Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Scandal of Christmas

Christmas is a scandal.  

We may have shined it up, but that first Christmas was nothing like we pretend.  

We've made the manger look pretty and we added lots of twinkling lights and shiny decorations.   But in all of our celebrations we should never forget the scandal.

In Matthew we learn that Jesus descended from Rahab a prostitute, enemy, and foreigner who hid Israelite spies in the city of Jericho.  Ruth, who was a widow and a foreigner from Moab.  King David and Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba), who were adulterers.  David was also a philanderer and a murderer.  Manasseh, who was the worst king Israel ever had.  According to the Old Testament, Manasseh committed “detestable sins”, and was “…more evil than the Ammonites.”  And then of course there was Mary and Joseph who were just flat-out poor.

From the story of Mary and Joseph we learn that Jesus was sent to save his people from their sins.  He was to be called Emmanuel, “God with us.” This reminds us that we are not alone.  God has entered this world and lives among us. 

We remember that shepherds were the outsiders and the outcasts.  They smelled bad. They touched dead animals and were often ceremonially unclean.  They were very near the bottom of the social order.  And yet, God chooses to announce the arrival of his son, the son of the King of the Universe, to them rather than to kings or priests.

And then Simeon prophesied that Jesus, the promised Messiah of the Jews, had been sent by God as a light to the Gentiles.  Imagine that.  Israel's Messiah, for whom the Jews had waited for hundreds of years, had been sent to save the the non-Jews, the people who were outsiders.

Finally, John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the creator of the Universe who became God in human flesh.  Jesus was the light that gives light to everyone.

Jesus came and made his dwelling place among humans, he came to live among us, as one of us.  John’s whole purpose was to reveal Jesus so that all might believe.

This is the great scandal of Christmas.

Centuries before the arrival of Jesus, God was writing a story that invited and welcomed outsiders, outcasts, foreigners, foul-ups, criminals, and sinners.   

Everybody that society looked down on, God invited in.   

Everybody who thought they weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or who just thought that they weren’t enough, Jesus came to open the door and pay the price so that everyone could come into his father’s house.

The savior of the world was not born in the capitol city.  The king of the universe was not welcomed by the powerful and the important.  

The rich, the royalty, and the politically powerful weren't even invited.

The Christmas story is filled with the rejects, outcasts, outsiders, screw-ups, foreigners, and everyone that the rich, powerful, popular (and even regular people) loved to hate.

The story of Christmas is about redemption and transformation.  It is a story of outsiders being invited in, a story of poor people becoming parents to a king, a story of the outcasts hearing the good news long before the rich, the powerful and the popular.

The story of Christmas is an invitation.  

All of us who thought that we weren’t good enough, or rich enough, or too messed up, or too sinful, or whatever.  All of us have been invited in.  Jesus announced to the world that God has set a place at the table for everyone.

As we begin a new year, remember that no one is too far from God to be invited in.  

Look around.

Who are the people that are looked down upon, unpopular, poor, despised, outcast, or ignored?  

The Christmas story invites them too.

That's the scandal.

Every one of us, no matter who we are, and no matter what we have done, has a place at the table.

Even me.

Even you.

Without the scandal, there is no Christmas.

We are called to be like the shepherds, and Simeon, and Anna, and John the Apostle, and John the Baptist, and the angels, and everyone else in this story, Let us go out into the world and share the good news of Jesus, the light of the world, so all might believe. 

Even the outcasts.

Especially, the outcasts.


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