Though Jesus was born in a specific moment in history to a specific people, His incarnation is for everyone.
Born to a young, unmarried woman. Laid in a manger at birth. Raised in an unimportant town. Jesus' humble, earthly beginnings stand in stark contrast to the unfathomable glory of His heavenly position at the right hand of God the Father. Yet, even in His humble state, Jesus' supremacy was sure. Even as a baby in a manger, He had authority over everything—past, present, and future. His coming was an invitation, calling people from every nation, tribe, and tongue to enter His glorious presence. And because He is love, He brings people into His Kingdom not to conquer them, but to redeem them.
One day, we will bring the best of our cultures, redeemed and glorified, into the Kingdom of God.
The incarnation is God's amazing grace for all peoples. The God who lives in unapproachable light has come to us in the midst of our muck and mire, declaring that His grace extends to everyone regardless of nation, culture, or family. He came for all people in human form—a form all the world could relate to, a form to counteract the curse: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). He crosses every culture and breaks down every barrier. And when Jesus calls us to Himself, He calls us just as we are—Chinese, American, Finnish, Igbo, Yemeni, Punjabi, and thousands more.
While Christ belongs to any and every culture—indeed, He transcends culture—He must and will challenge each one. Have we fashioned a Jesus that looks and speaks like us with the result that we make demands on people that Christ never intended? Have we made Christ unapproachable for the outsider? We must take care that we do not craft a Christ in our own cultural image, "lest," as missiologist Andrew Walls writes, "any of us make the Christian faith such a place to feel at home that no one else can live there" (The Missionary Movement in Christian History, 9).
It is tempting to think that our worship, theology, and lifestyle as Christians in the West are the right and only way, but the Truth is that we are often limited in our understanding without an outsider's vantage point. Pastor Timothy Keller once shared how a woman from his congregation offered an insight that he had never before considered as a white, Western male. She had grown up in a traditional society like that of the New Testament, one in which daughters were excluded as heirs—even viewed as second-class citizens. One day, this woman realized the beauty of Scripture's promise that, in Christ, all are sons of God—she, too, had all the value and inheritance of a son. And because of her cultural experience, she could see the sweetness of her adoption as a son of God in a way others simply couldn't.
That's the beauty of the global church, the value of a multicultural context, and the wisdom of God. We were made to live in community, to be encouraged, challenged, and equipped by one another across cultures, testing everything with Scripture, our standard of Truth. In this way, we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus. And one day, we will bring the best of our cultures, redeemed and glorified, into the Kingdom of God:
The nations will walk by [the light of the glory of God], and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, . . . (Revelation 21:24, 26-27)
This Christmas, let us marvel at the incarnation and ask God for opportunities to welcome in those who are not like us—for we are most like Him when we humble ourselves to love others. After all, His redemption plan is not just for us but for all nations. As the angels proclaimed, Christ's coming is "peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).
CELEBRATING CHRIST AROUND THE WORLD
Here are just a few ways that our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world will rejoice in Jesus' birth this month:
Mexico: Each night from December 16-24, actors playing Mary and Joseph lead a procession of believers from home to home searching for a place for the Christ child to be born.
Central African Republic: Church groups work together to craft a new song and dance to tell the Christmas story. Every group then performs its dance before the whole church to the praise of God.
Kazakhstan: Roughly 70 percent of people are Muslims, so Christmas is not a widespread celebration. Christians cover their tables in fruits, nuts, chocolates, salads, and a rice and beef dish and invite others to come hear about the meaning of Christmas.
India: Churches in India are decorated with poinsettias and candles for the Christmas service, which is followed by a huge feast and a gift exchange. Some decorate with clay nativity scenes or adorn a banana or mango tree.