Below is the message from yesterday and also the discussion questions that we spent time discussing following the message.
Today we have come to the end of our Advent series and we officially wrap up Advent tomorrow night. Over the last 4 weeks we have been exploring this conspiracy called advent. Hopefully our discussions have inspired, challenged, convicted, and push you towards relooking at the subversive nature of this season and how we have completely missed the point about Christmas in our world.
When we started Advent Conspiracy at the beginning of Advent we looked at the first of the 4 tenant of the Advent Conspiracy movement, that of worship fully. All too often, as I mentioned last week, our worship doesn’t start with Jesus, but with stuff. Our worship isn’t a holistic part of our life, consumerism becomes the defacto behavior, and the mall becomes our church. But Advent begins and ends with the Christ Child born 2,000 years ago.
The second tenant we spend time unpacking together was the tenant of Spending Less. I don’t know about you but I was blown away by the statistic that every year American’s spend 450 billion on Christmas. I also heard that the average American family spends 750-1000 dollars on Christmas. So we talked about what would happen if we just spent less, maybe 1 gift less than this past year, and also taking some of the money that we would spend on ourselves and giving it to others to bless them. We also talked about 2 types of yokes- the yoke of Christmas (or we could say the yoke consumerism) versus the yoke of Christ.
Last week we covered the 3rd tenant of Advent Conspiracy, which at first look seems to go contrary to the 2nd tenant. We covered the tenant of Giving More. Giving more not in terms of Presents, but of presence. We talked about 4 parts of the Incarnation, FOR, WITH, ONE OF, and IN and how we are called to the same thing. That we, as followers of Jesus, are to incarnate him in the world by being FOR people, WITH people, ONE OF people, and finally the DNA that is within us from Jesus, will be IN people.
So this week we are covering the 4th and final tenant of the Advent Conspiracy, that of Love All. And my hope and prayer is that we will see the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in a brand new way. And that as we unpack it together it will regain its subversive, radical, message and will push us out into the world to LOVE ALL, and get back to what we as followers of Jesus should be all about. ‘
To do this we will look at the second account of the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. So let’s look at Luke 2:1-7 and see what we can learn about this racial call and tenant to LOVE ALL. Luke 2:1-7 says this, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” This story of the sleeping baby told all of this land and the world has become all often the symbol of the status quo- a safe, sanitized, twenty-first century savior. But it is time to take a closer look at the stories of Jesus birth, reading them with Israel’s history wrapped around the newborn baby rather than with our sugar-coated sentimentality. Only then will we truly understand that the Christmas story is a radical message that sets the scene for all that is to come from the most challenging and controversial figure of all time.
I was doing some research this week about the cultural setting and the historical setting in which this story took place, and I was totally blown away by a description of the world into which Jesus was born. I want to read it to you, as it, to me, didn’t sound too different than the world that you and I live in. “The lusty peninsula was worn out with twenty years of civil war. Its farms had been neglected, its towns had been sacked or besieged, and much of its wealth had been stolen or destroyed. Administration and protection had broken down; robbers made every street unsafe at night; highwaymen roamed the roads, kidnapped travelers, and sold them into slavery. Trade diminished, investment stood still, interest rates soared, and property values fell. Morals, which had been loosened by riches and luxury, had not been improved by destitution and chaos, for few conditions are more demoralizing than poverty that comes after wealth. Rome was full of men who had lost their economic footing and then their moral stability: soldiers who had tasted adventure and had learned to kill; citizens who had seen their savings consumed in the taxes and inflation of war and waited vacuously for some returning tide to life them back to affluence; women dizzy with freedom, multiplying divorces, abortions, and adulteries." (Durant) Society was ripe for deliverance, peace, and hope and many were looking at someone who was called the Son of God, and this person was not Jesus but Caesar Augustus. People were looking with hope at the power, might, and strength of Rome to deliver peace. It is into this world that the true Prince of Peace would be born. God came to the poor- or in other words, all of us. Jesus gave up the glory of heaven to be born into a sin-scarred world that glorious night in Bethlehem, every day of his life and in the deadly pain of the cross. Jesus became poor for our sake. Jesus entered our poverty so we would no longer be poor. The priceless gift of a restored relationship with God and others is now offered to those who could never afford it. The outrageous wealth of his righteousness is credited to those who don’t deserve it, to those who are poor, that is good news.
Jesus coming into the world they way he did, proves the fact that he LOVED ALL. He didn’t come just for the rich, privileged few. He came to LOVE ALL. In fact, a great case can be made that he came more for the poor, needy, and oppressed than any others. You see Jesus himself was poor. He chose to be born into the poverty of a family struggling beneath the heel of Imperial Rome. Writer Scott Bessenecher suggests that “the very first statement that Jesus ever voiced about his concern for the poor, oppressed and marginalized people was when he cried out as one of them- eyes tight, mouth open wide, wailing, kicking. It was one of the most profound acts of solidarity with the poor he could make. When God voted with his birth, he voted for the poor. He voted to LOVE ALL.
We see in the stories of Jesus’ birth, particularly in Luke, the first glimpses of what will become a central aspect of the Kingdom of God, status reversal. With the birth of Jesus, the sun had risen on a new Kingdom of which the poor would become first-class citizens. The King of this Kingdom would love all. We see this fact that Jesus came for all, to LOVE ALL in two other narratives tied to his early life. Right after the text we just read, comes the story of the Shepherds encounters with the Angels. We talked about the fact that Shepherds were probably one of the least respected people in all of Israel. They were considered unclean by the religious elite, because of their duty and their inability to go to the temple and get cleansed. Their testimony wasn’t valid in a court of law. And yet God chose these unclean, and unreliable to spread the news of the birth of the Christ child, the true Savior and Prince or Peace. It reminds me of the text in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,”
The other narrative related to the Infancy stories of Jesus is told in Matthew 2 about the Magi who came to visit the Christ Child. The star appeared to them, and they traveled to worship the new born King. These wise men were gentiles, and so were probably not looked on kindly by the religious Jews. But Epiphany Sunday is where we celebrate the revelation of God the Son in Jesus Christ and his breaking down the dividing wall between Jesus and Gentile, right at his birth.
His birth to poor parents, in an out of the way corner of the empire, not born to privilege and wealth, God’s choosing a bunch of Shepherds to reveal the birth of his Son, and having Gentle wise man appear to worship, and give him gifts, all point to fact that Jesus truly was about the tenant of LOVE ALL. God’s coming Kingdom is about inclusion. But what does this all have to do with today? If we follow Jesus, and seek to be like him, how do we follow him to LOVE ALL. And why in our world are Christians known more for what they are against than what they are for (It seems like we miss this tenant to LOVE ALL, and only love those who agree with us)? Let’s dialogue around these questions and come up with some concrete ideas of LOVING ALL, not only in this Advent Season, but all year long.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions about LOVE ALL? 2. If you were to grade the church on this tenant of the Advent Conspiracy how would the church fare? If the coming Kingdom of God is about inclusion and LOVING ALL, how can we improve our grade? 3. Consider the dirty manger, the seemingly indifferent community of Bethlehem, the not-too-impressive first visitors after Jesus’ birth, and the temple sacrifice of two doves or pigeons, all these are subtle clues that Jesus was born into poverty. Imagine reading this passage (Luke 2:1-24) through the eyes of someone lacking the same resources as you. How might reading it this way change the way we worship this Christmas? 4. If our community were to “LOVE ALL” this Advent Season (and all year round), what would that look like? 5. What is God saying to you through this message and series and what are you going to do about it? What do you think God is saying to us through this message and series and what should we do about it?