Christmas thoughts: Humble Beginnings, Worldwide Ends

Christmastime is a time to consider the birth of Christ. It’s “the reason for the season”, as the saying goes. Even with the busyness, commercialism and 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 we identify as Palestine and 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 stood the test of time.

That movement has become the largest religion in the world today found on every continent and in every corner of the world. It is largely responsible for all the fundamental values of Western Civilization, though many people in “the west” have lost of sight of its influence. As appreciation seems to be waning for those foundations in the west, its influence is spreading in the east and global south.

It flourishes 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 all people groups of the earth.

The circumstances of the birth of this influential, but humble, man are shrouded in mystery and quiet awe. Though many doubt the claims attached to him, no one can doubt his time enduring and global influence. 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 miracles. He was known even by his detractors as the man who performed miracles. Many skeptics remain 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 hundreds of thousands, to millions and hundreds of millions, and the numbers 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 before the most recent clamp down on religious activity. Though 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. 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 of a man named Jesus who lived maybe 30 years in a remote corner of the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. But, the roots go back further than that, if you believe the story. They go back to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures spoken hundreds of years before he was born.

Take a moment to read these words found in a scroll discovered in a jar in a cave in a remote area of the Dead Sea region of the Middle East. I provide the reference at the end.

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.

Isaiah 53

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