“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end ” [ISAIAH 9: 6-7a].
The fact the Jesus died on the cross is less mysterious and miraculous to me than that he chose to be born into humanhood, and those happy Hallmark-type movies about finding love thanks to a “Christmas spirit” don’t cut it. They do not approach the Christmas Spirit.
I have always loved Christmas, the Christmas season, the music and rehearsal of the music for services and concerts, and I have always cried at Christmas: Poverty and Sorrow, War, Hunger, Loneliness, Grief, and Pain are highlighted by the sparkly lights and silly jingles and ads with oversized gas-guzzlers sporting giant red bows– the over-indulgences and overdone-ness of this land of commerce and conspicuous consumption and the whole sad, displaced world..
Last year and this, the whole world has suffered under the isolation and loss of quarantine and sickness and death during COVID. We have all lost loved ones, dear friends– to death and to other causes not less painful. There is not a lot of happiness around this Advent season; Christmas is about finding joy in Jesus even in the darkest times.
Yes, Jesus. The Christ-mas(s) is not about family gatherings and laden tables and giving gifts, though these are surely good things; the celebration of the birth of the Christ is the point.
Most gods of bread and wine and lands and kingdoms died and were reborn, or the king or priest was representationally killed to give way to the new, the green rebirth of the spring– any glance into mythologies will show Osiris and Dionysus, and anyone or -thing that represents seed dying in the ground for the stem and the grain, the grass, the fruit, to grow and bloom, and I have written a lot about this in earlier essays.
Jesus’ death is like ours; like every animal’s, like every star’s and cell’s; what is born dies, what is, changes; the earth turns and wobbles on its axis a little more as it ages, yet the seasons cycle; orbits in the solar system have altered, fallen out of the round, and their speeds have changed, yet the galaxies continue to spin: this is how it still is.
Jesus’ birth– why, why would Almighty God, the LORD of Hosts, Creator of the universe, Spirit and breath of all things, want to live one short, hard, ugly, itchy, dusty human life in a backwater “kingdom” at the edge of the Roman world?
Or anywhere, or time?
We’re always told: “Love”. Because He loves us; “God so loved the world that He sent“, They became, the Son “so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (JOHN 3:16).
Eternal life is not the houred human kind. Now, it is true that our molecules, our atoms of energy and stuff shall not, according to laws of science, disappear– things change and shift and conglomerations of things dissolve and re-congeal in new formations and thus forms; maybe you stop there, and are happy enough with that.
Eternal life must be outside the natural, clock-marked, human life; it is not endless life, which would not be heavenly at all. It is– Being -with-God (“God”)? The writings of the prophets attempt to describe what they saw in their visions of the LORD and “His Throne” — but our minds and language and the experience and knowledge upon which we base our ideas, the senses and experiences from which we and they project imaginations are not quite adequate to describing that which is Holy– apart from and different than anything temporal, physical, motion-and-change-ruled or gravity-held. We cannot even name the highest possible number, because, however big a number one can get to, we can add one (1) to it. Or however small the particle, we can try to smash it and record where the pieces fly.
Eternal life is the Good News–the matter of Joy, whatever else it is.
Love; what does love want? “Withness”? We want to be with those we love, or to know that they are well; we want our loved ones to be whole and healthy and happy, and do what we can to make them so: we give, we do for, we feed our beloveds.
What is “love” to The Creator of all heavens and all earths? Evidence suggests: creation, creating living things and feeding them. Forming energies and energizing forms, generating nouns and verbs, numbers and functions.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” [JOHN 1: 1-2.]
This Word, this Son of God, is incarnation.
All that is, is of Him, in Him, made of the stuff of Him by Him. God Who Spoke this Word did and does and will provide star stuff, hydrogen, oxygen, helium, et cetera, the fiery gasses and cooling atoms and building blocks of all things. God formed from Themself the sun and the planets around this sun, and the water and soil on this sphere, the plankton and algae and moss and worms and fish and birds and animals; every reptile and amphibian and every chordate, every grass and every fruit tree, every lion and wild ox and human ancestor, and then, too, this particular man Jesus in this specific time and place (I believe).
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria). And everyone went to his own town to register” [LUKE 2: 1-3.]
These are probably the most famous opening lines of a story in the so-called Western world.
I really don’t have much to say about this text, except that while scholars nit-pick about exact years of the census and the death of King Herod in Julian or pre-Gregorian dating, most agree that the census was taken, and the history truthful.
I don’t know that many people think that a man named Jesus was not born in a town called Bethlehem or a province called Judea when Augustus was Caesar.
Only two of the four New Testament Gospels tell about Jesus’ birth. They all include his baptism, his temptations by Satan, his feeding of “the five thousand” with the few loaves and fish, and his arrest, crucifixion, and appearances after death. Even Luke puts Jesus’ nativity in Chapter 2: he opens with Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are childless and elderly; they are told that Elizabeth will at last bear a son, who will be named John and will be a prophet and will go before the LORD, preparing the way for him. When Elizabeth is six months pregnant, Mary is told that she will have a baby who will be the Son of God; when she has agreed to let God do this through her, she goes to see Elizabeth, a cousin.
The older and the young mothers- to -be spent time together. Their greeting and the hymns of praise that leapt from their hearts and throats swell through Luke 1; and to me it is wonderful that neither Mary nor even Jesus himself was sent into this mission in this world alone.
