Monday, December 24, 2007

3 Reasons Christmas is Offensive

He was in the world, and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.
John 1:10, KJV

I think it's interesting and sometimes helpful to push at the inconsistencies in what people believe. A large proportion of people in England today claim to believe the truth of the Christmas story (and what a dangerous word “story” is). But it runs strongly counter to so much of English culture. I'm just going to explore three themes briefly.

God became man

In today's culture, it is offensive to claim that other people are wrong when it comes to things which people have no choice over. So it's wrong to say that one race or sexual orientation or gender is better than another. And the same goes for religion, because most people seem to follow the same religion as their parents. When I was a teacher, pupils were absolutely fine with me saying what I believed. But as soon as I claimed, implicitly or explicitly, that there was something wrong with what they believed, there was opposition.

When it comes down to it, we like the old Indian Parable of the Elephant, where a group of blindfolded men try to describe an elephant by feel. And so the claim at Christmas that the one true God of the whole universe uniquely became a man, and that he did it in Israel in 6BC or thereabouts and not in India or Arabia or Mexico or Britain, should offend us. Because it means that it is possible for some people to have a position where they can know God more clearly than others, because it is possible for us to look at what Jesus said and did and say that God is like X and not like Y.

God became man, and that offends us because it means that we can know God accurately, and therefore we can say that other people are wrong in their knowledge of God.

God became poor

God became man, but God did not become the sort of man whom we might think it worth becoming. He was not born to King Herod or to Caesar Augustus, but to a woman so poor that she could afford nothing more than an animal food-trough to put him in, and that was probably borrowed.

And yes, Jesus became the greatest celebrity the world has ever known – so much a celebrity that 2000 years later, people are still fascinated by his mother's sex life and a book of completely unsubstantiated gossip about him can reach the top of the bestseller charts. But how did he use his celebrity? He did not become rich or powerful as this world defines riches or power. He did not command an army or found a school of philosophy or even get a house. He lived as a homeless teacher, and his celebrity led to crowds baying for his execution, which was what he had planned all along.

And that offends us because we value the rich or the powerful or the famous, and we want to be like them. We do not value the person who chooses to stay in poverty, give up all their power and die the death of a criminal.

God did it for us

We (stereotypical men at least) love to think that we are self-sufficient – that we can cope with life and that we don't need anyone's assistance. And when we do get help, we prefer to be able to reciprocate. People are more likely to buy something than they are to accept it for free. And yet Christmas tells us that we most definitely do need help, and we need it from a God whom we could never even hope to repay.

Why?

And you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21, NIV

Christmas shows not only that we are inadequate and need help, but that we are morally inadequate and need rescuing from the bad things that we do, not just from circumstances outside ourselves.

That is why Christmas is offensive. Happy Christmas.

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