What to Make of the Christ Myth Hypothesis

man wearing brown jacket and using grey laptop

Come back in time with me, all the way back to the magical year of 2007.  I had a beautiful, thick head of hair… My wife was pregnant with our first child. I was living in Eger, Hungary, where we had planted a church which I was pastoring, and I had just gotten broadband internet hooked up in our flat. There was this new thing around at that time called YouTube, we weren’t sure if it was going to catch on or not… I mean, who wants to watch videos on their computer???

There on YouTube, I came across this video called Zeitgeist, which is basically a big conspiracy theory that says that everything you’ve ever been told about everything is a lie, conjured up by people who want to control you. Overall, I didn’t take the movie seriously, but… the beginning of the movie made some pretty serious claims about Jesus and the Bible that gave me pause when I first heard them…

The Claims

For example, the video claimed that 3000 years before Jesus, the Egyptians had a god named Horus who was:

  • Born on December 25
  • Born of a virgin
  • His birth was marked by a star in the East
  • He was adored by 3 kings
  • He was a teacher at age 12
  • He was baptized and began his ministry at age 30
  • He had 12 disciples

Sound like anyone else you’ve heard of before? They went on…

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Stills from video

The basic premise of their claims is that all the stuff the Bible says about Jesus was just ripped off and plagiarized from other ancient religions. For a moment, these claims surprised me and shook me, because I had never heard this before, and I realized that if these claims were true, then Christianity is just a myth and is not true…

The Reality: the “Christ Myth Hypothesis” is a misinformation campaign

I figured it was pretty important to find out whether the things this video claimed were true, so I immediately went and did some research.

Here’s what I found: these claims are nothing new, they have been around for hundreds of years AND they have been disproven and are not taken seriously by anyone who knows anything about history because their claims are false.

Several books and films have been produced by “evangelical atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and Tim Harper which promote these claims as the basis for why people should abandon belief in the Bible.

Not only are the claims of the “Christ Myth Hypothesis” not true, but they are intentionally misleading, which is even worse. This is no mere misunderstanding, this is a misinformation campaign aimed at swaying people’s opinions using underhanded and dishonest means.

The Reality: Historical Facts Disprove the Christ Myth Hypothesis

One of the big claims of those who promote the Christ myth is that Jesus never actually existed.

How Do We Know that Jesus Really Existed?

Edwin Yamauchi, Professor of History at the University of Miami says this: “Any argument that challenges the claim of a historical Jesus is so ridiculous in the scholarly community, it is relegated only to the world of footnotes.”

Why? There are at least 10 sources, other than the Bible, that talk about Jesus as a historical person. Here are 2 examples:

  • Tacitus (Roman official):   “Nero fastened the guilt . . . (for a great fire that happened in Rome) on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilatus.” (Tacitus, Annals, 15.44)
  • Josephus: “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him did not give up their affection for him.    On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life . . . and the tribe of Christians . . . has not disappeared.” (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.63–64)

Bart Ehrman is not a Christian, and yet he explains, “There is more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than there is for nearly any other person from antiquity,” and “Mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by scholars,” because “the idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.”

Another reason we can be sure that Jesus really existed is because of the rise of the early Christian church.

The rise of early Christianity doesn’t make any sense if Jesus never actually existed. It was a movement of people who claimed to have known, lived with, and witnessed the life, death and resurrection of this man, and as a result they willingly suffered persecution and death, including the torture and murder of their wives and children. Not even the leaders reaped any personal benefit from these claims at all. The history of early Christianity makes no sense apart from the fact that these people actually saw their leader crucified and then rise again.

Examining the Claims of the Christ Myth Hypothesis

Problem #1: Lack of Primary Sources

Problem #2: Gets basic facts about the Bible wrong

Let’s look at some of the specific claims, starting with the most popular: Horus.

Born on December 25
I hope I’m not ruining your Christmas, but Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. Nowhere in the Bible does it say when Jesus was born, in fact it is most likely it was not in winter, but in fall because it says in the Gospels that the shepherds were sleeping outside with their sheep – which they don’t do in Israel in December because it’s too cold.

It was around 400 AD, when Pope Julius I changed when the day when Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus, to December 25th — in order to subvert a pagan holiday which was celebrated on the Winter Solstice.

Christians have never actually believed that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th — that’s just the day we chose to celebrated it. If you want to celebrate it in August, go for it!  So, December 25 is not an actual parallel.

