Originally posted on December 20, 2003. Tweaked annually since.
By Doug Newman
Posted at Old Right Pundits and Liberty Post.
(Every year, I say I am going to write
a new Christmas essay.
And every year, I wind up fiddling a bit with the original and passing it on again.)
Don't feel sorry for me, but it is Christmas time and I am depressed. Oh sure, I would like to have traveled back east to see friends and family. But this is not the root of my issues.
Every year since I have been a Christian -- 24 to be precise -- I become depressed by what Christmas has become. Was it ever any different? Perhaps. There is no biblical basis for celebrating Christmas on December 25. A grotesque oversimplification of why we celebrate Jesus' birth at this time of year can be traced to the ancient pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Christians jumped into the game with their own celebration in late December. The tradition is cultural, not biblical.
For all of our self-congratulation about "human progress", our morals have not changed over the centuries. Contemporary Christmas is, for too many people, all about gift giving and commercialism and not about Christ. (I once heard a radio talk host say that a retailer's favorite hymn is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus.") Too many Christians, I fear, are too caught up in this secular mirth. Because Scripture does not assign a specific date to Christ's birth, God does not care when, or even if, we celebrate it. If we do celebrate it, He cares why we do so.
I am a theological doofus and will probably always be one. The deep questions of theology dumbfound me just as much as questions like "How does my car run?" or "What do women want?" I will not let this deter me in my attempt to explain the uniqueness of Christmas.
Christianity is not a religion. "Christian religion" is an oxymoron. I am not a religious person. (I have a bad attitude about churches.) Religion is man's attempt to reach God on man's terms. Christianity is when God reaches down to man on His supernatural terms. Our good deeds may impress man, but they will not save us. (Ephesians 2:8,9) God spells out a plan for salvation, which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:12) This seems so much easier than all the good works religions demand.
And so it was that one night two thousand years ago the King of the Universe was born to a peasant girl in a forgotten backwater of the Roman Empire. Jesus never accumulated any wealth, invented anything, wrote any books, won any awards, broke any records, held any office, commanded any armies or did any of the other things that the world equates with greatness. At the age of 33, He was crucified for treason. (Luke 23:2) However, He lived the most remarkable life in human history.
He was born of a virgin and He arose from the dead. How's that for remarkable? And He performed numerous other miracles in between. The secular evidence for the scriptural claims about the details of His Life is more abundant than that of any life ever lived.
He claimed that He was God. "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) How is that for audacious? You cannot make a bolder claim than this.
If I told you I was Oprah Winfrey, you would take me for a raving lunatic. But that is nowhere nearly as bold as if I claimed to be God. If I told you I was a particle physicist, it would be very easy to ascertain that I was lying. But this would not be nearly as outrageous a lie as if I had told you I was God.
Jesus was one of three things. He either was who He said He was (i.e. God), or He was the biggest liar in history, or He was hopelessly delusional. Why would anyone want to follow, let alone worship, a pathological liar or a stark raving lunatic?
No religious leader - not Abraham, Moses, Mohammed or Buddha - ever claimed to be God. They may have ssaiid that God was somewhere up there in the heavens or that God spoke to them and commanded to proclaim what they heard. However, none ever claimed to be God. This makes Jesus radically different.
"Cafeteria Christian" is a phrase describing those who pick and choose which characteristics of Jesus they like, and disregard the rest. Many people think of Jesus as some kind of good dude, but they do not want to surrender their lives to Him. I call this the Doobie Brothers School of Theology. Jesus is just all right to them, but they do not want to be convicted of their sinfulness and need for redemption.
I have heard it said that the Gospel cannot be presented in a non-threatening manner. Just as Jesus rocked the world in Judea two millennia ago, He can rock your world today. Accepting Jesus means admitting that you do not have all the answers either in your own life or in your ability to influence the world around you. It means admitting that there is a God and that you are not He. It means admitting that you are wrong.
This is what it all came down to for me. I had been looking for the meaning of life for years. Wherever I went, I ran into these Christians who kept prodding me about Jesus. Finally, on October 22, 1986, I looked up into the sky over Tempe, Arizona, and asked: "God, please tell me what it is that all these Christians know." I had an incredibly good supernatural feeling come over me and, while I certainly did not understand it all, I received Jesus into my life. I am no better than anyone. I am still a sinner. But my sins are forgiven through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 4:12-13 states "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." This is heavy stuff, especially for the haughty and arrogant. Contemporary, trendy spiritualism may make you feel good. But, Christianity is not about feeling good all the time. (Nor is it about feeling rotten all the time.)
God's First Commandment states, in part, that, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) A Christian counselor once gave me a thought experiment. He asked me to complete the following sentence: Life depends on _______. He said that if I filled in the blank with anything but Jesus Christ, I was practicing idolatry.
We act as if 1001 things are more important than our relationship with our Maker. Scripture never forbids us from pursuing excellence in business, academics, science, music, sports, etc. However, we are never to make worldly excellence our God. If you gain the world that is okay, provided you do not also lose your soul. (Matthew 16:26) Glory is fleeting. It comes and goes. It does not last. Your life is a vapor. (James 4:14) Kings and presidents are toppled. Empires fade into the dustbin of history. Mighty corporations go bankrupt. Scientific theories are proven false. Most athletes are over the hill well before 40. Fads in music and fashion come and go. The hair grays and thins. The love handles do not go away like they used to. However, we find "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
King Solomon had it all. He had more wealth than Bill Gates, more wisdom than Socrates and more women than Mick Jagger. And yet he tells us time and again in Ecclesiastes that it was all vanity. Indeed, one can look at Ecclesiastes as an extremely eloquent and poetic way of saying "I can't get no satisfaction."
It is quite fitting that perhaps the most famous song of the last 50 years is "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." Mick Jagger has spent his life looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places. So, for the most part, have you and I. None of us is all that different from Mick Jagger.
I maintain a web page devoted at least superficially to politics. More accurately it is about the uselessness and vanity of it all. Jesus had no political agenda. He would not join your party. Nor would He join mine. He had no blueprint for society or plan for humanity. He proposed no Great Society, Great Leap Forward, Five Year Plan or Thousand Year Reich.
However, He did offer a New Deal. His New Deal has nothing to do with government programs. Politicians always promise to transform society from the outside in and from the top down. However, the True Change that Jesus offers comes from the inside out and from the bottom up.
Jesus came into the world as a helpless baby. Right from the beginning, the kings of the earth felt threatened. (Matthew 2:3) Jesus never promised Utopia. However, He has a power that no earthly ruler will ever have. He has the power to change your life and to give you eternal life, if you will just make Him Lord over your life. He is the only King you will ever be able to elect, and in His Kingdom any day can be Election Day. And, unlike the state, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)
When Napoleon was dying in exile on the island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic, he is rumored to have said something to this effect: I built an kingdom on force and it collapsed. Jesus built an Kingdom on love and it endures.
If you want to give and receive gifts and spend time with friends and family this Christmas, by all means do so. That is my plan. But if Our Savior's birth is not at the center of your celebration, it is all for naught. Jesus offers you so much that the world simply cannot.
I leave you with the last verse of the Bible, Revelation 22:21: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
If you wish to post this or pass it on, please include a this URL. Also, please e-mail me and let me know. How does that sound?
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman