Telling the Christmas story from Creation
Published: 18 December 2012 (GMT+10)
Karl and Sun Dahlfred are Christian missionaries in Thailand, under the auspices of OMF International (originally China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor).
Most of the Christmas evangelism that I have seen (and have participated in) here in Thailand has focused on the birth narrative of Jesus. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men have all had prominent parts. However, when I helped out with a Christmas outreach at the Phrabaht Nursing College the other day, Pastor Jareun of the PhraBaht church took a different approach to the Christmas account and I think he may be onto something.
Instead of starting with the angel visiting Mary, Pastor Jaruen started with God creating the world. Then he moved on to talk about Adam and Eve, the fall into sin, the wickedness of the human heart, the judgment of God, and our inability to save ourselves. Therefore, the need for Christmas: the need for God to send a Savior to rescue us from sin. After briefly mentioning Jesus’ birth (and entirely skipping over Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men), Pastor Jareun went on to give a couple illustrations of how we are unable to save ourselves and need a savior.
The need for Christmas: the need for God to send a Savior to rescue us from sin.
If he hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have thought about doing Christmas evangelism without including the birth narrative of Jesus as the primary part of the message. However, if the audience is starting from almost zero in terms of Biblical worldview, the better place to start is certainly the account of creation and the fall. In telling about the reason for Christmas, namely the birth of Jesus, there is no obligation to tell the nativity story in detail. And if time is limited, it may even be best to do what Pastor Jareun did, skipping the nativity account, giving a brief overview of the larger Biblical narrative, and thus establishing the reason why Jesus had to come.
In Thailand, Jesus is largely perceived as merely a moral teacher and the founder of a religion, much like Buddha or Mohammed.
In Thailand, Jesus is largely perceived as merely a moral teacher and the founder of a religion, much like Buddha or Mohammed. If that’s the idea that people have about Jesus, and they are willing to listen to what Christians have to share at Christmas time, it is a great opportunity to try to put a different idea in their heads about the significance of Christmas. Christmas celebrations often include Santa Claus, presents, trees, and lights but it is not about any of those things. And it is not even about the birth of the founder of a religion. It is about the birth of a Savior from sin and judgment. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Pastor Jareun made an excellent decision in focusing on creation, sin, judgment, and salvation instead of angelic visitation, shepherds, and wise men. If the goal of Christmas evangelism is to tell the reason for Jesus’ birth, this approach seems much more likely to create Biblical understanding about Jesus Christ in the minds of listeners, rather than a focus on the birth account.
- http://www.dahlfred.com/en/blogs/gleanings-from-the-field/292-telling-the-christmas-story-from-creation, 25 December 2009. Return to text.
That is a very, very good idea.
What if Christians start putting up decorations themed around this to help start conversations? Where I am, in America, there's been so much news lately of attempts to violate our constitutional right to free religious expression, especially nativity scenes. Maybe the perfect response would be to start making Christmas scenes more foundational, while attention is focused on the issue.
Just a thought; not sure how that would work in practice. Of course, symbolism can never replace biblical teaching itself, and the more "down to the roots" that gets the better.
Don't forget the GoodSeed resources, "Stranger on the Road to Emmaus", "By This Name", and "The Lamb" (for children) which provide a chronological account of Scripture: http://www.goodseed.com/
These resources are available at the CMI store.
They have been translated into many languages. By This Name is available in Thai as an eBook.
Jesus, the Son of God, did not enter history in Bethlehem. He already existed "In the beginning", and without Him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1-3). The whole reason why, in God's gracious purpose, He "became Flesh" (Jn. 1:14) in Bethlehem was so that He, the Offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15) could undo the result of Adam's sin and destroy the work of the devil. Christmas is a blessed reminder of the birth of the Saviour; but all the barnacle-like accretions that have attached themselves to story (cattle lowing, ox an ass before Him bowing, three Wise Men arriving at the stable, and so on) have obscured the great truth: "He shall save His people from their sins". Some carols do get it right: "In the manger lies He who built the starry skies"; "God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made Man"; "God incarnate"; "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity ... Jesus our Immanuel". Even Newman got it right in one of his hymns: "... when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came." The second Adam, the "last Adam" (! Cor 15:45), in whom those who through his unspeakable grace have been called out of darkness in His light, have "more blessings than their father lost". Indeed, Adam lost much for us; but Christ gives so "much more" (Rom 5:15,17). "When sin increased, grace abounded all the more"
(verse 20). The result? "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
A very blessed Christmas to all at Christian Ministries International.
All creation is centered & was completed on the cross, the finished work, a new creature, imaculately conceived, born (again) of the Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the sole purpose of creation!....& all has played out exactly as intended. Our God, He is Amazing!
Merry Christmas to all & a happy new year!
Another great source of chronological teaching material is "Firm Foundations - Creation to Christ", a series of fifty lessons written by Trevor McIlwain (a New Tribes Mission missionary) which are currently being used in a large number of tribal locations around the world. 'Westernized' adult and children's versions are available and are great for use in Sunday School classes, Bible study groups or for individual study.
In fact, the author of "Stranger on the Way to Emmaus" et al, John R. Cross (a former New Triber himself), based his book, with permission, on these lessons.
"Firm Foundations" is available from New Tribes Mission directly. (Note: in Australia, NTM is now called "Crossview Australia")
Great method, good idea. Very encouraging, thanks.