I’ll never forget the first time I had the edible delicacy that is known in the south simply as ‘gizzards’. I was having dinner at my best friend’s house and the main dish was fried chicken. While I love chicken and will gladly eat it if it is on the bone I would much rather have it off the bone. To my taste-buds’ delight I saw on the tray of chicken sitting next to the bone-on chicken pieces a pile of chicken tenders and loaded my plate to tuck in and throw down in a serious fashion.
As dinner was progressing, my best friend’s grandmother looked at me in amazement and remarked, “You sure do love chicken gizzards, don’t you?” I replied to her that no, I do not like chicken gizzards at all. In fact, they are gross and I don’t know how people could possibly enjoy eating them knowing where they come from on the chicken. She began laughing like crazy and informed me that I had been eating them like crazy for the last 20 minutes! At that moment I realized a very serious paradigm shift had occurred in my life; I really did love chicken gizzards!
See, I knew all about chicken gizzards; I knew what they did in the anatomy of the chicken, where they were located inside of the chicken, how they were cooked and served, and why many southerners enjoyed eating them. Yet, I had missed out on the most important part of them: the experience! I had a ton of head knowledge about them but I did not have any experiential knowledge because I had never actually bothered to try them. I formulated opinions and made judgments based on head knowledge but did not take experiential knowledge into account.
This is what many westerners have fallen into the trap of doing themselves; they think that because they have a ton of head knowledge about something that they are an expert on that topic. Or, even worse, that because they can do a quick internet search that they are experts in it. An overwhelming amount of information with easy access has made most Americans lose their trust in experts and think they are on par (if not better equipped) than the experts (see thjis Gallip study at http://www.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx for more information on this topic).
Sadly, this shift in thinking has led to the loss of desire for experiential knowledge. We think that knowing about something is to actually know something. I can know how to drive a standard transmission automobile but until I actually do so I cannot possibly be an expert at it. I can watch tons of cooking shows but until I actually get in the kitchen and execute the recipes myself I am never going to be a chef. Experiential knowledge is a prerequisite to mastery; it’s just that simple.
2,000 years ago, the religious leaders in Israel had done a similar thing with a totally different. They thought they knew exactly what the Messiah they were expecting would be like. They had studied and memorized the Scriptures, they had gathered together and discussed the matter with experts, and they had analyzed the signs and knew all prophesies concerning the Messiah. Yet, when he showed up they missed it. Instead, the Gospels tell us that only shepherds attended the birth of the King of kings and oriental magi came months later based off of astrological signs to see this ruler who had been born.
Where were the religious leaders? Where were the Pharisees with all of their memorization of the Scriptures? Where were the Sadducees with their generations of religious tradition handed down throughout the years? Where were the Essenes with their ascetics and holy guidelines for living? Where were the Scribes with their expertise in religious law? Where were all of the people who should’ve known everything about the Messiah? They, with all of their head knowledge, missed it completely.
Let me set the stage for you historically; remember, we always study the Bible in context. The Jews had been conquered by the Roman Empire. They were again subjugated to a ruling nation and were looking expectantly to a Messiah (which means ‘anointed one’) who would come and deliver them from their slavery and promote Israel back to its place of dominance over all the kingdoms of the world. They were looking to a conquering king who could come and bring them back to prestige as in the days of Solomon.
Yet God, as he always does, comes about in ways that most would consider wrong. He was born to a teenage carpenter and his disgraced fiancé. Mary had become pregnant and claimed she was still a virgin; she said the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, who based off cultural standards should have broken off the engagement, claimed an angel gave him a message saying Mary was right and that he would marry her anyway. Can you imagine the scandal? Everyone would have whispered that this was simply a cover for them not following Jewish law to not be intimate until after they were married. This would have made them outcasts and fodder for the rumor mills of the day.
Who would suspect that this scandalous situation was where the Messiah would come? This King of kings who would offer salvation and usher in the Kingdom of God was born not in a palace but in a manger. The one who would save millions was the child of two social outcasts whom society would have shunned. The man who would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, give hearing to deaf ears, and miraculously cure those who were deformed would not even be recognized by the religious leaders of the day. Instead, he would be born in a no-name town with shepherds worshipping him.
On top of this, God had been orchestrating events for over 4 centuries that would bring about the greatest religious revolution in history. After the Israelites refused to follow God and be obedient to His commandments (aka the Law of Moses), God allowed them to experience a split in their nation into two kingdoms (norther and southern), be conquered and enslaved by the Assyrians (in the northern kingdom) in 740 BC, and eventually completely conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians in 600 BC. The Babylonians were conquered by the Medio-Persian Empire in 540 BC who were, in turn, conquered by the Greeks in 334 BC who, in their turn, conquered by the Romans in 146 BC.
