Friday, December 16, 2011

Offended by Christmas

Can Christmas still change the world?  This is the question that pastors Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder ask in their book, and now church phenomenon Advent Conspiracy.  Can Christmas still change the world?  I believe that this is a very valid question, especially in our culture.  Because of the media glut, we have the ability to expose ourselves to the Christmas controversy in America.  Is it Christmas or X-mas, should we say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, and the like?  Is it lawful, right, or even evangelical to have or not have nativity scenes publically displayed at churches or court houses?  Amongst all of the fighting and controversy, I think we lose sight of this essential question, can Christmas still change the world?  I would venture to say that those who champion the right to say "Merry Christmas" at the local Wal-Mart or tote a nativity in the local park believe that it is in this way that Christmas will impact our culture.  And yet, I'm not so sure that God's vision of a world reconciled to Him involves heated debates over these issues, or territory claiming espoused by the Christian groups supporting these causes.

Christmas can change the world, but not the Christmas that the church tends to celebrate which straddles the line between sacred and secular.  Christmas can change the world because it is anti-cultural, it is anti-empire, it is offensive. 

When we think about Christmas, what is it that comes to mind; Thoughts of peace and joy, happiness, family, and a cute little baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, right? 

 We’ve tamed down the Christmas story so that it can be appropriate for children’s books and nativity scenes, but in doing so, I think that we’ve missed the grittiness of what really happened.  It wasn’t all that silent, peaceful, or cute.  The Christmas event was offensive to the New Testament culture and it is to our culture today. 

The event was offensive to people at the time.  Think about it; the son of God, Emmanuel, who was supposed to come as a warrior king to rescue His people from the Romans was born illegitimately to an unmarried 16 year old girl. Because they could not be housed properly in any kind of room for the birth, they were forced to have the son of God in a cave filled with stinky animals and I imagine a pretty good amount of animal poop. 

And it was there, in this cave-stable, surrounded by animals and dirty straw, with her husband and presumably no midwife, two kids with no experience in childbirth, gave birth to a baby boy, the son of God.  There was no epidural, there were no faucets with hot water and anti-bacterial hand soap, and they certainly weren’t wearing scrubs.  There was screaming, there was sweating, there was blood.  Then, when Jesus was finally born, they placed him in a manger.  A manger, for those that don’t know, is a feed trough, usually made out of wood or carved out of stone.  It would’ve been filled with whatever food that the animals had been half-munching on all day, though Joseph probably cleared that out. 

And then, who were the first people that came to visit the baby savior on the night of his birth.  Not priests, not kings or dignitaries, not angels or heavenly hosts.  A group of homeless, dirty shepherds, who camping in fields nearby crowded into the cave with Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the animals to worship at the feet of the savior.  I imagine that the stench in that space rose exponentially upon their arrival. 

Around the same time, a traveling group of astrologers alerted Herod, the king, to the probability that the new king and savior of the Jews was being born.  And because Herod feared for his throne, he had all male babies up to two years old slaughtered. 

This might not be the precious story that comes to mind when you think about Christmas, but it’s what happened.  And it was offensive, which is why so many had a difficult time accepting Jesus as Messiah.

The Christmas event is still offensive today.  First of all, it speaks about God breaking in upon the established “empire” and creating his own kingdom, by way of a baby.  Herod was afraid, and rightly so, that his power was going to be usurped by a king and kingdom whose message of love was radically different than any existing kingdoms.

God’s kingdom is still breaking into the kingdoms of the world today.  It speaks a different word than any empires, including America, speak; a word of love, equality, and help for all those in need regardless of racial, ethnic, gender, or economic status.   

We live in a capitalist, democratic society that controls a good portion of the world’s wealth.  Culture has attempted to absorb Jesus’ message of love for the poor and marginalized into itself, saying that the Bethlehem Christmas night can sit alongside of Santa Clause and Black Friday and the need for more things.  And yet what did Christ do?  He threw the money changers out of the temple.  He said that man cannot serve money and God.  The empire of wealth cannot sit alongside of the empire of Christ.    

Culture teaches us that good Christmas memories and celebrations are proportionate to the gifts we purchase for one another; that, if we really love each other, we should be willing to go into debt to prove it.  And yet Scripture tells us that there is no greater love than this; that a man should lay his life down for his friends.

We have been taught, or have taught ourselves, in the church to walk the fine line between celebrating a worldly Christmas and celebrating a godly Christmas.  We want so badly to be able to celebrate Christ fully without sacrificing the traditional American Christmas.  Because we live in this culture and have been inundated by its message, Christmas is not only offensive to culture, but it is offensive to us as well. 

But being offended by the self-giving, self-sacrificing message of Christmas is the best thing that could happen to us because it is through this challenge that we can grow.  If we aren’t offended, then Christmas will never change us.  And if Christmas doesn’t change us, then it cannot change the world through us. 

"Can Christmas still change the world? 

Now you get to answer the question."  (AC)

So, as this season continues to approach, let's champion love instead of divisiveness, equality in goods instead of greed and a "I'm getting what's coming to me attitude, and grace to all, the wealthy, the middle class, the poor and marginalized, the sick, the dying, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gays, straights, liberals, conservatives, Evangelicals and Mainline, Catholics and Mennonites, those dying of AIDS through personal decisions and through no decision of their own.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."
-John 3:16

1 comment:

  1. Amen. The way that we choose to live out our lives, or in this case to celebrate the birth of our savior; says far more to an unbelieving, watching world than does our recitations of traditional doctrine/belief, or in this case the words, "Merry Christmas." While it may no longer be politically correct to say "Merry Christmas," many people will still choose to use this greeting whether or not they believe in the Christ to which the greeting refers. Yet few people will choose to live out the upside down/counter-cultural gospel that Jesus came to teach, live and ultimately die for unless they believe that He is the savior of the world and calls us to that life. It is only when we believe this that we may begin to choose to celebrate Christmas in more counter-cultural ways, ways that are more consistent with the Word that entered the world on that first Christmas so long ago.