by Matthew Morgan and Bekah Vickers
We have spent the last week meditating on what it means to be declared a child of God. By entering this world in human flesh, Christ turned all expectations upside down; and all who believed in him were made new. The poor were lifted up. The strangers were welcomed in. Ordinary relationships became extraordinary, and the simple act of submission served to topple the mighty from their thrones.
As we have gazed into the manger, we hope that you have grown in your desire to know this God. We hope that you have been captivated by his glory and called to his cause. And so, with the Nativity still in our hearts, we look forward to see the light that shines in the darkness, and to find out how we might join this campaign to retake the world.
Read Matthew 2:13-18; Matthew 25:31-46; John 13:34-35
Jesus tells his friends that the sign of their kinship to him – their proof of identity as his followers and his children, people transformed by his Spirit – will be the way they show love for one another (John 13:35). They won’t wear a sticker that says “Hello, I’m Jesus’ Apostle,” and their names won’t be on some spiritual honor roll in the local newspaper; they will simply love their neighbors – and that will be enough. There is a relationship between our proximity to God and our love for our neighbors.
John makes it even more straightforward when he writes, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Without love, we cannot even know God. There is a relationship between our proximity to God and our love for our neighbors.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about the final judgment of all people. The criteria for this judgment will not be belief or mode of baptism, but the level of love shown to the least of these – the hungry and thirsty, the naked and sick, the prisoner, and the stranger. In this parable, the twist isn’t in how these souls are divided but in what Jesus says about himself in verse 40. He tells his audience that whatever they do for the neediest among them, they do for him.
See that woman begging for food? That’s Jesus. Do you see that man in prison with no one to visit him? Some may see a criminal, but if your eyes have been transformed, you will see Jesus. Do you see that family? They aren’t from here and they don’t really belong here. That’s Jesus.
And perhaps if we knew more about the life of our homeless Lord, we could pinpoint times when he did hunger from lack of food or when his clothes were in tatters and in need of repair. We certainly know of his time as a prisoner of Pontius Pilate. And the Christmas story reminds us of the season in his young life when he was a stranger in a land not his own. Jesus knew the life of the outcast intimately; rather than distancing himself from this, he teaches that his presence continues to inhabit the spheres of the wretched, the lost, the forgotten, and the alien among us. And if we wish to dwell with him eternally, we will not take this truth lightly. There is a relationship between our proximity to God and our love for our neighbors.
The Christmas narrative has much to say about loving our neighbors. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, thought to be a threat to the political leaders, sought and received asylum from Egypt. It is tempting to whitewash this scene, to ignore the implications, and to skip quickly on to the episode where adolescent Jesus eludes his parents (losing a child at church, after all, is something we can all identify with). But don’t do that. Stop for a minute and dwell on that young family, traveling by night, begging for food, pleading at the borders for safe haven, making a home among foreigners, not knowing how long until they can go home – or if they will ever go home. They walked at least 350 miles to get to Egypt – a journey of two or three weeks at least, all with a toddler in tow. They left their family and livelihood behind to fall on the mercy of another nation. What if Egypt had left them camping in the wilderness? What if Egyptian officials had somehow learned of Herod’s search and decided to maintain neutrality by extraditing the Christ child to the king who wanted his life?
Today, all over the world, young families continue to flee for the safety of their children and loved ones – sometimes much further than 350 miles – with a very similar hope of finding safe haven: a place to live, free from the fear and violence that has consumed their native homes. Many of them long for homes they will never see again. Most of them have faced some form of unwelcome, whether legal or otherwise. Setting aside politics and the debate about the government’s role in securing our country and offering assistance to those in need, we as Christians – citizens of the Kingdom of God – would do well to remember that there is a relationship between our proximity to God and our love for our neighbors. As the immigration conversation has unfolded in America, it has become clear that evangelical Christians are guarded and uncomfortable with strangers. We don’t see people in danger, a people displaced in the world looking for safety – we see a threat. We see risk. We see people that don’t belong here. We certainly don’t see Jesus in the faces of those that stand at the edge of our border.
What does this say about us? Do we claim the name of Jesus but exhibit only indifference towards the strangers among us? Those can’t sit well together – Jesus and indifference. Indifference towards the least of these, in the heart of a Christian, should feel like indigestion, making us uncomfortable and causing us to be still and reflect on what lies we have consumed and believed. And maybe that’s what we need this Christmas. Author Matthew Paul Turner says we need Christmas to break our hearts:
We don’t need a merry Christmas. We need Christmas to humiliate us, to destroy us, to not simply put us in our place —but put us in the places of others—to shine light in all of our dark corners, to give us a clear vision of how the story of Mary and Joseph and the manger birth of Christ applies to our stories and our neighbors’ stories in the here and now. That’s the kind of Christmas we need, a Christmas that breaks our hearts.
There is a relationship between our proximity to God and our love for our neighbors. And if we don’t have a place in our hearts for the least of these – for the hungry, for the prisoner, for the stranger – then maybe we are the ones displaced. Maybe we are the ones alienated, not from our countries, but from our God.
We also encourage you to watch this video based on the book The Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. It is a 360 illustrated video. You can click and scroll right on the video as the video progresses.