Story is a part of the DNA of every single human being. The reason why we love to both tell and hear stories is because we live in one. Every culture has a story to tell and within every human being living in that particular culture communicates by telling their own story. Jerome Bruner, the father of cognitive psychology, believes that storytelling is hardwired into our psyches and the chief reason why we learn to speak. Bruner further suggests that infants develop meaning through narrative, and that the need to create stories precedes language. Bruner is convinced that infants are motivated to learn to speak because they already have stories inside them waiting to get out.
Great stories typically begin with “Once upon a time…” or “In a galaxy far, far away…” or “Long ago…”. The Christmas story is one such story, but it is not just any story, it is THE story. The Christmas story does not begin where many believe it begins, it begins in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.” It is filled with passion, there is an antagonist (the devil), it is all about a hero (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), and it is about our need to be resuced (we have a sin problem). It is also a story that transforms unlike any other story; it is a story identified by one word in the Bible, and that word is, “Gospel” which means, “good news.” Of this good news, the apostle Paul wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16).
Long ago it was foretold that the coming savior would be a king from the Lion of the Tribe of Judah from whom, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Gen. 29:10). Long ago it was foretold that the coming King would be unlike any other king in that God would, “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13). Long ago it was foretold that the coming King would be born of a virgin whose name would be “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
Long ago it was foretold that the coming King would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And that, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isa. 9:6-7). Long ago it was foretold that promised King would be born in an obscure place: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
On the first Christmas there were no carolers, no wrapped gifts under a beautifully decorated tree, only what appeared to be another typical night in Bethlehem. What escaped the notice of the world on that first Christmas was that for the first time in history, God became like us by taking on human flesh. That is what Immanual means: God with us. On the first Christmas, light pierced the darkness which could be heard through the newborn cries of an infant in Bethlehem.
Jesus is the Redeemer Born to Saves Sinners
Nine months before the first Christmas, a young teenage virgin girl by the name of Mary was visited by an angel, and the angel said to her: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33). On the day the angel spoke to Mary, God took on human flesh then as a child began to form in her womb.
There was nothing special about Mary other than that she was favored by God to be the one to mother the child promised to Eve, a child who would crush the head of the devil, an antagonist by which all antagonists are modeled after. The baby Mary gave birth to on that first Christmas was the One of whom the ancient scriptures declared would bring lasting peace and would make all things new” (Isa. 9:7; Rev. 21:5).
In a world filled with so much violence, injustice, hatred, disease, disappointment, and death… we want and we need someone to turn it all around and make it all right. Throughout the Bible, God promised that he would turn things around and make as it was designed to be: perfect. The world needs a Prince of Peace, and when He was born on the first Christmas… He was largely ignored. The Bible says of Jesus:“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and is own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11).
Jesus is Good News for All People
Consider all the people who were the first to witness the birth and life of Jesus. We see them all in our Nativity sets. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and although it would not be for another year or two after Jesus’ birth, the Magi were also invited to experience the One promised long ago. What your nativity set most likely does not include are two other people who were introduced to Jesus before the Magi; the two people are Simeon and Anna the prophetess. When Simeon saw Jesus, he took Jesus into his arms and prayed: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32). I believe all the people who were first to see and experience Jesus, embody the type of person Jesus came to save.
From his infancy through his adult years, Jesus’ identity was kept from his world until it was time to begin his ministry, one that would ultimately result in a crucifixion, then an empty tomb. When Jesus announced to the world who He was, he did it in his home town of Nazareth in a synagogue on a Saturday by reading an obscure and ancient passage written hundreds of years before his birth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus then rolled up the scroll on which that passage was written, handed it back to an attendant, sat down, and then said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Who are the poor Jesus came to proclaim good news to? Who are the captives he came to liberate? What kind of sight did he come to give to the blind? What kind of oppression did he enter our world to overcome?
The poor are not economically poor, but are those who are poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who recognize that they have nothing they can contribute to earn God’s forgivness for their sins. The captives are those who recognize the problem of their own sin, and they mourn over it. The oppressed are those who recognize true liberty can only be found in the redeemer that God promised long ago. These are the people Jesus came to give spiritual sight to see that he alone is able to rescue. He is the champion we all need.
The shepherds were told that first Christmas, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The good news of Jesus’ birth is that a savior, a redeemer, and a champion was born as a gift to lost humanity out of God’s great love for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.
What this means is that it doesn’t matter what you have done in your past, who your parents are, the poor choices you may have made, or how messed up you think your life may be… Jesus’ birth is good news for you too!
The Christmas story is a story of a God who came looking for people like Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the Magi. The Christimas story is also a story for you and how a holy God pursues people like us. God didn’t look for the religious, He didn’t look for the Who’s Who, the big names, the celebrities, princes, or kings… He came looking for people like the shepherds. Listen to me for a second as we prepare to go our separate ways to celebrate Christmas with loved ones, family, and friends. What we learn from the shepherds is this: God pursues those who are far off and excludes those who are convinced that they are near to him because of their own righteousness.
Christmas is the good news that Jesus was born for the non-religious, the non-righteous, and those who seem to be far off. Most of us are familiar with John 3:16, but let me read it for you again along with verse 17,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17)
The gift of Christmas is free to all who know that their good deeds are not enough and that they need a righteousness that is not their own because they know they need a perfect righteousness. You and I need the perfect righteousness of Jesus who was born to die, who lived a perfect life we could not live, to die a death that we absolutely deserved; it is through Jesus that we can know the peace of God, through His grace and mercy. This is why Jesus was born: “For our sake, God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
 Jerome Bruner. “Entry into Meaning.” Acts of meaning (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990): 67-98.