Jesus And Santa (But Mostly Jesus)

Just_Jesus006When I was little, I came to the realization that Santa Claus was pretend. Seeing Santas on every street corner when we were shopping might have had something to do with it. Shortly after I figured out Santa wasn’t real, I asked the key question: if Santa is pretend, what about Jesus?

No, my mother assured me, Jesus is real.

Some people will say my mother “brainwashed” me because she answered my question truthfully. Other people will explain how their parents told them all about Jesus, but now they’ve decided for themselves not to believe in Him. The point is simple: receiving information about Jesus does not equate with belief in Jesus.

When I was little, my most reliable source for information was my parents. Though I liked to ask why a lot, I still felt their answers were more often reliable than not. But at some point, I started asking questions from other sources. For instance, I remember asking a pastor who was visiting how we could know that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were one.

There was a verse in 1 John, I think, that the King James Version had included which came right out and stated the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. This pastor, however, pointed out that the most reliable manuscripts did not include this verse and that it was probably a later addition. I was shocked! Take away that verse and where did that leave the Trinity?

He kindly pointed me to a variety of other verses, some which required a little deduction. I wasn’t altogether satisfied, but as I’ve thought back to that incident, I realize it was critical to my understanding.

The greatest lesson was probably that it’s OK to ask questions about the Bible. At the same time, I had my first experience with the reliability of the Bible—not necessarily in a neat little package as I might like, but as an authoritative revelation from God.

All that, and yet I knew Jesus was real before I’d ever asked that Trinity question. I knew because I’d met Him myself. To be honest, it was a little shocking for me to discover that some people didn’t believe He ever existed.

Sure, I got that others might reject His claims as the Son of God and Messiah, Savior, Lord. But how could they doubt He existed? It seemed ludicrous.

I did a little study to see if there was sufficient evidence to believe Jesus lived. Historical evidence, of course, is different from scientific evidence. There is no repeatable experiment during which you can gather data through observation and reach a verifiable conclusion. Rather, you piece facts together like a puzzle until a picture takes shape.

Generally the best puzzle pieces are primary sources—letters Jesus might have written, for example. Secondary sources are second best. These are written after the fact and may make commentary on a person or event or give a secondhand view.

Consequently, if I understand this correctly, letters such as those Paul wrote are primary sources, whereas the gospels and the book of Acts are secondary sources. Of course Jesus didn’t write any of these books, primary or secondary, (setting aside for the moment the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture and looking at the subject purely from a historical perspective) though He is quoted heavily and He is the subject of them all.

Add in the fact that a number of these books were written by eyewitnesses. James and Jude where Jesus’s brothers; Matthew, John, and Peter were in His group of twelve followers. Then, too, Luke who wrote the gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was a physician, researching and writing with the express purpose of putting the events surrounding Jesus and the development of the Church into a logical order for a Greek individual some believe to have been his patron.

In other words, these secondary sources are ones most historians would love to include in their bibliographies because they are contemporary, reputable, and knowledgeable.

Of course the existence of Jesus doesn’t hang solely on the Biblical record of His life. There were extra-Biblical believers who provided secondary material in support of Jesus’s life and work, men like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Quadratus of Athens, Aristides the Athenian, Justin Martyr, and Hegesippus. Each of these believers wrote of Jesus, not as a spiritual entity or an idea or a hope, but as a man who lived on earth and fulfilled the claims of the Old Testament for the Messiah of God.

For example, the latter

converted to Christianity from Judaism after extensively researching the Gospel story for
himself. Instead of accepting the Gospel story [as] the word of others, he travelled extensively throughout Rome and Corinth in an effort to collect evidence of the early Christian claims. Hegesippus provides important testimony that the stories being passed around were not watered
down, embellished, or fabricated. (“The Historicity of Jesus: Did He Really Exist?”)

in another century, church councils took place but among the topics was not a question about Jesus’s existence. Rather the doctrines these councils were hammering out had to do with Jesus’s divinity and His place in the Trinity. There was no attempt to garner evidence to prove He had lived. That was not something these church leaders doubted because they were the grandsons and great-grandsons of eye witnesses. They knew the reliability of those who came before.

Beyond the Church, there were Jewish secondary sources, most notably Flavius Josephus, but also Greek, Syrian, and Roman scholars. One such individual was Celsus,

a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to great lengths to disprove the
divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. (ibid.)

Perhaps the most telling is the documentation of Jesus’s execution at the hands of Pontus Pilate, recorded by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, a man known for separating verifiable events from hearsay and folklore.

In short, the evidence supporting the fact that Jesus lived on earth is substantial. Only someone bent on rejecting every iota of His person would ignore this body of documentation.

Santa, on the other hand . . . Let’s just say, it’s fun to pretend Santa lives at the North Pole and visits all children once a year in a single night.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Nativity Scene

Nativity_Scenes004I’ve been thinking this year about some of the traditional activities connected with Christmas–presents, trees, music. This past week I had the wonderful pleasure to view Christmas lights.

Not just any lights. There are a couple streets in the city of Brea where the home owners (of very nice homes) go all out at Christmas and decorate in every imaginable way. They hang and drape and wrap and wind and string lights from the peak of roofs to the edge of lawns and everywhere in between.

