The Scandal of Christmas

It’s nothing new.

As I sat listening to my husband preach on Sunday (yes I do listen!) about Jesus loving all people and how we should follow His example, I was struck by the whole scandalous nature of Christmas. It’s nothing new. People have written and preached lots, on the scandal of Christmas over the years. I am probably not telling you something you don’t know but these were some thoughts that came to mind about loving all, even those you don’t like, and the scandal of Christmas.

Some people think it’s appalling that Christmas has been hugely commercialized. They are offended by Santa Claus and the whole secular version of Xmas. Others are scandalized by the fact the world is trying so hard to take Christ out of Christmas. Happy Holidays! (As if anyone can really take Christ out of Christmas!) These are concerns for sure but the real scandal of Christmas lies with the one who created it.

The whole nativity story is ripe with scandal. For some of us, we know the story inside and out, but let’s not let the well known facts get in the way of the actual story and real meaning of the birth of Christ.

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I’m sure Mary’s claim to have been visited by an angel after four hundred years of silence, raised a few eyebrows. Scandal doesn’t even begin to describe Mary’s pregnancy in a day and age when she could have been stoned for such a crime. The Nazareth gossips were probably in a tizzy trying to get all the salacious details. A pregnancy outside of marriage brought shame down on not just Mary, but everyone she loved.

Joseph had the “right” to divorce Mary. He was an innocent party in all this. But God asked him to give up those “rights” and marry Mary. God asked Joseph to raise and love the God child, a son who wasn’t his own. It was outrageous God would even ask that of Joseph. What would people think?

The thing that shouts loudest to our selfish “you’ve got rights” society today, is the scandal of God asking Joseph to give up his “rights”. Rights to divorce Mary. To lead a normal life. Joseph, in view of the world, could walk away, scandal-free. He chose not to. Instead he dived right into the mess. Joseph obeyed God rather than claiming his “rights”. It’s downright scandalous in today’s society that someone give up their rights and privileges.

The bigger offense? God isn’t concerned about our rights and privileges. He’s more interested in our hearts and our eternal future. What would have happened if Joseph had claimed his rights and walked away? Oh God would have taken care of Mary and His Son. Another way would have been provided. But what would have happened to Joseph? It’s a sobering thought.

Then there were the shepherds. Wasn’t it an affront to the religious leaders of the day that they were the ones who received the news first of the new born Saviour? These guys were the lowest of the low in society. Yet they witnessed one of the grandest shows in the sky this earth has ever seen. And then they got to see the new born Saviour! It was more than any Jew could have asked for! Especially a shepherd.

It was not just a scandal but also a tragedy that Herod killed off so many children in his egomaniacal attempt to find the one who threatened his power.

It was scandalous that men from the far East came to worship this new King. Francine Rivers pointed out in her book, Unafraid, that they were probably Gentiles. I had never thought about that. It would have broken every rule for these men to step inside and be near the toddler King.

But the biggest scandal of a story ripe with black marks in the world’s view, is that God, the creator of the world, loved us so much that He gave up His one and only Son for us. He loved all. Mary. Joseph. Their families. The town gossips. The lowly shepherds. Herod. He sent Jesus to earth, to save us all, even those who wanted nothing to do with Him. Who wanted him dead. It’s still the same today. The scandal of the cross should rip our hearts apart because it represents the outrageous love He has for us. Because in the end, we are all the same. People who live in sin, hate, lust, apathy, etc. We are no better or worse than anyone else. He loves us all. As we are. It’s scandalous.

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This Christmas will we accept His scandalous gift of love?

New Insights From An Old Story

My Mom passed me a book the other day on Mary.  Unafraid by Francine Rivers.  It’s a novella about the mother of Jesus.  It’s biblically based but there is some literary license to fill in some gaps.

I like the title.  It’s not a characteristic that we normally associate with Mary, at least I don’t.  We think, wrongly, how perfect she must have been.  How holy.  How meek and mild.  I think we’d all agree that Mary was definitely a woman after the heart of God and lived a holy and righteous life.  She bore a perfect son but she wasn’t perfect.

