Friday, Dec 24, 2021. It is Christmas again. We write the year 2021 of our time recording. What is important this year, what is important to you? We all live in the middle of a world wide pandemic, influencing strongly our life, our fears, our discussions, even our celebrations. Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you celebrate the new year 2022?
Let us think about Jesus birth in three steps: history, message and meaning.
The background of Christmas is the story of Jesus, his birth which took place some time around the year we call zero. Many researchers date it to -6 to -4 of our time recording, shortly before King Herod mentioned in the gospels died. Note that our time recording is a reconstruction from the medieval ages - and such reconstructions are quite tricky to carry out, even today. But we are able to reconstruct most of the years of emperors into a row to date Augustus, Herod, Pilate and many others who lived in the first century of our time recording. This leads to the dating of Jesus' birth to -6 to -4 and to his crucifiction to the year 29-33.
Also, the exact time of the year is a point of dicussion. December is quite unlikely, the choice to celebrate his birth in December came much later in history. There are some reasons for a dating in September, others for an earlier time in the year. In any case, we have to say that we do not know the exact month, it did not seem to be that important to the believers who wrote the gospels and early Christian letters. Later, the dark time of the year was chosen, to indicate the darkness of the world without Christ, who is called “light of the world”. Knowing that the date of Christmas is a deliberate choice, it does not seem a big problem to celebrate it on December 24-26.
Christmas Message …
The Christmas message is written in the gospels. In Luke, we read:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2, 8ff)
Here we hear already the Christmas message: Jesus is messiah and Lord. He is God himself, coming into the world. This is the old and fascinating story. The true God is coming, he became human, fully human.
The Christmas message was coined in a time where the Roman emperors started to develop ambitions to be treated like Gods. Julius Caesar, 100 BC to 44 BC was called “son of the divine”. So the early Christians had clear templated of humans who claimed to come from God, to be his sons. The Christians rejected the claim of the Roman emperors. They strongly rejected it and were willing to die for their divine son, Jesus. Jesus is claimed to be different to others, to all the leaders and emperors. Look at him - this is what Christians have been telling people. Listen to him, and understand! Look at him, and see!
What is the truth and fact behind the Christmas story. People have been exploring the biblical texts as well as historical accounts on the time of Jesus, on the Old Testament and the New Testament. Until today, the struggle for truth continues, with some theologians claiming that it is all myth only, with others finding very convincing arguments for the reality of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.
The meaning of the Christmas story is strongly linked to basic human questions. Who am I? Where do I go? What can I expect? What is the purpose and goal of my life? God is answering it through Jesus, by becoming a baby, a little child, in very unfortunate circumstances. God is born in a stable - this is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the truth of the Christian story. God created everything. When trying to guide and lead it, he is going right into the middle of his creation. He is not coming to the easy parts only. He is not following ideology, nor some religious system, not going into the palaces and not by physical force. He is teaching in easy images, talking to everyone, building relationships. He honors life as he created it.
Purpose is coming from love and purity of the heart. To find yourself, to find your purpose, you need to discover the baby in the stable. To gain a future, you need to gain the past and presence, his life yesterday and today. You need his life, his death, his resurrection, his forgiveness. You need his purpose. God alone gives meaning to us, eternal meaning, eternal life! (Roland Potthast)