I’ll confess, I am not big on Christmas. No, not because I don’t relish celebrating the birth of Christ but because of the superfluous trappings that have melded into obligations. We generate lists to foster consumerism that encourages overspending and stress. Decorations and meals and gifts have to fit within the holiday motif to satisfy the holiday requirements. It’s all become part of fulfilling the Merry Christmas. It all seems so trite. If I had it my way, I probably would forgo the gift exchange obligation entirely. But sadly, others for whom the trappings have become meaningful, would be short changed and that, I could not abide by. Perhaps it is because as a student I don’t have the resources I used to and its become more strenuous to meet holiday demands. Perhaps it is that I spend another year without a that meaningful somebody to share it with. Nonetheless, I will be glad once December 25th is over.
Of course, for us Christians it is supposed to be a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, I think that we put that specific celebration into a banal box of pageants and programs. For if the reflection is not maintained year round, then the one time shot could just be reduced to a program that we include on our list of Christmas stuff to do. But I do make every effort, particularly at this time to really reflect on what it is we are supposed to be celebrating. It indeed is quite magnificent but unfortunately gets lost in the jumbled ball of holiday happenings.
I think our tendency is to reflect on Christmas and the birth of Christ through 21st century, gentile eyes. We who have trusted in Christ consider the salvation that we have. We may consider our former way of life before Christ and how unknowledgeable we were regarding the reality of our spiritual deadness. The birth we celebrate represents spiritual reconciliation so desparately needed for hope and eternal life. Yes, God did need to save us and sent His son in the likeness of flesh to do just that.
But recently, I have been thinking about this from another perspective. Perhaps it is because I am reading through the Pentateuch and am considering the status of things pre-Christ both from a Jewish and Gentile perspective. I imagine it must have tough for the Jews. They were God’s chosen people and rightful claimers of his promises. But the catch was they had to follow all these rules. There was no internal enablement to assist them other than the motivation of maintaining covenant with God.
I don’t know who had it worse, the priests or the people. The law was so specific. Every jot and tittle had to be performed to perfection. There were so many requirements. But if God was to be satisfied so the people could have atonement for sins and maintain favor in consideration of covenant promises, these requirements were necessary. I have to imagine that was quite a bit of pressure for the priests.
Everything had to be perfect for meaningful worship. Priests could not have deformities. The requirements of perfection also extended to the people. There was no brokenness allowed. Persons with skin diseases, women hemorrhaging, men with abnormal discharges were banished from the presence of community life unless specific offerings and a proclamation by the priests were provided so these broken people could have some chance of normalcy within the context of covenant promises.
It is no wonder that time and time again, rebellion ensued as the people followed after the enticements around them that eventually led to captivity. These were people in need of hope.
To the Jew, the birth of Christ meant that the perfection of the Law was no longer dependent upon external performance but upon the Law written on the heart. The shekinah glory that represented God’s presence, would now reside internally. The only perfection that existed was Christ himself and the sacrifice that He became, fulfilling every aspect of the Law. It is no wonder that He addressed healing through his acts to show the wholeness that is found only in Him.
But the ones who were the big losers were the Gentiles. They were not God’s people. They were not chosen by Him to receive His covenant promises. The Gentiles were the ones that God commanded His people to stay away from and not intermingle lest the purity of God’s holiness as reflected on His people, be marred. I can imagine some Gentiles craving to be included in God’s community because of His care, concern and provision for His people. Yes the Gentiles, were people in need of hope.
It reminds me that from pre-Christ eyes, we Gentiles would have no business in His business. But it also reminds me of what Paul says to the church at Ephesus:
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by the so-called “Circumcision”, which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. (Ephesians 2:11-13, 19).
To the Gentile, Christ meant that the covenant promises could now be claimed based on faith and not by circumstances of birth.
So as Christmas draws near, I think of these 2 classes of hopeless people that without Christ, would remain struggling to keep laws or to achieve a denied status. But then I think of this passage:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:12-14)
And I praise God for the greatest gift ever.
Merry Christmas everyone!