Was she meek and mild?  Humble yes, but I don’t think she was any shrinking violet.  That’s just my opinion. Accepting God’s call to be the mother of His Son was going to be a hard journey.  God needed someone who was up for the job.  Full of faith.  Strong in the Lord’s strength.  Someone who wouldn’t let fear be her master.  I see this as I read the book.

Rivers brings some interesting points to light.  The gossip and scandal.  She indicates that it probably never really went away.  If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you can understand this concept.  There’s always that lifted eyebrow or whispered explanation whenever that person’s mentioned.  Mary and Joseph’s reputations were probably ruined.  Tainted, at the very least.  In that ancient society, how would you ever come back from it?

Rivers brings to the surface the danger that this small family was in at all times.  They had a physical enemy in Herod but also in the spiritual realm, Satan was watching and waiting for his chance to strike.  Did the danger ever really go away?

Reading Unafraid has caused me to stop and think much about things I thought I knew or took for granted.  What has really stood out for me is in the midst of all the danger, is God did not let the birth of His Son, the Saviour of the world, happen in secret.  Yes, it was a quiet birth in a cave.  No palaces or paparazzi.  But God still announced his birth.  As the shepherds crowd into the cave, Joseph says to Mary, “The Lord has announced Jesus’ birth, Mary.” (p. 32, Unafraid).

I’ve read the story so many times, it’s become mundane.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way.  The Angels’ song was a declaration of the birth of God’s Son to those who were seeking Him.  Who were willing to look for it.

The real WOW factor?  For me, even though there was a murderous king who wanted Jesus dead and Satan was on the prowl, God didn’t put this announcement on the back page.  He proclaimed the birth of His Son with a musical extravaganza that would beat any Broadway musical.  Not just an angel but a host of them. They shouted it from the skies.  No, God rejoiced in the birth of His Son and he let all who wanted to, know it.  Even Satan.  Herod may have been fooled but Satan knew exactly what was happening.

I was surprised as I read.  It’s fiction but it makes you think.  It makes you want to examine scriptures a little bit more deeply.  Take a second look.  As we mature in our faith, we need to really look at scripture and understand the context of many of the stories.  The historical context.  The religious context of what was happening.  They become so much richer when we know what’s really going on.  It expands our knowledge of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Our faith grows.

Mary, Joseph, Jesus.  Their lives weren’t easy.  Shouldn’t they have been?  I mean they were raising God’s son.  You’d think God would want to make it easy for them.  Wouldn’t He?

He didn’t.  Their lives were fraught with danger, pain and confusion.  Should we expect anything less?  God doesn’t run from a battle.  From danger.  From a mess.  But He doesn’t make us go it alone either.  He never took His eyes off of His Son or Mary and Joseph.  He is present.  Even in the danger.  The mess, the fear or the confusion.  Don’t back away from it.  God is right there in the middle of it.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

 

PS (If you have a little extra time this season, get a copy of Unafraid by Francine Rivers.  You won’t regret it.)  

 

The Celebration of Christmas

Two weeks until Christmas.  Are you freaking out yet?  I am not. That’s not to brag.  It’s more a statement of pleasant surprise.

Other years I was overwhelmed and ready to hide out somewhere.  It’s not that this Christmas season is any different.  In fact I am planning a birthday party for next week.  The.week.before.Christmas.

My youngest celebrates his birthday the day before New Year’s Eve.  We haven’t done many birthday parties, in part because of it being in December.  This year I got on it instead of procrastinating.  My son is low key. He just wants a few friends over to eat pizza and watch a movie.  I can handle that!  I was tempted to make it an over the top affair but that wasn’t what he wanted.  Frankly, it would have stressed me out.  So we went with low key.  Low key, I can do.

I’m learning that low key is okay.  Low key is better than nothing.  I used to do nothing because I couldn’t do it perfectly.  I’ve learned that perfect is a hard task master.  He’s been booted out.  Instead low key, not perfect, is perfectly fine. 🙂

It’s still busy this Christmas.  Last week got a little too chaotic for me and I was near freaking out.  Which is why we learned that boundaries are a necessity for our family.  It’s part of our low key way of life.  So although it’s busy it’s not breaking us!