When Jesus was born, there was a great astrological event seen in the sky– perhaps a great planetary conjunction like that of December 2020 C.E., but probably a singular “star”, for astrologers even then would have observed two planets approaching each other before appearing to meet, and separating after. Magi– philosophers, astrologers, scholars, scientists of their day– saw and charted the star and believed that it meant the birth of a great King. They followed the light to Jerusalem, and asked Herod , who had been appointed by Rome to rule Jewish Judea, where this new King was in order that they might see and worship him. Herod had his people study the place and time prophesied, and sent his soldiers out to kill all the male children in Bethlehem born within the two-year time frame, in an attempt to kill Jesus ( Matthew 2:1-18).
This Herod the Great killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem.
Was the birth of Jesus important enough to the world for that devastation and death, the slaughter of the innocents?
“Therefore the LORD Himself will give a you sign; the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” [ISAIAH 7:14].
This classic verse, written 800 years before Jesus was conceived, makes me think of a section of Revelation, chapter 12, about the woman and the dragon:
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon…His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born” [REVELATION 12: 1-4].
The woman gave birth to a son who was snatched up to God, the woman sent to earth to be hidden in a desert, and “Then There was war in heaven…the great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan
“Who leads the whole world astray” [REV 12:7-9].
The earth helped the woman to escape the dragon, who, in Rev. 12:17 “went off to make war against the rest of her offspring– those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
Was it Satan through Herod trying to stop Jesus’ work of salvation? Satan possessed or influenced or was equated to several kings in Biblical history, such as Pharaoh and the King of Babylon and the Prince of Persia ( Exodus, Isaiah, and Daniel), and tempted Jesus later with the offer to give him all the kingdoms of the earth– somehow, humans or God let Satan become the ruler of this world– temporarily. This Satan is not an equal of God the Father Son Spirit, but seems– with the use of Kings and Emperors, politicians, and Rulers of the Wealth and Weapons of the world, to be co- creator of havoc, of corruption, fear, and exploitation and theft and terrorism and war, and of lying about motives for war.
I think that Jesus was born, Godhead became human, to experience our humanness, to share and know our physical and spiritual battles with sickness, irritation, pain; hunger, cold, indigestion, blisters and boils– he suffered flogging, beating, and being nailed to wood– and sweated blood trying not to give in to the temptation to skip the whole death-on-the-cross thing–. Bodies and spirits fight, fight to stay alive, and on the cross he had to resist the temptation to call on those angels to rescue him now, especially as one of the thieves beside him, and the people watching, kept taunting him and telling him to save himself; and there was that horrible, last proposal: “Save yourself now, before our eyes, and we’ll believe in you.” Echoing the temptations in the wilderness before he began teaching publicly; “You could say no to me then,” one can hear Satan saying; “how about now?”
Jesus on earth was waging open war with Satan, casting out demons from people– and the demons always recognized him and knew who he was.
He lived to destroy the enemy that has always been hard at work destroying us and our habitat, twisting our human minds and bodies, throwing natural cycles and solar orbits out of wack.
These wars are waging all around and in us– and– the armor of God is heavy.
Sin in Eden (mythologically, symbolically, spiritually, and psychologically [– and here is where we see that “eternity” is not time: in our psyches and imaginations and in the prophetic writings, all times are jumbled, existing at once]) brought death– which might not mean the physical death that is natural and part of process, but spiritual death. Some who have been plunged into deep, overwhelming suicidal Despair have had a taste of this– and what if there was nothing, not even suicide, to help one escape it? Christ the LORD came and does come and will come with a sharp sword to defeat that enemy so that we might have whatever that Eternal Life is, and healing of our minds and psyches here. Hope. A little light. Darkness cannot overcome it.
Jesus was born to heal the sick, broken souls (and soils– the earth will be restored to goodness), to reconcile sinful humanity with holy God the Maker. and to issue the New Commandment under the New Covenant which he ratified with his blood and body. The commandment is “Love one another.”
Everything else in the Mosaic Law, and most cultures’ laws of morality, after Love God, comes under it, and can be followed through this: love each other.
This loving is not the warm fuzzy feeling of sappy movies, but acting in ways that heal rather than harm, that put the needs of others before the wants of one’s self, that tend and care for and share with our fellows– our neighbors and fellow creatures and this community upon the communal earth.
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” [ROMANS 13: 11-12]
The Nativity story is full of blood, dirt, discomfort, fear, awe, joy and wonder; the division between Earth and Heaven, Divine and Earthly, was overcome; the Holy Spirit of God took the blood and bone and body of a woman and the life conceived was man and god. Glory filled the sky and those shepherds outside town saw the Angels who were singing Gloria as they had at the beginning when the earth was formed (stars and angels sang!) The whole book from Genesis to Revelation is full of blood and bodies an dirt, earthquakes and wars, pestilence, violence, sickness, rape– all our history is the same, and if there is not love there is despair.
“And there were shepherds living out in th fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the LORD. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the LORD has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him,, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” [LUKE 2: 8-20 (NIV)]
Yes, December 25 was chosen to fit Jewish and Gentile festivals of lights, of Hope and Life and Light in darkness, times of distress, and in the cold. And yes, many of the traditions, from the Christmas Tree down, have pagan origins– so people can have a jolly time arguing themselves out of cheer and decorations all they wish: the evergreens are made by God for water, shelter, warmth and food and joy.
May all the forest gods and faeries, dryads, and naiads and our dogs and cats come delight in our tree, green with life all season, while the leaves of the oaks and elms and ashes cover the burrow entrances, and keep safe and warm the winter-sleeping creatures. May all that has life and breath praise.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; and let men say among the nations, the LORD reigneth.
Let the seas roar, and the fulness thereof; let the fields rejoice, and all that is therein.
Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the LORD, because He cometh to judge the earth.” [1 CHRONICLES 16: 31-33]