Study Guide: Christmas Beyond the Pattern

Sunday December 4, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

The pattern of Christmas is to buy gifts for people that usually are not needed items. In this sermon, we look at the book of James and how faith must be found in our actions to the poorest of the poor, and an alternative to the usual pattern of Christmas is given.

Extended Summary:

When it comes to Christmas, many of our stories surround Jesus and all of the good things he did. This is a good thing, but most of the time we overlook Jesus’ younger brother, James. Imagine for a moment that you’re the younger brother of Jesus. While some may call it a blessing, for those of us who have had overachieving older siblings, we know it can be a curse trying to live up to what our older siblings do. This was never truer than for James.

James’ becoming a servant to Jesus is testament to the validity of the resurrection. If the stories of Jesus were sensationalized or false, James would have been one of the first people to set the story straight. Yet, we see in the Bible that James bent his knee and called his older brother “Lord”. If you have an older sibling, you know how much it must have taken to make James believe in Jesus like this. And this is also why we see James saying that it takes more than information to follow Jesus. Following Jesus requires action.

We can’t merely listen to the word and not act. This can be convicting, even for Greg. He is sucker for information, and it’s his job to acquire information about God. He can easily fall into the trap of not acting on this information, or even worse, he can think that studying the information is enough without the sacrifice involved. The Gospel calls him to action, as it does to every follower of Jesus.

Main goal of gospel is not to get us to listen to a sermon every week. The main goal is that this information would lead us to action. Many that identify themselves as Christians do so because they go to church every week. Which is probably why there are so many statistics out there that Christians don’t live much differently than non-Christians. The information we learn should be like a mirror that we use to change our appearance. If we look into the mirror, but we don’t fix our hair or clean our face, then what’s the point of the mirror? In the same way, what’s the point of hearing the gospel if it doesn’t change our lives?

We are deceiving ourselves if we think Christianity is about gathering information. The Kingdom is about living a certain kind of life, a life aimed at helping others and not being polluted by the world. We must help those who cannot help themselves, the poorest of the poor. James calls them the widows and the orphans, because in the ancient world, these people had no way of supporting themselves. There were no social safety nets, which is why God called His people to take care of them.

The only kind of spiritual that is acceptable to God our Father is the kind in which listening to the word gets translated into caring for the poorest of the poor. This spirituality that God is asking for is the kind that rejects the pollution of the world (hoarding, greed, etc…) and instead aims to take care of the poor by sacrificing our own comfort. This is the law of love, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

When you live to bless others, YOU end up getting blessed. People get this idea twisted in today’s society. When we speak of blessings, we usually speak of our nice house, a car that runs, and food on our tables. Multitudes of Christians use this as the basis for saying that America is blessed, simply because we have more. Christmas is a time for many blessings right along these lines. Yet, James and the NT say the exact opposite. The true blessing is not with the recipient of the gift, it is with the giver.

The greatest joy of life is being able to sacrifice for others, serve others, and caring for others. And the greatest freedom is the freedom to do these things. It’s the freedom that the law of love gives us, not just to hear, but to act upon. It’s the freedom from the bondage and pollution of this world. As we head into this Christmas season, remember those that are poor and in need. Act upon this awareness of others, and be blessed by stepping up to help.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What are some of the stumbling blocks to helping the poor? When you think of blessings, what do you normally think of? How does this passage in James change the way you think of blessings?
  3. There are many studies saying that Christians are no different than the rest of the world in action. What are some concrete ways in which we can act differently, especially around this Christmas season?
  4. Take another look at James’ situation in life. What does his life say about the validity of the Gospel and how we should view the world?