Christmas brings many feelings to each of us; its familiarity and memories of Christmases of the past bring a sense of nostalgia. Thousands of songs have been written about it- some theological and worshipful and others simply talking of a season of plenty, family, roaring fires, reindeer and a jolly gentleman with a red suit and bushy beard!
Whether you are reading this in early December or late January, the significance of Christmas will be viewed from ‘before’ and ‘after’. Whatever your perspective, Christmas marks a change in history and the arrival of someone so special that he changed the course of human history. This is seen vividly as you look out on any European city-scape or rural scene and see spires pointing to heaven. Jesus, born over two thousand years ago, has had such an influence on us today that a prominent historian wrote:
“Two thousand and twenty years after the birth of Christ, we remain the children of the Christian revolution: the most disruptive, the most influential and the most enduring revolution in history.” Tom Holland
You see, Christmas is not about a ‘Christmas baby’, it is entirely focused on the arrival of a King like no one else, and a Kingdom like no other. Jesus was not just a ‘nice’ man, with ‘nice’ ideas and ‘nice’ morals. He was a revolutionary, who brought transformational change at every level; here are just six of them:
Children In the ancient world children were routinely left to die of exposure -- particularly if they were the wrong gender (you can guess which was the wrong one); they were often sold into slavery. Jesus' treatment of and teachings about children led to the forbidding of such practices, as well as orphanages and godparents. A Norwegian scholar named Bakke wrote a study of this impact, simply titled: When Children Became People: the Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity.
Education Love of learning led to monasteries, which became the cradle of academic guilds. Early universities began as Jesus-inspired efforts to love God with all ones' mind. In 1811, the Anglican ‘National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor’ was established under the notion that God does not want any child ignorant. This led to the rapid building of state-schools. The ancient world loved education but tended to reserve it for the elite; the notion that every child bore God's image helped fuel the move for universal literacy.
Compassion Jesus had a universal concern for those who suffered that transcended the rules of the ancient world. His compassion for the poor and the sick led to institutions for lepers, the beginning of modern-day hospitals. The Council of Nyssa decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor. That's why even today, hospitals have names like St Catherine’s, Barts, or Saint Thomas. They were the world's first voluntary, charitable institutions, leading to the establishment of the NHS we love today.
Humility The ancient world honoured many virtues like courage and wisdom, but not humility. People were generally divided into first class and ‘the mediocre’. "Rank must be preserved," said Cicero; describing 99 percent as personis mediocribus. Plutarch wrote a self-help book that might crack best-seller lists in our day: How to Praise Yourself Inoffensively.
Jesus' life as a foot-washing servant would eventually lead to the adoption of humility as a widely admired virtue. Historian John Dickson writes, "it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion...Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being ‘Christian’."
Forgiveness In the ancient world, virtue meant rewarding your friends and punishing your enemies. Conan the Barbarian was actually paraphrasing Ghengis Khan in his famous answer to the question ‘what is best in life?’ – “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
An alternative idea came from Galilee: what is best in life is to love your enemies, and see them reconciled to you. Hannah Arendt, a survivor of the Holocaust who later became a remarkable professor of philosophy, claimed, "the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth."
Humanitarian Reform Jesus had a way of championing the excluded that was often downright irritating to those in power. His inclusion of women led to a community to which women flocked in disproportionate numbers. Slaves--up to a third of ancient populations--might wander into a church fellowship and have a slave-owner wash their feet rather than beat them. One ancient text instructed bishops to not interrupt worship to greet a wealthy attender, but to sit on the floor to welcome the poor. The apostle Paul said: "Now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus." Historian, Thomas Cahill, wrote that this was the first statement of egalitarianism in human literature.
This is a brief summary of the many seismic changes Jesus brings. Perhaps the most remarkable change Jesus brought was providing a way to have a personal relationship with God. He did it by involving foreigners, outcasts, the uneducated- the personis mediocribus, and willingly giving all of himself. When he says: “I am the way, the truth and the life…” it is an invitation to join him. If you are wondering what impact following Jesus has, just look around you. He is a King like no other. It is Him we remember at Christmas and it is Him we continue to worship as the eternal King.
If you want to know more about Jesus, simply read a Gospel. We have free ones in Padstow Church. You can also join us as we look at the big picture of the Bible, which will be starting in the New Year.
Every blessing as you approach the arrival of the King.
(source: John Ortberg)