December 25, 2019
Another from the archives!
Why Christmas indeed? Non-Christians have a very difficult time understanding the religious implications of Christmas, and why it is so important to the Christian faith. Atheists scoff at Christmas in the religious sense because they think it nothing more than a co-opting of the old Roman Saturnalia, which was a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. I remember a few years ago atheists were saying "happy solstice!" in a vain attempt to de-sacralize Christmas. There has been a big push to eliminate Christmas, a war being waged on it, just as the Left (largely successfully) waged war on Easter; when I was a boy Easter was a big holiday, with everyone participating. Now it is primarily "spring break" and only in the churches is it even remembered that it is Easter (which to Christians is an even bigger holy day than Christmas.)
The forces of darkness have pressed heavily on the culture to disown Christ from His birth to His death and Resurrection.
But again, I must ask the question; why Christmas? What is so special about it? Is it the fun of giving and getting? The pageantry? The colorful lights, frosty air, ice skating? Ugly sweaters? Egg nog? (Well, there is something to be said for that!)
Is it something deeper? Perhaps about charity, kindness, good will?
These are all good things and enjoyable at Christmastime, but are not the central point of Christmas. Much effort has been expended to make people think Christmas is either a commercial racket (it's run by a big Eastern syndicate, as Lucy Van Pelt says) or it's some feel-good tribute to the human spirit and dignity, also worthwhile to a degree but falling far short of the true meaning of Christmas. Look; you have all year to give to the poor. There is no special reason to give something at Christmastime except to make YOURSELF feel good. Christmas alms are not really that charitable because they are done for the wrong reasons. Don't get me wrong; giving is always a good thing! But true charity is done silently and without reward. Christmas charity is for show and warm fuzzy feelings. In the end it's about pleasure. And the good it accomplishes is limited.
And so we can say, like an onion, Christmas has layers, each of which peel off to reveal another layer. As Pontius Pilate asked Jesus before sentencing Him to death "what is Truth?"
The fact is all of this detracts from the REAL meaning of Christmas. This is the old snare of the Devil, to put on a magic show, to divert your attention so you miss what is happening.
See, God, who is infinite and far beyond our ability to comprehend, desired to share Himself and so began creating all manner of things and creatures. We don’t exactly understand why or how but suffice it to say we understand the what of it. Herein lies the problem, the stumbling block to so many; Islam, for instance, disdains Christianity for accepting so many mysteries, and innumerable heresies in the early days were tied to Gnostic beliefs, the idea that you should be able to understand God. Why should we? Most people do not understand quantum physics or relativity, and those are easy next to the absolute Creator of all things. But there is an arrogance in Man (an echo of the Fall) that demands understandable answers. Well, a Divine Being worthy of worship should NOT be understandable by our few measly pounds of gray matter. The notion that we can understand God and that we know best is a conceit born in Hell.
Literally; the legend, coming from the Bible, is that the greatest of the angelic beings created by God rebelled, seeking to be a god unto himself. We are talking about non-corporeal beings, and as such we translate what happened into anthropomorphic terms which are undoubtedly very imprecise, but suffice it to say Lucifer told God to buzz off. Leave, split, take a hike. Like any good parent the Almighty reluctantly let Lucifer and the other angels he had seduced go their own way, be their own gods. Up to that point God had given them everything, had made them infinitely happy. But for whatever reason Lucifer and some of the others rebelled.
Why? Well, if you were God would you make people love you? How hollow is that? Most of us have had the experience of unrequited love, where a person we are crazy about just isn't into us at all, and had we the power we might try to force them to love us. But we would always know that person loved us not for ourselves but because we MADE them. Love not freely offered is not love at all.
So what do you do if you are God? People might love your power, or love what you can do for them, but love Him for Himself? That has to be freely given. The answer is you let go and allow them to choose their own course. If they choose you you will be happy, but if not then, like Ebenezer Scrooge, may they be happy in the life they have chosen.
That we call Hell. Most people have childish visions of Hell as some sort of torture chamber with flames and cartoon devils with pitchforks, but the real flames are for the tortures of ones' own puss-filled heart. In the end it will be a place of endlessness, a pointless existence at best. And you are there with all manner of people who you really don't like at all.
