Why the Christmas Story Should Stay in the 1st Century

Around this time of the year, I often see pieces of prose written by various Christians claiming to explain what it would be like if Jesus was born today. They tell stories of fully booked hotels, a pregnant teenager, and the like. While I understand the reason for writing such adaptations, I believe that we should avoid them and try to understand the significance of Christ’s coming in its historical setting (somewhere between 6 B.C. and A.D. 2).

As I have been reading Alister McGrath’s biography on C. S. Lewis, this has become firmly planted in my mind. Lewis, a scholar of English literature especially that of the Medieval period, believed that we must read writings in their original setting. McGrath says that “Rather than trying to get rid of the medieval knight’s suit of armour so that he becomes just like us, we should try to find out what it is like to wear that armour.” I take the position that when we “update” the Christmas story, we strip it of its medieval suit of armour—we strip it of its cultural and historical significance. When we do this, we do not allow the story to interrogate us and expand our own experiences.

I do not believe any person has sinister intentions when painting the Christmas story in a new light—a modern one, but it seems that Paul saw the timing of Christ’s coming as having great significance. He wrote: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV).  The timing of Jesus’s coming—at the fullness of time! —was not trivial, and quite frankly, it could not happen today. Jesus’s advent is as tied to the 1st century as the advent of the internet is to the 20th century.

My goal is not to take the greatness of the Christmas story and shape it to fit my life and circumstances, but to take my life and circumstances and let them be shaped by the Christmas story. Instead of sharing on social media modernizations written by human beings, I would encourage us all to take the time to read the telling of Jesus’s birth that is inspired by God allowing it to inform and form us.

Set an Example That Must Be Followed

I turned nineteen years-old in May of 2017. I graduated high school only one year ago. I accepted my call into ministry only a year and a half ago. I am what most people would call “young.” Sometimes this causes problems. Only a few years ago, I had situations where people did not take me seriously or did not give me any respect. The problem was not my age, though, but instead that I had not earned their respect.

I have directed community theatre plays with adult casts as well as a high school one-act with a cast made-up primarily of students older than myself at the time. Over the last year, I have led meetings with peers my age and older, preached to people five times my senior, and shared great discussions with my professors and mentors. I say all of this not to brag, but to explain: the age difference did not change, but I changed.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to his devoted student Timothy, he said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV). In chapter four, he describes Timothy, his role, and why he tells him this. For those going into ministry and even as a universal truth to all young Christians, this verse applies broadly outside of the narrower context of Timothy’s life.

Paul is telling Timothy to earn their respect. If you want to lead despite your age or circumstances, then you must set the example of behavior. Direct your course, so that the people around you have no choice but to follow. When Paul says set an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity,” he knows just how daunting and difficult of a task that he is giving Timothy, but he also knows that it is a necessary one. Although there are cases of people—even the young—earning undeserved respect, those cases are vastly outnumbered by those where respect must be earned.

I had a friend that always had 1 Timothy 4:12 as his favorite Bible verse for years, and I have begun to become increasingly partial to it as I attempt to follow its mandate to gain the respect of my elders, peers, and youth. I can summarize my advice to everyone seeking to lead, especially the young, in seven words: “set an example that must be followed.” In that verse, Paul communicates a wealth of wisdom: if you want to lead and earn respect (despite your age), then set an example that cannot be ignored. I challenge any young person reading this to think of what they can change either in their speech, conduct, love, faith, or purity to set a better example; and I challenge every older person to either find a young person that deserves respect and intentionally give it to them or find someone that needs to be mentored and do it. Final note: when leading, set an example that must be followed.

How Can I Help You?

“How can I help you?” Five little words that can change the world. We usually hear them from people in call centers before we ask for technical assistance or request a refund. We do not put much thought into them. For us, they are nothing more than invitations to express our selfish desires, but for those earnestly asking, they are a self-less gift for those in need.

In our daily lives, we can largely ignore the needs of other people. We can largely ignore other people. We tend to look the other way when it comes to helping anyone and everyone that cannot help us. It is difficult to write these words because, like many of you, I am not free from the sin of inhumanity. I have forgotten my fellow man. I have pushed away impoverished people. I have been indifferent in my interactions with image-bearers of God.

God made all of humanity in his image, and therefore, every person has value. As a Christian, I should know that most. Even with that knowledge, I have treated people like nothing more than atoms and cells to be manipulated at my will. I have turned away my face from the hungry, and I have tuned out the cries of the oppressed. I have turned my back on the least of these, and I have rejected those that live on the fringes of society. But it is not in hyperbole alone that I am guilty.

Even among those closest to me, I have neglected to ask, “How can I help you?” I have neglected to reach out to even the least burdened around me to ask those simple, small, five little words. It should not be difficult to say to your friend, your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, your significant other, “How can I help you?” Yet, we find it astonishingly difficult. If everyone of us asked “How can I help you?” and did what people answered, what kind of world would this be? I am convinced if this were the case, we would be yet another step forward in advancing the kingdom of God and conforming people to the image of Christ.

Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV). How then shall we submit to one other? I say the first step is to ask those around you, “how can I help you?” This is truly just one small step for man, but one giant leap towards advancing God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.