Born of a Virgin

Here’s how Horus was conceived: His mom was a goddess named Isis — his dad was a god named Osiris. Osiris got into a fight with another god and lost (it’s such a bummer when your god loses…) The other god cut Osiris up and chopped him into pieces, and then Horus’ mom came along and found Osiris’ severed phallus — and yada, yada, yada — she got pregnant, and that’s how Horus was conceived.

I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as a virgin birth, and it’s certainly not a parallel to Jesus.

Star in the East — Attended by 3 Kings

Again, I don’t want to ruin your Christmas — but the Bible doesn’t say that 3 kings followed a star and arrived at the birth of Jesus. The only people who came at the birth of Jesus were the shepherds from the nearby fields.

In the Gospel of Matthew — it says that a group of magi came from the East, when Jesus was about 2 years old, but nowhere does it says they were kings… “Magi” were magicians, sorcerers, practitioners of Zoroastrianism (Persian traditional religion).

Furthermore, nowhere does it say that there were 3 of them. It says that they brought 3 gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh —but there were probably more than 3 of them. There could have been 15 or 20 or 100. So, again: this isn’t a parallel.

Teacher at 12 and Baptized at 30 

There aren’t any references to any of these things in ancient writings regarding Horus.  

12 Disciples

The Hieroglyphics show that Horus actually had 4 disciples — and they were: a turtle, a bear, a lion and a tiger. Also not a parallel

Some people say that Horus was crucified and then resurrected on the 3rd day. However, crucifixion didn’t exist in Egypt — it was invented by the Romans thousands of years later. Furthermore, in most stories of Horus, he didn’t die. In one story, he was killed and cut up into pieces, then thrown into a swamp, in which the pieces turned into a crocodile – and THAT is claimed to be a resurrection which was supposedly copied by the Gospels!

Mithra: Born of a Virgin

Mithra, legend says, was actually born fully-formed, out of a rock. That’s not exactly a virgin birth.

Other “Parallels”

Another resurrection parallel that is sometimes claimed is the Greek god Attis, but if you look at his story, here’s how it goes: Attis gets killed by his father, then his father asks Zeus to resurrect him from the dead, and Zeus said: “No. But, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll make Attis’ pinky finger move eternally, and his hair will grow forever.”

Again that’s not resurrection, and there’s no parallel at all with Jesus.

Conclusion & Further Resources

It’s probably not a great idea to get historical information from YouTube videos and blatant propaganda materials, and yet many people do.

What makes Christianity unique is that it is not based on abstract ideas, feelings, or concepts, but it is based on historical events which either happened or they didn’t. The good news is that because of this, the claims of Christianity can be studied and researched from a historical perspective. Actual scholarly research and material refutes the claims of the Christ Myth Hypothesis and corroborates the claims of the gospel.

For further reading/listening, I recommend:

 

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SNL’s Nativity

Emma Stone and SNL put together a great skit on the nativity and how un-glamorous it must have actually been to have a baby in a barn.

My favorite lines:

Wise man: “We brought you gold, frankincense and myrrh.” 
Mary: “Great! I heard ‘blankets, diapers and a crib…'”

“I’m sorry, I guess when I found out that I was going to give birth to the Savior, I just assumed it was going to be … nicer. There would be a real bed, and, I don’t know, like: a doctor. And no sheep poop on the floor.”

Check it out:

The Christmas Song Which Isn’t Actually About Christmas

One of the most characteristic songs of the Christmas season is Joy to the World. It’s sung by carolers and played in instrumental pieces all over the world, and wherever its famous tune rings, it sets the tone of Christmas.

Except… this quintessential Christmas hymn isn’t actually about Christmas.

67460Written by Isaac Watts and first published in 1719, Joy to the World was a hymn Watts wrote based on Psalm 98, which describes the eternal kingdom which God promised to one day bring about via the Messiah.

Watts, in writing this hymn, considered Psalm 98 along with the New Testament writings about Jesus’ second coming, and wrote this song – which is all about what the world will be like when Jesus comes again.

In this sense, we can say that Joy to the World is an Advent hymn, even if it is not necessarily a Christmas hymn.

Advent is the four weeks leading up until Christmas, during which Christians have historically focused their hearts and mind’s on Jesus’ coming. The word Advent comes from the Latin phrase Adventus Domini, which means: ‘the coming of the Lord.’

During the Advent season we do two things:

  1. We look BACK to Jesus’ first coming and the incarnation (Christmas) – that act in which God took on human flesh in order to save us.
  2. We look FORWARD to Jesus’ second coming, when he will come again according to his promise, to judge the nations and rule over his eternal kingdom.

And so it is in this latter sense that Joy to the World is absolutely an Advent hymn, as it looks forward to the second coming of Christ, when nature will sing and Jesus will rule as King over all.

Another thing you may not know about the hymn Joy to the World is that it was originally set to a different tune than the iconic one that we associate with it today.

Over 100 years after Isaac Watts originally wrote the song, a composer named Lowell Mason, inspired by Handel’s Messiah, wrote the melody which we know today. He titled this musical piece Antioch, but it didn’t have any words to go with it.

For three years Mason searched for the right words to fit his melody, finally settling on Isaac Watts’ lyrics for Joy to the World, and the rest is history.

Joy to the World: An Advent Series

This Advent at White Fields Church in Longmont we are doing a series for the month of December, including Christmas Eve, called Joy to the World, in which we will be looking at how the gospel brings lasting, powerful joy into our lives which overcomes sorrow and cannot be taken away.

Yesterday was our first message in that series, which came from the Gospel of John chapter 16 and was titled “Your Sorrow Will Turn Into Joy.” For the audio of that message, click here.

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We’d love to have you and your friends and family join us at White Fields this Advent and on Christmas Eve. Our services will be at 4:30 & 6:00pm at the St. Vrain Memorial Building at 700 Longs Peak Avenue in Longmont, Colorado. For more information and directions, click here.

 

Bad Christmas Songs

One of the ways you can tell it’s Christmastime is because of the music. However, not all Christmas music is created equal.

Every year around Christmas, my wife likes to put on Christmas music and decorate the house with the kids. A few years ago, she put on a children’s Christmas music album. It wasn’t long before my four year old daughter came into the kitchen with a concerned look on her face and asked, “Why was mommy kissing Santa Claus?”

She had heard the song on the kids album and was understandably concerned, because, as a child, she didn’t understand the basic premise of the song which makes it cute and fun: that “Santa” is actually the kid’s dad dressed up in a Santa outfit, and the kissing is therefore completely appropriate.

Without that piece of the puzzle, this song is quite confusing and disturbing! Think about it: it’s the story of a young child, excited about Christmas, who comes out of his room late at night to discover that his mom is making out with Santa! How incredibly traumatic! Not only is his mother being unfaithful to his father, but on Christmas?! And with Santa?! Talk about disillusionment! Where’s dad? And Mom is seriously doing this behind dad’s back, in his own house?! And Santa… he’s a monster who is ripping apart our family! You can keep the presents Santa; I just want my family back, and I want mom to stop doing things like this to dad!

Or how about Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer? It’s essentially the story of a reindeer who gets bullied by the other reindeer, and the only time they want him around is when they need him to do something for them. So basically, they treat him terribly and then use him when it’s convenient to them…

Furthermore, if Santa apparently “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “sees when you’re awake”, and “he knows if you’ve been bad or good” — and he keeps a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice… well then that means that Santa knew that Rudolf was getting bullied, but he didn’t do anything about it!

Rather than judging him by the content of his character, they were judging him by the color of his nose…

There are some really good Christmas songs out there though; songs written by people for whom the Christmas message completely changed their lives and transformed them at their very core, and there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from erupting in song as a result of it.

They say things like: Joy to the World, the Lord has Come! Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! No more will sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground: he comes to make his blessings flow – as far as the curse is found!

They sang rich theology and wonderful truths: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Born that man no more may die! — Born to raise the sons of Earth, Born to give us second birth!

That’s a song written by somebody who had something to sing about!

The very first Christmas carol was sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it is known as “The Magnificat” because it begins with the words: My soul magnifies the Lord.

The occasion for this song was the Annunciation: the announcement to Mary that she was going to have a baby, who would be the long-awaited Savior of the World. It was Mary’s response to the news that for a reason based only on God’s sovereign choice, God had chosen to place his favor on her and chose her to be the one to bear, to care for, to raise the Messiah… Jesus.

Here’s what she sang:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

In this song, Mary sings about God’s attributes, God’s purposes in history, and God’s incredible work of opposing the proud but exalting the humble.

May we humble ourselves before Him today, see what He has done for us, and receive His grace: the unmerited favor which He has shown us.

Then you’ll really have something to sing about this Christmas!

