The unexpected Christmas gift

THE German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once described Christmas as “a vile interruption of routine”.
A cynic who also branded Christianity “the one immortal blemish of Mankind”, Nietzsche had no time for such religious festivals.
They were too often used by political and religious leaders to blunt our perceptions of reality, he said.
Napoleon, although loath to admit it, agreed. He thought Christmas celebrations were “excellent for keeping common people quiet”.
It is easy, tempting even, to be cynical about festive celebrations on a date in December that marks the birth at least 2000 years ago of a notorious leader of a liberation movement — a man most scholars believe was born somewhere between May and September in 4BC.
The Christian church decided in the fourth century to make the birthdate December 25 because it was erroneously thought it was the shortest day of the year in Europe and coincided with a pagan festival.
The early Christians — direct followers of Jesus Christ — did not even celebrate Christmas.
Christmas customs such as the Christmas tree, tinsel, mince pies, Christmas cards and the message of “spend, spend, spend” did not arrive until this millennium.
So the completely rational view of Christmas in this Age of Reason would be of a quaint, if rather outmoded, celebration of indulgence.
What need is there for miracle stories in an age where the prevailing philosophy is that we are our own creators?
Nihilism, with its ultimate belief that nothing is of any lasting worth, is obviously more rational. The alternative view is that the Christmas story — of the infinite becoming finite fact in a gift to humanity — is real.
If that is so, Christmas marks an invasion of history by holy miracles we can perhaps only perceive by some grace.


10 thoughts on “The unexpected Christmas gift

    By Jesma O’Hara

    “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders and he will be given the name PELE YO-ETZ ELGIBBOR AVI-‘AD SAR SHALOM [Wonder of a Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace] in order to extend the Kingdom and perpetuate the peace of the throne and Kingdom of David.”

    While we know that Jesus was not born on December 25, he was certainly conceived during this season of Hannukah, or the Festival of Lights. While there has been a takeover of the Christmas season by the “gods” of capitalism and secularism, we, Jesus’ disciples, need to use the opportunity to draw people’s attention away from the glitz and expense to the one who is the greatest gift giver of all time, and His son, the greatest gift ever given. In Hebraic understanding everything is an opportunity to sanctify the moment and we can certainly sanctify Christmas by reminding people of the true “reason for the season.”

    The late and great Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “From my youth onwards I have found in Jesus my great brother. That Christianity has regarded and does regard him as God and Saviour has always appeared to me a fact of highest importance which, for his sake and my own, I must endeavour to understand…my own fraternally open relationship with him has grown stronger and clearer, and today I see him more strongly and clearly than ever before. I am more than ever certain that a great place belongs to him in Israel’s history of faith and that this place cannot be described by any of the usual categories.”

    Jesus’ parents, Mary [Miriam] and Joseph [Yosef], lived in a tiny village in the Galilean Hills that had a population of around 150 – 200 people. It was not far from the major Greek polis or city of Sepphoris, a city of around 30,000 inhabitants. The villagers of Nazareth are believed to have been members of the Tribe of Judah who had returned from the Babylonian Exile some 150 years before the birth of Jesus. They named their little village Nazareth in view of their expectation that the Messiah [the Anointed One] would come from them [Isaiah 11:11].

    Like other young couples of their day, Mary and Joseph would probably have been in their early teens when they were betrothed to each other. The betrothal [engagement] lasted about 12 months, and the couple were regarded as kidushin [sanctified or separated] to each other and erusin [bound to each other]. The seriousness of the commitment was such that it required a rabbinic ruling to be dissolved. This is a reminder of the seriousness of covenant commitment as a biblical foundation.

    It was during this period that the Matthew and Luke tell us that Mary discovered she was pregnant. The angel Gabriel told Joseph that they were to call the baby Yeshua, meaning ‘Yahweh’s salvation.’ It was the second most popular boys name in Judea during that period. Jesus is the Latin version of the Greek ‘Ieosus’. In Hebraic understanding names are very important as they represent the very ‘essence’ of the person, their calling, character and prophetic destiny.

    The young couple made the four to five day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman census and they were probably pleased to escape the small village gossip concerning Mary’s pregnancy.

    The Prophet Micah had written, “But you, Bethlehem, near Efrat, so small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth to me the future ruler of Israel, whose origins are far in the past, back in ancient times.” [5:1]. He was even more specific in 4:8, saying, “You Tower of the Flock [Migdol Eder], hill of the daughter of Zion, to you your former sovereign will return, the royal power of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

    The Migdol Eder was the shepherd’s field outside Bethlehem where the little lambs that were destined to be sacrificed at the Temple seven kilometres up the road were born and raised. God’s Son was born to die as a sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the people so he had to be born in Bethlehem.

    It is ironic that Jesus, Jacob’s descendant, was born in Bethlehem in the shadow of the Herodian, the great fortress built by King Herod, a descendant of Esau.

    No fancy hotel or hospital bed was reserved for Jesus and his family. The Romans usually conducted their census during the public holidays of the countries they occupied so Jesus would have been born during one of the biblical feasts or God’s appointed Times, which are all prophetic pictures of his life and ministry. The inns and houses of Bethlehem would have been full with the overflow of the pilgrims who journeyed up to Jerusalem to celebrate at the Temple.

    John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin was conceived after his father, a member of the Abijah division of the Temple priesthood had returned from fulfilling his duties on the Temple roster. John was born during Passover, so we can assume with some certainty that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, September/October of our calendar, and well before the sheep were tucked away in stables to protect them from the cold, rain and snow of a December winters day in Bethlehem.

    Most of the traditions surrounding Jesus’ birth have come down to us from a book written around 200AD, called the “Proto Evangelium of James.” The author was not Jewish and had no understanding of Jewish culture, seasons or geography. It has no basis in Scripture but it has influenced Christian understanding of Jesus’ birth to the present day.

