In just a few days, an estimated 2 billion people in 160 countries – including 90 percent of all Americans – will pause to celebrate what they consider the most important holiday of the year: Christmas. Yet, as wars rage and refugees flee, as stocks tumble and nations crumble, as glaciers melt and protesters march in city streets, what hope is there that the message of Christmas, a baby born to bring peace to the earth, is still relevant?
Peace? What peace? You might ask. And does anyone still believe in a literal Jesus, anyway?
Musician and preacher Ben Pierce tackles this question in his new book, Jesus in the Secular World (Steiger Press, 2018). Pierce, who grew up outside the red-light district of Amsterdam with his missionary parents, writes passionately about the need to share the truth of Jesus in a way understood by young people – people who are often broken, lonely and filled with despair. Several decades ago, the author’s parents founded Steiger, an international ministry now based in Germany that combines music, drama and the arts to share Jesus in a way that is relevant to youth who’ve grown up in a culture largely devoid of religious experience.
More than a book about why the world needs the real Jesus, Pierce’s book calls Christians to action. “If there is anything I hope people get from this book,” Pierce writes. “It’s this: the need is overwhelming, and God wants to use everybody to make a difference.”
Pierce writes about young people who’ve attended his concerts in places like Brazil, the Ukraine, Beirut, Lebanon and Turkey and expressed a deep desire to know why they exist and whether their lives matter. “They are desperate for meaning but insist that they are products of chance,” says Pierce. “They are angry about injustice but refuse to accept any absolute truth. They borrow Christian concepts of morality, human value, and meaning without acknowledging the God in which these concepts are grounded.”
As church members, Pierce says, “We are often guilty of expecting non-Christians to come to us. We devise strategies and put together all sort of programs, inviting the “outside world” to our home turf—but it rarely works. Jesus didn’t spent the majority of his time in the synagogues or with the religious leaders, but on the streets with everyday people.”
“Far from calling us to avoid dark places and sinful people, Jesus wants us to be in the middle of the mess and to share his love with those who need it most,” he writes, drawing from his own experiences.
This is a challenging Gospel – one that dares people who say they believe in Jesus to step out of their comfortable sanctuaries and get to know people who are different from them, to stop hiding from the hate and destruction and pain that surrounds us and to find a creative way to show people who Jesus is and why he came. After all, as wonderful as Christmas is, Jesus didn’t stay in the manger. Neither should we.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Christmas Cradle, the first book in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series, is available now. Connect at www.meadowrue.com