The Consequence Of Christmas
Whether the date is inaccurate or not, whether the commemoration was lifted from ancient pagan festivals or not, whether materialism has overrun the 'true' meaning of Christmas or not, historically and essentially Christmas is a time and occasion when Christianity remembers and celebrates the birth of Jesus. However, the celebration of Christmas suggests reflection and deliberation over the very term and concept of 'Christianity'.
Many Christians, and some skeptics as well, understand that Christianity is not a new religion started by Jesus . . . many skeptics agree with this because it serves a hostile-to-Christianity argument better to attach the subsequent Christian religion on an ambitious and plotting Paul and leave Jesus to be a humble local teacher - but my point is that Christianity didn't begin with the New Testament or with those earliest followers of Jesus at all. And many are familiar with some Christians asserting that Christianity is in fact not a religion at all, but is a relationship. As we examine what Christmas purports to be, the specific event that Christmas declares to celebrate, we can better understand the claims that Christianity did not begin in Jesus' day and that it is not actually a religion.
If we take the term 'religion' to mean an organized system of beliefs and practices whereby the adherents believe through the proper observances of those beliefs and practices they can approach God favorably, then there has indeed come to be a 'Christian' religion. There are many who identify themselves as 'Christian' who are in fact not genuinely following Jesus and who do not understand His gospel message, but are doing just what Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Voodoo practitioners, druids, etc, etc, do but with names and terms like 'Jesus Christ', 'the cross', 'salvation', etc, inserted into their man-concocted religion. I'm not here judging others or being unkind or too harsh - I am simply advancing the reality of what Jesus Himself stated; "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves . . not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven . . . I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me'".
My interest on this matter is this; if Christianity is not a new religion that began at the time of Jesus, and if the religion many think of and call Christianity is not genuine Christianity at all, then before we either accept it or reject it, before we either identify ourselves as 'Christian' or delight to mock Christians, we ought to have a clear understanding of what authentic, historic, Biblical Christianity is . . . and Christmas provides us that answer if we thoughtfully reflect on it a bit. The Bible, of course, does not use the word 'Christmas' at all - and what the Bible does refer to the birth of Jesus as is hugely instructive in coming to an understanding of what authentic Christianity is.
The Bible calls Christmas "the fullness of time" . . . "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman". Christianity did not start in the 1st century . . . the birth and teaching and death, etc, of Jesus did not begin a new religion, it did not introduce a new teaching or begin a new story - the birth of Jesus fulfilled the oldest teaching and was the next chapter in the 1st story. "In the fullness of time", at the right time, when all had been fully prepared, according to the eternal plan, when time itself had come to arrive at it's full point and purpose; "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman". In the very first pages of your Bible God announces a promise, He promises a Savior to come, the Messiah. All that follows in what we've come to term the 'Old Testament', the flood, the call of Abraham, the giving of the law, the temple & sacrifices, etc, etc, all is the unfolding drama of redemption, it is the ongoing story of that promise coming to realization. Time moves on, more and more is done preparing for the manifestation of that promise, and - "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman".
If we don't merely look around and take things for granted, but if we instead examine that actual text of the Bible and investigate the historic record honestly, we see that Christianity did not begin with the birth, teaching, death, etc, of Jesus, it is not a new religion that started in the 1st century. Neither is Christianity even a religion at all. Again, man has indeed concocted a religion from his misunderstanding of Jesus' gospel message, there are a multitude of denominations and a history of a 'Christian' religion developing doctrine and practices over the last two centuries - but this is a man-made religion and not authentic Christianity . . . and again, if we thoughtfully reflect on it, Christmas can be hugely instructive in coming to an understanding of what authentic Christianity is.
We need to remember that Jesus, the true historic Jesus, was not the Sunday school portraits of Jesus (surrounded by children and lambs with His head meagerly tilted skyward) so many think of when they hear the name "Jesus". Jesus bothered, challenged, provoked nearly everyone He ran into. And He was endlessly at odds with the most religious men of His day . . . there is a reason for that. Religion is man trying to reach up to God, trying to achieve acceptability, trying to win God's favor - Jesus announced very clearly and directly that we have no hope, that there is no religion or religious practices that can make us fit for fellowship with God. Religion says if we light these candles, if we obey these rules, if we observe these duties properly, etc, then we will win God's approval - Jesus says there is nothing we can do to win God's approval or merit His favor.
And, that is why He came, that was the point of the promise from the beginning . . . God is essentially saying, you can be as Muslim as you want, you can strive for peace and awareness through Hinduism, you can follow Buddha till the cows come home, but that He Himself has established the path of eternal life with Him in paradise. Even if we make a religion featuring things like Jesus, the Bible, salvation, etc, it remains a religion, an attempt to circumvent God's own plan and promise, if we are using these features chasing after our own cunningly devised plan. The Bible explains this distinction as 'law & grace'; 'law' means following rules, obeying commands, doing those things that then merit you approval - 'grace' means that even though you've done nothing to deserve it, even though there is nothing you can do to earn it, and even though you resist it, God simply grants you approval anyway. Authentic Christianity is, in fact, the very opposite of religion.
In Christianity, God doesn't measure your worth, He doesn't examine your achievements, he doesn't check your religious score (have you lit all the proper candles properly, do you face the right direction when you pray, do you go to the right church every Sunday, etc) . . . Jesus told those He taught that they were condemned already, that relationship with God, or salvation, was not a thing they had any capacity to accomplish - but, that this is exactly why He came. Jesus did not come to teach us the way to God - He is the way to God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise, this is why He said that there is no other way, that all others are liars, that no one can come to God except through Him. Christianity is not saying 'our religion is better than yours' or 'we're the only ones who are right', etc - Christianity is saying 'look there, Jesus came, the promise was fulfilled"!
Christianity is not a religion, it is far more simply followers of Jesus pointing to the historic event of His birth and life and death. There is no list of rules or religious practices that we advance as the way to God - we are simply people who recognize, remember, and announce a very specific historic event - Christmas; the birth, the coming, the incarnation of Jesus. Religion promises God's favor if we do all the things their laws say we must do - Christianity says Jesus has come, and He did it all . . . we don't obey our way to God, we are adopted by God to be His own . . . and, just where in Scripture do we find the text "to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." . . ? . . .
images; Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds - Govert Teunisz Flinck, The Burial of Jesus - Gustave Doré, The Angel at the Empty Tomb - Gustave Doré
- Regular, Normal Christianity
I believe many folks are turned off, not by authentic Christianity, but by the too often ugly, discordant, and silly religion some have concocted and falsely labeled "Christianity"
- The Christian & Private Study - A 'How To' Guide
You don't have to be a scholar to study Scripture effectively and you don't have to be intimidated because of unfamiliar terms and references - there are essential things you can know and aids to use that will make your own private study fruitful.