“Daddy, when it gets close to Christmas, I get all these warm feelings.” My daughter was trying to explain why she loves the Christmas season. She was describing the sum of Christmas for many people — a time of pleasant memories and eager expectations.
When we read the Bible, however, another view of Christmas stands in contrast to our warm feelings. The biblical Christmas is a story of scandal.
An unwed mother. A family with no place to stay. Humble laborers honored by an angelic visit. Gentiles worshiping a Jewish Messiah. Babies murdered by a jealous king.
Yet we have sanitized the scandal of Christmas and replaced it with trite platitudes and “merry” sayings.
What would happen if we spent some time reflecting on the scandalous nature of the Christmas story?
Perhaps, if we considered the social tensions Mary faced as a pregnant unwed mother, we wouldn’t judge single mothers.
Perhaps, if we thought about the fact that Mary and Joseph had to take shelter with farm animals to bring Jesus into the world, we might be more welcoming of those who don’t have a home and more supportive of those who lack access to good medical care.
Perhaps, if we considered that lowly shepherds were the only people God invited to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we might embrace others as family in Christ regardless of their social status.
Perhaps, if we considered that it was Gentiles from another land who brought gifts to Jesus, and that the Jewish king was a genocidal dictator, we might be willing to forge deeper loyalties than those of culture, nation or race. We might allow people who are “different” to lead us to Jesus in worship. We might disavow the world’s systems of nationalism, religious prejudice and racial discrimination.
Perhaps the biggest scandal of Christmas for us is that the biblical stories have become so familiar we fail to notice the scandals.
When we step back to observe how the Christmas of Scripture subverts our assumptions of propriety and piety, we begin to realize we don’t see the world the way God does.
God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus knowing her situation and what it would mean for her.
Jesus didn’t seem to mind being born in a barn.
God chose the shepherds to hear the angelic song and go to worship the Christ — followed by foreigners with strange customs.
God wept with the mothers who mourned their infants massacred by Herod’s henchmen.
I am thankful for the scandal of Christmas because it points us to the scandalous love of God. Without this incredible and undeserved grace, I don’t think I would ever have found a home in the church.
As we learn to accept this scandalous love, God’s extravagant gift becomes the model for how we ought to live in relation to others.
Perhaps this Christmas, we and our churches need to be more scandalous. To love those deemed unlovable. To spend time with those the world despises.
After all, none of us could belong to the family of God if not for the scandalous love of Jesus.
Kevin Wiebe is senior pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, an Evangelical Mennonite Conference congregation in Coatsworth, Ont., and the author of Faithful in Small Things (Herald Press).