THE FOOLISHNESS OF CHRISTMAS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A large number of life's greatest blessings start out as stupid, moronic foolishness in the eyes of many people. This was the case with Samuel Morse, a pastor's son and an artist who left his art for a new idea. He thought that a message could be sent by means of electricity. He labored for years in lonely obscurity living alone and cooking his own meals. After 4 years he had a working model of the telegraph. In 1837 he applied for a patent, but nobody was interested in such nonsense. He tried in England, France, and Russia, but foolishness was not popular anywhere. He finally got the chance to demonstrate his contraption before President Van Buren, his cabinet, and leading scientist. They all too, considered it much ado about nothing. For 5 years he labored to improve his instrument and finally got a grant from congress to make an experimental line. It was considered such an idiotic project that some congressman failed to get re-elected because they voted to support this lunatic fringe idea. On May 24, 1844, the test was ready for sending a message from Washington to Baltimore and back. A text of Scripture was sent, and back came the historic reply, "What hath God wrought!"
Morse the moron became Morse the genius over night, and the world over he became famous and honored. As a man of God, he gave all the glory to God. He said, "It is all of God. He used me as His hand in all this. I am not indifferent to the rewards of earth and the praise of fellow men, but I am more pleased with the fact that my Father in heaven has allowed me to do something for Him and His world....unto God be all the glory."
The birth of the electronic age of communication was a gift of God to modern man. But man in his supposed wisdom considered it pure foolishness until he saw it's valued consequences. There are numerous examples of this in the realm of science, and literature, and the arts. Many of the great hero of history were at first considered fools and unworthy of serious thought. The greatest example of this in all of history is God himself. God's ways are so different from the ways of human wisdom that when man first considers them they seem like foolishness.
This may sound like radical language, but it is not my choice for effect, it is the language of Paul. The Greek word he used in I Cor.1:25 for the foolishness of God is moron. This was one of Paul's favorite words. It is used in all it's forms 23 times in the New Testament, and 14 of that 23 are by Paul. All the other 9 are from the lips of Jesus. So Paul and Jesus are the two New Testament authorities on the moronic foolishness of life. Paul is especially fond of this word in this letter of First Corinthians, for of his 14 uses of the word, 10 of them are right here in this one epistle.
Paul is so intent on the contrast between the foolishness of God and the wisdom of men that he considers it an honor to be one of God's morons. In 4:10 he says, "We are fools for Christ". He uses the word morons. In 3:18 he urges the Corinthians to become fools, or morons in order to be wise. Paul goes out of his way over and over again to stress that the ways of God in the eyes of the worldly wise are just plain foolishness. Now what does all this have to do with Christmas?
Christmas is the foolishness and weakness of God that ended on the cross. The resurrection, however, was the great transition. It was the smartest thing God ever did through His Son. It was wisdom and power. This was more like it for a God. It was sheer genius and awesome power. But the story of Jesus in His birth to the cross-the Incarnation and the Crucifixion: these were events of madness and folly. These were the foolishness and weakness of God.
The whole story of Jesus is going backwards, and instead of from rags to riches, it is a riches to rags story. The wisdom of the world says you move from weakness to power. The goal of life is to get more not less. You labor and fight to climb higher in status and power. You move from being poor to being rich. That is the flow of life, from less to more.
Now we come along with the story of an all powerful God with riches beyond the wildest dreams of earthly men. He has infinite resources, and yet He comes up with a plan whereby He gives all of this up to become a baby who is so weak He has to be carried away or be killed by Herod. The Son of God, equal with the Father, empties Himself of this equality and becomes the child of a poor homeless couple in a podunk town, where they have no more clout than the barn yard critters they are forced to sleep with. Give me a break! You call this a plan? This is more ridiculous than the president of General Motors resigning to make fries at a fast food restaurant. This is more ridiculous than the president of the world bank quitting to sell cool aid in front of his house. This is more ridiculous than the president of the United States leaving office to make Popsicle sticks. This is so incredibly ridiculous, Paul calls it, the foolish of God.
It even gets worse. This tiny baby grows up to be a powerful man who is a channel of God's power in the world. He moves people by His teaching, and He moves mountains by His miraculous power. Masses are fed with a lads lunch; storms are stilled; people by the thousands are healed, and some are even raised from the dead. Maybe this story is going to make sense after all. But no, He lets himself be taken to the cross and by narrow minded bigots cruelly crucified. He could have called ten thousand angels, but He called no one. He died in utter weakness. He had all that power and He never even lifted a finger to stop them. This is more ridiculous than an elephant being brought to his knees by a butterfly. This is more ridiculous than the United States being defeated by Cuba. This is so profoundly ridiculous, Paul calls it the foolishness and weakness of God. Only God could make a plan so weak and foolish pay off.
If God would have let us be advisers on the plan of salvation, we would have told Him to make a show of power. Send your son into the world on a great white stallion with a vast array of angels. Take the world by storm and have every knee bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. God would have said, "not a bad idea, but I'll save that for the Second Coming. The first coming of my son will be as a helpless baby in an obscure stable where only a few of the world's most non-influential people will be informed."
