REVISITING THE NATIVITY
P. M. Joseph
It is Christmas season again; choirs are all set to sing carols and church bells to toll announcing the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only incarnate God, and Saviour of mankind. Strangely, it is not the meaning and the objective of the event that is central to many, as much as celebrations and festivities which transpire at its expense. A bizarre festive mood wafts around the globe at this season and everybody seems to be delighted at the upcoming event for reasons best known to them. The whole gamut (of celebration) is highly amusing as the Lord Jesus Christ, the core and the quintessence of the event is practically edged out and ignored. Necessarily, this makes all celebrations (sans Christ) absurd and euphoria hollow. More distressingly, most celebrations are prompted by crass commercial interest than by its implication, both among Christians and non-Christians alike. Tragically, further down the line, most celebrations tend to distort the meaning of the event and undermine its significance. The grim fact is, beyond the entire elation and revelry lingers its worth and import, though concealed to the naive. It is needless to say that most celebrators seldom venture on to the authentic purpose of Christmas past its non-essential constituents. However, only average logic is required to recognise that God did not incarnate to afford us mindless celebrations when religions afford them cheaply and abundantly! There is more to this event than what meets average eyes and they are extremely important that none misses it or dares to ignore it except at the peril of permanent injury to their souls. We will consider those implications briefly.
God reveals Himself to His creation in a general way through the nature. It is available everywhere and to everyone. They convey in inadequate and vague terms the existence of God; they are general revelations, but lack comprehensibility. Still, a moderately progressive understanding of His person and His nature, though protracted, condescended through His involvement in the lives of the patriarchs and in the history of Israel. The Old Testament is a lengthy record of this association. They are also, in fact, a tribute to God's sovereign grace that out of all the people on earth, the Israelites alone were exclusively fortunate to hear God and experience Him in a unique way, in their geographical and historical context. But, they as a nation not only failed to capitalise on it, but also squandered the rare honour promiscuously. The Old Testament and the history of Israel are blazing testimony to this reckless demeanour. Those understandings, in course of time, spilled over to the nations around, which were only smattering in volume and quality became the seed for various Semitic religious beliefs. However, with the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, a fresh epoch in Semitic religious history opened, as it was God condescending to incarnate and reveal Himself fully and comprehensively in the form of a man. This was not to be confined to a small geographical patch of land called Palestine, but also for the whole world. It was unique because it was God's final revelation of Himself to humankind, unqualified in quality and substance (Heb. 1: 1,2). Consequently, men and women of His days could have had a glimpse of God in human form walking down their streets and colligating with them as one among them. People could feel and understand who God was like, His glory and nature with His expectations. Rightly, that was the true purpose of Christmas. The Bible portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as "the image of the invisible God and an exact representation of His being" (Heb. 1:3). Later, through their witness, the entire world is allowed to know God. Precisely, the event emerges each year to remind that, two thousand years ago, God revealed Himself in Christ in perceivable terms so that man may acknowledge God as God, attribute to Him appropriate honour and submit to Him in obedience. So, beyond all excitements and celebrations, people should rediscover this delicate truth during this season.
Involvement To Restore Image
It may be intriguing to think that man, despite all his achievements, progress in various fields and cultural sophistication, is nowhere near what he originally was created for or destined to be. It is ironic that higher a man climbs in social and scientific contexts, the deeper he sinks morally and spiritually! In a practical sense, he is a broken mirror reflecting shattered images all the while, unable to mend it. This condition emerged, categorically, as a result of the Edenic debacle at the dawn of History, when the first man preferred to disobey God and shape his destiny apart from Him, defying His design. It landed him in an appalling spiritual and moral condition recognised as total depravity, a state in which man's whole disposition is slanted towards negativity, parading evil temperament and a perpetual bias against God and godliness. This rendered human existence a random pilgrimage with vague functions. This condition has, hence, pervaded the whole race. Originally, man created in God's moral image was imbued with His brilliance and splendour. He was expected to reflect his Creator's grandeur and reveal His authority on earth as a good steward, all the while maintaining a solid relationship with God. But all was lost with a single preference at Eden, a choice to be independent and self-governing. Therefore, he is a spiritual destitute today, devoid of the original loveliness and splendour. Needless to say that it rendered him spiritually imbecile, morally incompetent and intellectually a pauper. This patently explains in the incomprehensible human penchant for ungodliness and frailty resident in all cultures across the world. Every event in human history is an unpleasant reminder of the above. However, the Bible terms this condition as being 'short of God's glory.' That is, man now exists far below where God intended him to be, living an utterly inconsequential life, hostile to all of God's programmes on earth. When Jesus Christ was born, He was born to communicate to the world the above awful reality by living an impeccable life in absolute obedience to God and submitting to all His purpose implicitly within a human context. Apparently and unmistakably, His life communicated that nothing in life is more important than conforming to God's design and purpose. His life inspired and provoked people to simulate Him. In short, Jesus Christ was born so that people could see this truth actualised and substantiated in His life. It urged people, in unmistakable terms, to flock back to God in faith and repentance, the only way to regain their lost stand with God and recover their mislaid moral stature and image. When the Lord Jesus Christ said, "I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly," it was this that He was referring to a life with the original image regained and restored at His advocacy and expense (Rom. 8:29-30).