God really doesn't want that for anybody. But He is in a tight spot because He can't MAKE you love Him - or anyone else.
And you aren't fit to be in Heaven if you are a sinner, not because you can't be forgiven but because your negativity will ruin it for everyone else.
When I was a boy I was on a swim team and we practiced early in the morning. I always hated to be the first person in the pool; the water was so calm, glass clear and I didn't want to be the person to roil it. It was perfect, see, and my entry was going to cloud it - and it would stay clouded until the next morning. Heaven is like that; a place where everyone is perfect and we poor sinners have to despoil it or stay out. We all choose to stay out without help.
Look at it this way; if we were all telepathic we would know everything about everyone. Our souls would be buck naked to the casual eye! NOW do you get it? Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge and SAW THEY WERE NAKED. Well, they knew they were physically naked - that wasn't the point. They were now aware that they had something to hide and no way to hide it. The fig leaf was a metaphorical attempt to cover their psychological nudity. As a kindness God kicked them out of paradise and sewed skins of animals into clothes - in other words, He made them physical bodies. And He promised them death, which was far preferable than the kind of death they were supposed to receive for sinning, the kind the fallen angels chose. Physical death was a cheat, and no doubt infuriated Satan, who thought he had ensnared the whole human race. But physical death is no picnic, and the disembodied Adam and Eve were still not able to go to Heaven without some sort of salvation, something that repaired their souls.
They were sick and needed a spiritual transplant.
And like an AIDS infected mother passing the disease along to her children Adam and Eve passed this disease along to the rest of us. Yes, this was part of God's plan all along, but it was no fun. And we still needed the cure.
Which put the Almighty in another pickle. How to deal with open sinners, people who acted like jerks, and still maintain the high standards that the unfallen had to maintain? Mercy is a virtue but too much of it is a vice. We all understand this; letting a serial rapist off with a warning only guarantees another woman will be raped. That is no longer mercy. But how do you draw the line? God stopped speaking directly to Humanity because of Sin; He had to, or He was a hypocrite and Satan would make sure to use that against Him. God began judiciously speaking to sinners; Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. He told them what He expected and gave them the Law to help guide them. But God knew full well the Law was unfollowable by a decadent and corrupt Humanity. And of course Satan and the other fallen angels kept tempting Man; it was the only weapon they had to use against God. They were angry at Him for not giving them a second chance, even though they knew exactly what they were doing when they chose their fate, something Humanity did not. (The fallen angels wanted to have their cake and eat it too; go their own way but have all the benefits of a relationship with God. In short, they wanted to be co-Gods with Him. God would forgive them if they would repent, but none of them ever will because long ago they chose themselves over everyone and everything else.)
Something had to be done to save Mankind. As matters stood nobody was getting out of hell.
And what better way could God show His love to us than to do the job Himself?
Soren Kierkegard, the great Danish philosopher and Christian apologist, compared this situation to a king who falls in love with a lowly maiden. He wants her to love him in return but can find no way to know if she loves him or his wealth and power. There is, of course, only one answer; he abdicates his throne, gives away all his money, and goes to her a pauper. Now she either loves him or does not, but he knows it is a true love.
So God incarnated a part of Himself, becoming not just a man but a rather lowly one at that. Jesus was a Nazorean - a hillbilly from the country. Nazoreans were the equivalent of Arkansas woodsmen or West Virginia coal miners; they were looked down on by the rest of the Israelites. Jesus clearly fit into the "basket of deplorables" Hillary disdained. He was a country rube, a guy with no pedigree (although he was related to King David it wasn't much to crow about) and had no formal education. Nobody would ever dream he would be called "sir" much less Lord.
Now Jesus' mother was a very holy young woman, and in Catholic teaching she had Original Sin waived as a gift from God so He would not be born in a sinful body. (Protestants disagree with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which says Mary was born sinless - not Jesus alone.) In Scripture it was said that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, and the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that was going to be her. Now a teenage girl betrothed to a young man as was Mary to Joseph was not going to be believed when she said the Holy Spirit impregnated her, and the embarrassment in an honor culture like the Israelites had must have been horrendous. The Gospels say Joseph wanted to dump her, but he had a dream telling him to go forward with the marriage. Imagine that! Joseph knew HE hadn't been doing anything to get his fiancé' pregnant! But he went through with it anyway.
