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Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Jesus of Christmas

I love the Christmas holiday, in spite of knowing that Dec. 25 may not be is almost certainly not the birthday of Christ and that some aspects of this holiday, now and anciently, may be based on pagan concepts. Yes, I understand that Dec. 25, anciently thought to be the date of the winter solstice, probably had more to do with pagan religion (e.g., the cult of Mithras, popular among elite Roman soldiers) than with anything from pure Christianity. I understand that the symbols we use and the traditions we practice are loaded with pagan content, though in some cases they have been reworked to convey Christian meaning. That's OK. Of course, it can work both ways. Sometimes good Christian symbols have been adapted by evil groups for their own purposes. Symbols and their meanings shift and change.

While the trappings and traditions may have shifted, may we all remember and gratefully accept the unchanging reality of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, born as man, who fully followed the Father, had authority and divine power from the Father, testified of the Father, obeyed the Father, prayed to the Father, taught us to come unto the Father through Him, and witnessed that His Father was greater than He was (John 14:28). He deflected praise and gave glory to the Father, saying, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God" (Matt. 19:17).

He yielded How own will to that of the Father, drank the bitter cup of unimaginable agony to pay the price for the sins of all mankind, gave up His life, then took up His body once again in the glorious miracle of the Resurrection, and showed Himself to many who would touch and feel and know for sure that He was alive with a body of flesh and bone, not spirit only (Luke 24:36-43). Witnesses saw and felt that He was tangible, real, physical, in Whose glorious physical image we most surely have been created. He returned to the presence of the Father, not merged into one incorporeal immaterial construct of the philosophers, but as the tangible, living, real Son of God, not shedding His body a second time, but living at the right hand of the Father as the New Testament so frequently affirms and as Stephen saw as he was being killed for his testimony (Acts 7:55-58).

In his glorious resurrected state, the Son is now fully like the Father and is even said to be in "the express image of the Father" (Heb. 1:1-3)--looking just like Him, in Whose similitude or image (physical appearance) we too are created (James 3:9; Gen. 1:26-29; cf Gen. 5:1,3 for insight on the physical nature of "image").

This is our Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind, offered up by a loving Father to save the world (to me as a parent, John 3:16 is so powerful when we recognize that it truly was a Father offering His beloved son, not somebody merely offering himself). He is truly One with the Father--but in what way? Jesus explained this clearly and powerfully when He gave his great intercessory prayer in John 17 before He was crucified, a prayer on behalf of those who did and would believe in Him and seek to follow Him. He prayed that we might be one, even as He and the Father are one:
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are....

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
He calls us to be one and to follow them and to become perfect. That word is not a Mormon blasphemy, but the call of Christ to us, who asked us to become perfect even as His Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). That is the impossible, incredible goal: to take us fallen children, so far departed from the ways of God, the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10), and to bring us back as true children of God through the grace and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to reveal the divine glory that is in us as sons and daughters of God--and if children, then heirs, even potential joint-heirs with Christ with glory waiting to be revealed within us (Romans 8:14-18). So far beyond our comprehension, yet this is the call of Christmas and of Christ: to follow Jesus and to return to the presence of the Father, to repent of all our sins and receive the grace that God offers us in a covenant relationship aimed at helping us put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-10) to have eternal joy through Christ and the Father.

This is the true Jesus of Christmas, our Savior, our Friend, the Son of God who invites us to follow Him, to participate in eternal life in the presence of the Father. Some of this precious biblical knowledge has been marred by the speculations of philosophers and the decrees of potentates, leaving many confused about the reality of our relationship to God and Christ and the purpose of our mortal life. None of us understand it perfectly, but may we seek and learn to understand these precious topics more clearly.

Many good Christians may differ with our understanding of issues such as the Creation, the nature of God, the reality of the Resurrection, the nature of heaven or the terms of the covenant of grace that Christ offers or the importance of following him and enduring to the end, but in spite of doctrinal debates and questions, let us recognize that Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus behind the generally hidden message of Christmas, is real, not a mere story, not fiction, and that His divine Atonement and love offer the only sure hope for mankind. Let us not be deceived by the gifts of the world and the choking riches that lure so many, nor by the mocking of others who cannot imagine God coming to earth as man, but let us press forward in faith and hold out to the end in worshiping Jesus Christ as our true Savior and hope.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

As far as December 25th goes, see this:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700094707/The-real-date-of-Jesus-birth.html

"This means that the real date of Christmas may have, indeed, been on Dec. 25."