Correct Sense Of Values
Life on earth is the sum total of man's values practised in a given historical context and its substance, on the whole, is proportionate to the quality of those values, inherent, acquired and maintained. Besides, values are either decisive or trivial depending on one's exposure to the world of values. On them, to a great extent, hinges life's significance and worth too. As a reminder, correct and acceptable values are clearly represented in the Bible and the prudent among men draw from it. Values are not, much to our chagrin, neutral as some think it is, but highly coloured and distorted due to their contempt for God's eternal values as enshrined in His Word and preference for the ephemeral. Therefore, if values are anomalous with the Bible, it is inimical and scandalous. Further, embarrassing as it might be, average man exists with values anomalous to the Biblical, leaving life a mere cosmic casualty. To a great extent, this, accounts for man's moral stands and approaches for being appalling and outrageous. Quite unlike this, the life of the Lord Jesus Christ remains a permanent exception with eternal values in situ, packing off temporary values to the periphery where they rightly belong. His life was a categorical demonstration of values acceptable to God, beneficial to the society and supportive to man. Therefore, it is said rightly that the only consequential life that ever lived on earth after (unfallen) Adam is that of the Lord Jesus. It was along those lines He said, 'my food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and finish His work' placing God's will above His own physical needs. Common man, on the other hand, places his preferences before God's. Then, He prayed at one time, 'Father, I have finished the work You entrusted Me,' pointing to the completeness of His life and work, as an accurate paradigm for correct priorities. So, the life of our Lord Jesus Christ was a perfect illustration of life attuned to eternal values and, on the other hand, an example of how temporal values is to be addressed. This makes Him and His teachings permanently unique, a perpetual example to follow. He was born in Bethlehem to afford us the portrait of a life with correct sense of values and more, His teachings, their only manual. More, the fact that His life was the only upright one in history points to the significance of accurate sense of values and its practice. So, the birth of the Lord Jesus is a window to the world of correct values and it persistently invites people to invest on them.
Correct Prevalent Perceptions
While He ministered on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ was both amused and distressed (to a great extent He still is) over people's warped perceptions of life and its destiny. It was because they were lethargic about that which they should have been most concerned about. Characteristically, most people simply behaved harum-scarum with regard to this critical frontier in life, their eternal destiny of with or without God. It did not matter much to many. Both the religious and the irreligious were equally guilty of this aberrant disregard. It, naturally, resulted in the downgrading of lofty human destiny, and condemning it to lower than intended realms, of feeding and breeding with no concerns beyond. It was a question of perception. It is always challenging and tricky. Essentially, life's significance depends on it. While perception is an exceptional faculty that distinguishes man from animals, the abuse of it makes him strangely identical. Yet, paradoxically, he prefers to abuse this faculty and undercut his identity than avoiding its eternal ramification. So man's basic problem is his (garbled) perceptions and loss of priority logic. Lord Jesus was born in order that through His life and teachings such as 'man shall not live by bread alone,' 'life does not consist of thing one possess', 'what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul,' people can identify correct perceptions and alter their skewed perceptions in order to adapt to the Biblical. His life was an effort to ingrain some sense into their perceived ways of thinking and make it substantial. Thus relevance of His life becomes all the more related and significant with each passing Christmas season.
May God help us to reflect over these during this festive season.