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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Should we celebrate Christ's offenses at Christmas?

The cradle of democracy?

Many people in our time have little knowledge and understanding of the larger significance of Christmas.  Their celebrations center on Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and gift shopping with particular attention to whether the amount of money spent will exceed or drop below the previous year's spending.  They forgot that the day is supposed to mark the birth of a personage who was eventually executed for what he preached to the world.

A problem with Christmas is its December 25 date.  The gospels which recount the birth of  Christ state that his birth occurred during a trip Joseph and Mary were taking to pay a tax bill. Caesar had decreed that the people of Judah were to report for a census and the payment of a tax.  Scholars point out that the tax season was in the fall right after crops were harvested when the people had the money and the time.  So, in the autumn with Mary burgeoning with child, the couple were trekking to make a rendering to Caesar, and the reason the inns were all booked was because a lot of other folks were traveling for the same purpose.   

How, then, did Christ's birthday celebration get set on December 25th?   The pagan world long before the advent of Christianity marked the winter solstice with a celebration that involved decorating with evergreens and other artifacts as reminders of the green and fruitful seasons.  On the darkest days of winter, people need reminders of warmth and light to buoy the spirit.  Officials connected the major events of  Christian history with the festivals that pagans derived from the natural calendar.  So, Christmas comes in the dead of winter and Easter comes during the bloom of spring.   The seasons become the platform for the messages of Christianity, and the people regard them as revelations from God, not merely the flux of the seasons.  The Christian story fits deftly into the narrative of the natural world, and its message is constantly before the people.  The leaders of the early church understood effective communication.

The church embraces the Christmas story as the story of redemption of humankind.  Presentation of that story celebrates the birth of Christ, with little reference to his death.  The church establishes Christmas as a season of joy and downplays the political and social implications of Christ's work on earth.  It is wary about broaching the reasons Christ was crucified.  The real reasons for Christ's execution was because he posed a threat to the power and authority structure.  He was a rebel who challenged the integrity and motives of the ruling class.  He was given the title of Prince of Peace, but he agitated the status quo of his time.  That babe in the manger became the scourge of Galilee.  He offered the promise of peace, but he made people uncomfortable in the process.

The message in Christ's ministry addressed the afterlife, but it also introduced and spread the principles that are the foundation of democracy in our contemporary world:  freedom, equality, and justice.

Freedom: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Equality: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26)                "1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4)

Justice: "Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” (Psalm 82:3).

We do not associate the premises of democracy with Christmas, but they are an important part of what Christ and his followers taught.   They are among the offenses for which Christ was sentenced to death. And they are essential to peace on earth and good will to all people.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States