During all of this Israel had sat patiently waiting for the prophesies of a Messiah to come. In this time, while they must have felt lost, angry, and believed God had abandoned them, God was actually setting the stage. See, all of this cultural change had accomplished some very important things. After all of this had happened the people in the Roman Empire now spoke a common language (Koine Greek), had paved roads throughout the Empire, had free access to travel throughout the Empire thanks to the use of citizenship, and the Roman Empire brought about the period of peace known as the Pax Romana 27 BC to 180 AD.
All of this gave rise for the birth and spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. In the 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection (circa 30 AD to 60 AD) the Christian faith had spread throughout the Roman Empire. Because the Assyrians and Babylonians had spread the Israelites all across their perspective empires (known as the ‘diaspora’) there were Jews living all over the Empire which, when the Gospel was taken by the Apostles across the Empire, led to the rapid spread of the Faith. Since there was peace in the Empire for over a century after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith spread like wildfire across the Empire and in less than 300 years it would become the national religion of the Roman Empire.
This is the context in which the coming of the King would take place in. This is the atmosphere where the Messiah would be born into. This is the story that would be told by millions across the millennia as the way God would restore a right relationship with humanity again and offer salvation to all who would place total trust in Jesus the Christ. Unlikely? You bet. Is this the way God loves to operate? No doubt.
Consider what the Apostle John had to say about Jesus years after Jesus’ resurrection:
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.  This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us.  We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. (1 John 1:1-4 NLT)
Even this testimony came from a man who once was a professional fisherman; yet, Jesus called him told him he would teach him how to fish for people instead. Jesus followers were not all PhDs and academics; they were the social outcasts and those whom most would consider unworthy of following a great rabbi. Here we see the very crux of the Christmas story: God uses the most unremarkable ways to the most incredible things.
Think about it; for most, a king would never be born in a no-name town to social cast-offs. Yet, God chose to use this to bring out his long-awaited Messiah. The greatest teacher in history would not be a radial rabbi who possessed no academic pedigrees or social standing but God chose a carpenter’s home to be where Jesus would be raised. And the most amazing of all, God chose the most despised method of capital punishment to be where salvation would come and would be offered to all people in all nations if they were willing to place total trust in Jesus.
This is the message John was getting at; God used an unlikely situation to show his greatness. He put on flesh and lived among us and died the death we should’ve died for our disobedience (cf. John 1). John saw His greatness, touched the one who was God in skin, witnessed the sacrifice that would pay for our sins, and saw Jesus risen from the dead. The coming of the King took place in ways head knowledge would never predict yet created an act of love so great that we share this ‘good news’ (what the word Gospel means) thousands of years later.
What does all of this mean? Why am I rambling on about all of these things? Because head knowledge about Christmas can easily overshadow the experience of it. I’m not talking about the bright lights, snuggly sweaters, ornaments, stockings, and the like. I’m talking about the real reason we celebrate Christmas. We don’t celebrate this holiday as an excuse to put presents underneath a tree; we celebrate it because God has placed eternity in our hearts and Jesus is the only way to fill that hole. He alone offers the gift of salvation. Christmas is not a celebration of a couple of weeks off of school but of the King who came to Earth to give us the greatest gift of all: a right standing again with God.
Here is my encouragement to you for this first week of the Christmas season: don’t let your head knowledge take away from experiencing God. Look to experience his love in ways you may have let pass you by so far this year. Instead of looking to get let’s find ways we can give. Instead of looking to fill our bellies lets fill our hearts with His joy. Instead of trying to hustle and bustle throughout the season let’s take time to rest in His goodness and mercy. Instead of seeking our own kingdoms why don’t we take another look at his Kingdom and try to bring it from Heaven to Earth.
Remember that the coming of the King meant that God has brought about a reconnection to Him and a way to have a right standing in his sight once more. The Kingdom of God is about seeing people come to know Him in a mighty, personal, and amazing way. This Christmas, please don’t let the knowledge of the holiday distract you from experiencing it. Let’s now, more than ever, work through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the Kingdom in the lives of everyone we come into contact with. Let’s give them the best Christmas present we could ever give: the Gospel. That God loved us so much that he came in flesh to die the death we should’ve died so that we can experience forgiveness and have personal relationship with Him.
Let’s make Christmas more than just another holiday; let’s make it a celebration of the coming of the King by us bringing his Kingdom.