The Real Christmas Story

One of the world's places of greatest pain in this moment is the global refugee crisis. Partial proceeds from Refuge, a children's Christmas story, go to support global refugees through the U.N. Refugee Agency and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. 

In Matthew 1, Jesus’ earthly father Joseph learned that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant. You can imagine the absolute shock and sense of betrayal that Joseph must have felt. Matthew makes it clear that Joseph had been faithful in practicing physical restraint and that because he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Public exposure could have resulted in execution by stoning, which is still carried out in some countries in the Middle East today. This practice was based in a literal rendering of Scripture:

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous in her Father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

Take a moment to put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. He was obviously devastated, definitely angry, but he chose to live above cultural-religious bigotry to seek the best way out of a broken trust. Even a man in love, with great faith, knows that it takes two to make a baby. And Joseph was not one of the two.

That was when Joseph had the dream. In it, an angel appeared and told him to take Mary as his wife. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would want something more than a dream to inform me that “the Holy Spirit did it!” But a dream was all that Joseph was given, and by faith Joseph acted on that dream: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).

You and I can so easily “spiritualize” and sanitize the events surrounding the Christmas story, but there was nothing about the holy family that would remove them from the down-to-earth realities of everyday life. This was true for Joseph, who moved forward in faith no matter how potentially uncomfortable or inconvenient, and it’s true for all of us in following the costly lifestyle of discipleship. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was martyred by hanging in the dreaded Flossenburg concentration camp, put it this way: “When Christ calls a man or woman, He bids him or her to come and die.”

Our tepid forms of institutional Christianity ignore the gospel’s power to bring good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. We surround ourselves, especially at Christmas, in cocoons of easy and safe systems of belief instead of following the living Christ into the trenches to attack the world’s pain. Christmas reminds us that Christians are to form a community of light in the midst of darkness – a broad, thriving and investing community through which God pours heaven’s resources and purposes into Planet Earth. Now that’s a present worthy of Jesus on his birthday!

Refugea beautiful and unique retelling of the Christmas story, is appropriate for children of all ages. $4 from every book supports refugees in their pursuit of safety and hope for their families through the U.N. Refugee Agency and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Ginghamsburg family, Refuge is free to you in the bookstore this weekend with the purchase of a Ginghamsburg resource. 

Mike Slaughter is the almost four-decade chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike’s call to "afflict the comfortable" challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. His newest book is Down to Earth (Abingdon Press; 2016), a paradigm-shifting, four-week Advent study with Ginghamsburg Executive Pastor of Discipleship Rachel Billups. A Down to Earth DVD, Leader Guide, Youth Study, Children’s Leader Guide and seasonal devotional are also available.

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