Papa D said...

Thanks, Jeff. This is a wonderful post.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Chadwick makes an interesting point. I've always been uncomfortable with extrapolating a date of birth from the wording of D&C 20, where it just didn't seem intended to be making such a statement.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Example of a Christian symbol adopted for pagan purposes: the five-pointed star. See the excellent article by Matthew Brown, "Inverted Stars On LDS Temples," originally published at FAIRLDS.org, 2002, now archived at Archive.org. See also "Temples/Inverted Stars on LDS Temples" at FAIRMormon.org.

Rich said...

A lot of food for thought. But for me it isn't testimony shaking to not have an exact birth date for Christ. Doesn't change anything and the Christmas season, whether or not is the actual birth date, will just be a special time to reflect on the most important person to ever walk this earth. I think your post was great and I hope you have a very merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering who your blog is written to and for? Any mainstream Christian would never get past the first paragraph.

You use the word pagan three times in that paragraph. Two of the uses are negative in nature to your Christian neighbors. Learn to let them celebrate their Christmas holiday in peace without telling them that it is not the saviors birth.

You redeem yourself in your following paragraphs, however as I said your first paragraph is a real turn off.

This kind of talk is why our missionary attempts are so unsuccessful. I hope your pagan neighbors do not read this blog. They have been busy going to church the past few days. Unfortunately the LDS do not find it important enough to attend church at Christmas.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

I think people aren't as irritable as you might think. Many fellow Christians can acknowledge secular influences in this holiday without fallig to pieces, IMHO.

Mateo said...

Jeff. Good post. I know I'm only adding to a bit of tangential argument but here goes anyways. I don't understand what that last anon is trying to say here. when this is being said, "I am wondering who your blog is written to and for? Any mainstream Christian would never get past the first paragraph."

If being a "mainstream christian" means being tremendously offended at the idea that Christ wasn't born on Christmas or that there are pagan rites that have been incorporated into the holiday then we're in a pretty bad state. There's very little reason to suppose that Christ was born on that particular day and there is evidence to suppose that pagan rituals have been incorporated into the celebration.

Speaking from Anecdotal experience most Christians that are fairly knowledgeable about religion don't claim that Christ was born on the Dec. 25th. The few I've met that do claim such things are typically the fanatical types that are going off "what someone told me."

Zerabp said...

Beautifully written Jeff thank you for you testimony.

Anonymous said...

Mainstream Christian does not refer to Dec. 25. It refers to Christians that are referred to as participating In traditions loaded with pagan content. I did mention this post to two of my Lutheran friends and they were gracious in accepting their criticism.

They pointed out that they were in Church Christmas Eve worshipping one God, while we were at home worshipping multiple Gods.

As always you bear a great testimony.

In your last paragraph you mention not being deceived by those who would mock us. Did you mock anyone in the 1st paragraph? Definition of what in today's mainstream Christian Christmas is based upon, or specifically may be based on pagan concepts?

Jeff Lindsay: said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Lindsay: said...

Anon, if there is any legitimate basis for being offended, I think it is from your Lutheran friends claiming that we worship multiple gods instead of the true God. Probably said as a friendly joke, if it was really said, but the sentiment reflects ignorance.

So who are these multiple gods we worship? God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We differ in understanding how these two are one, but there is only one Godhead and one Savior of mankind. While Paul said there are lords many and gods many, and there are many heavenly hosts including glorious angels, in terms of worship, salvation, creation, and all that matters, there is for us but one God and one Savior, Jesus Christ. All glory is to them: one perfectly united Godhead.

Tell your friends to critique real LDS teachings, not the Godmakers propaganda aimed at turning Christians into fearful bigots.

Any Christian must eventually recognize that pagan elements infuse modern sacred holidays to some degree. Santa Claus ain't in the Bible, brother. Neither is Rudolph or Donner or Blitzen. Christmas trees, mistletoe, egg nog, bowl games, parades (especially in my town), etc. are not original Christian practices. As I said, that is OK. It is part of my tradition and those of my fellow Christians. Nothing to be offended by, IMHO.

openminded said...