One wonders if that isn't why Mary went with Joseph to Bethlehem during the census; she was getting along and it was perhaps thought better she have the baby away from wagging tongues in Galilee? I don't know if she had to come or not, but it was a terribly trying trip, with so many people in town she had to sleep in a cold dirty stable and give birth to the Messiah.
It is hard to follow God. It's supposed to be.
I like to compare life to a tournament where you are deciding your standing. Most people want to win, but you have to really work at it if you do. There are some who, upon being challenged, take their ball and go home. These are some who loaf about, content with just watching the pageant. And then there are those serious about winning. Your place in eternity is decided by how you approach the tournament. Mary, the mother of Jesus, took the terrible suffering she was dealt with quiet acceptance and so won the place highest in creation, far above Lucifer, who had been given the greatest gifts but who threw them away in his pride. It must gall the old devil that a peasant woman towers above him in Creation! But Mary said yes when Satan said no, and the end result is she was exalted while he was laid low. And he will be laid much lower in the future as the universe winds down and he is forced to live with himself and his destructive meddling forever.
Jesus came into the world to die, as do we all, but His death was special, because Je did nothing to deserve it and was made to suffer horrible anyway. He took on the suffering of all of us and as a result was able to break the barrier between God and Man, the one Man imposed on himself. It was a rescue mission. And while Jesus' words were important they were not the critical aspect of His coming. Barack Obama said he was a great admirer of Jesus because He was a "great teacher". That misses the whole point of the story! It wasn't the words that mattered but the act, a supreme act of love for a bunch of ingrates. And it mattered who Jesus was.
Do I understand it fully? No, but that only increases my belief, because if I understood it fully I would have to dismiss the Divine nature of it. The workings of God are a mystery to me because I am not quite in His league. He devised this plan before ever creating anything at all. I've only been around for a few years, and have a brain that weighs just a few pounds. If I understood this I wouldn't feel comfortable at all with the veracity of my faith.
Why is faith so important? That is another atheist complaint, that we should be able to understand. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell famously quipped "Were I to meet God I would ask Him why did he hide himself so?" and Russell thinks this was some great damaging philosophical point, when in reality it is little more than a naughty child asking why he has to go to school, or eat his broccoli. God hides Himself because a.we don't deserve to see Him and b.it would invalidate the whole project. God showing himself would be like a teacher giving you the answers to a test. That is not what the teacher is there for. The teacher is there to help you learn, so you can answer the questions on the test yourself. If he gives you the answers you just copy them to pass then forget them all. You never LEARNED anything. Life is about our learning to live, learning to love, learning to do what is right even when we would rather not. Faith is vitally important because without it we stop trying to grow, or if we continue trying to grow it is in the wrong direction. Cancer cells try to grow, too, but wind up being deadly to the body. Proof of God would be like that. It would tamper with our free will, our right to choose, our walking a path that we may not like but which we trust is correct.
Imagine if we were to know God existed for a fact. Nobody would sin, which seems to be a good thing, but then nobody would have a choice in the matter either and in the end Heaven would be a worthless prize, something not so much earned but given. It would be a participation trophy! Our place in eternity would be fixed, with no sense of accomplishment or success.
It is horrible that some people choose to go to hell (and that is precisely what they do) but it would be worse if everyone were forced to be happy like it or not. That is what so many of our Progressive friends seek, an enforced conviviality, and it is soul-crushing.
No, we are free people because we have a choice. If we choose to be miserable than at least it is our own decision. God wants us to choose otherwise, but He isn't going to force us. If we knew for a fact we would be forced, made to act against our will.
So faith is vital to our eternal happiness. God fulfilled that faith when He sent Jesus to save us.
THAT is the miracle of Christmas, the thing we celebrate. It is not about gifts and parties and eggnog, nor about charity or good works. We do those things in memory of Jesus, but in the end Christmas was the beginning of Calvary, and the Resurrection which validated the whole thing. It was the salvation of us all, and it started with a virgin birth.
So a very Merry Christmas to all! Even you, my separated brethren, be ye atheist or Muslim or what have you; the miracle of Christmas is still yours for the taking.
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So faith is vital to our eternal happiness. God fulfilled that faith when He sent Jesus to save us.
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