I knew trouble was on its way when I found out on Christmas Eve that a lasagna I was baking was the main entree for that evening’s supper. To have it as the main course put undo pressure on my Italian cooking skills. It became inconvenient and a burden.
Then, around midnight that very evening, I was just about to go to sleep and await Santa’s arrival when my wife dropped a dozen toys on the bed.
“Wow,” I said, “You have a lot of gifts to wrap.”
She hit me with a roll of wrapping paper and insisted I help. Inconvenient and certainly not what I wanted to do at midnight. Not only do I not like Christmas with too many inconveniences, I like my Christmas without a cost.
I have a feeling that we all like a Christmas that is not costly or inconvenient. We know it’s Jesus’ birthday, but we like Jesus to stay under the tree and not intrude on our lives too much. We like things to go our way.
I’m sure Ceasar Augustas and the entire religious establishment in first-century Palestine felt the same way when Jesus was born. When the Magi told Herod that a king had been born, he did not welcome the inconvenient truth that God was becoming human in his neck of the woods.
God’s intrusion upon the world–upon the entire cosmos–as He came in the form of a poor baby from Nazareth was quite inconvenient. Until then, God was distant. Everyone stayed in line, and things got done through the heavy-hand of government, law, and piety. When God came, however, the standard changed.
In the “Nunc dimittis,” an old prophet, Simeon, blessed Jesus when Jesus’ parents dedicated him at the temple as was the custom in those days (Luke 2:25-35). Simeon announced the implications of God’s presence: Jesus will be a light to the gentiles and the glory of Israel.
Salvation had come, but at a cost. Simeon pointed out an inconvenient truth: The Christ-child will be cause the rising and falling of many in history, a sign that will be opposed. In coming near to us, Jesus shines a light in our lives and exposes those things that we need to surrender to God. Inconvenient indeed.
Jesus will also cause others to rise–those very people whom many would rather see put down: the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable. In God’s economy, life situations are reversed and God’s reign looks very different than what we expect. Christmas is a costly one, and we will continue to oppose God’s presence for as long as we stubbornly hold to what we want rather than what God wants.
That Christ child born so long ago was a costly intrusion of God on earth. Destined for an itinerant life of ministry, doomed to die on a cross, Jesus’ birth cost God his son. God surrendered God’s all for us.
Christmas calls into account the cost of discipleship. Not only do we need to let Jesus cause the downfall of those dark areas of our life, but it costs us our all to rise for him. Following Christ costs us our very lives, and the inconvenience that follows the Christian life often hampers our full obedience.
When the angel told Mary that Jesus will be called Emmanuel, “God with us,” the angel was expressing an inconvenient truth because God’s presence means that we actually have to change. Let our prayer be a simple one as we head into the new year: “More of you, O Lord, and less of me. Amen, and amen.”