Peer into a Nativity Manger and you might just see a child who grew to be a boy who grew to become a man who changed the world. And that’s no exaggeration. Jesus sparked a fledging movement, outnumbered and outgunned in every way possible, that become a movement numbering over forty percent of the world’s population today.
This week I’m reading Rodney Stark’s newest book called, The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement became the World’s Largest Religion.
If that title sounds big, it is. It’s massive tour though six historical eras beginning with the religious context of the first Christmas and ending with our religious global context. It’s an audacious tour, and he pulls it off in a straightforward, factual, and readable way that busts all kinds of popular myths about Christianity. This history is faith-bolstering stuff.
As a pastor, this time of the year is full of Christmas gatherings, decking the halls of our house for our family celebrations, and preparation for Christmas Eve and Christmas day messages. As I prepare for five messages this week, and as I ponder the message of the manger, I’m also reading about how the Jesus movement became the world’s largest religion. Those two rails got me thinking.
I wonder what people who don’t believe in Jesus as God think about our Christmas scenery. Do those eyes see a winter-like scene from a Dickens’ novel adapted to movie? The set is antiseptic, but cozy, warm, with that hay-on-floor look. And in the center stands a crib that looks like an Ikea dish drying rack. And there on the Ikea crib lies a sweet, white, child sleeping so soundly you can almost hear the melody: “…sleeeeeeeep in heavvvvenleeey sleep.”
It’s deeply calming, and I think many see that serene scene. And I plan to dive deeper into that scene on Christmas Eve at our worship celebrations. But until that night, we have a journey to travel, like those Persian Astrologers who followed a star to the first Christmas birth scene.
As travelling followers, we journey with anticipation, to peer into a manger to see the wonder of God becoming flesh as a babe in the crib. Look long enough at that man and you will see God’s love made visible. Look some more and you will find the gifts of God’s presence like joy, peace, hope and love. Then look beyond the crib to Jesus, the Christ, who changed the world.