The Real Shock of Christmas

Christmas is the time of year that Evangelicals register their shock. Christians are shocked when checkout clerks say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They are shocked that consumerism is on such proud display when Fridays become “Blteststmas" or when they don’t see “wise men seek him." 

And then there is our private dismay. We are shocked when that family member comes to the family gathering or when this family member is absent. We are shocked that our children play with the box rather than the toy. We are shocked at how tired we are by the time January 1. 

So we look at our culture and we look at our own lives and see so much Christmas shock and consternation. But we often overlook the shock that is inherent in the Bible’s narrative of Christmas. In reality we should be more shocked by the doctrine of the incarnation than we should by our secular culture’s misreading or co-opting of Matthew 1-3. We should be more shocked by the outrageous plan of God revealed in a manger than we are at our own family’s experience leading up to and after December 25. 

5 Shocking Christmas Truths

God entered a world in rebellion to him. The story of Christmas is the story of God’s entry into the world he created. And that entry was no deific vacation. The world into which Jesus came was filled with proud rebels and dissidents. The incarnation was a sortie of grace, an incursion of love. God came to save his enemies (Rom 5:10). We might expect an offended potentate to enter occupied territory to dispense judgment and take names. But that isn’t what the Gospels tell us. To our shock God came to his enemies to save his enemies. 

The savior-messiah was born. The birth of a child brings with it a particular vocabulary—adorable, messy, painful, crying, cooing, cuddled, swaddled, nursing, and chaotic. Be shocked for a moment that God Almighty took some or all of those words upon him in the nativity. When an angelic vanguard and an adult body were available to God why then did he choose a poor virgin and a womb? The shock of substitution is all over the story (Heb 2:14). Jesus came to be the perfect substitute for those for whom he would provide atonement. That substitution was not a casual or vague idea. It was precise, thorough, and meticulous. And to our shock, Jesus was God at his birth.

Most missed him. God entered human history and was largely ignored (John 1:10-11). Shock.  Out of those few that had some inkling of the identity of Jesus’s true identity, a few worshiped him like shepherds and a few magi. Another few tried to kill him, like Herod at his birth along with Jewish and Roman leaders at his death. Jesus kneeled and died, relatively unnoticed, before the very humanity who would all kneel and live or die before him at the end of all things (Phil 2:10-11). Shocking.

His mission was certain from the beginning. Speaking of shock, imagine for a moment the colossal learning curve that Joseph faced when he discovered that Mary was pregnant. Into that shock an angel spoke an even more shocking thing, Mary "will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).” We would call that kind of certainty pure arrogance if we saw it in anyone other than the Lord God. Salvation wasn’t a question it was certain. In the same way that new parents now share pictures of an ultrasound when they announce they’re pregnant, so God shared the certain gospel that this baby would accomplish. Jesus’s own life, death, and resurrection were never in doubt. His divine birth-certificate read, “Savior of the World.” Jesus’s mission was proclaimed with a shocking certainty.

Christmas is about getting not giving. There is this phrase that parents use to instill ethical generosity in their children. It goes like this, “Christmas isn’t about what you get but what you give.” Where we cannot discount the gospel imperative to generosity, we also can’t read the incarnation and get the primary message of, “Be like God, and give.” No, the nativity is about a shocking gift given to humanity. The monergistic work of God in salvation is like that, a unilateral decision on God’s part to give an underserved gift to people like us. No Christian will ever outgive God (Job 41:11). God’s gift to us will always be larger and more glorious than any of our gifts to him or anyone else. So our position of recipient is always the primary focus, especially at Christmas. Shocking. 

There is so much shock surrounding our December celebration of cultural Christmas. But that shock is mostly shallow. We should be dumbfound and shocked every time we meditate on the incarnation. That shock should be centered on the person and work of Jesus. So, this year, let your Christmas shock to skyrocket. let your mouth be agape and speechless as you consider again the entry of Jesus into the world he came to redeem.

Joe Holland