The Gospel is Socially Awkward

On Sunday our family attended the monthly meeting of a heritage club that Allen's grandpa presides over.  It's called GROW--Germans from Russia of Oregon and Washington.  The December meeting was a Christmas celebration, and had something of a talent show feel to it.
Allen's sister and his grandpa alternate between English and German in the reading of St. Luke's account of the birth of Christ.
I played a song (very badly) on the guitar and sang; Allen's mom impressed me by playing a song on her violin which until the week before had lain in its case for 30 years, and she also played a song on the piano.
Grandma Karla is accompanied by lots of jingling
Our kids shook jingle bells along with the music...and also not during the music.  Some folks shared memories of Christmases from their childhood during the Depression years and it was wonderful food for thought.  Imagine kids now being thrilled just to receive an orange and an apple for Christmas!
Concentration is key
Towards the end, Roger opened it up to anyone else who had anything to share.  I gave the mic to Ruby, who had told me in the morning that she wanted to sing a song.  I'm sure everyone was expecting to hear her sing "Jingle Bells" or something like that, but what they got instead was a recitative-style song of the Christmas story, starting with Mary and Joseph getting to the manger and ending with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returning from their flight to Egypt.

Now, I had heard Ruby's rendition of this song in the morning at the breakfast table, and I was floored by it.  She has a great memory, but the degree to which she remembered the story was pretty remarkable.  I had her practice it again at lunchtime before having her perform at the GROW meeting.

One of the elements of the story which she did not hesitate to include was King Herod's plot and rage.    Everyone was quite attentive to her story as she sang, and there was a collective gasp when she sang out in a sing-song tuneless way, "And King Herod sent out his soldiers and they killed all the babies because he didn't want Jesus to take his job [of being King of the Jews]." It was not the Hallmark version they had expected.

Perhaps some people wondered what on earth I've been reading to my children.  Should a 4 year old be hearing about a tyrant murdering boys the ages of her own brothers?  Well, I wouldn't make a steady diet of it, but it is part of the story.  In fact, it's one of the parts that fascinates Ruby and Max the most.  Yes, we emphasize the Nativity set part of the story and the Annunciation and the angels' announcement to the shepherds and the wise men and all of the rest.

But...Herod is part of the story.  And he's an important part.  I remember in the Advent season of 2006 hearing Rick McKinley preach about Herod's conspiracy to kill the baby, to kill the competition, and how it relates to our own culture's desire to "kill the baby" of Christ in Christmas.

He was NOT talking about the whole "War on Christmas" FOX news yearly outrage about people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

He was talking about the outrageous amount of money that we spend at Christmastime and how some of it surely can be better spent on the people Jesus wants us to spend money on: poor, disenfranchised, hungry, sick, homeless people.  He and some other pastors started Advent Conspiracy that year, and I caught the vision, as they say.  It has been a guiding principle for me ever since, and I feel so blessed to have been there for that message.

But spending less at Christmas time (by giving fewer gifts and giving more homemade gifts or else gifts of quality time) is very counter-cultural and is perhaps even un-American anymore.  Not the America of a century ago, or even half a century ago.  But the America of now--the one with stores open on Thanksgiving itself so as not to miss Black Friday madness and the one with at least one stampede or fisticuff reported per year--this America is obsessed with the stuff and not the reason for the season.

What if the war on Christmas isn't that your cashier didn't greet you with a word containing "Christ" in it?  What if the war on Christmas is that we've spent ourselves into a mountain of debt buying things that won't be remembered for long, or buying out of a sense of guilt, or just because it's on sale?  Americans spend about $600 BILLION on holiday retail sales.  Meanwhile, some of that money would go along way to providing clean water to those in need or helping fight for justice and an end to human trafficking, to mention two worthy causes.

It's socially awkward not to buy a gift for "everyone on your list" (including all of your coworkers, neighbors, friends, and relatives.)

It's socially awkward to buy only one gift per child (and for your child to know it wasn't from Santa and tell everyone that!)

It's socially awkward to receive a $50 gift card from a relative when you made them a picture frame.

It's also socially awkward for your preschooler to talk openly about mass murder of innocent children as part of the familiar Christmas story.  It ain't a Charlie Brown Christmas.

But it's the gospel.  The gospel is socially awkward.  It's not sugar-frosted, G-rated, pine-scented, or gift-wrapped flawlessly.  Jesus was the greatest gift ever brought into the world, but he didn't come in a fashionable aden + anais receiving blanket and placed in a well-coordinated jungle-themed nursery. It was smelly.

Mary didn't have a baby shower or a babymoon with professional photographers capturing the moment.  She did have some rough and tumble shepherds drop by to worship the newborn King.

I'm proud of my little girl.  She knows the story, and she's not afraid to embrace the whole thing in its horror and beauty.  It's probably a good summary of the Christian life: we can venerate the Cross as well as rejoice at the empty tomb.


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