Then There Is Christmas

All too quickly Thanksgiving Day has passed and we are racing on toward Christmas. I know when I was a kid, I looked so forward to Christmas. As I grew older, however, Thanksgiving began to take first place as the holiday I most loved. Now I don’t have any favorites. Both are great in their own way.

The thing about Christmas, it’s pretty hard to hide the “Christ” part of the holiday. Oh, sure, some people try in various ways, but in the end somehow the idea still seeps through that there is religious significance to the day.

Yes, we most likely have all heard that Christmas had pagan roots and practices that Christians co-opted, but the fact is, if Christ had not been born, there would be no followers of Jesus to impact the culture so much that such a day as Christmas overshadowed the other winter celebrations and practices.

In the twenty-first century Christmas is as much under attack in the US as it has ever been, largely because God and His work in the world is under attack. More and more people simply do not believe in Him—or believe in Him the way the Bible reveals Him.

Over and over I hear how impossible things like miracles are because there’s no verification of them, apart from the Biblical record which is discounted because, after all, the people that wrote it were superstitious dimwits who didn’t know anything about science.

What those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us. They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.

C. S. Lewis, who was himself an atheist for a good portion of his life, understood this argument against belief in God better than someone who has only heard others declare it. He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists. Lewis looked particularly at the Incarnation, specifically at the virgin birth, as evidence for God.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did. (from Miracles by C. S. Lewis, emphasis mine)

Pretty clear. The issue isn’t that our scientific knowledge has advanced so much we no longer believe in the supernatural, but that our understanding of God has diminished. Anyone who believes that God is all powerful has no problem understanding that He can do what seems extraordinary and would not happen apart from Him.

A virgin birth if there is no god? Of course that would be impossible. But God changes the equation. Factoring Him into history, things that could not have happened become understandable, even expected in a surprising kind of way. We don’t know what God will do or when He will do it, but we know that He acts in ways that aren’t limited by the physical laws He established and upholds. So a virgin birth? Sure. A resurrected Savior? Absolutely. A returning king? Without a doubt!

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Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Comments (11)  
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11 Comments

  1. Your claim Becky, “those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us.

    Truth is these people were nowhere near like us, the only features that were similar are the physical attributes. Here is a Christian site explaining the many differences.

    https://mdharrismd.com/2011/12/19/daily-life-in-first-century-israel-and-the-roman-empire/

    Including this claim “They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.”

    Why would they not be worshiping a Roman or Abrahamic God to deliver good weather for crops? Your Jesus was poor, and probably illiterate like the majority of the people, how would they have understood any science? You only have to take a look at some of the Bible passages to realise their primitive understanding of the world.

    They were extremely uneducated and most did not know what a book was because sometime during this first century the first book was introduced. Infant mortality rates were extremely high and without medicine and science I expect they did tons of praying for their children.

    You mentioned C S Lewis saying, “He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists.”

    Really, How so? Miracles are naturally occurring, the mathematical law of truly large numbers as well as the law of combinations help to explain why. More here.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/math-explains-likely-long-shots-miracles-and-winning-the-lottery/

    You also claimed, “any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.”

    I would not bet on that one? I doubt that there would be many men who would like their wife’s to fall pregnant to any other man, not even a god.

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    • From your opening statement, Steve, I wonder if you actually read the article you linked to. The conclusion of it says, “Though thousands of years have passed, much about 21st century American life is the same as life in Ancient Judea, Rome, and everywhere else at every other time in history. People are born, grow, learn, marry, reproduce, contribute to society, and die. We are a diverse country in race, lifestyles, religion, and in many other ways, similar to Rome and to a lesser extent, Galilee” (emphasis mine).

      But to the point, I was not addressing lifestyle as the article does in most of its body. Of course a rural society has differences from an urban one. But I was making the point that these people were not ignorant. They weren’t walking around thinking that virgins could have babies.

      In fact, that’s at the crux of C. S. Lewis’s argument. Joseph knew something was wrong when his bride-to-be turned up pregnant. He naturally thought she’d been unfaithful because that’s the only way he understood how she could be pregnant. As a result, he decided to break their engagement, but “being a just man” he decided not to do so publicly, which would create a scandal that Mary would have to live through. Instead he was going to end their betrothal quietly. Until God stepped in.

      Think about it. Joseph had to accept that he was actually hearing a message from God delivered by a supernatural being, that Mary had NOT been unfaithful but that God was giving humankind His Son through her.

      Joseph didn’t stumble around and think, Oh, OK, so that’s how babies are born. No, no, a thousand times no. He new probably better than anyone living in the city just how babies are conceived and born. But He also understood what so many modern people don’t—that God is more powerful than “the laws of nature” and He can color outside the lines if He wants to. Atheists insist that, no, He can’t.

      Everything you say about the Jewish culture in the first century, Steve, shows that you haven’t read the Bible. The Jews were well educated for their time. Sure, like other cultures of their day, they didn’t know about germs and DNA and men walking on the moon. But that doesn’t mean they were absent basic knowledge. They didn’t expect Jesus to be able to feed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. That was not the way people expected to get food. They didn’t expect to find a gold coin in a fish’s mouth. That’s not were coins came from. They didn’t expect a man born blind to start seeing. That was not normal. It didn’t follow “natural law” and was just as hard for them to believe as it is for a 21st century individual to believe. One thing and one thing only makes it possible. God is all powerful. As soon as you realize that’s true, the other is no longer a problem.

