He took the news like a punch in the gut, the breath shoved out of his lungs; his dream dying right before his eyes. How could she do this? He knew what the law demanded. But he couldn’t imagine being the one to abandon her to her certain fate: death beneath a heap of stones. He had to let her go. He had to avoid this scandal.
“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.” Matthew 1:18-19
The story has become so familiar that we can lose sight of the scandal through which Jesus entered this world. A simple girl in an unimportant town became pregnant before the wedding vows were exchanged. But, for the Israelites, that was enough to demand her death by stoning. What options did Joseph have? God couldn’t possibly be working through something so scandalous, could He?
This God, He’s not afraid of doing the unexpected.
This Jesus, scandal surrounded Him: the assumptions about his conception, his parents’ hasty marriage, the adulterers and murderers in his lineage, his tendency to join prostitutes and tax collectors for dinner, his declaration to be the Son of God. He didn’t come to be just one more person to bow down to legalism and religion. He came to be the open door for all the fallen to enter into a relationship with God. He came to make up that distance.
And now we sing Christmas carols about this scandal, melodic tunes and trills bring us to smiles and goosebumps. We put our conception of Christ in a pretty box and tie it with a bow. We think of the beauty, which is wonderful! Because it was beautiful. It still is.
But let’s also remember the God who steps in via the unexpected path, who never shies away from what may appear to be scandalous. He isn’t fearful of messy situations like we tend to be. And the miracles He does, those are inherently scandalous themselves, aren’t they?
Joseph, facing this scandalous miracle, had the choice to kill it, abandon it, or embrace it. The law allowed for death. His good sense would have left the scandal alone. But God entered in. And, seeing this scandal for the miracle it was, Joseph chose to embrace, to see God in the unexpected, right in the midst of the messy.
Is there something unexpected going on in your life right now? Is there a scandal of your own you’re facing?
He’s not intimidated by it. Whether He brought it about or something else did, God is there. Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our messes, in our uncertainties, in our unexpected situations, in our scandals. God, with us.
Merry Christmas. Merry Miracle!
When I was a kid, the Christmas tree, in all its colorful, illuminated glory mesmerized me. The family time we spent putting it up…the lights breaking up the post-dinner darkness…sparkling on the nearby windows. It was magical.
And, even once I started my own family with my husband, the Christmas tree was a necessary symbol of the season. Until…
I got a little too Google-happy one day in December a few years ago. I looked up more about the pagan roots of Christmas and spent hours…hours…in this mental zone that effectively murdered my happy, little, idealized view of this holiday. Suddenly the Christmas tree sitting eight feet away became this hated thing in my eyes. It stood for secularism…for paganism…for consumeristic excess. When all I wanted to do was teach my babies about a Baby that came humbly to this earth to change everything about everything, I despised this symbol which overtook our small living room because it dared to threaten the greater meaning!
What was a Google-happy mama to do? Without too much thought, but a torrent of holy passion, I took down the ornaments. By the time my husband came home that day from work, the tree was bare and the top third of the artificial branches were removed. (I’d need his help for the rest, or I’m sure it would’ve been completely down!)
When Steve stopped me in the midst of my passionate cleaning, I was none too happy. At his request, we put the tree back up…redecorated. And I continued to loathe it, albeit quietly. It was an intruder in my happy home. It felt like a lie.
Each year since, we’ve put the tree up, though I’ve made it clear, in a gentle, less obsessive way, that I’m fine not having a tree up. And, in time, I’ve actually become okay with it either way. If there’s a tree, there’s Christmas. If there’s not a tree, it’s still Christmas. It’s up to my husband and me to continue to point the way to Jesus to our kids and everyone we encounter regardless of the presence of decorations or not.
This year, when the tree went up, I was actually happy to see it. I love the family time with my quickly-growing little ones and how they make our tree completely not proportional with ornaments all gathered at their eye level. I love seeing the lights twinkling in the darkness reminding me of the moment in time when Immanuel came and broke an eternal hole in this dark world.
So, whether you have a tree up…or a menorah (which we have too!)…or a nativity scene…or no decorations at all, may this time be one of remembrance for you and your family. Remembering when eternity met the frailty of humanity, in the form of a babe lying in a manger. He didn’t come to a pristine palace to be waited upon. He came down to our filth and lived in its midst along with us. Our God of miracles is Immanuel…God with us. With us, illumining our darkness.