Surfing the internet I stumbled across a pastoral letter by C.J. Mahaney in which he quoted at some length a William H. Smith. From the December 26, 1992, issue of World magazine. For the information of source critics this column has its origins in a small church newsletter sometime in the mid 80’s. Apologies to those who will be disturbed by reference to the “religious aspects” of the observance below. With this endorsement, I wonder if I will soon be speaking at a T4G conference?
Christmas Is Disturbing
“Disturbing?” you say. “You don’t need to tell me Christmas is disturbing. It disturbs my children, my routine, my bank account. It’s just about the most disturbing event of the year.”
Surely Christmas does disturb the children, but the excitement they enjoy is usually worth it. Yes, our routines are disturbed, but when all is done, most people enjoy the decorating, shopping, cooking, and social occasions. And while the holiday can disturb our bank accounts, many of us still find joy in giving to our children, spouses, relatives, and friends.
These things aren’t really what I have in mind when I say that Christmas is disturbing. I mean that the religious aspects of the celebration are disturbing. Or should be.
Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.
Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.
Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” But do we recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.
Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For his is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for our babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, it disturbs us deeply.
What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.
The baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell – hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again the he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.
That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ.
The Christmas message makes other demands on us. Because Christ became poor for the sake of man, man must in turn be generous toward his brothers and sisters in Christ even to the point of sacrificial giving.
“Your King has come,” the Christmas message proclaims. “Submit yourself to him and enter the realm in which he bestows his salvation.”
Christmas is disturbing. It is because Christmas is disturbing that I appreciate the tradition of those churches which during Advent announce, “The King is coming! Prepare a way for him! Repent!” Only those who have been profoundly disturbed to the point of deep repentance are able to receive the tidings of comfort, peace, and joy Christmas proclaims.