This year has rattled many of us. I know in my own personal life I’ve had things, but there have also been sweeping things in our world and nation that have affected many of us. These kinds of events remind us that this world truly is broken, sinful, and in need of redemption. Of course, this isn’t news to us. We know that the world is broken. But this year has definitely left me wanting a Savior, and I started reflecting and wondering: what kind of Savior is Jesus? What are people told about him in the Nativity story? Of course, there are many prophecies about who he would be and we know more of the story and what he eventually did. But I wanted to look at what people were told about him at his birth.
The biblical account is quite short—and it’s not even all in one place. We actually have two parts (from Mark and Luke) of the story that we weave together to gain a fuller picture. But even that only takes up 3 chapters. No wonder we’re so familiar with it!
So in Luke, Mary is told, He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end. Mary gets ruler terminology.
The shepherds are told, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. So the shepherds get this general language of savior and messiah and joy—in essence, they're told something big is about to happen.
In Matthew, Joseph is told that Jesus will save his people from their sins, that he will be called Immanuel, God with us. Joseph gets personal language—he is with us and saves us.
The magi are told he is the king of the Jews, again getting ruler, even government, terminology.
King Herod is told about the prophecy that says Jesus will be a ruler who will shepherd my Israel. This is an interesting mix of ruler language and caring language—perhaps a personal note to call out his own kind of ruling.
And that’s it. That's the whole story.
So many of these descriptions tell us the future—he will rule, he will save, he will shepherd. And so, it’s no wonder that we, especially in Western cultures, focus on the one who is coming, who will set things right in the future.
This future-focus makes sense to us. In reality, we go through much of life without thinking about the fact that our world desperately need redemption. Yes, we all have moments and relationships and situations that clearly remind us that things are not as they should be. But for the most part, we live pretty normal, good lives. We live in a country with relative freedom. We have a government that, even with its flaws, has checks and balances to prevent it from becoming like the dictatorships and monarchies that our families and ancestors fled. Not many of us will wonder if there will be food on the table tonight or whether we’ll have a home to go to. And even if we do, there are programs that, again, even with their flaws, are set up to help in those cases. What I’m saying is that our lives, while definitely still lived in a broken world, often slip by in relative simplicity and peace. And so, when we think of the Savior being born to us, we in Western culture tend to emphasize the superior ruler to come, the one who will use government to right things, the one who is coming—later.
But this year, I think, has been different. Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced something—whether personal or national or global—that made us turn to Jesus and say, You know, if you want to come back now, I’m totally fine with that.
We have been rattled enough to see that we do, in fact, desperately need Jesus and his kingdom. And I have found that our emphasis on the One who is coming, has left me wondering—is that all? We just sit here and wait for him while everything turns to ruin? Doesn’t he see us? Doesn’t he hear our cries? Doesn’t he know how desperately we need another way?
This is when I’m thankful that we get more good news about Jesus’ birth than simply what he will become, and what he will do. We also learn that he is Immanuel—God with us. Right now, in the present moment. We learn that he brings joy—right now, today.
This is why I think reading global theologians can be really helpful. They come at Scripture reading through a completely different lens, and they notice things we don’t always notice. Lately I’ve been reading African theology—specifically theology that comes from our brothers and sisters in Africa. What’s fascinating about their Christology—their theology about Jesus—is that it holds a more holistic view of Christ, emphasizing the personal, present Jesus. In fact, one author said that because the typical Western emphasis on the end of the age feels inadequate to their desperate, immediate needs, there has been a rise in charismatic faith. John S. Mbiti says that “To live here and now is the most important concern of African religious activities and belief. There is little concern with distinctly spiritual welfare of man apart from his physical. No line is drawn between the spiritual and the physical.”
African Christology talks about the conquering Jesus who overcomes evil forces and evil spirits right now. Jesus is a liberator, especially for African women who are doubly affected by poverty, disease, and oppression. African Christology talks about how Jesus empowers Christians to live life today with all its demands, that everything about our day is his business. Jesus is a comrade in suffering for a people who face immense physical suffering on a daily basis, constantly reminding them that suffering is not the plan of God. But most of all, Jesus is a lover of life—he loved life so much that he was willing to go through death to foster life for us all. In this way, anything that frustrates or stifles life—whether unjust laws, legalism, and toxic relationships—must be put to death, even now. Trusting God is not having faith for the future as much as trusting him to care for you today, and obeying him moment by moment as he works to right the world, yes even now.
The Savior we need today is this multi-faceted Jesus that not only is coming, but has come. He not only cares about our eternity, but our present. He is not only going to redeem, but is truly redeeming right now. He not only sees our suffering, but he suffers alongside us. He is effecting change right now—in our world, in us, and we must train our eyes to see. While this has not been a comfortable year for many of us, I for one am thankful that is has driven me to a deeper understanding of the present Jesus, and not just the “not yet” Jesus.
Today, take just a moment of silence for reflection: Who is the Savior you need today?
Amy Jackson is founder and director of The Perch.