Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Have a Scandalous, Stress-Filled Christmas

No one ever wishes you that, do they? But that's one I can handle. It's one I could actually accomplish without much effort.

I've had lots of conversations lately about how simple Christmas should be -- how we've made too much of a production out of it. Maybe it's time to reform Christmas.

But in doing so, are we running away from something fundamental and inherent in Christmas itself? Think about how stressful that first Christmas must have been for Joseph. He's a good guy -- "a righteous man" the text calls him. He was known among the people in the village for how strictly he upheld the Law. It was more than just a descriptive term; it was a title. Joseph was a tsadiq -- a "righteous one".

But now he's got a problem: his fiancee is pregnant, and he wasn't the father. That's not acceptable. The text literally says, "Being a righteous man, he wanted to avoid a scandal." Most translations miss this and end up making Joseph nicer than he was and less upright at the same time. Probably the best way to translate that sentence is: "Although he was a righteous man, he didn't want a scandal."

Talk about stress! Joseph knew that the right thing to do (under the old system) was to expose the scandal. Sinners should be excluded, standards should be upheld. The righteous people should be separate from the sin and the sinners.

Yet, in spite of the fact that he was a "righteous" man, Joseph couldn't bring himself to do it. He would just divorce her quietly. That way he could avoid a big mess and still maintain his status as a righteous man.

But Joseph, with the help of an angel, decides to embrace the scandal. He does this knowing that his reputation may never recover from it...and it doesn't. By marrying the girl who got pregnant while they were engaged, everyone believed what we would believe today: Joseph did it.

So, this very first Christmas probably wasn't much like we imagine: quiet and peaceful. Obviously, unexpected -- unimaginable -- blessings came in the wake of this stressful scandal, but don't kid yourself. It was stressful and scandalous, and it leads me to a theory.

I have a theory -- it's probably not original to me. But I think I know what Jesus may have written in the dirt when they presented him with that adulterous woman in John 8. I think he may have written one word:


Maybe in that moment, Jesus thought back to a scared 13-year-old pregnant girl in a scandalized village. Maybe he thought of a strong young tsadiq who gave up his reputation in order to stand by that girl's side.

Maybe this is what he had in mind when he said, "I tell you the truth. Unless your righteousness (your tsadiq-ness) exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."