Taking Back the Story of Saint Nicholas

December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Particularly in Europe, it is celebrated as St. Nicholas Day, and the tradition is to put chocolate and gifts into the children’s shoes for them to find in the morning – a tradition that my wife keeps in our home.

I don’t know if you’ve met them or not, but there are some Christians who think that Santa Claus is evil and that he takes away from the true meaning of Christmas. Not to mention, some would point out, that Santa is nothing more than a misspelling of SATAN, which must be why he goes around in those obnoxious red clothes: because he is from HELL and wants to take you and your kids back there with him!
This of course, is based on a sad lack of knowledge regarding the origin of Santa Claus – the name (in English) being simply a direct derivative of “Saint Nicholas”.

For this reason, some Christians protest anything to do with Santa Claus, and tell their kids that Santa is not real, he is bad, and he takes away from the true meaning of Christmas, which of course is Jesus.

This Christmas season, as we do every year, we will tell our kids the story of the real Saint Nicholas – who was not a mythical fat man in red clothes who rode through the skies on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, but a devout Christian man, a pastor, who was persecuted for his faith, and gained fame because of his generosity to the poor and needy.

We don’t avoid Santa Claus – we don’t even want to. We see it as a great opportunity to teach our kids about a great Christian man who loved Jesus and was generous and kind because of the love of God which was in his heart. THAT is the “Christmas spirit”.

We tell our kids that there are many people in the world who want to follow the example of Saint Nicholas, and that is why they will meet a Santa at their school and at the mall – and some of them will have very fake beards, because none of them are the real Saint Nick. We also teach our kids that, as Christians, we want to be like Saint Nicholas too, and we are going to be generous to the poor and needy too because God loved us so much that he gave us his Son, Jesus, so that we could have eternal life and have a relationship with God.

The Story of the Real Saint Nicholas

The real Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in the village of Patara, in what is now southern Turkey, into a wealthy family. That’s right – no North Pole and reindeer for the real Santa, but palm trees and white sand beaches. His parents died when he was young, and he was taken in and raised by a local priest. Following Jesus’ call to the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:21) to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor”, Nicholas dedicated to use his entire inheritance to assist the sick, needy and suffering.
He became a pastor, and was later made Bishop of Myra. He became famous for his generosity and love for children.

Nicholas suffered persecution and imprisonment for his Christian faith during the Great Persecution (303-311) under Roman emperor Diocletian.
As a bishop, he attended the Council of Nicaea (325), at which he affirmed the doctrine of the deity of Christ against the Arian heresy.
Nicholas died in 343 in Myra. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th.

As Christians, we should take back the true story of St. Nicholas

Many stories are told about St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. Perhaps the most famous story is one of a poor man who had three daughters who were of marrying age. Because the man was poor, he was unable to provide a dowry for his daughters, which meant that they would not be able to find a descent husband, and would either be married into further poverty or would have to become slaves. After Nicholas found out about this family’s situation, he visited the family’s house, leaving them 3 anonymous gifts – each time a bag of gold, which was tossed through an open window while the family was sleeping. Legend has it that the gold fell into their shoes, the reason for the tradition in Europe that St. Nicholas leaves gifts in children’s shoes. Nicholas provided for these poor girls to help them break out of the cycle of poverty.

My favorite story about Nicholas is what he did at the the Council of Nicaea, where bishops from all over the world gathered to study the scriptures and address the major doctrinal controversies facing the church. Chief among these was Arianism, propagated by Arius, which denied the full deity of Jesus, saying instead that he was a created being – a view that is carried on today by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The debate got very heated, and based on the study of the scriptures, Arianism was deemed heretical. Nicholas argued from the scriptures for the deity of Christian and against Arianism, and at one point got so upset with something that was said about Jesus from the other side, that he slapped an Arian. That’s my kind of Santa!

Rather than trying to make Christmas Santa-free, let’s take back the true story of Saint Nicholas and take hold of this opportunity to talk about a Christian man who loved Jesus, championed good theology and exemplified Christ through compassion and generosity to the needy.

The Hurricane Has Become Human

N.T. Wright, in the introduction to his book, For All God’s Worth, writes:

How can you cope with the end of one world and the beginning of another one? Or the thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire became flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst?

This, he goes on to say, is what Christianity is all about. And the question for us is: how ought we to respond to such news? The answer is: Worship. That is the only appropriate response.

What is he referring to?

