At this time of year, it’s common for many of us to think about a newborn baby lying in a manger.  It’s a sanitised, sentimental scene where we’ve airbrushed out the smell of cattle dung and the sounds of a teenage girl giving birth in squalor.  We think humanitarian thoughts about peace and goodwill to everyone.  It’s a vaguely aspirational time when we try to be kind and be slightly generous to those who have less than us, generous enough at least to salve our consciences about how much high-calorie food we will throw away and how much alcohol we will consume.

What we often overlook is that this little child who is the focus of our nativity scenes is the ultimate cross-cultural mission worker.

He gave up a wealthy, safe and comfortable existence to live a life of poverty, hardship and danger in order to tell people that God loves them.  Many didn’t listen, or were only interested in the food handouts or his medical ministry.  Some of those who followed his teaching clearly misunderstood it, or cracked under pressure of persecution.  One even betrayed him to the authorities.  In the end he paid the ultimate price for his mission.

Today, many millions of people claim to be his followers.  Many of them live their lives like he did, boldly taking his message of good news to those who haven’t heard it, or don’t want to hear it, and they count it a privilege to pay the price for it.  We salute you, and pray that you will be encouraged in your ministries this Christmas.

Sadly, many of his followers are too much like the thousands who liked his catchy stories, and loved being entertained or fed or healed by him, but were all too obviously absent when the time came to stand up and be counted.  We wish these people not peace and joy but challenge and conviction.  We re-tweet his call to costly discipleship – take up your cross and follow me. The path to genuine peace and joy is not a safe and comfortable one.  The road from Bethlehem to Heaven runs through Calvary.

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