Even New York City can reconcile a secularized holiday season with the reality of what we’re celebrating. How do you deal with the Jesus thing? ◊
I celebrated Thanksgiving last week in New York City with part of the family. We did the whole NYC tourist thing including plays, the parade, the World Trade memorial, Central Park, ice skating, the Met, MOMA, Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes. Even watched the City transform into the Christmas season literally overnight.
It was wonderful.
The world once again moves easily into the holiday season like a Norman Rockwell painted scene. All the more in New York City where it felt like I was reliving Miracle on 34th Street in 2022. Though Santa and malls and shopping access is very different, there’s still a sense of beauty and wonder in this cherished season that warms the heart and soul as childhood memories flood back to mind and the world slowly winds down another year.
The Rockettes and Jesus
In the middle of the amazing Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular I was struck by the full secularization of the Christmas season. Just as I was quietly lamenting how beautifully secular the world had become, the stage scene changed and a full-blown manger scene emerged with Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, angels, the traveling magi (with real camels!) and shepherds gathering in awe.
And then the whole Christmas Story was read aloud, straight out of Luke chapter 2, and the live orchestra played sacred carols that swelled and made hearts and spines tingle with warmth and wonder.
I was comforted and encouraged by the beautiful production and the gracious appreciation and respect paid by the full-house crowd for the true “reason for the season” played out on stage. It made me realize that though we’ve all become so secularized in our modern culture, the foundational origins of Christmas, and Christianity, is still known and understood and, gratefully, can even be publicly celebrated.
Dealing with the “Jesus Thing”
With all due respect, Jesus is the elephant in the room throughout the Christmas season. I have imagined someone thinking, if not literally saying out-loud, that:
“Christmas would be better if we didn’t have to deal with the Jesus thing.”
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 More Than a Carpenter
Even the most strident atheist or uninformed secularist would have to acknowledge the following litany of accomplishments of Jesus, the carpenter 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 Jesus,
“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 an 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.
And regardless how any given culture throughout history dictates, acknowledges, or celebrates His birth and entry into the world, dealing with this very real Jesus is at the crux of every life in and out of this particular holiday season.
How are you dealing with the Jesus thing?
Have a very Merry Christmas!
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.