With your permission, I want to diverge from my normal writing and provide you with a movie review of sorts in an effort to remind our hearts that the nativity story is for those on the wrong side of the tracks.
For the sake of the innocent, I will omit the name of the 1990’s Christian kid’s special that was reintroduced to me the other day via my kids’ iPad. It’s nothing grand. The special in question was the kind of thing us nerdy, homeschool kids checked out from the church library (curb your enthusiasm). It was as G as G can be, and yet it is still worthy of discussion and reanalysis all these years later.
The special develops around a Christian middle-school student who reaches out to the bad kid in school, because said kid express little interest in the school Christmas play. Because the Christian student goes to the troubled kid’s home for the purpose of letting the bad kid know he has friends, the troubled kid decides to participate in the school play. Later that night, the now redeemed kid takes the relationship a step further and saves said Christian kid from a Christmas-Eve mugging. The special then cheerily ends with the Christian kid offering up a soliloquy on the true meaning of Christmas against a backdrop of hugs, smiles, and twinkling Christmas lights.
As I watched the special as an adult, I noticed that something was missing from the last scene. Better stated, someone was missing, the bad kid. Though extracted from the recesses of the criminal world, the bad kid never fellowships with the nice middle-class family. He’s never invited into that intimate family circle. Essentially, he is still not one of them.
When Fiction Becomes Reality
I found this little vignette from the Christian film world to be troubling because it reflects how many Christians approach ministry at the holidays. We want good for people that are not like us. We happily send gifts, deliver food, and rally to this community cause and that ministry project as our kids count down to Christmas. That is good. Truly it is better to give than to not give. But we stop at the gift. Though we may help a thousand people, we never invite one of them into our home. If those we helped at Christmas actually showed up at church, many of us would look at them funny, wondering why they came wearing those clothes. I’ve been around churches that gave large sums to gospel-focused endeavors while they simultaneously adopted policies that prevented people with certain social-economic characteristics from using this restroom and that vehicle. In other words, those institutions wanted good for everyone, but they did not want the bad kids in their homes, churches, and cars until they could achieve the correct level of niceness and sophistication whatever that maybe. Perhaps, they could come over next Christmas.
Jesus’s Approach to Christmas
Though we often keep the proverbial bad kids of the world at arms-length, Jesus embraces them. Jesus providential decreed that several pagans, a prostitute, and woman who had kids with her father-in-law would be part of his family tree. He then extends the first Christmas invitation to stinky shepherds who did not even possess the right to testify in court because their class was so derided by nice Jewish society. The second divine Christmas card went out to the Wisemen in the form of a star. Though we sing of them fondly in our day, the Jews of Jesus’s day discounted the Magi as uncircumcised, pagans with an unhealthy preoccupation with occultic practices. The original nativity scene consisted of men and women unwelcomed by nice, religious society.
But Jesus did not simply spend time with the lowly and hurting. He made them part of his eternal family. At his death, he ripped down the curtain that kept men and women from reaching God. He died on the cross so that he could clothe repentant sinners in his righteousness for the purpose of making the sorrowful outcasts of the world his glorious and joyous children. Paul describes the thrust of the Christmas message this way, “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.” Jesus did care for practical needs. He taught sinners, gentiles, and tax collectors. He feed them and healed them. But he also welcomed them into his heart into his home, calling them his family. Where that 90’s Christmas special truer to the message of the first Christmas, the bad kid would have been the one delivering the closing speech against the backdrop of his new family.
Yes, But, and Luther
Because we have the benefit of hindsight and the biblical text, we can be tempted to look indignantly upon those who get the Christmas story wrong. Though we may fall short of Jesus’s perfect calling, we still believe ourselves better than most. We can be tempted to say that we would have handled that 90’s Christmas morning better. For that matter, we would have handled the first Christmas night differently. We would have shared our room or hitched a ride with the wisemen. Perhaps we would have. Perhaps we would not have.
To find the answer to this fanciful historical experiment, we don’t have to time travel with Mr. Peabody and Sherman. We simply ask and answer the questions, “Do I love the bad kids?” When we sit down to Christmas dinner, do we see the faces of foster children, or the uncle the everyone hates, or the poor family down the street that quite frankly has a little body odor issue? Do we welcome the Mary’s, shepherds, and Wise men of our day into our homes and churches? As Martin Luther noted,
“Who is there on earth who is not surround be poor, miserable, ailing, erring, or sinful people…Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him…It is a plain lie and deception for you to think you would have done a lot of good for Christ, if you do not do it for these people.”https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Sermons-Martin-Luther-Christmas/dp/B000O2QOW2/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=luther+advent&qid=1639165632&sr=8-3
Are the bad kids welcome in your home? What are we waiting for?
While that 90’s Christmas special failed to fully portray the good news of great joy, we thankfully are not bound to last century’s animation techniques nor to their sweaters. We don’t have to keep rewinding and replaying an incomplete gospel Instead, we can pop-in the true message of Christmas, a message of love and adoption, from which we all can find the inspiration needed to welcome the bad kids into our homes and church. The question for us this holiday season is: will we?