Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What I believe about Christmas




Okay. It may sound a bit odd to start like this. 

But first, I think I'll start with what 'I do not believe' about Christmas. 


1


I do not believe that Santa Claus, Green Elves, Christmas Trees, Holly Wreathes, Mistletoe Kisses, Pumpkin Pies and Chestnut Roasts have any part in the real Christmas story. No. They do not.

Neither do the Reindeer (Rudolph the Red-nosed, or others), nor do the Sleighs (with Jingle bells, or without).

Not even snowmen (Frosty, or Parson Brown). 

They are all legends, traditions, rituals, songs, decorations and celebrations that evolved over the last 2000 years.  

But I think they are good fun, nevertheless.


2


I do not believe that 25 December was the day Jesus was born. In fact, no one should believe that.  Exact dates, based on calendars of those times, are often unreliable.

For instance, we are following the Gregorian calendar since 1582 AD. It replaced the Julian calendar in vogue since 45 BC. Why was it replaced? It was because of a 11-minute error per year, and a miscalculation which had also resulted in 10 days being removed from the calendar of 1582.  

Anyway, even my grandfather’s simple parents did not know the exact day he was born. To them, Saka era or Christian era did not matter. Hijri Calendar or a Mayan Calendar did not matter. They were happy, marking days by a full moon or a new moon; or by appearances of comets or occurrences of earthquakes.

Even though some astronomers and theologians calculated backwards the appearance of Halley’s Comet in its regular 76-year-cyclical-visit-closest-to-earth, to 12 BC, we cannot conclude if the Star of Bethlehem was indeed this comet

The ancient Chinese astronomers of the Han Dynasty, of the corresponding times, mention Halley’s Comet too. But dates cannot be conclusively fixed. Neither the month of December nor the date of 25th can be zeroed upon, as perfect.

A pagan festival - for a sun god, 'sol invictus' - was usually celebrated on 25 December (of the Julian calendar). And the Roman Emperor Constantine - who, for political reasons, converted to Christianity around 315 AD  - is said to have fixed that same date for celebrating the birth of Christ.  

While Constantine's predecessors, the earlier rulers of the Roman empire, like Nero, Domitian and Trajan had brutally tortured and killed those who called themselves as Christians -- in a sudden, strange, twist of history -- Emperor Constantine made Christianity itself as the official religion.  

But he used the date of 25 December to keep his subjects happy, so that they can continue pagan celebrations on that day. 

There are some arguments for, and against the date. The debate is ongoing for a thousand-plus years. I doubt if its outcome will ever be conclusive. 



3


I do not believe that 'boughs of holly' and 'Christmas Trees'  have any serious Biblical or Christian connection.

Evergreen decorations - like holly, mistletoe and ivy - have those pagan festivity origins, with green as a symbol, for immortality and fertility. But, for ages, we know, green leaves and branches have served as decorations on door-posts and inside homes, even for non-pagans. 

And I don't think it is terribly sinful if you put up some real green - and, nowadays, of course, some artificial green - decorations. 

But let us remember! 

Christians do not worship the Christmas Tree. It is just a traditional decoration. Nothing else!


4


I do not believe that ‘Christmas’ was a word anyone heard of, before 1038 AD. It was only from then that we see the word being used in recorded history. 

It means ‘Christ’s mass’. The English spelt it as Christemass in the middle ages, and hence the name, Christmas; a prayer or a special worship service for Christ.

The first-known use of the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’  was in 1534, in a dated letter from bishop John Fisher to Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Cromwell. 

The phrase also first appeared in written-form in UK’s The Hereford Municipal Manuscript in 1564. And later, after almost 300 years , the first-ever greeting card, printed in1843, also had the same phrase.

And published in the same year was ‘Christmas Carol’, a book by Charles Dickens in which the phrase is used generously. But the Queen of England still uses ‘Happy Christmas’ in her Christmas broadcasts – because she feels the word ‘merry’ has a certain irreverence attached to it.


5


I do not believe that wise men and shepherds visited Jesus, all together, at the same time. The nativity scenes of Christmas plays, tableaus, cribs, and musicals, often put them together. 

But those people could have visited him between gaps of over days, weeks, months, and maybe even a couple of years.

And I doubt if indeed, there were 'three' wise men (or kings) who visited the baby Jesus. And if they visited ‘together’. The Bible does not say so. 

Three gifts - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - could have been given by just two wise men or four. Not necessarily by three.

You can check out the 2nd chapter of the gospel of Matthew again.



Now then, WHAT DO I BELIEVE?


A


I believe that Jesus Christ was a real person in history. And that his influence on the world is more profound and more powerful than anyone we know of.  

The writings of the early Roman historians JosephusTacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Lucian are among the many non-biblical sources which tell us about the historicity of Jesus.

