Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blessed Incongruity

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
- Luke 2:1-21

In all of human history there is no birthday that has been celebrated more faithfully, with greater joy, by more people around the world than the birth of the Jesus; the birth of the Saviour. Oddly enough even people who are not Christians acknowledge that there is something special about this season.

What is it about a single birth over 2,000 years ago that so captivates much of the world? It is because whether the world acknowledges it or not that birth was a singular event. There was never before nor will there ever be again an event like it. What Luke recorded for us is his gospel account was not simply the birth of a good man or of a spiritual guru. What Luke records is the birth of the Saviour.

If you read Luke’s account carefully you will find that the birth of Jesus was blessedly incongruous. To say that something is incongruous is to say that it doesn’t fit. This bothers us. We want things to be congruent. We want round pegs for round holes. But throughout the event of Jesus’ birth God demonstrates a reckless disregard for the world’s expectations.

This is often how God teaches us. This passage of Scripture almost screams out to us the contrast between the ways of God and the ways of the world. If we read it carefully, this passage causes us to reflect on our own lives and consider how we do things versus how God does things.

Notice three areas addressed in this passage where God’s ideas and our ideas often clash.

The most ignominious birth in Israel happened under the shadow of the most powerful ruler on the planet. Luke tells us that Jesus was born during the days of the reign of Caesar Augustus. At that time there was no greater contrast in regards to power. What could be weaker than the a new born baby – particularly a new born in the circumstances that Luke describes? And there was no greater power on the planet than that of Caesar Augustus.

Recall what Paul wrote to the church of Corinth:
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

We learn some lessons about status in this story. The birth of the Saviour was heralded in heaven but it was ignored by the world. The Son of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace was born and all of heaven erupted in praise. But the world slept.

Rome hungered for glory. The Greeks sought after wisdom. Israel desired signs and wonders. But what God sent would represent a stumbling block for them all. The birth of Jesus was not in keeping with the glory of Rome. The birth of Jesus was not in keeping with the wisdom of the Greeks. Nor was the birth of Jesus consistent with the expectations of Israel’s religious leaders.

The three major cultures that converged in that part of the world had certain standards for what constituted true status. And the birth of the Saviour failed to live up to any of those standards.

Interestingly enough Caesar Augustus became fond of the title – “Saviour of the world.” The world offers salvation through the exercise of force, political activism, Utopian dreams, or the acquisition of money. But salvation and genuine peace will never, can never be established by individual or national use of force or political persuasion.

Nations do not last forever. Even a power as mighty as Rome decayed from the inside out and crumbled. This is why Caesar’s Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was ultimately an illusion. The greatest power on the planet eventually ended up on history’s ash heap. Salvation and genuine peace are given by God and that through the means of a suffering Saviour. These incongruities of power, status, and salvation highlight the beauty of God’s humility and willingness to touch us in our weakness and brokenness.


synkarius said...

No kidding, people who aren't Christian like this season. They're the ones who started it.

rmc said...

I'm not certain of the relevance of your comment Synkarius. Whether or not there is a relationship between Christmas and Saturnalia is debatable. However, if there is, I have never known anyone who celebrates Saturnalia in our day. But I have heard many unbelievers say Merry Christmas and many unbelievers go to church on Christmas and display manger scenes. I think that was Todd's point.

Todd Pruitt said...


You don't seem to understand the point of my post. You also seem to be laboring under the myth that Christmas is a pagan celebration. Perhaps you know some but I am not aware of any ancient pagans that celebrated the birth of God's Messiah, the glory of Israel, the light of the Gentiles.

synkarius said...

rmc, Todd,

No, I got the point of the post. Christmas is wonderful and Jesus is the meaning of Christmas. Cool. I have no issues with that.

I also don't think that Christmas is a pagan celebration, but to deny that the festival that it was adapted from was a pagan celebration is to deny a historical fact. All I was pointing out was that the "season" was celebrated before Christ. Not trying to be a scrooge here, but if it wasn't based on Saturnalia, how do you propose that Christmas got started?

threegirldad said...


It seems that you have bought into a popular myth which twists the facts of history in order to make Christmas appear derivative.

to deny that the festival that it was adapted from was a pagan celebration is to deny a historical fact.

I don't believe for a moment that rmc denies the pagan nature of Saturnalia; I certainly don't deny it. What I deny is your assertion about the nature of the connection between Saturnalia and Christmas.

if it wasn't based on Saturnalia, how do you propose that Christmas got started?

I propose that you and the myth that you are perpetuating have things exactly backwards. See here, here, and here.

Todd Pruitt said...


Great links. My point to synkarius precisely.

synkarius said...


I appreciate the research, but two of the articles mostly cite the Touchstone one and that one cites no sources. Also, Christmas inspiring pagan holidays is absurd. Aurelian didn't start that holiday. He just declared its date officially.

You inspired me to do some research of my own,----- but lo and behold, almost every source I could find to support the pagan origin also cited little or nothing. The lone exception was the Catholic encyclopedia, which stated that Natalis Invicti was likely responsible for the date, but that Saturnalia had little or no connection. Yet, its citations were all 19th and 20th century work, which I assume you will criticize as being written by biased Historic-movement critics.

This is why historical debate aggravates me. You get nowhere, except back to your pre-existing suppositions. Well, I guess I should back down a step and say that it appears inconclusive; pagan holidays may have been a model for Christmas. Catholic Encyclopedia

Mike said...

"the prerogative of history belongs to the victor.." which implies that we can all see history as we chose to....