      C. S. Lewis was not addressing “long shots.” He was addressing impossibilities, like the virgin birth.

      And Steve, you make my point with your closing statement. You bet guys today would upset if their bride-to-be turned up pregnant and they knew they were not the father. That was Joseph’s reaction, too. Just like any man, he was ready to break the relationship and move on. But he didn’t God changed his mind. And that’s as much a miracle as any other part of the Christmas story.

      No, Steve, belief in miracles is not an absence of knowledge about science. Rather, it’s the assurance of God’s ability to do the impossible.

      Becky

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      • This quoted statement you used Becky “American life is the same as life in Ancient Judea, Rome, and everywhere else at every other time in history.”

        I realise we all basically do the same things in life such as marriage and children and are natural human affiliations and mostly not what we can avoid. I however, believe that these ancient people are given much more credit for knowledge than is due.

        By the 5th century B.C., it was widely accepted that the Earth is a sphere, therefore during the earlier centuries the Earth was considered flat. The universe of the ancient Israelites was made up of a flat disc-shaped earth floating on water, heaven above, underworld below,

        The Jews later adopted the Greek belief that the underworld would be a place of punishment for misdeeds, and the righteous people of God would enjoy an afterlife in heaven and of course adapted to suit Christianity.

        From Jupiter to Venus, in the first century Romans worshipped and made sacrifices to a multitude of gods and goddesses, believing that these deities could influence their lives. Ancient Canaanite religion worshipped a great number of deities. Child and animal sacrifices were commonly understood.

        My conclusions are that they were mostly uneducated, some of the privileged and educated could read and write, however books were not available for much of the first century. They believed every event that happened in the world attributed to a god or deity carrying out justice, Just like some of you today, therefore some things have not changed.

        They were a simple people and sure they knew sex had to be done before children were born and how food was obtained. They also had a habit of believing anything they were told, and this is part of the reasons they were happy to ditch one god for another just as it is done today. Of course, they did not have the science of today to verify anything of a superstitious nature, so they relied on stories that were doctored and adjusted just as information such as the news is today.

        In summary, today we have science that has sufficiently removed much of the superstitiousness of the first and subsequent centuries, so why is it taking you lot so long to wake up and smell the roses? 😊

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        • Steve, you really ought not make statements about what the Jews were like unless you read the Bible that actually says what they were like. Other sources can make guesses, but why not go to the primary source?

          You are right about the Canaanites and their worship of many deities, which is why God allowed the people of Israel to defeat them. Then, as the Jews broke faith with Him, He allowed the Assyrians and the Babylonians to conquer the Jewish kingdoms.

          It was not superstitious for them or for us to believe that God is behind the events of history. Or the teaching of the after life. Jesus Himself spoke more about judgment and what awaits those who rebel against God, than anyone else in Scripture.

          But again you need to understand, Steve, that Christians don’t believe in God because we simply see no other explanation for things like tornadoes or auto accidents. We are not ignorant of the scientific explanations of human behavior or natural science. Neither do we reject them! We simply believe God is in charge of it all.

          I suspect that’s behind most atheism–people who simply don’t WANT God’s rule over all of life. It’s not a surprise. From the first, humans have been tempted with the idea of becoming like God. If only WE could call the shots . . .

          Well, societies that have “outlawed” God are not great testimonies to what humankind can do on its own.

          Becky

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  2. Interesting post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cause apparently the best thing about Christmas is the hope that by celebrating it you’ll make someone else unhappy.

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    • You know, Daniel, I’m trying to figure out how this comment might fit in with what I wrote, and I finally concluded that it doesn’t. Apparently you’re just looking for a reason to post something negative about Christ or Christmas. You didn’t engage the argument about what Lewis wrote at all. That’s too bad because it’s a reflection on you and says nothing about Christianity or Christmas or even about me. You are only putting yourself in a bad light. If you’d actually like to say something about what I wrote, I’m more than happy to respond.

      Becky

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      • Poisons the well, then expects meaningful engagement. On the bright side, you do not speak for Christianity. Much as you may pretend your critics are after the whole of your faith. Games like yours are unique to your own agenda. Doubt it has much to do with Jesus.

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        • Not sure what well you think I’ve poisoned, Daniel. But of course I DO expect meaningful engagement, since you are visiting this site and have chosen to comment. Why else would you bother?

          You’re right that I don’t speak for Christianity. The Bible has already done that. All I need to do is accurately represent what it reveals. That’s my “agenda.” And since Jesus is really a part of every page of Scripture, my “game” is all about Jesus.

          Becky

          Liked by 1 person

  4. You have become quite popular, Becky. Joseph has always impressed me immensely, even though he gets few words. What a man of God he must have been. Can you imagine what life as Jewish man married to a woman the world thought was a cheater and carrying a bastard child must have been like? Yet, his faith was strong enough to stand up to it. To, me that is hugely impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew there might be push back as soon as I tagged this post “atheism.” A visitor some little while ago taught me that. But I usually tag each article based on the subject matter, so I decided to do what I usually do regardless.

      Joseph is an oft overlooked man of faith, Wally. We don’t know a lot about him, but what we know is certainly impressive!

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person


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