It’s the most wonderful time of the year …
There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy …
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight …
‘Tis the season to be jolly …
Whether you’re listening to Christmas songs or watching those heartwarming holiday movies or even perusing the mall this time of year, you’re bound to sense the underlying message about what this season is supposedly all about. Beneath the ringing bells, twinkling lights and gauzy layers of fake snow, it seems you are being pitched a certain set of feelings – a brand of nostalgia, sweetness and sentimentality that comes around only in December.
As much as I’m a fan of those Currier and Ives moments, I have to wonder if they have anything in common with that first Christmas in Bethlehem.
When I look at the story with fresh eyes, stripping it from the context of children’s pageants and cherubic nursery school scenes, it strikes me that the arrival of the Messiah must have felt anything but sentimental and sweet at the time. In fact, the theme that seems to run consistently throughout the story of His birth is almost the opposite; it’s pure scandal.
People were expecting a king in all his glory, with pomp, power and political clout. They never thought He’d arrive in a way that was so commonplace, so ordinary … so scandalous.
The scandal of the unwed teen mother
Like it or not, we care what other people think about us. Perhaps that’s why scandal bothers us so much – we are desperate for the approval of others. And yet when God planned for the arrival of His Son, He didn’t seem overly concerned with the buzz it would create.
He could have chosen a respectable couple – a married couple – to be Jesus’ earthly parents. He could have found a family with money or prestige or political savvy. But in an unlikely and even unsettling move, He chose a girl of no earthly significance – a girl who was unmarried and likely no older than a teenager. God was simply more concerned with her heart than what the world thought. And when He called her to the daunting task of carrying His Son, her heart was where I want mine to be too.
She responded simply, “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38).
The scandal of the birth announcement
When big News breaks, the first people to know are usually the bigwigs – celebrities, media outlets, kings, presidents – in short, people of worldly consequence. But when Jesus, God’s own Son, broke the barrier of heaven, the first people to know were not the political or religious leaders of the day. Instead, the angels gave the News to a group of ragamuffin shepherds who were considered to be low class citizens and, therefore, insignificant in society. The wonderful, scandalous part of this announcement is that it’s not just the high and mighty who have access to the News about Jesus. We need only to be available, like the shepherds, and willing to seek Him, like the wise men (Luke 2; Matthew 2).
The scandal of the family tree
If it were up to me to decide which family line the Messiah should be born into, I suppose I’d look for the most squeaky-clean heritage I could find. There’s no such thing as a perfect family, of course, but I’d at least make sure it was a lineage not marred by scandal. But it turns out that my idea was far from God’s strategy.
Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1 is tainted by prostitution (Rahab), adultery (David and Bathsheba), deceit (Jacob), and family dysfunction (Judah and Tamar). A scandalous genealogy, to be sure. But it gives hope to the rest of us who come from messy family lines and who are a mess ourselves. If God could use the likes of Jesus’ ancestors to bring about the birth of the Savior, surely He can use us, too.
The scandal of the delivery room
In preparation for the birth of a king, let alone the King of the universe, you would expect the best of everything – the best doctors, the best hospital, the best technology, the best care. And once the royal baby was born, you’d expect the finest palace, the most expensive gifts, the priciest clothes. But when it came to the arrival of the King of kings, He was offered none of those luxuries. In fact, He didn’t even have a real roof over His head. The One who fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies was born in a primitive cave for animals, laid on a mattress made of straw and wrapped in strips of rags. Scandalous, perhaps, but Jesus’ lowly birth proves to be an encouragement for those of us who were born into less-than-royal conditions as well.
The scandal of Immanuel
When we think about scandal, our minds typically go to someone respectable, who had a previously good reputation and then entered a shady place – a place they didn’t belong, the last place in the world you expected to find them.
And if that’s the case, then perhaps the biggest scandal of Christmas is the scandal of the Incarnation – that Jesus gave up His divine privileges – took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being (Philippians 2:7).
Who could have guessed that a perfect, divine Being would plant Himself directly in the messiness of humanity? Who could have imagined that the Holy One would break through the barrier of heaven and enter our broken world?
Such is the scandal of Christmas. And such is the beauty of Christmas. Immanuel – God with us.
You can reach Stephanie Voiland at [email protected].