Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
How would you describe the year that was 2023? How about ‘tense’?
It’s not the whole story, of course, but over the past 12 months, Russia’s war in Ukraine has continued, fighting has persisted in Myanmar and countless African nations, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dramatically escalated. Concerns about China have grown, natural disasters have occurred, and global temperatures have broken all records. In the UK, the consequences of Brexit continue to reverberate, and we’ve witnessed soaring energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis, strikes, and public services at breaking point.
Everything changes. Everything stays the same. The first-century world into which Jesus was born was unbelievably tense, too. He grew up in an atmosphere of political conflict, upheaval, and social discontent.
The Roman Empire was dominant. Caesar Augustus was tax-hungry. Indeed, it was because he demanded a census be taken of all his conquered lands that Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem. The taxes of the poor – 90% of the population – were used to boost the wealth of rulers.
Herod the Great, appointed by Rome, ruled Judea, Samaria, and Galilee as a police state. He had a reputation for being a murderer and a thug. ‘If Herod wanted to do away with you,’ observed John P. Meier, ‘he could slit the throat of anyone he wanted.’
It was into this world that the angels told a group of shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid’ (Luke 2:10). In Bethlehem, a Saviour had been born, and he (not Caesar, Herod, nor anyone else) was Christ the Lord. He would save his people from their sins. In the birth of Jesus, God cut through the tension and established a true and everlasting kingdom built on justice and righteousness.
It’s difficult to predict how 2024 will unfold. It’s unlikely that tensions will disappear anytime soon, not least with general elections taking place on both side of the Atlantic. But the message of the angels to the shepherds in the 1st Century remains their message to us in the 21st Century: ‘Do not be afraid.’
In the birth of Jesus, a down-to-earth God comes to save us from ourselves. Jesus brings true peace and true freedom which, if we let him, will not only transform us but the world around us. This is good news of great joy for all people!
Have a very Happy Christmas and a truly peaceful New Year!