An invitation too good to refuse
When was the last time you RSVP’d to something by cutting along a dotted line, ticking a box and posting the piece of paper back to your friend? A wedding from the 90s? A birthday party from the 80s? Maybe you’ve never had to do it! When I was kid every birthday party invitation had a section for the RSVP. At the top was your friend’s name and address and down the bottom you ticked a box – either “yes” or “no”. “Yes” meant you were going and “no” meant you couldn’t go. You wrote your name on it, cut along the dotted line and gave it back to your friend. There were no mobile phone numbers, no food allergies, no problems. It was simple. Yes or No. And then Facebook happened.
Now our options are “going”, “not going” and “interested”. And having this new category “interested” has changed everything about RSVPing. “Going” means maybe I’ll show up if something better doesn’t come up. “Interested” means I’m not coming but thanks for the invite and “not going” – well that’s a special type of rejection. “not going” says “do we even know each other?”
We like to keep our options open, don’t we?
We want to be invited, but we don’t want to commit.
Right now many of us are holding off committing to Christmas plans. Maybe it’s Christmas Lunch with the extended family, the work Christmas dinner or the street party. Maybe there are some invitations you just can’t say no to, even though you want to – like going to church on Christmas day with your mum. But this isn’t a modern dilemma. Even the very first Christmas revolves around two invitations. The first is an “invitation” that couldn’t be refused, not because it was so good but because the Caesar demanded it.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”. – Luke 2 1-6
Joseph was a Jew who lived when the Roman’s ruled much of the world, including the part he lived in. His fiancé Mary is due to give birth to her firstborn son. Not conceived the usual way, she has been told by an Angel that even though she is a virgin, she is going to give birth to God’s son. But despite what you might imagine to be a ticket to a life of luxury – she isn’t even able to give birth in the comfort and safety of her own town, near her mum. The Roman ruler Augustus has decided every person under Roman rule must be counted and Mary and Joseph must comply. They are forced to take a four day trip to the town of Bethlehem so Rome can record her military might.
Things go from bad to worse for Mary because when they finally arrive in to Bethlehem they discover there is no room for them, and she will give birth where the animals are kept.
And this is how Jesus enters the world. The first thing Jesus knows about the world, is that things aren’t the way they should be.
And this was exactly the plan.
God could have chosen any women, at any moment in time, to send his son to be born. But he chose Mary at the time the Roman Emperor Augustus upends everyone’s lives by forcing them to be counted.
The Romans are proving how powerful they are by messing with everybody’s lives. How will God show his power? What kind of King is God? Well the kind that is willing to experience all of that mess. To have no place other than the wooden box the animals eat out of.
Do you ever wonder if God cares about what hurts you? About the times your friends let you down, or you feel lonely or anxious? Do you think God understands what it’s like to be far from home, to be humiliated, poor or pushed around?
The Christmas story tells us “yes” he does. Because the Christmas plan was for God to enter into all the world’s brokenness and mess and experience it. To be human, which means to be hurt.
But the Christmas story also tells us that the same Jesus who’s first bed was a wooden food box would also be known as the Son of God who will be a great King. Not the kind of King that messes up everyone’s lives – but one who came to love us and serve us. Look at what the Angels sang just after Jesus was born:
“8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”” Luke 2:8-12
How could this be? Because as Mary nursed her baby and tried to make do in an animal shelter far from home, it seemed Rome was calling all the shots. Only obedience to them would make life bearable – how would this baby grow to be the Messiah – the King – who saves his people?
Well, Jesus would spend his life loving and healing. He included the outcast, ate with the outsiders, partied with those that were looked down on and healed the sick and diseased. He taught the crowds that God cared for them and denounced the religious elite for their hypocrisy. He offered an invitation for all to follow him – but unlike Rome he allowed people to choose for themselves.
But Jesus’s life and teaching didn’t sit well with the local rulers and Jesus would eventually face the might of Rome once again – this time with his hands and feet nailed to a Roman cross. A pitiful sight with a sign declaring “the King of the Jews” nailed above his head. Rome was making it known who really was in charge.
But the cross was as much as part of the plan as the manger. Jesus didn’t just come to experience the mess of life – but to die. Because the plan wasn’t to offer another system of government that favours some and oppresses others – but to offer eternal life in his kingdom. And he would do it by coming back to life himself.
Three days after Jesus’ lifeless, disfigured body was placed in a tomb, his disciples found his tomb empty. At first they were confused, what had happened? But they found their answer as the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. They finally came to understand that Jesus hadn’t just come to beat the Romans, but to beat everything that causes us pain – even death itself. That’s the kind of King Jesus is. That’s the kind of saviour he is.
And his invitation still stands: “follow me”. But he won’t do it like the Romans. He’s not going to demand you be counted as one of his. It’s a genuine invitation and you get to decide for yourself. Jesus is going to risk that you reject him or overlook him. That you just click “interested”, but don’t really care. But before you do that – look again at that manger and understand what kind of King Jesus is. He’s the king who understands our hurts and brokenness, and loves us anyway. He’s the king who loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you are going through. He’s the king who offers you a place with him in his eternal kingdom – not as a slave, but as a child of God. It’s the kind of Christmas invitation that really is too good to refuse.
Want to learn more about this invitation? Head to www.otherstory.com.au
Belinda Lakelin – Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT, Christmas 2018