    Joseph was of the lineage of David, Judea’s royal family, and he was returning to his ancestral family home with a wife who was about to give birth to another of King David’s descendants. To suggest no one would give him and his pregnant wife a place to give birth to her first child reveals ignorance of Middle eastern hospitality and the importance of family in Jewish culture. Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, lived only a few kilometres away in Ein Kerem and would also have sheltered the young couple if necessary.

    Luke 2:6 says, “WHILE THEY WERE THERE, the time came for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her first child, a son.” They were already settled in town not rushing in at the last minute and turned away by callous relatives. The passage doesn’t say that the baby came unexpectedly, taking his unprepared parents by surprise!

    Homes in Jesus’ day had two rooms. One was exclusively for guests, and was the place where the early synagogue services were held, before the advent of purpose built buildings, as well as providing a safe place for visitors to stay [1 Kings 17:19]. The other room was a family room where the family ate, slept and lived. Most of the daily activities took place outside in the compound yard or on the flat roof where it was cooler. At the end of the room was a lower area where the animals were housed at night and during bad weather. In that area there were stone mangers to hold the animal’s food. Mary would have been attended by the women in the house, as was the custom during delivery in all tribal cultures.

    This is the only passage in the New Testament where the Greek word ‘katalyma’ is translated as ‘inn’. It simply means a place to stay, e.g – guest room. The guest room was full of guests because of the census and the celebrations at the Temple. None of the gospel narratives say that Jesus was born in a stable, only that he was laid in a manger, a very warm, cosy place to lay a new baby in a simple home where there were no purpose built bassinets. Babies slept with their mothers.

    The simplicity of the Gospel story – the story of a tiny baby born to poor parents in a little village on the edge of the Judean desert some 2000 years ago, is a story that reminds us that God loved His creation, including all humankind, so much that He was willing to give His son as the greatest gift of all time. This gift, if received, would be the means through which every human being would be given the opportunity to be restored to right relationship with the Father. The story of this gift is the true meaning of Christmas, and provides an opportunity to celebrate, not just on December 25, but on each and every day of the year.

    HEBREW WORD STUDY 10——-Hannukah

    Hannukah lasts 8 days and always falls in December of our calendar. The word means ‘consecration’ but the feast is also called the Festival of Lights [John 10].It commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165BC after it had been desecrated by the Seleucids. It celebrates the supremacy of spiritual values over the forces of evil and the right of every people to have freedom. The Maccabees were the fighting force that defeated the mighty army of Antiochus Ephiphanes and prepared the way for the birth of Jesus. Each night a candle on the 9 branched Hannukiah is lit using the Shammash, the Servant candle in the middle.

    International Christian Embassy


    • This is a very comprehensive explanation of the Hebrew tradition. I can only second the notion that the meaning of words, foremost of all the names in Hebrew is of absolute importance. One really needs to understand the meaning in Hebrew, including the root of the word to be able to comprehend the English translation. The so called bible is a great allegory, based on words and its meaning. Literal meaning is deceptive and leads to illusions and misunderstandings. The person we now call Jesus, was the first manifestation of what we all potentially are. We are all made from the same fabric with the same potential. The Yahweh’s salvation. This salvation is two ways. Something very few today can understand and admit. Most will call it heresy.
      This Jesus said pick up your cross and follow me. I am the way, (which to follow). Copy me if you like. Just to confess he is my saviour is not enough. Heaven is not the place to gain salvation either. Right here, on Earth in your physical body as he manifested is the place and time to do it.


      • Fossal
        The Bible says that Jesus came to save us from our sins, meaning that we are not made from the same fabric as Divinity. In fact at the annunciation the angel told Mary to name the Child Jesus because He would save people from their sins. Nothing was implied that He would be a guide to help people discover or release the god/goddess within.


      • Your statement “Copy me if you like” is wrong as well. Jesus said “I am the way” and “Nobody comes to the Father except through Me”. The apostles preached that there is no “other name under the sun through which one could be saved”.


      • If the so called Bible is a great allegory that should not be taken literally, why should we trust your statement “Heaven is not the place to gain salvation either. Right here, on Earth in your physical body as he manifested is the place and time to do it.”
        Could it be that the Bible is not an allegory and that parts of the Bible should we taken literally after all?


      • My little 3 year old nephew illustrated what Christmas means to many people people today by singing the song O Come all ye faithfull. Instead of singing “Let us adore Him” he prophetically sang “O let us ignore him”. And so for 1 day a year we celebrate Christ’s birth and then we go about ignoring Him. Fossal ignores Jesus by saying that the Bible is all allegorical; anything that might need to be taken literal is deceptive and calculated to lead to misunderstanding.


      • The Bible can be read at many different levels, pointing the way to God for people of various understandings. It is a sign post only, is not itself divine. It serves its purpose, and hopefully we can each accept that another’s understanding is as valid as our own.


      • Bryan and all,
        I recall how as a little kid, my favourite Christmas Carol was the one that included the words ‘No Hell, no Hell, the angels did say.’ I thought that was most impressive. I still like the statement.


    • John 10:34
      Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”‘? (Psalm 82:6)

      Davinci, do you have an imagination? Just imagine growing in wisdom and understanding through successive lifetimes, until one day God says to you,

      “Well done, my good and faithfull servant Sorry that your reward is not to lounge in a city of gold, listening to heavenly choirs, and chanting praises to Me. You are now ready for higher service. I need your help to run this world. Remember, my people must be allowed free will. I have limited my powers here, and you will have all and only the power I use here. Also, you will be required to co-operate with others I have deemed meet for this task.”

      But perhaps you can’t imagine that.


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