Thursday, December 22, 2016

Honoring the Jesus of Christmas

In case any of us have forgotten, the Jesus of Christmas was a Jew. He was born one, lived one his entire life, and died one. He had no intention of starting a new religion (Christianity). His life as a teacher and healer was to do something good within Judaism, within the faith he had known all of his life.

He did not die for the sins of the world. This was something his followers and the writers of the New Testament later ascribed to him. He died because he challenged the powers of the Roman Empire. He died because he threatened the Emperor’s influence, by promoting peace between people and nations, and not war and dominance. He died because he preached economic and political justice, which people were starving to hear and experience, but which those who governed thwarted.

We forget these things. Or else we have never considered the real facts around the life of Jesus. But Bible scholars, theologians, archeologists, historians and solid researchers have known these things for 2000 years. It’s been out there, but most never hear it or read about it. And many if they did wouldn’t want to believe it.

We have so Westernized, and politicized, and diluted and polluted the life and teachings of the historical Jesus that he no longer represents the danger he was to established power.

Today, Jesus would not be identified with Trump or the Clintons, with Joel Osteen or Kenneth Copeland, with Wall Street bankers or Corporate America. Instead, he would be with the Syrian refugees, or among the poor in the ghettos of India and Africa, or in the blighted neighborhoods of urban America and the impoverished counties of the South. He would be holding the unarmed black men shot by police. He would be supporting the LBGT community reminding them that they too belong to God and always have. He would be standing with women in their struggle for respect and equal rights and fair pay. And yes, he would love and care for any girl or woman who made the difficult choice for abortion. And there would be no condemnation by him, ever, for that decision no matter the circumstances. He would be at the border helping illegal immigrants to safety and to a life here they dream of having. And he would sit with those in the crowded, noisy, confusing United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offices and offer them comfort in the grueling process that awaits them there. And for the illegal millions hiding from deportation he would protect and shield them. He would march with the Black Lives Matter movement. He would openly speak against bigotry in any form, against all racism, against petty and profound prejudices, against hate toward any person. He would be a friend to animals, to the environment, and to nature. He would challenge us to be attentive and gracious, unselfish and compassionate, tolerant and kind, nurturing and loving. He would celebrate laughter and delight, mischief and independence. But he would also not hesitate to confront evil in any design, scheme, or appearance.

That is who Jesus was. That is the Jesus of Christmas.

Religious gift giving at Christmas came out of the story of the Wise Men bringing their offerings of love to the Christ Child; and the idea that Jesus was himself a gift to the world. Their shared treasures hallowed that reality. But our gift giving today is often a process of frantic shopping, bargain hunting, long lines of the weary and frazzled, angry people break-necking for parking, and the all-consuming task of getting it all wrapped and under the tree.

Family. Christmas dinner together. Demonstrations of affection. Laughter. Celebrating food and drink. Donations to those in need. All of this is a part of what Christmas and the holiday festivities bring us as well. And these are the best gifts we give and receive.

These lines from English poet and novelist, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, give Christmas meaning:

“Through the dim and lonely forest
Comes a low sweet sound,
Like the whispering of angels
To the greenwood round,
Bearing through the hours of midnight,
On their viewless wings,
Music in its measure telling
High and holy things.”

If we get there, if we remember who Jesus was, what his life and death were really about, and if we experience some sense of high and holy things, then we will have honored the Jesus of Christmas.

© Copyright 2016 Timothy Moody

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