by Dr. Eric Hankins, pastor
FBC, Oxford, Miss.
So much about the way we envision the First Christmas distances us from the reality and message of Jesus’ birth. Our Christmas cards and crèches are bathed in soft light, framed by friendly farm animals, drummer boys, and earnest shepherds all focused on the little Lord Jesus, “no crying He Makes.” We are simply more comfortable with a Savior born “inside,” quietly occupying a warm nook somewhere on the margin of our lives, a lullaby playing while He sleeps on the hay.
This picture, however, bears little resemblance to what happened that night. In fact, Luke is at pains to contrast the humiliation of Christ’s arrival with the power, prestige, and privilege of Caesar Augustus and the security of Rome. Jesus came into the world squalling, naked, and covered in afterbirth. His parents had no place to stay because news had already come to Joseph’s ancestral home (which would have been filled with relatives obligated to take them in) through the tightly woven gossip system of Judea that the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy were too shameful to warrant any hospitality.
So, Jesus was born outside, on the ground, with the warm, pungent smell of manure hanging in the chilly air. Mary delivered her first child with no anesthesia, no skilled midwife, so the night was probably not “silent,” “calm,” or “bright,” and it completely redefined the word “holy.”
The first recipients of and witnesses to the glory of the Advent were shepherds, men whose reputation as liars and thieves was so ubiquitous that they weren’t allowed to give testimony in court. They lived their whole lives outside— geographically, socially, morally, religiously.
So, Jesus was born outside, to outsiders, for outsiders. He ministered outside, observing that while even animals had homes, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). He died outside between two outsiders, fulfilling the destiny foreshadowed in His birth. How, then, do we celebrate Christmas in a manner faithful to the First One? The writer of Hebrews tells us: “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13.11-12). Let the Christ Child call you away from the cozy Christmas of our own creation and out into the Adventure of mission to those still outside.