Anon,
Jeff was more conceding to the fact than he was denouncing it.

If you're looking for a denouncement, it'd probably go like this: "winter solstice is the real reason for the season."

Now you have a reason to be offended.

Mateo said...

@ anon,
If Christ wasn't born on Dec. 25th (which he apparently wasn't) then a christian that knows this but celebrates the holiday on that day is doing so for what reason? It's commonly held that Christmas is celebrated in December to coincide with the winter solstice. Pagan doesn't mean "devil worshiping" which is a conclusion that some people like to jump to. Paganism typically is used to classify Non-mainstream (today anyways) religious beliefs in the Judeo-christian god. That encompasses a whole lot of things under one umbrella.

Mateo said...

"The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals (parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.

Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days."

I found this
here


It's VERY hard to look at modern day Christmas celebrations and say that there isn't a pagan influence there. :P

Mateo said...

A bit more:

"Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas.

The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas."

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that anyone still continues to perpetuate the Myth that Jesus Christ was anything other than a good man. Hasn't anyone seen how the Bible was written and how it was compiled and how the stories of Jesus are a compilation of lots of different myths?
How can anyone still believe in the Jesus of Miracles when it is clear that those were all stories that were not related to Jesus?

Anonymous said...

It's difficult - if not impossible - to not believe in Jesus if one strives to apply the principles he taught and seeks forgiveness of past errors through repentance and prayer, and feels the redeeming power of the Savior in their life. As Jesus himself said,

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

I am deeply grateful to Jesus for his great love for each of us, for his willingness to bear my burdens.

openminded said...

It's also a lot easier if you start discrediting the OT, move on to the scholarly reasons behind why certain books in the NT weren't written by who they said they were, then show the contradictory stories in the gospels; and somewhere in the NT phase, bring up how there is no historical evidence whatsoever for the census (while describing why there should be). That quick summary doesn't do justice to how much time might be spent on each part, but the person will need to start out slow and work their way up.

Milk before meat, I guess you could say.

Anonymous said...

It is only possible to believe in Jesus if you suspend disbelief. There is just too much evidence that all the miracles attributed to Jesus are myths.
I suggest you trust in his good teachings, but not that he was anything more than a man. Saying you would believe in someone based on how you feel, gets pretty iffy. That kind of thinking can cause lots of problems.

Anonymous said...

As Jesus himself said,

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Mateo said...

@ the last anon.

There are problems with this line. If I wrote a book about how I am god in the flesh and filled it with several ideas about how to lead a society and then made the same claim, "try out how I've told you to organize your socities and see if it brings comfort and peace!" and you do it and you find it brings comfort and peace, does this mean that I am a god?

Say some people claim to follow my words and start to twist them and use them outside of the context that I intended. Does this prove that I am NOT a god?

Anonymous said...

It's not a social or political philosophy he taught. It's a personal belief system and code of conduct. Feel free to try it or not. It's your life. I can only tell you what my experience has been. Only you can tell us what your experience has been.

catholic defender said...

Dear Anonymous of Jan 3 @ 3:51,

I don't know what your experiences are, or what they have been. The tenor of your comments suggest that you've not experienced "miracles" in the tradional sense, and that you may lean toward the agnostic. But let me pose this to you. Christ's teachings are not merely codes of conduct or personal belief systems. The true message Christ brings is one of hope, and purpose in life, and in death. That's the message of Christmas, and the reason we celebrate it. The coming of Christ is the coming of something new, and meaningful...its all about hope.

It may be possible to live one's life completely free from Christian teachings. One could choose to do that. But why would one do that makes no sense to me. It's very easy to criticize Christians, and call us "Jesus Freaks" and other colourful terms, but have you every really looked at a Christian who is living their faith. They are genuinely happy and peaceful.

In my line of work, I see many people who follow no faith path, have no relationship with God at all. Frankly they are miserable, and lack all sense of purpose or hope. Why someone would willingly subject their life to that emptiness is beyond me. Personally, I like knowing that there is more, that there is hope in this world.

