Most of the Christmas evangelism that I have seen (and have participated in) here in Thailand has focused on the birth narrative of Jesus. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men have all had prominent parts. However, when I helped out with a Christmas outreach at the Phrabaht Nursing College the other day, Pastor Jareun of the PhraBaht church took a different approach to the Christmas story and I think he may be onto something.
Instead of starting with the angel visiting Mary, Pastor Jaruen started with God creating the world. Then he moved on to talk about Adam and Eve, the fall into sin, the wickedness of the human heart, the judgment of God, and our inability to save ourselves. Therefore, the need for Christmas: the need for God to send a Savior to rescue us from sin. After briefly mentioning Jesus’ birth (and entirely skipping over Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men), Pastor Jareun went on to give a couple illustrations of how we are unable to save ourselves and need a savior (bridge illustration and boat illustration).
If he hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have thought about doing Christmas evangelism without including the birth narrative of Jesus as the primary part of the message. However, if the audience is starting from almost zero in terms of Biblical worldview, the better place to start is certainly the story of creation and the fall. In telling about the reason for Christmas, namely the birth of Jesus, there is no obligation to tell the nativity story in detail. And if time is limited, it may even be best to do what Pastor Jareun did, skipping the nativity story, giving a brief overview of the larger Biblical narrative, and thus establishing the reason why Jesus had to come.
In Thailand, Jesus is largely perceived as merely a moral teacher and the founder of a religion, much like Buddha or Mohammed. If that’s the idea that people have about Jesus, and they are willing to listen to what Christians have to share at Christmas time, it is a great opportunity to try to put a different idea in their heads about the significance of Christmas. Christmas celebrations often include Santa Claus, presents, trees, and lights but it is not about any of those things. And it is not even about the birth of the founder of a religion. It is about the birth of a Savior from sin and judgment. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21).
Pastor Jareun made an excellent decision in focusing on creation, sin, judgement, and salvation instead of angelic visitation, shepherds, and wise men. If the goal of Christmas evangelism is to tell the reason for Jesus’ birth, this approach seems much more likely to create Biblical understanding about Jesus Christ in the minds of listeners, rather then a focus on the birth account.