In the Old Testament, when God appeared to the people it was often a terrifying experience. God appeared to Job in the form of a tempest (AKA “hurricane”). When God appeared to the people of Israel in the wilderness on Mt. Sinai, it was in the form of a consuming fire, essentially a fire-storm of lightning and fire on top of the mountain. The message was: God is inapproachable. To attempt to come near to Him would result in certain death… God even told Moses that if anyone would see Him in His glory, they would surely die.

And yet, the incredible message of Christianity is that in the person of Jesus, “the hurricane became human,” that the “fire became flesh” and “life itself came to life and walked in our midst.” And as a result of what he did, we have the promise and the hope of the end of this corrupt world and the advent of a new and better world to come.

To really understand this, Wright says, to take it seriously, means that the only appropriate response is “sheer unadulterated worship of the True and Living God and following Him wherever He leads.”

“Worship,” he says, “is not an optional extra for Christians, nor a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.”

Worship is not an optional extra for Christians, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.

He goes on to say that many people view Christianity as a being something which gives them a sense of comfort and nostalgia. This should not actually be the case if someone really understands what Christianity is about. Rather than making you feel cozy, the gospel message is one that upturns every area of your life.

Wright says Christmas is a perfect example of this:

Take Christmas, for instance: a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children. But that misses the point completely. Christmas is not another reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in the room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in the room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christmas then, and Christianity as a whole, is not about escapism, it’s about reality. It’s about how God has intervened in our world, and as a result, everything has and will change. The only proper response to this is to worship God for all he’s worth.

Part of that response, part of that worship, is to take up God’s mission. As John Piper says, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

May we truly understand the weight of the Christian message: “the end of one world and the beginning of another” — and may we be moved towards this rhythm of response: Worship and Mission.

For more on worship and mission, check out these recent messages from White Fields Church:

When Linus Dropped His Blanket

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Like many families, there are a few movies that we like to watch together at Christmas. One of them is Elf, the other is A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This past Sunday I preached a message titled “Paradoxes and Promises” from Luke 2:8-38. The beginning of that text is the famous Christmas passage about the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds who were watching their flocks in a nearby field – the same text that Linus reads at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I mentioned in my sermon some interesting things I had learned about the film, particularly that Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was a devout Christian,  and when he was asked in 1965 to create a Christmas special for CBS featuring the Peanuts characters, Schulz agreed… with one caveat: he would only do it if they would let him include the story of the birth of Jesus.

CBS executives were hesitant about including this, but because Peanuts was so popular, they conceded and agreed to allow Schulz to include it in the show. However, both the producer and the director tried hard to dissuade him from including it, first of all because they thought it would be boring to have a scripture reading in a television program, and secondly, because even then it was considered controversial. Schulz refused to budge. He reportedly said at one point, “We must tell this story! If we don’t do it, who will?”

Schulz won out, and as a result, for the past 50 years, millions of families and scores of children have watched A Charlie Brown Christmas and heard the story of Jesus and “what Christmas is all about.”

After service, a friend came up to me and told me something I had never realized about that scene where Linus tells the Christmas story: He drops his blanket – his security blanket.

And it was intentional.

While sharing the message of “what Christmas is all about,” Linus drops his blanket at the exact moment he says the words, “fear not!”

Here’s the video of that scene, check it out:

The message it communicates is that because Jesus has come into the world to be our Savior, we can let go of the things we have been clinging to and looking for security in, and we can find true security in Him.

If you look again, that’s not the only subtle message Charles Schulz put into the scene. Notice how when Linus starts speaking about Jesus, that message takes center stage, and gets put in the spotlight. 

May that be true of us this Christmas as well: that we put Jesus at center stage, and give Him the spotlight, and as we do so, may we find true peace and security in Him.

Always Winter, Never Christmas

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis’ classic first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, tells the story of 4 children: Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie. The setting is World War II, and the the children have been sent to stay with family friends in the English countryside because of the German attack on London.

As they are exploring and playing in the house, Lucy hides in a wardrobe, only to find that it is a portal to another world. As she passes through the portal she finds herself in Narnia – a cold place, covered in snow. She meets some creatures, who tell her about the bleak condition of Narnia: it is a land under the curse of an evil witch. Every day is as if it is “always winter but never Christmas.”

This is perhaps one of the most apt and poetically concise descriptions of hopelessness ever written: “Always winter, but never Christmas.”

2016 hasn’t been a great year on some fronts. Terror attacks in Europe, death and destruction in Syria. Maybe you have experienced some things in your own life, that make you acutely aware that you are living in a land that is under a curse – where it feels like you dwell in perpetual winter.

