by ProfDave, ©2020
(Dec. 11, 2020) — Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Honestly, yes and no. Yes – in the very name. It will take a lot of lawsuits and censorship to expunge “Christmas” from the “Holidays.” Militant secularists (the Jesuits of the new state religion) have rightly noted that it is a religious word, made up of two religious terms, “Christ” and “mass.” “Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah, or the Anointed One. Jesus of Nazareth got himself executed for accepting that title and giving it a divine rather than a military meaning. The “mass” part refers to a special Eucharist celebrated since the early Middle Ages around the winter solstice to honor the birth of Jesus, whom Christians call the Christ. So you can’t really have the “holidays” without implying Jesus.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Maybe not – in one sense. The winter solstice was a pagan celebration long before it was a Christian. And it was the department stores in the 1840’s that brought in most of the tinsel, celebration, and gift giving. When the Christians had it all to themselves it was no big deal at all: just some special music, pageants, a goose, maybe an orange and some special home-made sweets. Historically, the early church did not celebrate Christmas. They were focused on Good Friday and Easter. The Hebrews didn’t even mark birthdays. It wasn’t important when you were born, but to whom you were born. The important festivals of that part of the world were spring and fall, following the cycles of the crops. Hanukkah, celebrating the rededication of the temple, didn’t become important until provoked by Christmas commercialization. Further north, however, Europeans celebrated the coming of the solar new year, the resurrection of the sun – evident by 12/25 – with pagan sacrifices and revelry. Christians saw it as nature’s revelation of the resurrection and return of the Eternal Son. How should Christians celebrate the winter solstice?
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Fundamentally, yes. Pagan celebrations of the solstice were swept away many centuries ago with the gods of horror and superstition they represented. The Gospel really was “good news” to most European pagans – many African, Native American. and Asian polytheists, too. Folk elements from the darker past only survived as they were invested with Christian meanings. And more recently, the department stores and greeting card companies only commercialized a cherished religious celebration that was already there. Christmas has been Christian since the plow has been iron.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” “Maybe, just maybe, Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe, just maybe, Christmas means just a little bit more.” Cut through all the tinsel and trappings and wrappings and you find a kernel of foreign matter – like the bit of grit around which the oyster, layer by layer, builds a pearl. Only in this case the center is the pearl – the supernatural – and the layers of accretion are the grit – the mythical – human and natural though they are.
The central story of Christmas is of such power and meaning that we are uncomfortable with it. So we surround it with myths and traditions of saccharine sweetness and sentimental morals, like St. Nicholas, the Three Kings and more. From them we get Santa Claus, The Christmas Carol, Rudolph, Frosty, Polar Express, and my personal favorite, the Grinch. They are great children’s stories and good for business. We can draw moral lessons from them and even get our children to believe in Santa – for a while. We play further and further from the radioactive core of the real. We are uncomfortable, in this relativistic age, with anything claiming to be truth. We wrap the supernatural in layer upon layer of sweet fantasy. There is a difference between the imaginary and the supernatural, myth and metaphysics.
Is “Jesus the reason for the season?” Yes, in meaning. That is what is so alarming that it gives the ACLU conniptions. Under all the layers of magical secretions is a completely alien story which, if not true, still beats all the other stories hollow, but if true changes everything. Alien – as in not from around here, foreign to human imagination and human religion. What if the Creator of heaven and earth loved us so much that He chose to become one of us (!), be born in a stable(!!), live among us, and subject himself to the worst that we could dish out(!!!), so that we could break out of our rebellion (!!!!) and be reconciled to Him? What if the way to rightness was not by self-help but by God-help, not self-righteousness but God-righteousness? Can you comprehend what that would mean? No wonder we prefer the fat old guy in the red suit coming down a chimney! We prefer to earn our presents by being nice little boys and girls for a couple weeks before Christmas. Hmmh!
What if Jesus was actually and factually the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us? Most religious people, the world around, think of religion as mankind’s search for God. We try to placate and please whatever gods there be by being “nice,” performing rituals, making sacrifices (animals, babies, or – more recently – spare change), or performing impressive deeds of self-denial (walking on hot coals, self-mutilation, sitting on pillars, or giving up meat for Lent). Or perhaps ecstatic dancing or speaking in tongues? Have I offended everybody yet?
The Gospel is an equal-opportunity offender. The scandalous “Good News” is that none of the above is necessary. You need not search for God. Just turn around. The Christian God is searching for you! He is keeping a list and checking it twice, but He doesn’t care who is naughty or nice, but whether or not you open the door and let Him in – whether you accept the reconciliation He paid for on the cross. He will take care of making you “nice.” And the presents are lavished upon us, not because of anything we do, but because of what He did – in making us HIS children. Now THAT’s what I call a Merry Christmas!
Wise men still seek Him. That is what Epiphany is all about. God wrote His promise of Messiah in the words of the prophets so that Israel could read it, and in the Heavens so that Persian Magi could read it. Many people read the Scriptures to apply only to national liberation – or whatever they wanted to hear. Most people looked up at the stars and said, “that’s nice.” They were not seeking Him, but their own agenda. “But to as many as received Him,” Jew and Gentile, “to them gave He power to become the children of God.”
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.