Christmas ?


The Bible does not contain the word "Christmas". (That is also true for some of the traditional "seasonal" representations, including dating.) So, why this post? I will examine NT statements that do relate to Jesus coming into our world the first time.

Here (again) is a succinct statement by Paul (the Apostle): But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law (Galatians 4, NLT). The timing, the person, the process and the setting, neatly encapsulated.

 I note the insistence on a real live birth, and that all this was a plan made by God. The contemporaries of Jesus show no doubt they were dealing with a human being like them (- and just who did he think he was, anyway!).  Moreover, Paul reminds us, Jesus, the Son who was sent, was born a Jew - or perhaps more accurately, an Israelite - one of the people generously bonded to the LORD and guided by his law. (Later on, people would speculate that Jesus was something else, not flesh and blood.)

In Romans Paul includes more "incidental" insistence on the reality of the Nazareth carpenter being like us: The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be[a] the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit[b]. Romans 1 (CEV). Further on in the letter we are told: If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. 2 The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you[a] free from sin and death. The Law of Moses cannot do this, because our selfish desires make the Law weak. But God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin. God used Christ’s body to condemn sin. 4 He did this, so that we would do what the Law commands by obeying the Spirit instead of our own desires. Romans 8 (CEV). Jesus and we share the same humanity. When cut, when pierced, he would bleed.

Hebrews discusses Jesus being "one of us": 14 We are people of flesh and blood. That is why Jesus became one of us. He died to destroy the devil, who had power over death. 15 But he also died to rescue all of us who live each day in fear of dying. 16 Jesus clearly did not come to help angels, but he did come to help Abraham’s descendants. 17 He had to be one of us, so that he could serve God as our merciful and faithful high priest and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of our sins. 18 And now that Jesus has suffered and was tempted, he can help anyone else who is tempted (Hebrews 2, CEV).

These writers only make sense when we know that Jesus, the man from Galilee, was born like we are. Truly human - yes; but, a rebel - no!: 14So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4, NLT.) The writer has a further point on Christ sharing our path, and the finalisation of the sin and judgement question: he (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:26-28, ESV). Die once. However, unlike us, the Christ appeared, and will appear.
In Philippians chapter 2, a striking ancient creed-like formulation moves from his glory to his sacrificial death via his coming into our world.  Along with the insistence on actual human-ness there is the other facet, one which gives a model for emulation: 
  5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross. (NRSV) 

Some time before those explanations above were being shared, during an interchange in the Temple Jesus insisted: 2I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.... (text omitted) 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. (John 8, NRSV) So, again we see that Jesus was "sent" into this world; in the very same context, he says he "came".  (More than once we find the verb in the perfect tense, "I have come".)

Jesus summed up the reason for his first coming: 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20, NLT). "And to give" - note that second clause, please. The Son of Man came purposing to give his life a ransom for many, even by death on a cross, as being one accursed by God.

Another time Jesus described himself and his role this way: 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10, ESV). This is why he came, and come he did indeed.
We find Jesus on trial telling the truth to the Governor: 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18, NRSV). Again, Jesus says his coming into the world was intentional. He did not put it indirectly, as, "I was born for this" but rather the direct, "I have come". Who then is this? Pilate had a lot to think about that day!

In Mark, as in John, Jesus simply appears on the opening page as an adult. Perhaps some believers in early days may never have had their curiosity satisfied.  John (chapter 1) has the striking prologue giving the meaning of Jesus. Here is some of what John has: 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known (NRSV). The pre-existent "Word" took on "flesh" through his birth, and lived a fully human life. Mysterious and strange.

The "Nativity" account is another matter. So we read: Now the birth of Jesus Christ[e] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[f] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-21, ESV). "Nativity" is not a word in the English or Greek Bible (the word that is used there is equivalent to "genesis"). Nonetheless, as you see, Matthew relates the miraculous birth of Jesus.

Luke also reports on the impossible angelic message:  Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel[e] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin. (Luke 1: 30-34, NLT). Surely not surprising that Jospeh, and Mary, would have trouble with these ideas!

The infancy accounts do not readily harmonise.
Matthew has: 
  • Angel, 
  • Jospeh, 
  •  Mary, 
  • pregnancy, 
  • marriage, 
  • "Jesus", 
  • astrologers (?), 
  • Herod, 
  • Bethlehem house, 
  • Egypt, 
  • Nazareth.
Introduced by birth of John the Baptiser, Luke has: 
  • Mary, 
  • angel, 
  • pregnancy, 
  • Nazareth, 
  • "taxes", 
  • Bethlehem, 
  • manger, 
  • shepherds, 
  • Jerusalem, 
  • "Jesus", 
  • Nazareth. 
So, Matthew and Luke read quite independently, with different emphases and perhaps are from the standpoint of either, Joseph (who was to decently marry the mother), or of Mary, who was to be the (birth) mother. Incidentally, who does the naming? Is it Mary, or is it Joseph? (In each case the verb is singular.) No way to be definitive but I assume it was a joint and equal act - which contrasts in some ways with the portrayed status of women. There is no conflict as to the actual name he was given - Jesus!

The baby of Bethlehem came unremarked by the "people who counted", the religious establishment and the 'inner circle'. It looks like most of those affected back then were from the "hoi polloi". Today? What Jesus said makes clear the significance of his coming to be a saviour ("The Saviour") for you and for me. His offer is for real and for always. This actually is the gift that "keeps on giving". I hope you have or will make that gift your own.

Did our local traders capture Christmas (which was a truly commercial success)? Have I covered the meaning of "Christmas"? The word originally was about a certain kind of church activity at a particular time in the calendar. Nowadays? I reside in a location that is not "WASP" majority but has many different demographics, including from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia. Still, just like everywhere in Australia (no doubt), we have public decorations (sample below - ours are "neutral"), and much "Christmas" for sale. Do we not actually have an annual cultural festive holiday season which is detached from celebrating a birth?  (The birthday in mind back then was of the one who came that you and I might have life, and life "in its fullest".)

Above decorations adorn local bins, etc, here, courtesy of the traders. Possibly the December date has reverted to a more ancient pagan function?
However, just past the edge of our commercial zone there is a large block of land containing a church, etc, and this durable seasonal decoration (below), which reflects some popular interpretations of the birth accounts and a nice sentiment (if only):

A local garden contribution:

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
AL 14/01/24

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