Through this past Advent season I’ve been reading a book, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus. It’s a series of readings on the promise of Christmas edited by Nancy Guthrie. While it addresses a whole realm of insights around the Christmas story, there’s one particular theme that’s stirring in my heart as I enter the New Year…
It started at the beginning of 2018 when Liam Byrnes gave a talk on the upside down kingdom. Now, if you know him, you know that wasn’t the title at all (it would have been something far more eloquent), but that’s what stuck with me. It wasn’t all new information, but it was one of those times when the Holy Spirit stirred in my heart and my eyes opened a little bit more.
A challenge for me was the kind of kingdom and power Jesus came to bring. Israel was expecting a king who would rule in earthly power — where they would be the ones on top and no longer subject to exile or slavery. They would be in control and their needs prioritised. I read somewhere recently that suggested Judas’ betrayal could have been his last ditch attempt to force Jesus to take political power. That perhaps in his blindness, he was trying to do what he thought would usher in the kind of power they all craved and thought was of God. It’s food for thought…
But Jesus came as a flesh and blood baby. Born out of wedlock in a stinky stable and raised in a second class town. He came to be the servant of all.
“He, Who had always been God by nature did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And having been born as man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and death he died was the death of a common criminal.” Philippians 2: 6
That’s what kingdom power and success looks like. Do I really get that in the depth of my being?
In my Advent readings I referred to above, a couple of things grabbed my attention. The first was about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tim Keller writes, “In the incarnation, the annunciation comes to a woman. God penetrates the world through the womb of a poor, unwed, Jewish, teenage girl.” He goes on to describe, that in those days women had an extremely low status — their testimony wasn’t even allowed in court because of the prejudice against women. But, God chose Mary to bare His son.
The second thing is the shepherds. Randy Alcorn questions: Why did the announcement come to them and not to the elite? or priests? or kings? He describes, that at that time shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unpopular status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Long before, when Joseph’s family moved to Egypt, Joseph emphatically tells them that shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians. The Israelites lived in this prejudice for 400 years. Later, after settling in the Promised Land, shepherding became a menial vocation for the lower class. During the time of the prophets, they symbolised desolation and judgment. Shepherds were considered despised, incompetent, second-class, and untrustworthy. They had no civil rights. But, God chose shepherds to first hear the good news.
This New Year I’m asking God to open my heart and mind to see. I’m in that place where the more I see, the more I realise how much I can’t. As I make resolutions and decisions for the New Year, I am challenged to have those resolutions be things that align my life more and more with God’s upside down kingdom. To spend time meditating on the outrageous details of the Christmas story and the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels. I want to make resolutions that challenge my ego and pride and any desire for power or acknowledgement or reputation. I would like to be more loving and patient and kind. I want to want these things more.
I challenge you also, to take the lessons of Advent (whatever is might be that Holy Spirit has been stirring in your heart) and prayerfully set resolutions to have a ‘Kingdom New Year!’