I love the Christmas holiday, in spite of knowing that Dec. 25 may not be
is almost certainly not the birthday of Christ and that some aspects of this holiday, now and anciently, may be based on pagan concepts. Yes, I understand that Dec. 25, anciently thought to be the date of the winter solstice, probably had more to do with pagan religion (e.g., the cult of Mithras, popular among elite Roman soldiers) than with anything from pure Christianity. I understand that the symbols we use and the traditions we practice are loaded with pagan content, though in some cases they have been reworked to convey Christian meaning. That’s OK. Of course, it can work both ways. Sometimes good Christian symbols have been adapted by evil groups for their own purposes. Symbols and their meanings shift and change.
While the trappings and traditions may have shifted, may we all remember and gratefully accept the unchanging reality of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, born as man, who fully followed the Father, had authority and divine power from the Father, testified of the Father, obeyed the Father, prayed to the Father, taught us to come unto the Father through Him, and witnessed that His Father was greater than He was (John 14:28). He deflected praise and gave glory to the Father, saying, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God” (Matt. 19:17).
He yielded How own will to that of the Father, drank the bitter cup of unimaginable agony to pay the price for the sins of all mankind, gave up His life, then took up His body once again in the glorious miracle of the Resurrection, and showed Himself to many who would touch and feel and know for sure that He was alive with a body of flesh and bone, not spirit only (Luke 24:36-43). Witnesses saw and felt that He was tangible, real, physical, in Whose glorious physical image we most surely have been created. He returned to the presence of the Father, not merged into one incorporeal immaterial construct of the philosophers, but as the tangible, living, real Son of God, not shedding His body a second time, but living at the right hand of the Father as the New Testament so frequently affirms and as Stephen saw as he was being killed for his testimony (Acts 7:55-58).
In his glorious resurrected state, the Son is now fully like the Father and is even said to be in “the express image of the Father” (Heb. 1:1-3)–looking just like Him, in Whose similitude or image (physical appearance) we too are created (James 3:9; Gen. 1:26-29; cf Gen. 5:1,3 for insight on the physical nature of “image”).
This is our Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind, offered up by a loving Father to save the world (to me as a parent, John 3:16 is so powerful when we recognize that it truly was a Father offering His beloved son, not somebody merely offering himself). He is truly One with the Father–but in what way? Jesus explained this clearly and powerfully when He gave his great intercessory prayer in John 17 before He was crucified, a prayer on behalf of those who did and would believe in Him and seek to follow Him. He prayed that we might be one, even as He and the Father are one:
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are….
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
He calls us to be one and to follow them and to become perfect. That word is not a Mormon blasphemy, but the call of Christ to us, who asked us to become perfect even as His Father in Heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). That is the impossible, incredible goal: to take us fallen children, so far departed from the ways of God, the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9-10), and to bring us back as true children of God through the grace and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to reveal the divine glory that is in us as sons and daughters of God–and if children, then heirs, even potential joint-heirs with Christ with glory waiting to be revealed within us (Romans 8:14-18). So far beyond our comprehension, yet this is the call of Christmas and of Christ: to follow Jesus and to return to the presence of the Father, to repent of all our sins and receive the grace that God offers us in a covenant relationship aimed at helping us put on the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-10) to have eternal joy through Christ and the Father.
This is the true Jesus of Christmas, our Savior, our Friend, the Son of God who invites us to follow Him, to participate in eternal life in the presence of the Father. Some of this precious biblical knowledge has been marred by the speculations of philosophers and the decrees of potentates, leaving many confused about the reality of our relationship to God and Christ and the purpose of our mortal life. None of us understand it perfectly, but may we seek and learn to understand these precious topics more clearly.
Many good Christians may differ with our understanding of issues such as the Creation, the nature of God, the reality of the Resurrection, the nature of heaven or the terms of the covenant of grace that Christ offers or the importance of following him and enduring to the end, but in spite of doctrinal debates and questions, let us recognize that Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus behind the generally hidden message of Christmas, is real, not a mere story, not fiction, and that His divine Atonement and love offer the only sure hope for mankind. Let us not be deceived by the gifts of the world and the choking riches that lure so many, nor by the mocking of others who cannot imagine God coming to earth as man, but let us press forward in faith and hold out to the end in worshiping Jesus Christ as our true Savior and hope.