Remember How Radical Christmas Really Is

Remember How Radical Christmas Really Is

September 21, 2015 by

Christmas is not what you expect.

The God that created all the galaxies and stars is born in dung and straw? We wouldn’t have planned that. God could have pulled out all the stops and done something majestic. Instead he worked with what he had.

Christmas is the story of a virgin mother and an illegitimate baby. It’s the original birth certificate conspiracy. Forget family values—the extended family rejected this ‘true love didn’t wait’ pregnant bride and her husband-to-be. The holy family is homeless as the baby comes—no safe delivery room or experienced midwife. It’s just Joseph cutting the cord while the rats look on. But the company gets better, as rank shepherds wander in asking to hold the baby. Instead of a baby shower with practical presents like a onesie, the new family gets a crowd of foreigners toting gifts more likely at a state dinner.

As if the story isn’t bizarre enough, it continues with the family skipping the country and sneaking across the border, refugees from the genocidal slaughter of innocent children.

None of this is the Christmas story we expect.

How can we flip tables and help people understand the holy mystery that is Jesus?

We Celebrate Christmas Wrong

Yet we’ve turned it all into a saccharine scene depicted on Christmas cards. It’s warm and cozy, softly-lit and you can’t even smell the cow crap.

We celebrate this lowly, humble story with overabundance. We decorate our houses with dead trees and twinkling lights, crowd in the presents paid for with a payday loan, and put on a feast like we haven’t seen since—well, last month at Thanksgiving. We go overboard and rub our Christmas belly in joyous regret.

It’s like we’re over-compensating for that whole manger thing. Sorry you didn’t get a real crib, Jesus, but we’ll spend every Christmas trying to make it up to you.

Sometimes the way we celebrate Christmas is weird.

In the midst of holiday insanity, keep things low key. Give the humble story a humble presentation.

Christmas Flips the Tables

The whole story of Christmas is like God flipping the tables on us. He takes our expectations and throws them in our face. Even when it’s over, we still don’t get it. We’re always trying to polish the story, wipe away the dirt and grime. Just like we do with ourselves—always trying to be perfect.

As Rachel Held Evans says, “We could not become like God, so God became like us.”

Throughout the Bible, God flips the script on us. John the Baptist called the holy men of the day a bunch of snakes. It might sound cathartic to call your pastor a snake, but imagine the reality of it. Jesus’ opener was scandalous.

The expectations go on being up-ended. When somebody asks for your jacket, Jesus said to give your shirt too. When someone hits you, Jesus said to turn your cheek so they can hit you again. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus said to love your enemies. Not just the guy who cuts you off or that annoying coworker. Your enemies—Osama bin Laden, ISIS and (take your pick of politically opposite front runners…) Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And not just tolerate those folks, but love them.

Jesus literally flipped tables.

And all those shattered expectations culminate in the cross. That baby in the manger gets executed.

What kind of story is this?

Maybe it’s time to celebrate the real story with rat-shaped cookies and dirty diaper ornaments.

What Do We Do With This Radical Christmas?

I hope it’s starting to sink in just how crazy Christmas is. We all know this, but it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to let tradition wash over us and forget how God is constantly upsetting everything and leaving us unsettled and uncomfortable.

Christmas is radical. And not teenage slang, far out dude, radical—we’re talking anarchist, living in a commune, kooky beard radical.

So what do our churches do with this radical Christmas? How can we flip tables and help people understand the holy mystery that is Jesus? How do we tap into the wonder that goes so far beyond Santa’s magic sleigh?

Calling our well-dressed guests a bunch of snakes probably won’t go over well. People like their Christmas traditions (so do I). But maybe we can still find ways to flip the script:

  • Simple instead of spectacle: Keep it simple. In the midst of holiday insanity, keep things low key. Put the lights low, the music soft and just read the Christmas story straight from the Bible. Give the humble story a humble presentation.
  • Re-imagine the pageant: The typical children’s Christmas play is a little too familiar. You could kill the pageant, or you could just re-imagine it. Mary gets slut-shamed. Joseph is a guest on Jerry Springer. The stable becomes a back alley with a trashcan lid for a manger and a dirty newspaper for swaddling clothes. The shepherds are drunk. If it’s starting to sound a little inappropriate for children, you’re on the right track.
  • Welcome the outcast: How many players in Jesus’ story were outcasts and rejects? The shepherds, the wise men, the disciples—the people who followed Jesus were hookers and IRS agents and HIV victims. Not your typical guest list. Maybe your church could welcome the immigrants and serve the homeless this Christmas.
  • Get weird: Christmas has the traditional, Norman Rockwell elements that are safe and sound—friendly animals in the stable, immaculately clean straw, a baby Jesus who never cries or poops. Maybe it’s time to celebrate the real story with rat-shaped cookies and dirty diaper ornaments. Depicting Herod’s genocide of the innocents in twinkling lights might be too weird, but apparently flogging Jesus is OK.
  • Play it cool: I can already see the horrified grandmothers clutching their pearls. Your nod to the radical nature of Christmas might need to be subtle. Maybe you play it cool and find a way to embrace tradition while still questioning that tradition.

‘God with us’ is a radical notion in and of itself. The idea that one of the holy Trinity is going to slum it with us meat sacks just isn’t normal. But the fact that he chose to reject the regal and be born in a backwater is even more bizarre.

This year let’s remember just how radical Christmas is.


God Rest Ye Stressed Communicators: Planning Christmas for Your Church

Photo by Martin Cathrae.
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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