According to Trevor Noah, 2016 was the year that facts died. He may be right. Certainly at this year’s end, many are ready to trumpet in the “post-truth” era. How does that relate to the story of Christmas though? The nativity is a debated topic. Whilst very few people doubt that Jesus was born and did live, some doubt that Jesus’ birth happened in quite the same way as Christians tell every Christmas time. Others hold onto the truth of every detail, combining Matthew and Luke’s stories in Bible into one big truth-filled story.
Over Christmas, our church retold the story of Jesus’ birth in many different ways – a nativity play, a carol service, and a crib service. On Christmas Day, I talked about the story of Jesus’ birth and how it still matters today. How it’s a story that we need to hear, interpret the truth of it together, and apply it to our current times. What does it mean to say “God with us” Immanuel is born? I asked the question – “what matters most – fact or truth?” However, what I should have said was “details” and not “facts.” What matters most about the story of the birth of Jesus – the details or the truth contained within it? To call the details of the nativity story “facts” is just as sloppy as dismissing proven facts to allow me to believe what I want.
Facts are not dead, and details do matter. But how?
So here it is – my Christmas Sunday morning talk – but I’ve inserted “details” where I had previously said “facts”.
Telling the Story of Jesus’ Birth
We all have a part to play in telling the story. Here’s a group of American children from Southland Christian Church telling the story of Jesus’ birth.
To watch the video Christmas according to Kids, click here: https://youtu.be/suowe2czxcA
Does it matter that the children don’t get all the details right? Was it a donkey or a camel? Did the Magi bring a purple hippo or a stuffed Frankenstein?
What matters – details or truth?
Some details that the children don’t get quite right:
- The Bible does not mention a donkey.
- The Magi brought gold, myrrh, and frankincense, not Frankenstein, a hippo and diapers.
- Was there an inn? It wasn’t the Bethlehem Travelodge. More likely just a guestroom in someone’s house, or some have suggested a cave used to keep animals.
- If there wasn’t an inn, was there an innkeeper with the famous ‘nativity play’ quote?
Some truths that the children get spot on:
- Jesus is our best friend.
- Jesus does change the world.
- We should love Jesus.
Contextually Interpreting the Story
I wonder what you make of this nativity story – A Very British Nativity.
To watch the video, click here: https://youtu.be/In8ZkPaZJFE
This is a video with a lot of truths, but not many Biblically-based details. There is no mention of scooters or immigration officers in the Bible. However, this telling of the nativity shows that the birth of Jesus is a story that still speaks today. The birth of Jesus is a story that speaks of the hospitality of God and of the hospitality he expects from us as his people. Remember – God entrusted people with the care of His son Jesus!
The story of Jesus is a story that is meant to be shared in words, but also in actions. Learning the details are important as they point us to the truth. Knowing the truth informs our actions, helps us to live in response to the gift of God’s son Jesus – this baby who is our best friend and does change the world.
So what is the message?
I believe part of being church together (church: followers of Jesus who regularly meet together to worship God and retell the stories of our faith) is about working together to discover God’s message, interpret the message and to share the message. So looking at today’s reading of Luke 2:8-20, what is the message and what does it mean?
The angels gave this message to the shepherds:
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 NIV)
Who has been born? A Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.
Let’s look at some details about those three titles and see if they help expose some truth of who Jesus is.
Saviour and Lord
Saviour and Lord, in the Roman context are political terms that would have been used for leaders of the day – emperor, local governors, patrons, etc.
- Saviour – soter (Greek) – means ‘deliverer’ and ‘preserver’. A saviour to the Roman person was a person who provided for my wellbeing, sustained my life. “Our hero! You saved the day. You saved our city. You provide jobs and security! You make all of this living possible!”
- Lord – kurios (Greek) – means ‘lord’, ‘master’, ‘sir’. Kurios is a title of authority, even used for the Roman emperor. A title that said, you have all the power and authority from the gods to rule over us.
However, the Jews applied the terms differently. They said, “No, people don’t do all these things. God is the ultimate patron who provides all our needs. God is the power of authority and therefore God is the ONLY kurios and soter.” Jewish Christians and then therefore Gentile Christians – they applied these terms to Jesus as well as God. Jesus preserved their lives. As God’s son, Jesus had the ultimate power and authority on earth – not Rome. To call Jesus Saviour and Lord was a political statement as well as a statement of faith.
Messiah / Christ
There is another title given to this baby Jesus – Messiah. This is a Jewish title.
- Messiah (Hebrew) – Christos (Greek) – aka ‘the Christ’ – means the anointed one.
The Messiah was a Jewish political faith figure who would get rid of all the Greek/Roman ‘nonsense’ and secure Israel. The Messiah would lead God’s people in freedom, to worship and live for God. So it would truly be “on earth as in heaven”. People expected an armed rebellion – a battle – but Christians believe that the Messiah was Jesus and that He led the rebellion in quite a different way – on a cross.
It’s this title Messiah – christos – that we see in Mark 8. When Jesus presses his disciples on that question, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Christos. The Messiah.”
The Details point to What Truth?
For angels from God to link all these titles together to describe this baby being born to these shepherds meant something.
The shepherds were on the bottom of society. Everyone would have been above them – for them, every person in society was a kurios or a soter – and they would have really been wanting that Messiah.
Amazingly, these shepherds were entrusted by God with this message and entrusted to share it with everyone. God’s gospel would be a grassroots movement, not some kingly decreed or even a religiously controlled command.
The shepherds were given basic details and entrusted to share the truth of the message. Each one may have explained it differently as they shared the truth. But that was ok. They each had a role to play in sharing the message.
I’ve one more video to share – The Nativity Factor 2014 Winner. In this video, we are encouraged to imagine what a conversation between the angels might have sounded like.
To watch the video, click here: https://youtu.be/_gwIpdABy-0
Like the shepherds, like the angels, we all have a part to play in telling the story of Jesus, of God coming into the world and changing our focus onto what really mattered.
Do you know the details? Have you encountered the truth that these details point to? How will you interpret this story for your place of work or study? How is God calling you to share it?