There’s something quite scandalous about the Christmas event, isn’t there.
No, I’m not talking about the shocking pregnancy of an unmarried Jewish virgin, as scandalous as Mary’s baby bump will have been in Nazareth’s Jewish community.
Rather, it’s the scandal that offended and continues to offend the human mind that does not want to believe that “God came close” in a Bethlehem stable. That God would put on skin. That holiness would dwell in a human womb. That Mary would nurse divinity in human flesh. Scandalous thoughts indeed.
Scandalous to the Greek and Roman mind of the first century whose gods were little interested in human affairs. Scandalous to the devout Hebrew for whom it was inconceivable that the “Holy Other” would enter a sinful world and then die a criminal’s death.
And scandalous to the post-modern mind for whom all morality is relative, sin is non-sensical, and the claim of “salvation only through Christ” offends modern sensibilities – isn’t everyone free to create their own truth and find their separate way to God?
The cold fact is Christianity has always been a scandalous faith for many. Down through the centuries, Christian theologians have called this,
The Scandal of Particularity
For Luke Chapter 2 makes clear that the second person of the Trinity did not become humanity in general, but at a unique juncture in history, in a unique place, he became a unique human person.
It was at a particular moment in time, during the reign of Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. It was at a particular place, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to an inn with no room. It was then he became a particular person with skin on:
“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son…and placed him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6)
Mark Heim has underscored the particularity of Jesus with his well-suited expression,
“If God were to be as human as we are, Jesus must have a fingerprint as unique as each one of ours.”
You see, Jesus did not look down from heaven and dispense timeless truths with no application to our human condition. You can’t love abstract thoughts or concepts or principles. That’s why he left his home in heaven, to become human, to love and be loved. For the Bible says,
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Nesting at the very centre of Christian faith is this timeless truth – at a particular point in time, the Son of God was born into a Semitic family as a real male. His humanness was concrete. You could hug him!
And because Jesus was and is a particular human being, his life of sacrifice and message of love has relevance for all humanity, for every man and woman.
And because he displayed divinity, unlike any other human, his sacrificial death on a slivered cross for you and me was a unique death, unlike any other. The Bible simply says it this way,
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteousness.” (1 Peter 3:18)
No one else has done that. That’s why he confidently declared,
“No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)
“By his death and resurrection” – this is the bone of contention. It is not only God becoming flesh that is scandalous. It is the cross that offends. It is an empty grave that is scandalous…for together they point to Christ’s divinity, to his Lordship, to his unmerited gift of eternal life.
So, let’s have the courage to get it straight. As Christ-followers we are not general theists who hedge our bets on Jesus’ particularity. We don’t edit out from the historical record the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. We don’t revise the Biblical canon to erase the scandal of God “sharing in their humanity” (Hebrews 2:14). We don’t make ourselves acceptable to post-modern critics why decry the miraculous
On the contrary, we joyously embrace the scandal of Jesus’ particularity. The aged Apostle John said it like this,
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his Glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The scandal of particularity. This Christmas, thank you, God, for coming close.