I’ll have to admit to wanting, like everyone else to chime in on the Phil Robertson flap, and heaven knows I have plenty to say, but it’s almost Christmas and perhaps it’s time to broaden our scope a little and at least glance at the bigger picture -- 2,015 years ago the most unique of all babies was born. That is not just some fairy tale, not a myth to be dismissed easily; it is history.
Not only is it history, it is astronomy as well, and it is built on unbroken traditions going back 3,440 years to the days of Moses and the Exodus. Let me set the stage…..
Place – Bethlehem, a village about five miles south of Jerusalem, capital of the tiny but troublesome province of Judea. Bethlehem is a real place that still exists today.
Time – 3/2 B.C. – I know it’s a little uncomfortable to juggle the thought of Christ being born a couple of years before He was born, but bear with me. The birth took place, according to Luke, in the reign of Caesar Augustus. Augustus died in 14 A.D. and his step-son Tiberius came to the throne. It wasn’t until the 15th year of his reign that John the Baptist and Jesus began their public ministries, in roughly their 30th years. That would put the birth two or three years B.C.
We can also date the birth of Christ from astronomical data. The historian Josephus wrote of a total lunar eclipse the year that Herod the Great died. It was Herod who ordered the killing of all Jewish baby boys when he heard that “the King of the Jews” had been born. Recent astronomical calculations show that to be 1 B.C., which places Christ’s birth year to 3/2 B.C., which would have made him 30 years old in 28 A.D. just after Tiberius came to the throne. It is also interesting to note that during that time period some truly amazing conjunctions of the giant star Regulus and the planet Jupiter would have provided more than ample guidance for sojourners from the East. It would have been in retrograde (appearing to stop as it completes its orbit and “turns back”) over Bethlehem. That would have happened on December 25th of 2 B.C. .
We can also look at biblical chronology. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was informed of his wife’s pregnancy by an angel while he was tending to the Altar of Incense on or around Yom Kippur in the fall. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, John’s mother at Passover when Elizabeth was six months along. Mary’s pregnancy was just beginning. John was born in June around the spring solstice; Jesus would have been born six months later, just after the winter solstice.
Culture – Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to be counted in the “first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (Note the specificity here.) Because of the census all the inns (mostly just family homes with an extra room) were full and they sheltered in a cave used as a barn. There were shepherds out watching over the flocks – quite likely the official sacrificial flocks used by the Temple in Jerusalem.
OK – so why the history lesson? Merely to point out that we are dealing with an actual historical event, a documentable event, an event located in a specific place at a very specific time, under very unusual conditions, heralded by both prophecy and by rare astronomical happenings. This is not some vague legend, some make-believe, unicorn-inhabited, fairy tale. This happened. Miraculous? Maybe – a virgin, angels and all that. But if God is God then none of that is surprising.
But there’s the rub. If God is God. If the Great I Am actually IS. I am amazed at the fuss and bother over Christmas these last few years and it’s being fueled by a poisonous vitriol that’s frankly astounding, and sadly enough for the hysterical atheist front, merely proves the Bible, once again, is right on. “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake…” (Matthew 10:12).
I have some questions for those who want to eradicate the essence of Christmas.
What in the world are you so bent out of shape about? It’s not like we’ve failed to invite you all to the party. You are more than welcome to festoon a fake tree with fairy lights, slog through the crowded stores and spend too much money on gifts for folks you don’t necessarily care about, and feast yourselves well into the next size – we don’t require a pedigree to join us. No quizzes on Christian doctrine will be given. You may, here and there, hear music bearing lyrics you think are silly; I find Jingle Bells a little obnoxious. So what? Christians have excluded no one from this holiday. All the crankiness reminds me of Grendel in Beowulf. He was angry because the Scyldings were having too much fun in the meadhall – so he snuck in at night and killed them. Gees. Lighten up and enjoy.
What in your life will be better if you take Christmas away from us? It won’t make the job of denying God’s existence any easier; Nature, and the study of it, is making that nearly impossible these days. The more we learn of the intricacies of life – the inner workings of everything from the hummingbird to the immune cascade makes the likelihood of chance mutation a distant and mathematically ridiculous dream. Cancelling Christmas isn’t going to fix that. I understand why you want God out of the picture – you think that without Him around you can do anything and not be held accountable. News flash: God can get rid of you, but you can’t get rid of God, Christmas or no Christmas. Taking down a nativity scene doesn’t erase the Almighty and the fact that you are just one of His creatures. One of my favorite T-shirts sports the famous line, “God is dead,” and attributes that to Nietzche. Under that it says,“ Nietzche is dead,” and attributes that statement to God. That’s about it. Deny, fight, shout, snark all you want. He isn’t going anywhere.
Why do you want so badly for the truth not to be true? Why are you swimming upstream? No reputable historian denies the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. He did no harm in the mere 33 years of his life. In fact he healed hundreds of people, fought hypocrisy, and taught people to love each other. You are against that? That puts you in a pretty weird place.
You do know, don’t you that you sound like petulant children? We see you stomping your collective foot and screaming, “I hate you, Mommy!” I realize that the actions of human beings, ostensibly Christian human beings, have sometimes been way out of line. We can’t control what other people have done in the past; we can’t control who comes into our churches now. We do know that ALL of us have fallen short of God’s perfection and need to align ourselves with His offer of free entrance into heaven – provided, incidentally, by the work Jesus did on the cross that the Romans and the Pharisees eventually nailed him to. The imperfection of Christians merely proves our point about needing a savior.
We’re truly sorry that denial seems like a desirable alternative. We’re sorry that you feel you must tear us down to build yourself up. Don’t give me that “separation of church and state” nonsense. No one is telling you what you have to believe and merely hearing a verse or two of Silent Night, or catching a glimpse of a crèche is unlikely to morph you into an SNL church lady. It won’t happen. Your unbelief doesn’t need to be bolstered by the distortion of national and world history. Relax.
We Christians need to relax, too. Christ will win this. All we need do is saturate our minds with His truth and speak it whenever we can. Our lives will pass and nothing the atheist contingent can do will change what we believe, so all the ranting is ultimately pointless. Let’s all just enjoy this wonderful celebration, look forward to a new year and the hope of even more love and laughter.
In that vein let me wish everyone a truly happy, merry, unforgettable Christmas.