Last year at this time I was in China. Everywhere I went I heard Christmas music. And not just “Jingle Bells”, but also Jesus-permeated carols like “O Holy Night!” I found myself in a very unfamiliar place hearing very familiar Christmas music, and I was forced to reckon with the strangeness of it all. It was strange to me that a predominately Buddhist nation was publicly blaring worship songs about Jesus. It was strange to me (in a lamentable way) that capitalism/consumerism has so effectively inoculated us against the truly scandalous, offensive, and suffer-centric story of Christianity, that we can surround ourselves with substantive lyrics and liturgies about Jesus without being phased (even non-Christians feel fearless in the face of Jesus, and they leverage His music to sooth consumers as they spend money). But as I walked through the mega malls of China, Christmas music blaring in the background, I found myself asking, “But do you recall, the most strangest thing of all?” The familiar familiar familiar songs and stories of Jesus are exceedingly STRANGE! The stories involve a barren old woman and a teenage virgin having babies, a priest made mute, shepherds worshiping an infant in a livestock feeder, wealthy astrologers tithing lavishly at the feet of a toddler, the terror of a genocidal king, an episode of exile in Egypt, and an amber alert! And then of course we have all the details that come with imaginatively inhabiting these various extraordinary narratives (e.g. the life-long burden of societal shame Jesus’ mother bore for what most certainly would’ve been perceived as gross-infidelity [unless you buy that whole, ‘God made me pregnant’ story she told]).
This Christmas, please please please don’t let the nativity be “a familiar story you’ve heard a thousand times” (that is to say you’re no longer really hearing the story at all, and you are consigning yourself to a thoughtless, imagine-less, and offensive-less Christmas). This Christmas take time to re-learn the story of Jesus’ first coming; make the familiar strange!