Editorial: December 2012
A BIRTH WORTH RECALLING
P. M. Joseph
It is Christmas season again and enraptured celebrations are underway, recollecting the incarnation of the Son of God in Bethlehem. Celebration that began as an indebted tribute to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and as an act of acknowledging His mission, gained momentum over the centuries till it grew to be what it is today: mindless festivity with no message to convey or mission to accomplish! As a result, people of all religious persuasions partake in it casually, with meagre regard for the Person responsible for it or the message the event carries. Moreover, most celebrations have Christ displaced, replacing Him with commercial and festive concerns. However, there is a timeless message tagged on to it which none can afford to ignore except at pains of irrelevance.
By virtue of its prime place in creation, humankind is privileged to know God in a general way, and the knowledge thus afforded is rather limited. In effect, it is extremely inadequate to identify God's nature and expectations. Therefore, it does not merit employing. As a point of fact, only special revelations can yield authentic understanding of God and it alone can impact lives positively and consistently. Further, the understanding thus gathered serves to restructure lives in alignment with God's specific purposes in a historic time frame and context. Down the ages, the frugal knowledge that average man managed to cull from general revelations only engendered faulty notions of God and, subsequently, they sculpted a god of their choice, much dissimilar to the true One. Most gods that we encounter these days belong to that genre. As a point of fact, life's meaning is a great deal contingent on its understanding of God, and its worth finds leverage on its notions. On the contrary, deficient understanding of God makes life farce and places it far below God's expected standard of quality existence.
Historically, the Jews were fortunate to have special revelations of God, His ineffable glory, majesty and demands. Yet, they could only gather a limited glance of His nature and demands. Based on it, they forged skewed ideas of God and, in reality, contradicted God's true nature. For centuries, the Jews nurtured and thrived on warped understanding of God, His immeasurable glory, greatness and grace which reflected poorly in their lives. In their idea, God was a consuming fire, a stern judge and an implacable deity with inaccessible demands. Further, in their perception, God could never be caring or loving, with humane concerns like grace, mercy or sympathy. More, unsympathetic as regards to human predicaments, God was perceived as totally impassive and transcendental. However, with the birth in Bethlehem, God became fully known. The Babe, born in the manger there, was the express image of the invisible God and an exact representation of His being. In Him could the world have an accurate view of God, His whole nature and wide-ranging demands. Categorically, it affirmed that apart from Jesus Christ there is no credible revelation of God available to man. As Christ spent His 33 years as God incarnate on earth, He was articulating God's nature, underlining His demands and expressing His expectations with the intent of relating them. Precisely, it is this message that Christmas celebrations should carry and insist on.
History is awash with events that portray man's sin, inherent depravity and his perpetual preference for evil. Besides, it points to his utter inability to match Godly values and concerns despite best of efforts. The entire recorded history is a seamless commentary on the debilitating impacts of sin and every form of evil present in the society. Moral, spiritual and social decay is its direct by-product. From time immemorial, impact of sin has been felt in all spheres of human involvement, and the events that emerged immediately after the birth of Jesus Christ vouch for it unquestionably. The conspiracy hatched in the palace, the brutal massacre of children and the apathy of the Jewish scholars are but tokens of the rampant presence of evil. The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ targeted the elimination of evil with its fountainhead (1 Jn.3:8, Heb.2:14). Later in life, the Lord Jesus Christ manifested God's dislike for evilness, be it racial discrimination, economic inequality, exploitation or religious snobbery. On the other hand, He demonstrated God's fondness for authentic piety, genuine godliness and sincere humility from all quarters. His life, His attitudes and His ministry were classic examples of acceptable human existence from eternity's perspective. Christmas speaks about God's keenness to change human destiny.
The religiously literates in Judea, despite their physical proximity to the event and access to prophecies arrayed in their scriptures about the birth of their Saviour-King, remained uncharacteristically careless and unenthusiastic. It, in fact, shows how they preferred detachment from historic realities that lay near. Their lethargy, to a great extent, sprang from distorted perceptions of the Messiah as a military man armed with pomp and power, dynamism and charisma. The emerged Messiah missed the regal features they looked for and that was adequate to dismiss Him as an outright imposter. Evidently, they were victims of their presumptions and, therefore, missed God's highly placed intentions. The Christmas message informs that men and women should shed their personal perceptions and yield completely to God's, like the virgin Mary who said, "Let it be according to your word."
Bethlehem, where the Incarnation occurred, was relatively a small village near Jerusalem and it became, selectively, the scene of a short-run of celestial involvements. It was, in fact, a carefully marked-out operation, wholly aligned to His eternal purposes (Gal.4:4) and the finale of His interventions in history. Though the timing and the geographical location that God chose to incarnate His Son appear accidental, it was a meticulously planned one. Predictably, the event demonstrated God's preference for Bethlehem over Jerusalem, the most prominent city in the region politically, religiously and strategically - for the small over the big. Then, the event itself was a lustreless one though it was the most significant event from eternity's perspective. The usual fanfare, pomp or broadcast that accompanies a great birth did not attend to this event. It was a simple, silent event as it could not be greater than its subject nor any celebration could reflect on the greatness of the One who lay in the manger. As John Donne remarked, "it was immensity cloistered in a womb" now made manifest. Apparently, it was a powerful message of God's preferential option for the less fortunate and a demonstration of His contempt for human conceit and swelled head. In contrast, the randy shepherds who slept in the field and a few ordinary people were informed about it. Every one of them was awe-struck at their privilege as it displayed God's sovereign choice. Christmas celebrations carry the message of God's special concern for the poor, the exploited, the under-privileged and the socially marginalised over the advantaged; in other words, Christmas is God's concern for the humble and the helpless over the proud and the self-righteous.
Every person, whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, has been given the opportunity to receive by faith the most wonderful Gift - Salvation that came down at Bethlehem in the Person of Jesus Christ! The righteous and devout Simeon of Jerusalem did mention that Gift most solemnly when he took Baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: “.......my eyes have seen Your Salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Lk.2:28-32).
Old Simeon waited to see the Salvation God was offering freely in Christ Jesus, and he was overjoyed when he held the Baby, who was to be named Jesus, in his arms! Today, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Salvation of God, is waiting for us to open our hearts for Him to set up His Kingdom there!! Have you received Him into your heart?
The event of Christmas, apart from being God's final revelation, suo moto, carried the above message to identify and abide by. All Christmas celebrations without identifying it remain a senseless festivity only. May God help us this season identify His concerns accurately and act upon them.