As Lucy and Edmund found themselves in Narnia, suddenly the children heard the sound of sleigh bells approaching. They figured it was the evil witch, so they hid. However, it was not the witch, it was Father Christmas!

Having been held captive by the witch, he had finally gotten free. “I have broken through at last,” he says. “She has kept me out for a long time, but her magic is weakening. Aslan is on the move! A merry Christmas! Long live the true King!”

We live in a world where there is a curse, where there is winter and cold and darkness, where there is pain and hardship – yet ever before us is the promise of Christmas: that Jesus has come to the world to save us.

Advent isn’t only about looking to the past, it’s also about looking to the future – to the fact that the curse is being broken, that the True King is coming and the winter will one day be over and the warmth and life of Spring will come.

Relient K wrote a song a few years back about this very thing:

Advent Meditations: 13 – The Reason the Son of God Appeared

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:8

I have been away for a few days from this because my wife gave birth to our baby girl this past weekend! We feel very blessed.

With every new life comes the promise of hope and joy and the light that this new life will bring into the world, but over every life there looms the shadow of a cloud on the horizon… a debt which will one day come due: the inevitability of death.

Every child is born into a world that is cracked and broken, with remnants of what it was originally intended and designed to be and we live with a lingering memory – an ancestral notion of how things were meant to be.

The message of Christmas is that the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil – to restore things to the way they were meant to be. This is the hope of the Gospel and the hope that we celebrate at Advent: that the day is coming, and is ever nearer, when this hope of ours will be realized. The meaning of Christmas is that there is a new inevitability: that that day is coming, and will be here before we realize it.

The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil: in the world, and also in each of us. He came to make the world what it was meant to be, and to make each of us what we were meant to be.

Joy to the world – the Lord has come!  The Savior reigns!

 

Advent Meditations: 12 – The Date and Details of Christmas

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The first Christmas sermon I ever preached was on the topic of whether Jesus was really born on December 25th. My point was that most scholars believe was that Jesus was not born on December 25th, but probably in September, because the shepherds were sleeping outside with their flocks at night, which is not something that would be done in the winter months when it was colder at night. Furthermore, this view is based on the tracking of the stars, which some say would place the North Star in the right place in the sky sometime in autumn.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

Prior to 336AD, December 25th was when pagans celebrated the winter solstice. Constantine took an existing holiday and changed the focus of it and the substance of what was being celebrated. It is remarkable that in the first few hundred years of the church, the main Christian holiday was Easter, when they celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christmas only began to be celebrated much later on.

However, while that is all interesting information, I somewhat regret having spent the time given me during my first Christmas sermon on this topic. Having had the attention of people on that day, I wish I would not have focused on dates and details, but on the substance of what Christmas is about.

You see – it doesn’t really matter what day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, what matters is the fact of the incarnation. If December 25th is the day that our culture has chosen to celebrate that, then great! I’m happy to celebrate it then or any other time! But if our whole culture is open to talking about it at this time, then what a great opportunity that is to talk about the gospel and the meaning of the incarnation on a day when more people will set foot inside a church than any other day of the year. What matters is not when the incarnation happened, but that it did indeed happen!

There are some people who have a “mentality for the marginal” – a “preoccupation with the peripheral”. They focus all of their time and attention to theories about dates and details, the movement of stars and how exactly the star did lead the magi, or how exactly did the Red Sea split, or how did Jonah survive in the belly of the fish – they are concerned with gathering information on and debating peripheral matters of theology, which are tentative and have very little spiritual significance.

It is not to say that such interests are bad, except when this preoccupation with the peripheral takes one away from a focus on the great central things of the gospel – the holiness of God, the terribleness of sin, the helplessness of man and the love of God; the death of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit and the return of Christ and the final judgment. Some people are easily sidetracked from these things by the latest speculations and theories and tidbits regarding things which have little ultimate significance.

What is wonderful about the Christmas story – the story of the incarnation – is that if you will allow it to, it will refocus you onto that which is important. It will help you keep the main things the main things. It re-centers us, by reminding us of the big picture: that the world is under the dark cloud of sin and death, but God, in his love, has sent us a savior: Christ the Lord, who is none other than God himself come to us in  human flesh. And if anyone puts their faith in Him, they will not be put to shame, but they will be saved, justified, forgiven and redeemed, and have life everlasting.