We’re doing a little advent activity this year but again, low key.  (Also not a brag statement.)  I bought this book a few years back when the boys were little.   It’s called The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel.  I never used it.  It was one more thing to do and I couldn’t do one.more.thing.

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This year I have room for this one thing.  I sat down and looked at it and decided it was perfect for us.  I’m not doing all the little extras.  There are some days we just read and talk about it.  I don’t feel guilty either.  I was tempted but then I remembered that I had booted perfectionism to the curb.  A few days we’ve done the extra little activity.  It’s a mix of low key and full out celebration.  Without the pressure.  Because celebration can be both toned down or full out.  Neither is right or wrong.  They’re just different.  Like each of us.  We were given the Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Christ.  In our hearts, minds and physical beings.

Lisa Whelchel writes; “I recently learned that celebrating Christmas is not far from the heart of God, either.”  She wanted to teach her children the true meaning of Christmas and thought she had to change her ways. This was His reply to her prayer.  “I was caught off-guard when He simply replied, “Don’t do anything differently. Look in the middle of the celebration and you will find Me.”

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Thank you Pinterest!

 

I loved this.  It freed me to celebrate in ways that I could handle.  It freed me to find joy in the festivities. Sometimes it feels like you have to be Scrooge to be Christian enough to experience the true meaning of Christmas.  Instead of celebrating, I’ve felt guilty for many reasons.  The Christmas spirit got trampled in the “I didn’t do’s”, the “I should’ves” and the “I can’t’s”.  I don’t think God ever intended for Christmas to be about that!

This year is different.  With the help of this little book and permission (which I gave myself) to celebrate how I want to, we are enjoying all aspects of Christmas.  The book gives a little history on the things we love about Christmas.  Lights, trees, greeting cards, etc.  Guess where most of it comes from?  Men and women of faith who wanted to honour God in some special way.

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Whether it’s small and quiet or full of noise and laughter, Christmas is about celebrating the greatest, costliest gift ever.  It’s about gratitude, praise and honouring God in a special way that unique to each of us. Low key or not.

Mary’s Faith

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.    Luke 1:45

Reading my Advent Devotional by Margaret Feinberg this morning, I came across this verse.  It burned into my mind.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, was exceptional.  Told she would have a child, although she was a virgin and he would be the Son of God, she did not freak out.  She was troubled and she asked for clarification.  Which is different from doubting.

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Zechariah, who was married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, was much older than Mary and a priest no less, doubted the angel’s words that his wife, who was beyond childbearing years, would have a son.  He did not believe what the Lord told him would be accomplished.  He saw only impossibility.

I wish I could say I’m like Mary but it’s Zechariah that I mirror.  It’s that last part of the verse that’s the kicker for me.  I can believe in God but honestly I don’t always have faith that what He has said will be accomplished.  Instead I feel confident that some parts of what he said will happen.  I readily accept that it won’t come about like I thought or hoped.  Which is a cop out for me because then I don’t have to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

Oh I believe in the big stuff.  Salvation.  Forgiveness.  It’s the little mundane stuff that I have trouble with. The individual visions, he’s given us.  Callings that he’s asked us to pursue.  My faith is weak on this point.

Sometimes God works in the ways I’ve described.  We get to see pieces of the pie but not the whole thing.  He doesn’t give us an answer to our “why”.  Other times he does.  He works in mysterious ways.  Ways that we don’t understand and things come about very different from we imagined they would.  Better than we could have dreamed. Other times we need to change our perception and accept a new way that we certainly didn’t think or want to occur.

None of this is bad.  We can never perceive how God works.  He is the creator of the universe.  He sees things that we don’t and never will.  He is God.  The issue is my attitude.  Is it yours?  We doubt so we won’t be disappointed.  We’re skeptical because we’re too afraid of what will happen if it is accomplished.  We sabotage our faith.  What would our lives look like if we truly believed that what God said to us would be accomplished?

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Mary had faith in God.  She believed he would be as good as his word.  It carried her through some extremely tough times.  To the birth of Christ and then onto the cross.  I think in some ways Mary knew that what God said would be accomplished, went way beyond nine months.  Maybe that’s where the fear comes instead of faith.  We know that what God has told us is more than an event, it’s going to go on for years.  It may be painful.  We don’t want that to be accomplished.

