressing world issues.
So here’s the question: Is the Christian story inadequate for addressing these real world problems or has it simply been told incorrectly?
I vote for the latter and here’s why.
Jesus’s birth is the story of how God came into our messy world as a baby. This mystery is consistent with Jesus’s life and ministry since he told his followers in Matthew 25:44-45 that the sick, the poor, the prisoners, and the young are one with him. And, remember the little children in Matthew 19:14? Jesus consistently aligned himself with the weak.
Surprise! Jesus’s birth informs us that we are supposed to reorient our lives around a helpless and vulnerable baby. He didn’t come as the king people wanted. Otherwise, we might misread that you have to be rich, wise, or powerful to be in his crowd.
Instead, he came quietly, into a barn. Now this is a story to shape us.
Jesus lived a story where the least is greatest, and the greatest least—where the people who needed help got help without any bureaucratic red tape. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus told it straight to the honor-hungry disciples, “…The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Sadly, Christians are known for welcoming baby Jesus without welcoming the poor or the stranger. It seems we have missed the point. We have conveniently ignored the crucial fact that Jesus is the poor, the weak, and the stranger.
Christians, is this the story we are living out?
I’m convinced that the good news students want to hear at my campus is found in the manger. It’s hard to see because the story has been done wrong. I’m glad students reject the stories that don’t make a difference in the world, but I commend to all of us another look at this one. Imagine a reality shaped by embracing a vulnerable baby in a manger.
Lisa Liou has served on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for more than nine years on campuses in Michigan, Illinois, and California.