Friday, December 23, 2005

The Scandal of the Nativity

A baby boy born in a cave. Away from home. The timing of his birth isn’t going to work out exactly right to be nine months from the marriage. And back in his home, there were wild stories that were going around that she had said that she was pregnant with the Messiah. She’d even been sent off to her cousin’s when all the rumors started.

Sometimes, amid the Christmas lights and gifts and concerts and hams, I have a tendency to forget that Jesus’ birth was not a glorious time, and it’s all the little details of the story that make it such. For Joseph and Mary to travel away from home for the birth may have been a bit easier just to get away from the talk that must have been happening, but to travel by donkey at 9 months pregnant? That could not have been comfortable.

Then to get to Bethlehem and there to be no room anywhere. Now, if my understanding is correct, family is one of the most important parts of Jewish life and Joseph must have had family there, but no one took them in. A man with his 9 month pregnant wife. We can only speculate why, but if I were to conjecture, I would wonder if the rumors of the origin of Mary’s pregnancy had reached all the way down to Bethlehem. Of course, if family didn’t take them in, there was no room anywhere else, except in a cave where the animals stayed. We make a big deal about “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay,” but do you know what animals do in hay? I think about Mary and how she felt having to give birth to Jesus there and how Joseph must have felt about the fact that he couldn’t give his wife and son a proper place for birth.

Add to this the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew and there’s a situation there where almost the only rejoicing is done by the angels to the shepherds.

We do a great job of sanitizing the Nativity every year, but as Randy Harris has said, Jesus was born into blood, scandal, and poverty. And it’s even bookended by the fact that he died in the same way: a criminal executed in the worst way possible with nothing to his name.

The even crazier thing? Jesus chose that birth. The one person in the history of the cosmos that could choose his parents and he chose a peasant girl from a backwater of a Roman province. He didn’t choose to be Caesar Augustus’ son or even the son of the High Priest.

The Nativity is a beautiful event. It just wasn’t very pretty.

Merry Christmas, bloggers.


Justin said...

Great post Phil!

I just had a sort of epiphany this morning, and wrote about it on my blog. I'd appreciate it if you stopped by and maybe gave some advice since you've been on this journey towards postmodernity a little longer than I. Merry Christmas!

Adam Brooks said...


I enjoyed this post. Also wanted to let you know that we did survive the transit strike, although it got very grinding and busy--would have called you on one of my four hour commutes, but the cell service got completely jammed up because everyone was calling at the same time!


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