This week and for one or two more, World.V.You will take a short break from the ongoing series “Inconvenient Conscience” (see the previous ten posts in the Archives). We are rapidly approaching both Christmas and the end of the memorable year 2020. At Christmas-time, faithful readers might appreciate a break from the usual sort of articles found on this site, and it is a good time to turn to thoughts about the “reason for the season”.
What is that reason? That question is more relevant than ever in 2020 and in this season of our society’s and culture’s development.
Many Westerners are now so secularized that they barely recognize that “the Holiday Season”, “Yuletide”, etc., are substitute names for “Christmas” – a term now somehow often considered offensive in the public forum and even much commercial advertising. “Christmas” is an old religious term derived from the public celebration of the birth of Christ, but even in that we miss something of the historical origin of what was a central event in the Western calendar for almost 1500 years.
“Christ” is not a personal name, but a title transcribed from Greek, Kristos – the Anointed, the Chosen of God. The Greek term translates the Hebrew word Mashiach (Messiah) – which is also a title meaning exactly the same thing. Both words point to the same person whose birth the “Christ Mass” commemorated and celebrated with proper and due joy and solemnity for Christians – the followers of the one whose birth is the real “Reason for the Season”.
Jesus “Christ” is, in his humanity, Yeshua ben-Yosef of Natzeret, a humble Jewish village in Galilee of northern Israel. You can still go visit this place. His parents were very humble folk in ancient Israel two thousand years ago, but their ancestry joined them both in direct line of succession to the most celebrated King in ancient Israeli history – David of Bethlehem.
The human Jesus story was never really lost over the last two thousand-plus years since that humble birth took place, but over time it was obscured and heavily overlaid with opaque layers of piety. The story of this man’s extraordinary life and death became the stuff of legend and initiated startling change in both the History of Israel and that of the wider world into which it became inextricably woven. Yeshua the man morphed into a semi-mythological being called “Christ” and for centuries all but disappeared behind a wall of theology, liturgy, and ritual. The wall was built and maintained by usually well-meaning people, mostly men, who became its keepers and guardians, protecting it against questioners and unorthodox thinkers and practitioners. To reach the man-god behind the wall and actually have a relationship with him became harder and harder. It was easier to find proxies (priests and saints) who could stand in less exalted posts which ordinary sinners could approach without fear of immediate thunderous judgment and rejection as unworthy.
The last hundred and more years have seen an ongoing “quest for the historical Jesus” among Biblical scholars and archeologists and many others from almost every discipline thinkable in academia. But, like so many demythologization campaigns, the actual, historical truth which undergirds the myth and the wall and, in the case of Jesus-Yeshua, the theology, has all too often rejected even the real man, or buried him under even more levels of obscurity in attempting to shed anything that does not fit the new framework (theology?) of rationalist empiricism.
The central meaning of the story, as it swiftly emerged from the events of his life, death, and reputed resurrection from the dead, is simple when accepted as it was told by his earliest followers. The man Yeshua was in fact the incarnate Son of Israel’s God, the One God, the only God, the very Creator of the universe and all that is. He had been promised to the first humans as a Saviour and Redeemer to restore humanity’s broken relationship with and estrangement from the Creator. As such, he was the heir of King David, and thus the rightful King of Israel, but he was not to make Israel the new world superpower overwhelming all the nations with judgment and wrath, but to bring universal peace, reconciliation, and restoration between God and humanity, and among all humans, and between humanity and the broken creation.
The story continues. Yeshua demonstrated who he was/is by the works he did and the things he taught. He was rejected and killed by crucifixion by both the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities. His death was freely accepted by him and was, in fact, the once-and-for-all sacrifice for all the sin and brokenness brought into the whole Kosmos by the rebellion of humankind since its first days and by its first progenitors. God confirmed what that death meant and accomplished by raising his Son from death on the third day after his execution-murder. Before he returned to his Father, Yeshua-Jesus commissioned his disciples to go out into the world and preach, teach, and demonstrate the coming of his Kingdom, a new kind of Kingdom called the Kingdom of God. Its characteristics include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. It seeks no earthly dominion except over people’s hearts. It welcomes anyone who seeks it and will follow Yeshua-Jesus as Lord.
The story of Yeshua fits no other parameters in human history, philosophy, or ideology. In fact, it redefines the parameters of human history and society. Many attempts have been made to explain away its miraculous aspects, especially the resurrection. These are declared by dubious scholars to be later accretions and pious (or even malicious) fabrications. They are even categorized as a continuation of pagan and Oriental mythico-theology of a dying and rising god(dess) as the personification of the cycle of being, the wheel of existence. But all these attempts to wave aside Jesus utterly fail, for they all run into the same adamantine wall – the evidence-based claim that was there from the very first that Yeshua really and truly and physically rose from the grave alive and transformed into an incorruptible but still recognizable human being.
Thus we arrive at all the modern and postmodern relativistic probing and questing, desperately trying to elicit a non-miraculous “historical” Jesus from the original events. This despite the fact that, as the Apostle Paul told the Roman Governor Festus and the Jewish King Agrippa II, “these things did not happen in a back alley” but in front of hundreds and even thousands of eye witnesses. Every rationalization of these things hits the wall of Good Friday followed by Easter Sunday.
Christmas is a special time and event fully worth celebrating in its proper context as the recognition that God sent His Son to live among us to show us how to live in restored relationship with our Creator. But in and of itself it is not enough. It is not the whole story and cannot be understood and truly absorbed into the heart or change the soul without its completion in Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Otherwise, it is just a nice cultural tradition we use to gather together, eat good food, say nice things, and have nice family times hoping to support one another and trying to be nicer to one another for a few days in the year.
Santa the merry elf is a poor substitute for the King of Kings and Prince of Peace bringing His Kingdom of righteousness, shalom, and joy.