Blog Entries

A Strategy Forged in Bethlehem

From the series Our China Stories

In this Nativity season we are again faced with the sheer incongruity of the Christmas narrative.

Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, becomes ground zero for a cosmic event that will forever alter the course of human history.

The King of Kings comes as a vulnerable baby, born into poverty, his arrival heralded not by a lavish entourage but by a ragtag company of shepherds, the outcasts of civilized society.

He through whom all things were created enters into his creation as a created being. He through whom all things hold together lies helpless in a feeding trough.

Recalling a Christmas Eve service at Saint Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, U2’s Bono writes,

The poetry and politics of the Christmas story hit me as if I were hearing it for the first time: the idea that some force of love and logic inside this mysterious universe might choose self-disclosure in the jeopardy of one impoverished child, born on the edge of nowhere, to teach us how we might live in service to one another is overwhelming.

Its eloquence is overwhelming. Unfathomable power expressed in powerlessness….

Inexpressible presence choosing to be present not in palace but in poverty.1

The vulnerability, powerlessness, and utter dependence that characterize Christ’s coming appear in sharp contrast to the strategies often employed by his followers as they seek to make him known in the world, including in China.

At times these strategies have assumed nearly unlimited opportunities and unfettered access.  They’ve relied on abundant resources applied in ways designed to produce maximum results. The cultural and economic aspirations of many in China have strengthened the position of those coming from abroad with the gospel, opening doors that might otherwise be shut.

The “Golden Age” of the past few decades seemed to validate these China strategies. Relative power, privilege, and prosperity make the impossible possible. It all just works.

Until it doesn’t.

Today we find ourselves in a very different era, one characterized by canceled visas, spotty Zoom connections, a cloud of suspicion, and regulations that curtail what were once the activities of everyday life.

Perhaps in the glow of Bethlehem’s star we can begin to see the sheer incongruity of the China narratives we had come to take for granted. The reliance on cultural or political influence, the ability to project power through financial resources, the desire to win, the need to make ourselves relevant—these belie our core identity as followers of Christ, “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”2

As Hannah Nation, managing director of the Center for House Church Theology, wrote recently:

To testify to its true nature, the church must be willing to give up all its rights as its master, Jesus, did….

Simon Liu [a Chinese house church leader] uses eucharistic imagery to highlight the Christians’ union with Christ and participation in his suffering. He describes this union with Christ with Jesus’s words to eat his body and drink his blood. By feeding on Christ, the Christian ingests and imbibes the Lord’s DNA, thus becoming one with him. Then, in union with Christ, the Christian becomes an offering to the world. As Christ allows his people to feed on him, they in turn allow the world to feed on them. Thus, the church’s primary apologetic to a world that believes it has come of age is its willingness to offer itself as a eucharistic gift on which the world may feed….

The strongest apologetic moments in history arrive when the church collectively suffers in order to testify to reality, either because the world has pressed it to that point or because the church has proactively given itself up on behalf of the world. As the house churches in China today remind us, the most important ingredient of the church’s public witness is a body of believers who willingly lay down their lives to testify to what God has revealed to us in his Son.3

“Have this mind among yourselves….”4

The manger of Bethlehem reminds us that the gospel is as much about how we come as what we come to do. Just as the manger only finds fulfillment in the suffering of the cross and the power of the resurrection, so our coming in vulnerability and weakness are met with the assurance that Christ’s redemptive purposes will be fulfilled, and God’s power revealed, in our lives.


  1. Bono, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2022), 512.
  2. Philippians 2:6-8.
  3. Hannah Nation, “Chinese Lessons in Apologetics: Learning from a Church Under Pressure,” Comment, December 7, 2023, accessed December 14, 2023,
  4. Philippians 2:5.
Share to Social Media
Image credit: Matt Seymour via UnSplash.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.