How do we reconcile this secularized holiday season with the reality of what we’re really celebrating? How do we deal with the Jesus thing? ♦
It’s once again Christmastime and the world moves easily into the holiday season. Of course there’s been a perceptible shift from my childhood days of living out Norman Rockwell painting scenes (if one could even do that in Los Angeles). Today we have to pay for children to see Santa in malls, and then one has to think twice as to why even go to malls when you can do all your shopping online. Even shopping sales are no longer special. Black Friday/Monday/Holiday sales are perpetual since Thanksgiving a few weeks back.
As a culture we seem to have worked through the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” issue. There’s no longer much fuss about it but it does seem like saying “Merry Christmas” actually is quasi-secret code for “I am a Christian” or “I am not afraid to insult you (even though I really don’t think you or anyone else is insulted) and I don’t want to play the politically correct game.”
I do say it sincerely. Nevertheless, I am self-conscious about saying it whenever I say it.
Then There’s the ‘Jesus Thing’
I can imagine someone thinking, if not literally saying out-loud, that “Christmas would be better if we didn’t have to deal with the Jesus thing.” Pretty funny when you think about. Actually pretty sad as there probably are some people who’d agree with that statement. With church attendance at an all time low and a generation of proactive secularization, it’s not a stretch to think that the ‘Jesus thing’ is not top of mind for many of the population during this holiday season.
Which begs the question, Why Not?
Certainly the most strident atheist or even an uninformed secularist would acknowledge the following litany of accomplishments of Jesus, the man from Nazareth who lived 2,000 years ago:
- More books have been written about Jesus than about any other person in history.
- Nations have used his words as the bedrock of their governments. According to historian Will Durant, “The triumph of Christ was the beginning of democracy.”
- His Sermon on the Mount established a new paradigm in ethics and morals.
- Schools, hospitals, and humanitarian works have been founded in his name. Over 100 great universities — including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Oxford – were begun by his followers.
- The elevated role of women in Western culture traces its roots back to Jesus.
- Slavery was abolished in Britain and America due to Jesus’ teaching that each human life is valuable.1
Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan writes of him, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries… It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.”2
Yes, Jesus is certainly a real historical figure we all have to acknowledge at some level.
The Inescapable Problem of Jesus
Unfortunately for all non-Christians, every Christmas and Easter season brings a challenging dilemma to the forefront: How does one deal with this Jesus, a profound historical yet supernatural person of tremendous impact and influence? Here are some inescapable issues that have to be addressed by anyone who would claim to be intellectually honest:
- The Historical Record – One could say Jesus really never existed, but that defies historic facts. And myths don’t really alter history.
- Prediction that He Would be Born in Bethlehem – That Jesus would be the promised Jewish Messiah born in a small town outside of Jerusalem was predicted in the Old Testament by the prophet Micah over 7 centuries earlier. This connection to Jesus was made by Matthew in the New Testament. (Matthew 2:6)
- Prediction that He Would be Born of a Virgin – In that same time frame, a strange prophetic word is made by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The disciple Matthew repeats this prophecy in a passage detailing Joseph’s encounter with an angel of the Lord, who tells Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-23)
- Prediction that He Would be from the Line of Abraham. A prophecy of the Messiah being a descendant of Abraham is told in Genesis 22:18: “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” The genealogy of Jesus is told in the New Testament book of Matthew(1:1), which refers to him as “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
- His Claims That He Forgives Sins – Jesus astounded and confounded the people and the Jewish leaders with his proclamations of forgiving sins. He specifically makes some bold statements in Matthew 9:1-7, Luke 5:20 and 7:48.
- His Miraculous Healings and Raising of the Dead – The many incidents of Jesus healing lame and sick people and even raising some from the dead are relayed in the New Testament Gospel writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
- He Claimed to be God and is Called God – Jesus was not simply called God by others (see John 1:1, 14, 20:28; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8) but He himself made similar claims in John 8:24, 8:56-59 (see Exodus 3:14), and John 10:30-33.
- There were Eyewitnesses to His Death and to His Resurrection – There were numerous Roman soldiers and Jewish citizens who witnessed his death by crucifixion. Within 40 days it is documented that over 500 people were eyewitnesses to a very alive and resurrected Jesus. (1 Corinthians 15:6)
No, Jesus was not any average figure by any means. The entire Bible lays out His purpose and action plan so that all of mankind can know and absorb Truth. Regardless how any given culture throughout history directs, dealing with this very real Jesus is at the heart of the holiday season now and throughout our lives.
Have a Merry Christmas season!
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrew 1:1-2
1 “What Impact Has Jesus Had on the World, article, http://www.y-jesus.com/what-impact-has-jesus-had-on-the-world/, in Y-Jesus, the Facts About Jesus Presented by Scholars, 2017.