Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The Meaning Of Christmas
I read a very interesting article the other day that asked, in so many words, if we actually know what we believe, which caused me to think about that as we approach the Holiday Season. I’ll say from the on-set that regardless of your religious beliefs you’re probably familiar with the Christmas story; whether you’re a devout Christian, doubtful, unsure or an atheist. You know the story of what is said to be the greatest story ever told. Or do you? This story with its significance and traditions are sometimes misunderstood.
This day has been turned into a massive commercial holiday. If you count all the Nativity scenes displayed, you would think Christmas is the most important date on the Christian calendar. I don’t believe that it is. Easter is the day on which Christians believe Christ rose from the dead, which has more religious significance than does December 25th. In fact, science would have us believe that the savior was actually born in the spring. Whereas Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection means not just that one man conquered death, nor was it simply proof of Jesus’ divinity to his followers; it holds out the promise of eternal life for all who believe in him.
The Christmas season lasts 12 days ending with the Epiphany, a feast day in early January commemorating the Wise Men’s visit to the infant Jesus. The Easter season, on the other hand, lasts 50 days. On Sundays during Easter, Christians hear dramatic stories of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to his astonished followers. The overriding importance of Easter is simple: Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead.
Let’s me talk about the written knowledge from a Christian source; the Bible, more particularly, the four Gospels. We believe that the journey of Mary on a donkey accompanied by Joseph, the child’s birth in a manger surrounded by animals, shepherds and angels, with the Wise Men appearing shortly afterward. But two of the Gospels say nothing about Jesus’ birth.
The Gospel of Mark the earliest of the Gospels, written roughly 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion does not have a word about the Nativity. Instead, it begins with the story of John the Baptist, who announces the impending arrival of the adult Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel of John is similarly silent about Jesus’ birth. The two Gospels that do mention what theologians call the “infancy narratives” differ on some significant details.
Matthew seems to describe Mary and Joseph as living in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt and then moving to Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, has the two originally living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem in time for the birth, and then returning home. Both Gospels do, however, place Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. This much they all agree.
Then there is the idea that Jesus was an only child. Catholics, for example, believe Mary’s pregnancy came about miraculously as a “virgin birth.” They also believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, although many Protestants do not. For the purposes of this writing, I will not expand on the thinking of the thousands of religious philosophies.
Nonetheless, there are Gospel passages that speak of Jesus’ brothers and sisters which seem to confuse many. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, someone tells Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” And in Mark’s Gospel, people from Nazareth exclaim: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?” Saint Paul even calls James “the Lord’s brother.” Therefore, I agree with many scholars who maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters which might be explained perhaps through an earlier marriage of Joseph. Or not!
Dr. Ben, the noted African historian, points to a story thousands of years before Christ that is very similar that occurred in Upper Africa to Isis, the mother of Horace. If this is true, then the greatest story ever told is a recent phenomenon. For sure, the way it’s practiced today is a phenomenon that is not consistent with the true meaning of Christmas. However, worries about diluting Christmas’s meaning go much further back than recent memory.
Gift-giving, for example, was seen as problematic as early as the Middle Ages, when the church frowned on the practice for its supposed pagan origins. The holiday season has become so distorted that our children now think that Jesus was born at Wal-Mart.
This recounting of these few recorded facts is in no way intended to steal your joy or deter your faith. As we all know, faith is, believing to be true that which is unseen. No one really knows the truth of this miraculous event that resulted in a poor peasant boy changing the lives of mankind since his birth two thousand years ago. The point is this: in the midst of our joy and celebration lest not forget the true meaning of Jesus’ birth which is to love one another and humanity. After all, the purpose of our existence is to continue the species – mankind – which is what Jesus preached!
I am looking forward to the blessings and opportunities that the New Year can bring us all and wish you and yours a Happy Holiday Season, Abundance, Prosperity and an Extraordinary 2014! Therefore, I give the gift of love and empowerment. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…