Jews reject him as their promised messiah. Hindus respect him as a great teacher. Muslims accept him as a great prophet. But Christians believe him to be a person of the Trinity or the triune God – one God in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

This is tantamount to blasphemy from the Muslim viewpoint. And it is downright ridiculous from an atheistic viewpoint.

But one thing is for sure. No one can ignore Jesus. 

And no one can ignore the historical influence of Jesus.

Personally, I had investigated a lot into this, from my youth. I've read books on opposing views, and debated with my Sunday School teachers and Pastors. I've attended comparative-religion seminars, and heard scholars talk for and against Christianity.

And, after much consideration, I now believe in the historical Jesus. As portrayed in the gospels. And I also believe in the spiritual transformation he can bring about in people, who wish for it.

You can call mine, a faith, based on evidence that convinced me. Not merely because I was born into a Christian family.

I can also tell you what I believe about the Bible. But perhaps, in another post.



B


I believe that celebrating Jesus' birth – on whatever day - is not a sinful thing or a wicked thing to do. 

When we can celebrate soccer victories with vuvuzelas, deer-horn caps and confetti canons, and when we can celebrate Olympic Games with huge song-and-dance and dazzling light-and-sound, what’s wrong in celebrating the birth of the greatest teacher the world ever saw - with decorations and carols, get-togethers and food? 

I am all for the Christmas Celebrations. 

But, I believe it is just a celebration. And it is not an end in itself. 

Christ is not only Christ for Christmas, but also Christ for ever. 

He told his disciples, to their shock, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age". 


C


I believe that Jesus actually wanted us to focus on his 'death day'. Not on his birthday. 

Jesus said he came to die. Time and again, Jesus stressed that his death is needed. He predicts his death a number of times. 

Strangely he even said once, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.". And he did. 

Many prophets had  predicted his birth and his death , many centuries before Jesus' actual birth.



D


I believe that Christianity grew, because of its message itself, and the theology that sprung from it. 

Otherwise, despite the then amazing knowledge and philosophy of Greeks in the region - including the then prevalent sayings of Heraclitus, Zeno, Epicurus, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato – how can this 'strange' Christian-belief flourish rapidly and multiply its followers exponentially? 

It was an age where logic and reasoning was considered paramount in the human quest for knowledge? 

There is, if you wish to check,  a clear mention in the Bible, of Apostle Paul debating with Epicureans and Stoics in Athens, circa 64 AD, about the resurrection of Christ. (Many non-biblical sources show that risen-Christ was not a myth made up over years, but people believed in the first century itself. You can check some sources by going to this link

Also, we must note that early Christians and their lifestyles - their display of love and unity - even against the harshest persecutions they faced from the powerful roman emperors, attracted followers across Europe. And from there, spread to the uttermost parts of the world.

It is a strange concept of 'salvation' through the death of one man for the sins of the world. It is not something that could easily gain traction. But, it did.


E


I believe that Jesus’ disciples could not have made up the story of Jesus’ virgin birth and bodily resurrection, and spread it among the very people violently opposing the disciples. 

Many conspiracy theories of skeptics are harder to prove, than the virgin birth and the theory of resurrection itself. Virgin birth, of course, is not easy to prove. But, I think, Jesus' resurrection proves the uniqueness of Jesus, and his virgin birth.

On this matter of  resurrection, some critics suggest that disciples had stolen his body and went about proclaiming a lie, that their leader rose again. Some others say that they were simply hallucinating because they thought they saw a risen Jesus.

But I cannot imagine the disciples of the world’s greatest moral teacher spreading lies!

For the disciples to go all over the world getting cruelly tortured and horribly killed, for saying Jesus rose again - when they themselves had concocted the story - is simply unbelievable and unacceptable. I conclude that they met the risen Christ. It gave them the courage and passion.

Here's what the great French Scientist Blaise Pascal says, agreeing with me!

"The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus' death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out." (Pascal, Pensees 322, 310)



F


I believe that Jesus claimed he was God. 

He said he was the way, the truth and the life. He said he and his Father are one. He said those who saw him, saw his father. He said he had authority to forgive. He showed authority by - even going against the torah itself, among the Jews, by saying ‘Moses said that…, but I say unto you…’ many times.

Most importantly, he did not deny when his accusers said he is blaspheming by making himself 'a King' and 'a God'.

In fact, it is on this very charge that he was put on trial, and crucified. 

C S Lewis, the great Oxford scholar and the famous writer of Narnia Chronicles said,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic … a liar…or really the lord.” 

This argument became known as the CS Lewis’ Trilemma.


G


I believe that all the commercial hype created for this season is, in-a-way, good.

It is good because, I believe, it draws the world's attention, once again, to Jesus Christ. Even though, sadly, that red-dressed guy Santa Claus hogs all the limelight. 

I believe that Jesus is the real reason behind the season. 

And it should always be. 

***

🎄  Wish you all a Blessed Christmas.... With Family and Friends!!


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