Monday, January 08, 2007

Why Jesus was special.

I like to reflect on religious holidays. In the western Christian tradition, there is Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmas. There are some others in the eastern tradition, but I'm not as familiar with them.

Unfortunately, in the evangelical church we don't pay as much attention to these "Christian Holy-days" as we should. Most of the churches I've been a part of celebrate Christmas, Easter and 4th of July. What a shame.

In any case, I like to reflect on our Christian holidays. And, as most of you know, Christmas just occurred. The story of Christmas usually goes like this: An angel told the virgin Mary she was going to have a child who would save the world. Joseph was going to divorce her, but an angel told him not to, so he didn't. They went to Bethlehem for a census and ended up having a child in a stable. Angels told Shepherds and wise men about the birth, and they came to worship baby Jesus (who didn't cry, it seems) in the manger after following a really bright star.

Now, let's make sure we understand the absurdity of all this. First, we contend that Jesus was concieved by a virgin. (Riiiiight.) Next, angels did a whole bunch of footwork to make sure Joseph didn't divorce Mary and Shepherds knew about the birth, but they didn't convince a shopkeeper to save a nice room for Mary. (Sounds like someone dropped the ball.) Finally, wise men came to worship, bringing fine gifts to the smelly stable, and they followed a bright star to get there. Evidentally, this bright star "stopped" over a stable, which is how they knew where Jesus was. (A stopping star, huh? Sounds to me like someone had too much egg nog.)

I say all this not because I don't believe it. I say it instead to highlight how preposterous the whole thing is. A quick check of history (and psychiatric wards) reveals that people have claimed to be born of a virgin all the time. We don't believe these "virginal births" because stuff like that just doesn't happen. Plus, let's consider the first century (and possibly second century) Christians. The New Testament was not yet formed at that time, and most likely people only had access to one Gospel. Let's say that gospel was Mark or John - neither of which mention a virgin birth, or stables, or wise men. Is their faith somehow less since they don't beleive in a virgin birth?

Here is my point. We believe the story of the virgin birth and the stable and the wise men because of what happened AFTER the birth and the stable and the wise men. We believe Jesus is the Christ not because he was born (everyone is born), nor because he healed people (others in the Bible healed people, as do modern physicians), nor because he died (everyone dies). Instead, we believe that Jesus is the Christ because he was raised from the dead, because he taught that he himself is the way, the truth, and the light. We believe Jesus is the Christ because of the power of the Spirit in the lives of the apostles. We aren't convinced that Jesus is the savior of the world because he is born of a virgin, but instead, we believe he was born of a virgin because he is savior of the world.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is God with us. But being born doesn't make Jesus special. His radical obedience to God, his liberating grace, the forgiveness of sins, his rise from the dead, and his bringing of the Spirit make him special. His unique birth is only icing on the proverbial birthday cake.

So as I reflect upon Christmas, I'm not so concerned about the biology of Jesus's birth or the quality of his visitors. Instead, my reflection leads me to praise God that Jesus came into to world to be God-with-us, not baby-in-manger. He came to be more than born-of-a-virgin, he came to be God-as-man. And that's what makes Jesus special.


knelson said...

A very profound word! Thank you so much for being able to clarify things so well.

lorri said...

i agree... how is the family and new baby getting along?

DeSha said...

Keep sharing your point of view with's so awesome to hear.

Your new baby is beautiful. Congrats to you and your wife.

Don't hold it against me, I can't help it if I'm a beige girl trapped in a fuschia name. (No one ever gets it right.) :)

Benjamin said...

Thanks for the kind comments!

Family life is going well. Greyson is getting more and more interactive all the time. Hard to believe it has been 11 weeks already.

And Madelyn is doing fine, too, considering all the normal two-year-old stuff. The hardest part, you ask? Potty-training.