Christmas for Outsiders (Luke 1:51-53)

hanging Christmas ornaments

I’ve been to a few concerts this Fall, and I have to tell you that if I wasn’t a pastor, I think I might want to be a set designer. I enjoy music, but what impresses me more is the show.

In September I went to a U2 concert. They had this pixel curtains and they did all kinds of amazing graphics on them. I’m fascinated by the lights and the way they incorporate all kinds of media into the show. I absolutely love it.

Then I went to a Passion Worship experience the other week. The evening opened with an amazing video that set the tone for the evening. I began thinking about the work that went into capturing the right ideas, expressing them creatively, and then presenting them for maximum impact. I love that stuff.

So imagine for a minute…

Forget designing a rock concert. Forget even doing design for a worship experience. Picture hearing that God is going to make his boldest move in centuries. He’s on the move, and you’ve been given the job of showing God’s greatness in one of his most important actions.

U2 and Passion have limited budgets and limited technology. Even U2 can only spend so much before they go broke. You’ve been given unlimited money, and God has unlimited power. You can do literally anything to draw attention to God’s greatness.

You say, “What’s been done before?” You think back to other times when God has acted. The Exodus – plagues and a wall of water and a dramatic rescue. The giving of the law – clouds and smoke and lightning. You think of the times that God has shown his glory to people, and it’s overwhelmed them. God has always been impressive. He’s always been more than able to show his glory when he acts.

So the sky is the limit and you have all the angels at your disposal? God is going to take one of his most important moves on earth. He’s about to send his Son to earth to be born as a baby. God himself is about to be born as a baby. Here is what I would plan.

Some great things – I would do some research and find out the most impressive birth that had ever taken place. Then take it up a notch. I’m thinking scouting out the most impressive locations – maybe a palace. There would be lights and maybe some pyrotechnics. Angel choirs and quite a bit of pomp and circumstance. I’d maybe get Moses or Elijah to put in an appearance. Perhaps lightning or an eclipse or something.

Actually, the sky is literally the limit. Earthquakes, shooting stars, eclipses, lightning. Stuff that’s never happened before. There would be lots of fanfare. It would have to get noticed. If God is going to get glory, I’d want to make sure that everyone knew and recognized that it was God.

Some great people – I would try to scout the best people to use for the event. God has used some powerful people throughout history. There have been people like Abraham and Moses and David and Elijah.

It would be a little like casting for a film. Hold auditions. Do homework. Send out invitations to those you’re considering. Except even better. You could have God custom make the type of person you’d like involved, and have them placed in just the right position for the big event. God is good at that. He managed to get Joseph in Pharaoh’s household. Same with Moses. Come to think of it, same with Esther and same with Daniel. God is good at taking ordinary people and maneuvering them into places where they are in high positions of power.

So imagine what you would do for a minute if you were given the job of planning the arrival of the Messiah. Your only restriction is that it has to show God’s greatness. The sky is the limit. What would you do?

The Competition

That’s not all. I didn’t mention the competition. If you are going to show God’s greatness, you need to be aware of how others who are obviously not as great are showing their greatness.

God’s modus operandi has always been to show his power in comparison to those who think they have power. Think of Pharaoh. Pharaoh thought he was in charge, but God taught him otherwise. You might assumer that God would want to show up whoever is in power, so let me introduce you to the competition.

Exhibit A is Caesar Augustus. You’ve heard of him before. He is the first and one of the most important Roman Emperors to have ever lived. He rose to power against impossible odds, and ruled with almost unlimited power. He gave Rome forty unparalleled years of peace and prosperity, known today as Pax Romana or Roman Peace. He was popular and successful beyond imagination. If you go to Rome, you can still see a monument they built to this era in celebration of the peace that Caesar Augustus was able to bring about.

When the Messiah was sent, Caesar Augustus was at the height of his power. He was head of the mighty Roman empire. He proclaimed that he brought peace and justice to the world. He declared his adoptive father to be divine, and he called himself a “son of god”. Poets wrote songs about him. They told the story of his rise to greatness. People said that Augustus was “savior” of the world. Some people actually worshiped him as a god.

On his birthday one year, they talked about his birth being “good news” or gospel:

Providence … has brought into the world Augustus and filled him with a hero’s soul for the benefit of mankind. A Savior for us and our descendants, he will make wars to cease and order all things well. The epiphany of Caesar has brought to fulfillment past hopes and dreams.

So the arrival of the Messiah should out-great the great Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.

Then there’s Herod the Great. Herod is a much lesser power than Caesar, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with. Herod was ruthless, even to members of his own family. Herod killed so many of his sons that Caesar Augustus said that he would rather be a pig than Herod’s son.

It’s said that just before Herod died, he realized that there would be no mourning. He summoned notable Jews from all over the land and locked them up. He commanded his sister to kill them upon his death so that there would be mourning in the land when he died. Fortunately, his sister let them all go, but this shows the kind of man that Herod was.

Herod was ruthless but he was also successful. He rebuilt the Temple. He was a good administrator, and he brought Judea into prosperity. He founded cities and led many projects.

So if you’re wanting to make a splash, these are the two guys you have to keep in mind. Both are egomaniacs. One is a megalomaniac. That’s a big word for someone who has delusions about power. One – Caesar Augustus – claims to be the son of god, the savior of the world.

How is God going to show his greatness? I would think he’s want to put Caesar and Herod in their place. God would have no problem showing that all the power of Caesar is nothing compared to a fraction of God’s power. As Isaiah said, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15).