Most of us would say don't bother to call me the next time you are looking for advice. What foolishness, we would mutter as we walked out of the council chambers of heaven. The least He could do is to start His Son off as a grown man like He did with Adam. To start Him off as a baby is foolishness. At least give Him to respectable family, and not to a poor carpenter who will never be able to give Him the things He deserves. The whole plan is absurd, we would conclude, and we would be right. That is why Paul calls it the foolishness of God.
God was choosing to send His only begotten Son into the feeble body of an infant. He would need the constant care and protection of His parents. He would need help to learn His ABC's and how to build a fence and study the Bible. He who made the universe would need to be taught how to make a bird house. He who is the embodiment of all truth and wisdom would need to be taught how to spell His name. The true story of Christmas is incredible. Man cannot invent a story that is more incredible. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. But you can count on this, when God does what seems foolish it will in the end be an amazingly clever plan to overcome evil and achieve the salvation of man. So let's look closer at the foolishness of Christmas and see just how wise it really is.
The foolishness of God is very simply the foolishness of love. True love tends to be foolish for it takes risks. The costly ointment that Mary poured on Jesus was considered a scandalous waste and act of sheer folly. But Jesus saw it for what it was, an act of love. Was it foolish? Of course it was, but it was the foolishness of love that is wiser than the wisdom of men who do not love.
Love does crazy things. I risked my life once just to keep a date with Lavonne. I took off in a terrible storm to drive the 20 miles to her house. It took so long to get there, they were all in bed, and I didn't want to disturb anyone. It was so bad of a snow storm that I did not want to try going back home again, and so I decided to sleep in the car. Fortunately for me, Lavonne's father saw the car in the driveway and came out to invite me in for the night. Everyone thought I was an idiot for doing such a foolish thing, and I was. Do you think I would have been so stupid if I had not loved her?
Somewhere along the line we almost always do something moronic for the ones we love. Love and foolishness often go together. God is love, and, therefore, there has to be, by the very nature of love, some foolishness in God. The difference is God's foolishness is always based on wisdom that assures the final result will be victory for good. The foolishness of man often gives evil the victory.
It is probably foolish to compare the story of Christmas and the story of the cross to see which was the most radical example of God's foolishness. But as I did, I at first assumed that the cross was the ultimate in foolishness. What could be more foolish than submitting to the power of death? But as I thought more, I could see that the birth of Jesus could, in fact, be even more radical than His death. On the cross Jesus had a choice, and He could have saved Himself. As a baby, Jesus had no choice. He had reduced Himself to a level where He was completely dependent upon others for His survival. By being born as a baby He gave up all control and submitted Himself to the ultimate in limitations.
The foolishness of Christmas is the foolishness of love, and the foolishness of love is the choice of self-limitation. Jesus had it all, but He gave up equality with God to take on the limitations of human flesh. He was rich, but He became poor for us. If you want to see love, look for one who will choose a self-limitation for your benefit. There is no love without the choice of limitations. Even God cannot love without the cost of self-limitation. That is what Christmas and the cross is all about. They are about the limits God is willing to take on Himself for our salvation.
If we will not give up something for another person, we do not love that person. Love is a choice to give up some of my time, some of my energy, some of my money, or some other resource for the benefit of that other. Paul in Phil. 2 is stressing that Christians love one another, and then he gives us the essence of what that means in verse 4: "Each of you should look not only to you own interest, but also to the interests of others." In other words, if you are totally self-centered and not interested in others needs, you are not loving. Love is a choice to limit self interest so as to take on the interests of others. If God was not love, there would be no Christmas, for there would be no such foolishness as the Son of God taking on human flesh. This is the greatest limitation of one's person and power in all of history. That is why the Christmas story is the greatest love story of all time. Love has to care and take on limitations, or it would not be love. Love has to be foolish in this way and take on risks, or it will cease to be. God cannot be Love and not take some foolish risks for those whom He loves.
If there was no foolishness of Christmas and the Cross, we could do nothing about it, but God would not be Love. God could not leave men lost and headed for hell with no hope of salvation, for that would be a denial of His very nature. But the sacrifice of love seems foolish to the non-loving. Because your neighbor does not love your child he may think it foolish to lavish your hard earned money on their pleasure. Because your neighbor does not love your favorite tree or plant they may consider it foolish that you spend all the time you do watering it and caring for it. Anything or anyone you love sacrificially will seem stupid to those who do not share your love. That is the point of God's foolishness. It is not foolish to God nor to those whom He loves. It is only foolish to the worldly wise who do not understand love.
The greater the limitation one puts on ones self, the greater the love. The Incarnation and Crucifixion are the greatest limitations conceivable for the Person of God. Thus, they reveal the greatest love conceivable, and, therefore, the greatest conceivable foolishness to the worldly wise. God so loved the world that He gave His Son, and that is why we have the foolishness of Christmas by which we are saved and made a part of the family of God. Thank God for His foolishness!