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Celebrating a Subversive King

• Greg Boyd

Jesus was born a subversive King. He was born to show the world the true Kingdom and the True God, and in so doing, showed the world how the Roman kingdom was false. In the spirit of Jesus’ subversive intention, Greg shows us a way to be subversive with the Christmas culture of the western world.

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Christmas is right around the corner, and in celebration of Christ’s birth, we take a look at what Jesus’ birth meant to this world. Our traditional understanding of Christmas, with spending billions of dollars on gifts to those that aren’t in need, is in dire need of review. In order to understand how to live in honor of Jesus’ subversive Kingdom, we need to take a look back at what Jesus’ birth meant in the ancient world.

The story of Jesus is not an abstract story. That is to say, it is located in a specific time and place, and Jesus was born for a specific reason. Jesus was born when the Roman empire was in full swing, and Caesar was the self-proclaimed son of a god. The unifying Roman slogan was “Caesar is Lord”, and Caesar was worshipped as a god. He was called the bringer of peace and savior of the world. He was celebrated as euangelion (the good news) and the Roman empire was “the kingdom of Caesar”. The Romans used the idea of Pax Romana which means the peace of Rome. Ironically, Rome enforced this idea through violence and terror.

If you recognize some of these terms, it is because Jesus came to subvert the way the world worked, and Jesus subverted this language to serve His purpose. Part of Jesus’ subversive plan was to undermine the authority and agenda of the kingdom of Caesar and replace it with the Kingdom of God. We must understand that to follow after Jesus and declare that Jesus is Lord–early Christians were saying that Caesar was not Lord. To say that Jesus is the Son of God, worship Jesus as the Son of God, and to say that Jesus is the bringer of peace means that Caesar is none of these things. Jesus didn’t come as a nice addition to what the Romans were doing—in fact, Jesus came to lead a rebellion against the entire world system, from the way Caesar (or any world power) ran the world to the sins of the world. Following Jesus in this way could get a person killed, and it usually did.

This subversive language is prevalent throughout the New Testament, and especially throughout the book of Revelation. John, in the book of Revelation, uses lots of violent imagery, but violence is never something Christians use. They are only the receivers of it. The imagery is the Kingdom of God battling Satan and his puppet empire Babylon. And our job as followers in the Kingdom of God is to keep following in the way of this subversive King. We must refuse to conform to whatever culture that isn’t the Kingdom of God.

With Christmas season coming around the corner, we encounter an ironic idea. The original idea of Christmas was to be subversive, serve the poor, and not cling to power, possessions, or life. One would think to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we would do something subversive to our culture to celebrate it. Instead, to celebrate Christmas, the values of the world are more on display than the values of the Kingdom of God. Instead of a holiday that is honored through being subversive to consumerism, people spend billions of dollars on things they don’t need or other people don’t need, all the while there are more than a billion people on the planet who are dying because their basic needs are not met. This is all done in the name of the One who taught us to manifest God’s love by generously serving the poor. The question then becomes: How should we who identify ourselves as a follower of the subversive Kingdom celebrate his birth?

There are several options—one could opt out of the holiday all together. If God calls you to this, then by all means do it. However, it could be perceived as self-righteous, Scrooge-like, rude, and un-loving—something the Kingdom is not built on. We might also be surrendering an opportunity to recapture the subversive message of Christmas. A more balanced approach to being subversive at Christmas is to include people who have desperate needs.

In fact, this Christmas, Woodland Hills Church is feeling a specific calling to be subversive this Christmas. Haiti is in desperate need of clean water, and there has recently been an outbreak of cholera associated with drinking unclean water. There have been 1400 deaths so far. Woodland Hills Church feels called to raise $21,000 over the next month. With this money, Woodland Hills Church will work with two ministries that have come out of Woodland Hills (COFHED and Providence ministries) who will make sure that every dime gets to the people of Lougou who have no source of clean drinking water.

If every adult who regularly attends Woodland Hills Church gave $10 this Christmas season, we would more than meet this goal. And if every podrishioner gave $10, we would easily raise five to ten times the amount of our goal. Please pray about how you can be subversive this Christmas. If you feel led to help the town of Lougou, and you want to be truly subversive, don’t spend this money in addition to what you normally do—instead, use it from the gifts that you were going to purchase. Spend $10 less supporting a consumerist culture and spend $10 more on being a part of a subversive Kingdom. The world wants you to spend your money on yourself and your loved ones, but our King calls us to remember those brothers and sisters who are thirsty and dying. Remember the reason for the season and remember to honor the birth of our Savior by being subversive this Christmas.

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Topics: Generosity, Humility, Identity in Christ, Money, Politics, Sacrifice

Sermon Series: Subversive Christmas

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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 2:1-3

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

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4 thoughts on “Celebrating a Subversive King

  1. Rick Nelson says:

    This plays in-to the cynic within. I’m guilty of finding fault with zealous self-interest. Especially politics and its guile. I’ve projected this into other realms, the wealthy take the lions share of that focus.

    Jesus helped me with noting that I’m not judge, I’m going to suffer by not letting go, and I certainly will have a log in my eye as I pick at others.

    A thoughtful comment was forwarded to me, that I could “thank” our Lord for these thoughts and cynicisms. I might be grateful that I have this struggle to let go. There-in may be an answer to letting it go. It’s a good idea, by someone a little older and more into thought than I have had time to be.

    Then to tie this into the sermon, I thought about how I have very often desired to show abstenence toward the marketing of Christmas season. I’ve nearly always equated this to low disposable income and then guilt that I may be a “Scrooge”. I’ve always felt the pleasure of giving.

    I often give to people who appear needy. Especially those I think are living on the streets. But, I include charities when I can. I think I have a giving nature, because I get more from it, and feel a bit undeserving of gifts. That’s complicated, but it isn’t all altruism and part of it is flawed thinking.

    So, what’s it going to be, give, receive, don’t allow either and only give to the most needy? The last appeals to me greatly. But, here in lies the torment of such motivations. Others, who don’t think like this may feel put out. May feel it’s ridiculous and offensive. These will be some members of family, who have a bit of influence.

    But, I’ve an idea. I haven ‘t any money anyway. So, what little I do get toward a gift for my six year old, I’ll discuss the option to give it to “Water for Haiti”. I like that idea very much. Very much indeed.

  2. Jim LePage says:

    Hey Rick – Good point about some folks thinking that a gift on behalf of them is “ridiculous and offensive.”

    We want gifts to be given out of love and don’t want to needlessly offend anyone, so we’ve asked folks to use their best judgment about whether or not their loved ones would appreciate something like this as a gift.

  3. Yurix K says:

    What a great sermon! Really appealed to me both historically and personally. I love what Bono says about raising funds for developing countries: “It’s not about charity, but justice”. Let the kingdom come!

  4. Jeff says:

    The validity of The Word and passion that inspires you is so refreshing and liberating. Another sermon that I`m truly blessed to hear. Thank You and God Bless!

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