I'm involved in a missions trip to another part of my own country that starts two days after Christmas. Planning for the mission trip and planning for Christmas at the same time have gotten me thinking about the relationship between Christmas, ministry and mission. Certainly we are used to thinking about Christmas as an opportunity for ministry. That is valid and important. However, I think we often overlook the fact that the incarnation is what makes all of those things make sense.
If Christmas was just celebrating the birth of someone born an ordinary kid with an ordinary fallen human nature, then going on a missions trip (and most of our Christian activity) would make no sense. Even if the kid had grown up to have some great ideas or noble principles, it would still be largely dubious. There are lots of people who have managed that- a search for philosophy books alone on Amazon gets you 220,951 results. Add in the social sciences, various streams of religious thought and other fields pondering big questions and you have a lot of people with a lot of ideas. If all we had was more ideas to contribute, then why bother with most of what we do? Why would you make the sacrifices to go on a missions trip, to serve faithfully at Church or to contribute financially to mission just for the sake of an ordinary guy who who had some good ideas while living on a different continent a few thousand years ago? I'm sure everyone involved in some form of Christian service has other things they could be doing with their time and resources.
The fact that the first Christmas not simply a birth, but God incarnate entering the world makes all the difference. That God would come to us, not as a voice echoing from the heavens, but as a man who lived among normal people, experiencing their sorrows and joys, makes our effort have meaning. If Jesus was willing to go from heaven to earth with all that it entailed for our sake, then our going for his sake makes sense in a way it wouldn't if he'd just had good ideas. That holds true whether that be going to another country, another city or just going out of our comfort zones right where we are. That something so history shaking as God coming to dwell among us has happened, with such huge implications for ourselves and for everyone is something to sustain and motivate us when ministry gets tough as they inevitably will. Christmas rightly understood puts the inconveniences and sacrifices of following God's call into their right perspective.