We at Tent Making Christianity want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. Make sure to check out Drew’s excellent 5-part series on Christmas myths. For those that are struggling or have lost loved ones this year, my heart goes out to you. For many this season is especially difficult.
Expectations are a funny thing. Sometimes they are met, and we realize that what we expected was not as spectacular as it seemed. Other times we are disappointed that things turned out differently, only to find that what we ended up with was far better. Surprises are not inherently good or bad, but often depend on how high or low the expectations were. Obviously this concept is very familiar at Christmas time. Did you get the present you wanted? Was the person you loved not able to be with you at Christmas? It’s not just modern sentiment and consumerism that made high hopes a fundamental part of Christmas. Since the very beginning, Christmas has never met expectations.
The Christmas Expectation
Have you ever listened to the Christmas story and considered just how many ways this breaks every rule? Nothing really goes as one would naturally expect. The God of the universe, creator of all things, is coming. Will he appear in all the glory and majesty becoming of him? No, he’s going to limit and humiliate himself by becoming a human. Will he at least be born into a royal or wealthy household that can give him a noble human life? Nope, he’s born to some poor newlyweds living in a remote part of the Middle East. It sounds borderline absurd. And yet that’s the way God chose to do it.
Would You Make This Up?
For a moment, step outside the Bible. Say you are tasked with writing this story. Many people who are skeptical of the gospels assume this story was a legend written up centuries later. If you were tasked with writing the epic tale of your religion, and how God intervened to save humanity, is this really how you would start your story? Would you really begin in the middle of nowhere, with your holy king being born in a barn and sleeping in a feeding trough?
Maybe you would. After all, this is how many great stories begin. Luke Skywalker, just a farm boy in the middle of the desert. Frodo Baggins, just a simple Hobbit living in a hole in the ground. Harry Potter, just a neglected orphan boy living in his aunt and uncle’s closet. Humble beginnings tend to make great introductions for a good story. While that may be true for entertainment, nobody is claiming that Jesus and his story were made up as entertaining or inspirational parables. If you are trying to retroactively justify your religion and its significance, is downplaying your deity from the get-go really the best way to do that? Or is it possible that instead of legend, these stories are telling the truth?
The Bible Did Not Meet Expectations
We see this theme going throughout the entire Bible. God subverts our expectations so much he makes Rian Johnson look like a wimp. When Abraham and Sarah were old and barren, they became the parents of countless generations. In a time where first born sons were everything, younger siblings like Jacob and David would be the ones God would choose to elevate. Who should become the greatest evangelist for Christ? Why not the guy chasing down Christians to murder them, Saul of Tarsus? The Bible is full of boys taking down giants and the least among us being the right person for the job.
Even putting the stories aside, the theology of the Bible is full of similar twists. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. To live, one must die. To be free, we must surrender ourselves and serve the true master. How do we achieve salvation? It is not earned at all, but instead it is freely given. This is a component of Christianity that is much less academic than it is poetic. There’s a reason many great songs revolve around this concept. The beauty of this almost paradoxical theology is often harder to capture in a paper than it is through song.
Did Jesus Meet Expectations?
And of course, there is Jesus himself. God incarnate, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, changed the world in just a few years not with a sword or political power, but with humiliating death, and an atoning sacrifice. The greatest surprise of all was that he didn’t stay dead. Jesus rose again, conquering death once and for all. Maybe he’s not what we expected. Perhaps Christmas did not meet expectations. But sometimes the surprise is better than we could have ever hoped for. Merry Christmas, everyone.
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