So here’s how I would show God’s greatness if I was in charge of preparations for the arrival of the Messiah. It would outclass Caesar and Herod. I would show God’s greatness by doing great things – choirs and shooting stars and earthquakes – involving great people. It would get noticed, and everybody would realize that the Messiah had arrived to set things straight.

That would be how I would design things if the sky was the limit.

How God Shows His Greatness

We know that’s not what happened. Caesar lived for years after the birth of Jesus – at least 15 – and chances are that he never even heard about the arrival of the Messiah. Herod did, but he responded with force and tried to eliminate the threat of the Messiah. The birth of the Messiah didn’t exactly make a splash.

So how did God chose to show his greatness?

I said that God should show his greatness by doing great things through great people. It turns out that God did neither.

Great things – I would have expected God to do great things when he sent his Son, the Messiah. Instead, the most powerful person ever to have entered the world was born in total simplicity and humility. No fireworks, no eclipses, very little attention. Not how I would have done things.

I can imagine the fanfare in heaven as Jesus came to earth. On the other end – nothing. Even the place where Jesus was born must have been surprising. I read this week that Bethlehem at that time probably had a population of around 200 people. Even today it’s a relatively small place. You don’t get more humble than Bethlehem. His birth was like any common birth.

Great people – This is where the arrival of the Messiah is most surprising. God didn’t exactly choose to use great people in the arrival. No great people even knew about it.

We’ve been looking at the Gospel of Luke. The shocking thing about the Gospel of Luke is that it’s told from a woman’s perspective, from the perspective of Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna. That isn’t shocking today, but it was certainly making a statement in that day, when it wasn’t common to do so. The Gospel is good news for those who have been robbed of a voice, those that society says aren’t as important. It gives them a voice.

God’s choice of a woman to be the mother is shocking because it’s a bit of a stretch to even call her a woman. We call somebody Mary’s age a girl these days, not a woman. She may have been as young as 10 years old, certainly not much older than 14. Would you trust the Messiah as a baby with a 10 year old girl? When God sent his only Son, he did. He used a young, unmarried girl who was just getting started in life.

Then you have some shepherds show up. Shepherds were usually young boys as well. They worked long days and nights in incredibly lonely work. To entertain themselves, they would talk to the sheep until the sheep recognized their voice. Think about that. God chose boys who spent their days and nights talking to animals all by themselves. Nobody grew up thinking, “When I grow up I want to be a shepherd!”

How does God show his greatness? Not by doing great things with great people. God shows his greatness by doing great things in humble ways. God shows his greatness by working with anyone on the street who is willing to be used by him. God uses anyone – young or old, male or female, any race, any background, people who are respected and people who aren’t – God uses anyone on the street who is willing to be used by him.

How does God show his greatness? Mary sang a song of praise to God, and in it she explains how God reveals his greatness. It’s not by using great people to do great things. Quite the opposite:

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
(Luke 1:51-53)

I Repent

So I wonder what the person looks like today that God might use to make a move.

My life sometimes feels a little like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Did you ever play that game? If you’re lucky, you get to climb the ladders and get to the top. If you land on the wrong spot, you get a snake and slide back to the bottom. The goal is to get to the top and to win. The person on top always wins.

Actually, my life feels like a lot of board games. The Game of Life, in which the goal is to get to the end of the game with the most money and investments. Or Monopoly, in which you get ahead by accumulating. The one who owns the most and controls the most wins.

I confess that I am constantly maneuvering my life so that I hit the ladders and miss the snakes, so that I get ahead and end up on the top rather than the bottom.

In a lot of ways, I can relate to the dream of Caesar Augustus and of Herod, because their dreams are alive and well today. The story of Caesar is of a man who started at the bottom and rose to the top. It’s the story of the self-made millionaire, the successful man or woman.

I can sort of relate to Herod, who has a take no prisoners approach to life. We may dress it up a bit nicer, but we all know people like him. Maybe we are him. We’re ruthless. We sacrifice our families, maybe not as literally as Herod, but perhaps just as real. Remember the statement, “I’d rather be a pig than his son”?

I confess this is true even in churches. I’ve been in a lot of churches in my life. In every one there’s been a church up the road that is doing better. Why? Because in every church, there’s always another one just up the road that is doing better. I sometimes have been guilty of church envy. It’s always tempting to try to become the church where the action is, to try to maneuver my life to where I think God can use it.

I’m not alone. Bigger incomes, more influence – it’s the North American dream. We try to angle ourselves so that we make it.

But how does God show his greatness? Not by doing great things. The things that God does are often undercover. They don’t get a lot of press. God acts in secret places and out-of-the-way locations, in places where nobody is looking. If we compiled a list of the top 100 churches in Toronto where we thought it was likely that God would show up, it would be just like God to pick a church that didn’t even make it to the list. God is like that. He’s always showing up where you least expect him.

God shows up and works with anybody on the street.

He uses the old barren woman, the one whose life is all but over.

He uses the ten-year-old kid we may not even trust to babysit our kids.

He uses a bunch of kids in dead-end jobs who talk to animals to witness his actions.

God always goes to great lengths to identify with the humble people of the world. God is unpretentious. He consistently comes to those who are the least likely. God shows his greatness by working with anyone on the street who is willing to be used by him. In the game of Snakes and Ladders, he overlooks the people who have made it to the top, and uses people who are barely on the board.

Derek Webb sings:

i repent, i repent of my pursuit of america’s dream
i repent, i repent of living like i deserve anything
of my house, my fence, my kids, my wife
in our suburb where we’re safe and white
i am wrong and of these things i repent

Mary sang:

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
(Luke 1:51-53)
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada