The Scandal of Christmas
In our youth’s culture of constant connection and instantaneous updates, they don’t have to wait for next week’s tabloid (or locker room chit-chat) for the latest gossip. Twitter takes care of that. With every slanderous story and incriminating photo, pundits, bloggers and posts ignite while the guilty, misunderstood or shamed one hides under the irrupting judgment in a dark, lonely corner.
Have you ever felt attacked and alone? Maybe you were in the wrong or were being made fun of? Whatever the case, have you experienced the humiliation that comes from people knowing your sin, believing a rumor, or thinking ill of you unjustly? As leaders in the lives of teens, surely you’ve at least encountered these stories from them.
In thinking about Advent it struck me that the one person, who often flies under the Christmas story radar, also knew about this kind of condemnation and shame. Such is the story of Joseph. Joseph found himself at the center of controversy because the one to whom he was betrothed was pregnant with a child not his own.
This huge, messy, scandalous situation would have definitely raised eyebrows and had people talking. In that day, betrothal was more than engagement; the commitment was actually viewed as being married. Therefore, Mary’s supposed illegitimate pregnancy carried with it the connotation of adultery. So imagine the boiling emotions and what must have been going through Joseph’s mind before the angel appeared to him.
Don’t you imagine he felt humiliated and betrayed, confused and consumed with anger? Can you picture the heated fight that must have ensued between Joseph and Mary as he called her character into question and assumed her guilt?
But with the appearance of the angel, Joseph’s heart softened and the heated situation changed. Just as Mary believed the angel’s words spoken to her, Joseph believed and submitted to God’s plan. This did not, however, mean there was no longer any shame. From the perspective of everyone else, whether a case of premarital sex or adultery, the law had been broken. So I imagine the whispering and judgment toward them continued along with the shame.
Even without today’s media digging up old news, the staying power of the scandal surrounding the holy night must have followed Jesus through life. We see this in John 8 in a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees regarding who he was. The Pharisees had grown increasingly frustrated and perplexed over Jesus’ claims. In an attempt to discredit Jesus further, a snide remark alluding to his “illegitimate” birth was made.
“We were not born of sexual immorality…(like you were).”
Jesus responded by telling them he had come from God and if God were their Father they would love him.
This type of condemnation was not new to Jesus. Everywhere he went he was subject to gossip. But while mistreatment, slander and rejection followed him from the crèche to the cross, the shame of the cross and everything leading to it, he endured for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2).
Isn’t this where the real scandal lies?
Our God, so holy and just that even the angels had to cover their faces in his sight, left his heavenly throne, not in grandeur or with power, but as a baby delivered to a messy world. The One whom Joseph stepped in to father knew shame like no one else. Therefore, he could identify with the shame his earthly dad must have felt, and he identifies with us.
Jesus came to associate with the ungodly, the lowly, the down-trodden, the unrighteous and the rejected. And because he entered into our world as a babe – to live as a man and experience all that we do, he has compassion on us in our guilt, our doubts and questioning, with our lack of trust, and our anger, and every other emotion.
But in his grace, he also came to do something about the muck and the mess: He took it onto himself.
Do you realize what this means for you?
He didn’t just come to identify with us, but to trade identities with and for us. In this great exchange he became sin and shame, so we could be righteous and free. No matter what trace of scandal or ongoing sin seeks to define or destroy us, we are securely his. His precious children who can know what the Pharisees did not – God as our loving Father. And this, my friend, is why he counted enduring a life sentenced to death as nothing compared to the joy of delivering us into his Father’s kingdom.
After Joseph heard the angel’s words, he determined the personal shame associated with taking Mary (full with child) to be his wife as nothing. Not nothing in that he wouldn’t experience suffering, but it was worth the sacrifice to bring the Christ-child to a world desperately in need of the gift he came to be. And when we truly know who Jesus is for us, this knowledge brings forth the trust that there is no shame or grief that heaven can’t heal. This Christmas, may we cast our eyes on him and believe we are his most beloved children.