it’s a time for reflection, a time for remembering. it’s a time for sleeping and wondering.
No matter what you might think of this time of the year, there is one constant around the world. Winter is a time of renewal for earth and body, in spirit and mind. The utter destruction and chaos as the news relates the daily collapse of the Trump world feels like an end, which it very much is. But in that ending there is the potential and maybe even promise of a better new world.
That is the real story of Christmas – no matter how you want to read it.
The story as told in Luke is a foundation for so much in the western world. A child born in the most humble of circumstances is the savior. New life will blossom forward and the world will be forever changed, guided by a a light and spread by the recognition of those humble and noble who recognize the messiah for who he really is – or, more accurately, who he will become.
If you are a Christian, you may take this literally. If so, stop reading now. It’s a great story which stands as a guide for a new life, refreshed and repurposed every year. I don’t want to take that away from you.
If you are not a Christian the story is a bit confusing. What’s this about virgin birth? What is this prophesy and lineage stuff really all about? If you don’t sweat the details and accept it as an allegory, the story opens up. And as with just about any story, the message is not just in the text but who is telling it – and why.
What we know about the life of Jesus, as an historical figure is pretty thin. There is a reference to Jesus in the writings of Tacitus in 66AD which makes it clear that the Romans of his day accepted that he was indeed a genuine historical figure. It’s not exactly contemporary with his life, but it’s close. And, more interestingly, it’s older than the Gospels.
We don’t know exactly what early Christians said or believed about the teachings of Jesus, but we do know that he was consistently referred to as Jesus of Nazareth. He wasn’t from Bethlehem. The Gospels were written after 70AD, which is to say after the destruction of the Second Temple. Judaism was in an existential crisis, and it was unclear how it might survive.
It is clear to me, at least, that what Jesus taught was a combination of many teachings from the Asian world. What likely marked early Christianity was its adaptability, which we do see gradually evolving through the letters of Peter and Paul. It appears to have been this way from the start, essentially an update or reboot of Judaism for a Greco-Roman world.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, this would have been even more critical. Everything was destroyed, and centuries of teaching and rule came to an end. Who can save us? What is our fate? When we we be delivered again?
By tying Jesus himself into prophesy, particularly Isaiah, the writers of the Gospels were anchoring his teachings deep into messianic Judaica. They did this probably because they felt they had to.
We do know, for example, that the great census of Quirinius that supposedly took the Holy Family to Bethlehem, fulfilling prophesy, did not take place until 6AD – which is to say when Jesus was about 10 years old. That’s just the most important hole in the story, likely told long after the event took place by someone who knew little more than there was a census back then, sometime.
You can, if you want, use this to discard the whole story as a bunch of hooey. It’s much more interesting to use this to establish the desperation felt by the Jewish world to retain some anchor as they accept that the world they knew had been forever ripped apart and was not going to come back together in the same way. What can you do? Accept this new adaptable and more universal faith and move forward.
The passage in Luke is certainly about this. The promise is new, the promise is old. Faith ties together all people and all time.
So what are we to make of our time, as the world we once knew appears to be crashing down around us? Will there be a savior? Will we have to accept this new way of looking at the world, more universal and yet in part familiar?
If Trump teaches us anything, it’s that the very idea of a savior is dangerous. We do indeed have no choice but to renew and move forward. It starts with humility and grows slowly with each recognition, following the light of reason and love shining as true wisdom.
You don’t have to believe the story of Christmas to take inspiration from it. The historical record, which refutes the details easily, actually strengthens it. In time of trouble, the way forward is with a new beginning. Like the genesis of Christianity, it begins with openness to ways of looking at the world that are universal.
To me, that is the message of this time of loafing and loving, of reflecting and respecting. Peace be with you all.