But the alternative?  Zechariah doubted and was mute until John was born.  Why mute?  Maybe Zechariah needed to be silent so he could observe God at work.  Become more in tune with him so that he would believe God. Period.  Not being able to talk would give one a very different perspective on life!

Is our skepticism causing some kind of muteness in our lives?  Maybe it’s missing out on a deeper relationship with God.  Maybe doubt is causing other things to become silent because there’s no faith there to keep them alive.  Or it could be they are muted because we need to hear God before and more than anything else.

Maybe what God told us He was going to do has become an idol.  It’s about the endgame not about the God who will do it.  We have focused on the result instead of letting the journey there bring us closer to the Father.

The Father, who sent His Son, the salvation of the world, so that we could have relationship with Him.  This is what it’s all about.  He set out to have relationship with us.  Doubt holds us back.  Belief draws us close.

Be not afraid, only believe.  Mark 5:36

 

Where Advent and Christmas Really Reside

About this time of year, I usually feel like a failure.  Advents and Christmases past, have passed me by like a race car, leaving me in their little wisps of dust.  Gone before I could even get a handle on it.

For many years, I haven’t enjoyed the Advent or Christmas season.  I felt overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing.  I felt guilty about all the stuff I wasn’t doing.  So I didn’t do much of anything.  Overlaying it all, was a general sense of anxiety that it was never gonna change.

I wanted to enjoy these momentous days of advent, and Christmas.  Instead it felt more like an endurance test.  Just get through it.  Hopefully in one piece.

If you’re feeling like you’ve already behind with advent or you’re too tired to even think about it, I want to let you know you aren’t alone.  It’s okay.  Jesus did not come to enslave you to a rigorous advent or Christmas schedule.  Buying a chocolate advent calendar with Disney characters on it, won’t cost you your salvation or make you a bad mom.  Baking one batch of sugar cookies (not iced!) and calling it your Christmas baking is fine.

These got iced but many years they did not!
These got iced but many years they did not!

My mother always tells me there are seasons in life.  I appreciate this bit of wisdom more now, because there are times when the kiddos are teeny or busy or are in crises regardless of age, that take over Advent or any holiday.  There are years where we are too tired emotionally, spiritually or physically to do much more than the bare minimum.  All is not lost.  Jesus came for those of us who do not have it all together too.

It’s great to be able to celebrate in style but it’s not necessary to experiencing Christmas or more importantly, having a rich relationship with Christ.  He totally understands where we are at.  What’s really going on in our homes, our emotions, our spirits.  He doesn’t need all the fussy decorations, the elaborate cookie trays, to speak to us.  Some years slapping a tree up and buying some presents are all we can manage.  Does that mean Christmas is a bust?

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No.  Christmas happens in our hearts regardless of all the other events going on.  You can do up your house, have people in to visit, drink eggnog and read an advent reading all twenty-four days and you still miss Christmas.  Still feel empty.  Christmas belongs to God and if you miss Him, you miss the point.  God is all about our hearts.  Where they are focused.  He’s not about appearances.  Good or bad.  Decorated or not decorated.

If you are barely hanging on, grab hold of Him this season.  He can do the impossible in our lives, offering hope that things can change.  He was the good news over two thousand years ago.  He is still that today.

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For the first time in many years, I have some clarity.  My brain fog has cleared.  Over many months even a year, things changed.  I changed.  I have taken a few steps away from the bare minimum.  Amid the busyness, I found the energy to plan some Advent activities.  Nothing elaborate.  I was tempted but I kept it simple. And I did it!  It hasn’t been a chore.  It’s been a joy.  In doing so, there is the truth and hope that seasons and lives can change.  For the better.  That life in abundance, which is being present and living rather than standing in it’s dust, is possible.

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Whether it’s about surviving the holidays or embracing as much as you can, I pray your heart will find hope and a sense of home in the One who gave us Christmas because He loves us unconditionally, whatever season of life we find ourselves in.