Christmastime is a time to consider the birth of Christ. That is “the reason for the season” as the saying goes. Even with the layering of a celebration of the birth of Christ over a Roman holiday celebrating a pagan mystery religion, and even in the busyness of all the commercialism and shopping frenzy, and in spite of the looming red eclipse of Santa, we usually pause to connect the dots to the birth of Jesus.
Whether you wish people a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, Christmas involves some acknowledgment of the birth of a man who was called Jesus who lived and died in the 1st Century in the region of Palestine and modern Israel today. Here, in the confluence of Roman, Greek, Jewish and pagan influences, an obscure carpenter who lived maybe 33 years began a movement in human history that has spanned the globe and, even today, remains a predominant influence.
This movement created perhaps the freest and greatest democracy in human history. It flourishes even in the cold, communist climate of China and in the hotly hostile religious climate of Iran. It has made its way into the far reaches of the earth, down remote jungle streams and over barren desert sands to touch nearly all people groups of the earth.
The circumstances surrounding the birth of this influential, but humble, man are shrouded in mystery and quiet awe, if the circumstances are to be believed. His birth is the pivotal moment in human history and the pivotal point of God’s plan for his creation if we believe what has been told.
The consequences that have resulted from his short life and tragic death suggest there might be something to it. No one has been more influential in the history of men. No person’s influence has lasted so long and remains so strong, millennia after he walked the earth.
There were many skeptics who heard him speak and watched him perform the miracles that people swore to. There are many skeptics today. That much hasn’t changed. The number of people who believe and follow him, even to the point of death, have grown from a dozen, to hundreds, to thousands, to millions and continue to grow… and continue to spread out throughout the world.
In the nominally Christian United States, we fail to appreciate the extent to which Christianity has spread and thrives, even in some of the most hostile places, around the world. China, for example, is on a pace to surpass the United States in the number of churchgoers by the year 2030. In fact, while Christianity seems to be waning in the United States, the world is fast becoming more religious.
One out of four Christians today live in Africa. The African and Latin American Christian populations together include 1 billion people. Even today, demographers estimate that more Christian worshippers can be found on any given Sunday in China than in the US.
All of this from the humble beginnings in a remote corner of the Roman Empire in the 1st Century that we celebrate at Christmastime.
But, the roots go back further than that, if you believe the story. Consider this passage from the Bible. I am not giving the reference here. I will give it in the next installment of Christmas Thoughts.
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.