The Christmas story, the account of the arrival of our Savior as a baby, has a wildness to it. Colored with scandal, flavored with risk, it has elements that are wild, bold, over the edge. Our God appears as a helpless baby in a scene that could be accurately described as a wild frontier socially, politically, and especially spiritually. At the street level, His arrival is characterized by scandal and uncertainty, oppression and the threat of death. The events unfold like a tense novel.
Matthew 2:13-23 “ Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
The scandal around the pregnancy of Mary only intensifies as the story unfolds. Mary stays with Elizabeth until John the Baptist is born (see Luke 1:39-56). Why stay in Nazareth while the pregnancy and the ridicule become more obvious by the week? Mary and Joseph still living in Bethlehem when the Magi arrive two years later, a move that would shield His new family from ridicule in Nazareth. The family flees to Egypt as political refugees. Returning, Joseph heads toward Bethlehem, but warned against that the family returns instead to Nazareth. Then Jesus and His family relocate to Capernaum instead of staying in hostile Nazareth. Later, when Jesus returns to Nazareth to announce His mission, the people try to kill Him.
Jesus was a scandalon, a stumbling point to many. Scandal follows Him throughout His ministry. He challenged the status quo, especially the religious status quo. Illegitimate, disrupter, religious scofflaw, tax evader; the list of complaints goes on. How would today’s religious culture respond to a Jesus who was as reckless and scandalous? What church today would take Jesus seriously or hire Him as a pastor?
And what about His followers? The list reads like a “who’s who” of outcasts, outsiders, and outlaws. Peter and the “Sons of Thunder,” impetuous and unpredictable. Simon the Zealot, a guerrilla fighter from a right-wing terrorist organization. Matthew the tax collector and Roman collaborator. John the teenager. Then there was the issue of the women who traveled in His inner circle. Respectable rabbis, decent people would never be so reckless.
Jesus called all to follow Him without reservation, saying “Anyone, after putting his hand on the plow, who looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom.” We admire commitment, we commend willingness to leave everything to follow Jesus. Yet we find it hard to admit the logical conclusion that this call applies to us. The call to one is the call to all.
Jesus is still the scandalon. To follow Him will always invite contention. We each need to determine if this God who is calling us follow Him closely can be trusted. If we leave everything to follow our Lord Jesus, will He come through for us when needed? It is a fair question. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated the issue clearly; “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, come and die.” Will following Jesus be safe? No, it will not be safe.
The Christmas story, like the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry, is disruptive. The impact of obedience on the people in this story is crucial to understanding the cost of His calling. Those who follow Jesus in close obedience are likely to wind up as social or even political refugees, even among their own people. Yet despite this, following Him will finally give us that for which we are searching in life – rest for our souls. It will finally satisfy the great thirsting inside us, the great and pure longing in our hearts for our God.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me,” stated Jesus. Can we trust Him enough to take up the cross, to daily die to self so we ca follow him closely? Those in the Christmas story discovered a God who would disrupt their status quo. He will disrupt ours as well. Those who obey this call join Him as scandalons.