As for experiences, I can assure you that I know Christ came, and is God's son. Not because I have any trust in the BOM, or JS, or LDS doctrine, but because I have seen the miracles of Christ personally. It isn't about some big flash of lightning, claps of thunder and boom a miracle has happened. Something as small as the joining of a sperm and ovum to create a child is a miracle from God himself. All you need to do is open your eyes. But, to do that one has to have faith in the existence of God as a starting point.

As for Christmas, and pagan holidays, and an exact date I say why does it matter. The point of the Christmas holiday is to celebrate each year the coming of Christ into the world. December 25 was the date picked to do that, but we shouldn't be so literal to think that Christ was born on that date exactly. We should just give thanks for the hope that came into the world when Christ came. That's my two cents for what its worth.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender

Mateo said...

@ annon, and Catholic Defender,

First off, don't take this the wrong way. I'm not saying your points of view are stupid, or wrong. If Christianity is something you believe is the source of all hope and happiness then that's great. Hope and happiness are good things.

I have yet to experience what you are referring to though. In my own experience hope and happiness are found by people regardless of what station they have in life, or what faith they follow. It's totally possible to be extremely grateful, and thankful for the awesome universe we live in and the ability to experience life without having a drop of faith in a supernatural entity. It is also equally possible to be miserable and hopeless while being a practicing christian. I realize you will just say, "well such a person doesn't really understand christ then!" You're welcome to that idea but just realize it works both ways. A non-believer can say, "leaving religion has brightened my life!" and another says, "well I know such and such and he's an atheist and he's totally miserable!" I can just as easily say, "well it's not atheism that is the issue, it's that he just supports a negative outlook on life."

The idea that christian worship is needed to enjoy life and make the most of it, or to have hope is quite frankly a false one. If it makes you feel more secure in your beliefs to hold onto this idea then so be it, I don't think I'm going to be able to stop you from that. Generally the key to happiness and hope in life is having a strong sense of purpose. Whether that purpose is being an awesome mom, or dad, having some effect in one's community or becoming an expert rock climber there is satisfaction and happiness to be found in life. Generally people that are miserable are people that are extremely selfish and not engaged in much. They have time to wallow in self pity and become bitter towards the world. That can happen to christians, muslims, Jewish people, Scientologists, agnostics or atheists just as easily as anyone else.

Anonymous said...

I should stop being anonymous, but I pretty much agree with what Catholic Defender said. I'm not sure why I came across as agnostic.

The principles taught by Jesus are not made-up principles just to see who's in and who's out. They are the principles which, if followed, produce happiness and joy. If you learn those principles in the context of Buddhism and follow them, you will find joy.

Christ offers more than just that. He offers to shoulder the burden of our sins. He offers comfort in times of sickness, pain, loneliness, and hardship. He offers to tutor, train, and direct us to become as he is ("Be ye therefore perfect, even as my Father..." - but that's the subject of another post by Jeff).

catholic defender said...

Dear Mateo,

I take no offense, being a catholic writing on an LDS blogsite I really can't afford to have a thin skin. I think in theory you have a valid point regarding the need to have a Christian point of view to be happy. It may be possible to find happiness without being a Christian; possible, but I think highly unlikely.

The things you talk about bring joy to folks. People find great joy in having children and seeing them grow into loving men and women. They find joy in rock climbing, or in other pursuits. But there is a difference between happiness and joy. The happiness that I'm talking about is the sense of peace and hope that one has knowing that God has a purpose for us, and that no matter how bad we screw up along the way, there is still hope for our future.

Children grow up and move out. We get old and can no longer rock climb because our bodies just can't do it anymore. Those tangible things that bring joy will eventually fade and not bring joy anymore. But the happiness one finds in Christian teachings doesn't fade because the message of hope remains constant. That's why Christmas, and Easter for that matter, is so important; it reminds us of the message of hope each year.

I've studied some Buddahism, & some Islam, and a few other non-christian teachings. I've never seen the same message of hope in those other faiths that is present in Christianity. Buddahism is more about achieving inner harmony...oneness of self. Islam's message isn't really clear to me. Christ's message is simple, and concrete, and timeless; its about hope.

I do tend to agree that many people who are miserable in life are generally selfish and minimally engaged in the world. But I would also say that you can't find true happiness without God and Christ at the centre.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender

LuckyMatt said...

Jeff, what a wonderful testimony (mingled with some apologetics). Thanks for sharing with us.