CHURCH CORNER: Why would the story of the gospel have such an embarassing start?

By Mike Iverson

Rainier Hills Young Life

‘Tis the season to give gifts, the season to spread cheer, the season to “sing loud for all to hear,” the season to remember and the season to put up decorations, complete with a tree and lights. But above all, it is the season to celebrate! It is the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

As I looked at the nativity scene my wife and I have on a shelf at our house, this thought struck me, “How is it that such an insignificant, unglamorous event as a baby being born in a barn a couple thousand years ago is a basis for our society to change so drastically every December?”

Well, let’s turn to scripture for a moment. In Matthew 1:18 the author writes “when Jesus’ mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, it was discovered that she was expecting a baby – by the Holy Spirit.” In the culture of the time, it was very, very frowned upon for a man and woman who were engaged to come together before they were married. So the fact that Mary was pregnant was a huge humiliation to Joseph, her betrothed. The idea of virgin birth was not one that was deemed plausible in Jewish society; so neither was Mary’s unexpected pregnancy explainable in any way other than according to the laws of nature, being that she and Joseph had come together. So why would the story of the Gospel, and the reason we celebrate Christmas, begin with such scandal?

The Jews, the ancient people of God, had been prepared to look for a Messiah, a savior. They were expecting this savior to be an honorable, respectable “Jew among Jews” who would issue a final and decisive blow to the oppression of Rome and free the Jews once and for all from outside rule. The messiah would reinstate the kingdom of Israel and reign as king, and the nation of Israel would become, once again, a powerful nation.

But why the embarrassing start? I believe that the story of the first Christmas, being the beginning of God’s perfect plan for reconciliation to the people of the earth, begins in scandal to show us that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God’s righteousness is not our righteousness.

As we continue to read about Jesus’ life, he consistently does things that are against the expectations that the people have for their savior. He behaves in ways that are very unconventional. He is friends with an entirely wrong group of people. His thoughts and teachings about God are considered blasphemous. And his life ends in the scandal and embarrassment of death on a cross, which was the most humiliating execution method of the time. So Jesus’ life begins, develops and finally culminates and ends in scandal. Again I believe that Jesus’ birth, life, and death all happened this way, according to God’s perfect plan, to show us that God’s Ways are not our ways, and that God’s righteousness is not our righteousness.

So this Christmas, let us remember, amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, that while the world around us screams for us to buy more, to pack more into our schedule and to show our love through giving bigger and better gifts, that God’s ways are not our own. Let us remember that we celebrate not the tree, not the presents, and not jolly old Saint Nick, but the savior of the world, whose name is Jesus Christ, Ye-Shua (God Saves) Emmanu-el (God is with us). Remember that God is indeed with us this Christmas season, and he saves mightily through his son Jesus Christ, who loves us with a scandalous love.

And that, my friends, is a reason to celebrate indeed. Merry Christmas!