The result is magical. I mean, it’s astounding the creations these people come up with. They portray every aspect of Christmas you can think of. There are yards outlined with candy canes, others filled with presents. There are arches with holly wreaths and poinsettias and bells and jack-in-the-box-like reveals of children or elves or Santa.

Snoopy and his his crew get a bit of attention and of course so do snowmen and carolers and reindeer. But clearly, Santa is the star of the show.

The new thing seems to be to upgrade his transportation. While there were some sleighs, there were also trains, helicopters, airplanes, and even one hot-air balloon ready to whisk Santa away to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys.

I truly did enjoy the light show, but the thing that stayed with me most was the fact that out of the hundred or so homes we looked at, I only saw two nativity scenes. Two. A couple houses had big Noel signs and one had a “Wise men still seek him” sign. Another home had a lighted cross in an upstairs window.

When I was growing up, Nativity Scenes were not unusual. We used to visit the State Capitol Building in Denver, and there was always a manger scene among the many lavish decorations. Often in the windows of homes we could see a wooden stable with figurines of Joseph, Mary, a collection of shepherds, and magi huddled around a manger where the fairly old looking pretend baby Jesus lay.

One of the families in the school where I taught had twelve children. And they happened to be a very musical group (VERY musical–tremendous talent). At some point they decided to go beyond a nativity display to a nativity re-enactment. I mean, they had, for quite a few years, a new born baby, whether child or grandchild, to play the part of baby Jesus. They did this on the front lawn of their very large home in Fullerton, and people would come from all over to watch the performance, much the way I did this past week to view the Christmas lights.

The point is, the events the Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ, once were prominent in our Christmas decorations. Our technology has improved and our displays have become more elaborate, but with it, there doesn’t seem to be an increase in spiritual awareness.

I couldn’t help but think, though, that once a manger scene at Christmas didn’t mean anything more than any other decoration. They were common, expected.

Now, I doubt people here in SoCal put up manger scenes unless they are purposefully, intentionally making a statement about what they believe about Christmas.

May the lights shining from the homes with Nativity Scenes shine ever brighter this year.

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas Presents

christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mChristmas presents have been the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I looked forward to Christmas morning like every other kid, but I hated that first day back to school when the most popular question was, “What did you get for Christmas?” My family wasn’t rich or upper middle class or really not very middle, middle class. Consequently, Christmas presents were often things like socks or underwear or pajamas.

I remember a puzzle or two and a few books, maybe a board game. There were probably other toys that have slipped off my radar because they were not particularly to my liking. This, you see, was in the days before kids told parents what to buy them for Christmas.

I had an Aunt Mary who I didn’t know. She and my uncle had divorced and I don’t remember ever meeting Aunt Mary, but with regularity she sent a box of Christmas gifts—usually strange things, to my way of thinking. But once she hit a homerun, as far as I was concerned. She gave me a pair of “lounging pajamas.” That’s what the packaging called them. In reality they were a kind of silk sweats—more comfortable than I’d ever enjoyed before. I’d have worn them all day, every day if my mom had let me.

But I was talking about how Christmas presents having been the bane of my existence. As an adult I discovered that giving the right present was a lot harder than it seemed. With my siblings moving away and my nieces and nephews growing up outside my presence, it was my turn to guess at what they might like. The fact that I can only remember one present that hit the sweet spot and was really right, shows how often I missed the mark.

All that being said, I went Christmas shopping today and had fun doing it. But the present I bought isn’t for someone in my family or even for someone I know. It isn’t even going to be from me. In essence, I’m standing in the gap for a parent, an adult who is incarcerated and unable to buy her child a gift.

My church is involved in a program called Angel Tree which gives us the opportunity to give a gift to a child who would otherwise have little at Christmas. And we do so in the name of the parent. In that way, the child/parent bond is strengthened, and the kid gets to open something special on Christmas.

The thing I noticed most about this gift is that it feels more like giving than anything I’ve experienced with Christmas presents before. I mean, I’m not getting a present back, and I’m not getting a thank you card the day after or a hug and smile on Christmas morning. In reality, more than any other Christmas present, this one is not about me. It’s purely about a little guy away from him mom, getting a little something that can give him a glimmer of hope.

And I love it. I get why Santa Claus does what he does. 😉

Sorry if I horrified anyone not expecting to read the words “Santa Claus” on a Christian worldview blog. But think about it for a second. If you could afford it and had the means to pull it off, wouldn’t it be a blast to give unexpected, and perfectly fitted, gifts to a bunch of children who were in need?

Of course Santa Claus isn’t real, but the idea of him—the generous spirit this fictitious character embodies—is something that is appealing. Who doesn’t love being a secret pal or an anonymous donor? There’s something special about that unadulterated, no-strings-attached giving.

I think we love Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in part because Scrooge at last embraced a generous spirit and found joy in doing so. It’s not just that his giving met the needs of many others. It’s that Scrooge himself relished the giving, not the getting or hording.

Is that the “true meaning of Christmas”? Not by a long shot. But let’s face it, Christmas presents occupy a lot of our time, thought, and effort this time of year. It’s not a bad thing to think about how we can do them better.

Perhaps that includes giving a gift to an unsuspecting individual without signing your name.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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