The birth story of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Luke, is rich with inspiration for mission, says Paul Thaxter, director of international mission at Church Mission Society.
Gender and poverty
Luke’s infancy account is very different to Matthew’s, for in Luke Mary, not Joseph, is the hero, and the poor shepherds witness the birth of Jesus, not the wealthier foreign priests.
Luke has a way of emphasising the significant and vital role of women in mission (whether men recognise that or not).
He also describes the poor as both recipients and proclaimers of the good news. It was Mary and Joseph who offered up the sacrifice of the very poor in the Temple with two small doves. Mission should mean good news to the poor.
The mission of Jesus is also inextricably bound up with the work of his Spirit. This itself is in contrast to the past spiritual drought in Israel.
The emphasis on the Holy Spirit is seen in how the Spirit moves in the baby John (the Baptist), Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Simeon. Luke notes that as Jesus was being baptised the Spirit descended – this was the main action to recognise.
We so need the Holy Spirit in our mission.
Another emphasis is a recovery of prophecy and the portrayal of Jesus as God’s prophet. Mission always has an edge and is not easily domesticated or tamed. As the Spirit of God is given the Word of God is released in very liberating ways. Supremely in Jesus but also in everyday lives.
It seems the prophets are on the move again, linked clearly to God’s prophetic work in the past.
Look at the poetic songs that burst out of the text in Mary, Zechariah, the angels and Simeon. It seems both heaven and earth get filled with new songs, and so do we, as we allow Jesus to live in our lives. Jesus gets us singing a new song, which brings joy into a life lived on a prophetic edge.
Each of these songs have found their way into the ancient liturgies of the church around the world, known in Western Christianity as the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis and the opening of the Gloria. These are prayers for the world.
Throughout Luke, Jesus is seen as the man of prayer, so let us follow his disciplined lifestyle to pray for all nations. Mission is the outward response of a life bathed and breathed in prayer.
Revolution in the air
Luke distinctly talks of Jesus being the Saviour, in contrast to the claims of Caesar; an alternative rule has been set up.
In Luke angels divinely announce a Saviour has been born. Simeon sings that this will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles even before he mentions “and the glory of your people Israel”. Gentiles are equally included.
This is no sentimental carols round the crib and mince pies service (much as we may like them), but the whiff of revolution in the air, regime change.
From the heart of Isaiah, the promises to Abraham, David, Anna and Israel come songs for the world of a new order about to be born – Jesus, the Jewish Messiah but also the Lord of all.
The future, now
Mission is ultimately not about the way we do church, or even what background you are from, but more about how we respond to our Saviour Jesus who rescues all those who call on his name (Acts 2:21).
God seems much more concerned about where you are heading than where you have come from. Mission is always about bringing in the future reign of God now, so we share his new and living hope.
In my time with CMS I have truly seen each of these emphases of Luke played out in our lives together as we share in the mission of Jesus. I’m so thankful for all of our people in mission and their witness and testimony to the Christ child who offers all a new life of promise.