The real meaning of Christmas, exposed

 

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Photos of oil on water by Christopher Cudworth 2017

On Christmas Eve the Christian world fills with anticipation as one of its high holy days is about to arrive. Millions will attend church to celebrate Christmas Day, the traditional time affixed to the birth of Yeshua, or Jesus.

Yet we now recognize the Christmas season as we know it is a fabrication. The most ardent biblical literalists are the ones that have exposed the ruse, and confessed. The website Answers In Genesis fashions itself a key defender of all things “inerrant and true” about the Bible, and even it has grave doubts about the time of year in which we celebrate Christmas.

After careful scriptural exegesis of the Jewish calendar and its documentation of the time of year in which John the Baptist was born, Answers In Genesis says:

“This would have put John the Baptist at about six months in the womb around August/September. Assuming about nine months for pregnancy, John would have been born about November/December by the modern calendar based on the assumptions we used.

If the Holy Spirit did come upon Mary in the sixth month (Elul) or around August/September, as it seems to indicate in Scripture, then Jesus should have been born about nine months later, which would place His birth around May/June. Since John the Baptist was still in the womb of Elizabeth when he leapt for joy in Jesus’ presence (Luke 1:39-42), this means that the conception had to take place within the next three months or so of the visit by Gabriel—before John was born. Regardless, by this reckoning, the birth of Christ isn’t even close to Christmas on the modern calendar.”

Answers In Genesis is not alone in this correction of supposed history, but this example makes the point that harsher cynics have long claimed: Christmas is an invention of religion designed to serve a specific purpose. The narrative of Jesus born in Bethlehem was cobbled together by a series of Gospel writers who either copied one another or chose a different emphasis depending on how they viewed the Christ story.

The Nativity with the animals gathered around and Wise Men attending is also manufactured for the purpose of giving the Christmas story a focus. People need that. It helps them pass along the Christmas tale to new generations. The story of the baby Jesus lying in a manger is appealing to parents sharing the tale with younger generations.

IMG_3794.jpgAnd so it goes. In the modern era, it has become a bit more difficult for Christians to defend the verity and meaning of this story because the season has become perverted by the massive commercial significance of the holiday season. This has not been the fault of the secular world. Many people celebrate Christmas because it’s fun, but that permission has long been granted by the competing tale of Santa Claus bringing gifts to small children and adults alike around the world. Christians have willingly conveyed this myth for over a century now. There is likely no turning back.

The history and popularity of the myth of Santa Claus is irrelevant to the true meaning of Christmas. But it does have a parallel significance in where we are in Christmas traditions today. Some Christians claim that Christmas as a religious holiday is under siege by secular forces who want to ban the words “Merry Christmas” from the cultural lexicon. The so-called “War On Christmas” is preached from the pulpits of Fox News and pasted like butter on the bread of social media for so-called devout Christians to spread the word that Christianity is under attack.

This serves as an important lesson on the real meaning of Christmas. If Christianity truly is under attack, then it is justified in every sense of the word. The holiday as we know it has been whored out to commercial interests just as the Jewish temple was once prostituted by the religious authorities in Jesus’ day. He attacked those authorities first through his words, warning them of their hypocrisy for making rules from scripture and basically charging people admission to the temple of God. Jesus castigated those same authorities as a “brood of vipers” for clinging to this power and lording themselves over others.

Jesus was born into this world to challenge that type of false authority. That baby in the manger was born out of need, not from kingly circumstance. His principle message was preached first by John the Baptist who exemplified the simplicity and virtue of true devotion to God in his call to repentance.

Jesus embraced and carried this message all the way up the chain of culture to the ultimate seats of power. He offended the chief priests and denigrated the scribes for the slavery of soul they imposed upon the rest of society. And when those offended gathered themselves in righteous fury they captured Jesus and delivered him to the Romans with the intent to dispose of the itinerant preacher they considered a blasphemer.

Do you see it now? Jesus was born to expose such charlatans. That is the real meaning of Christmas. And if we were to apply that meaning to the world today, who would those charlatans be? They would be religious authorities sacrificing true devotion to God for access and control of political power. They would be leaders who were unwilling to confess their own lack of virtue, yet who claim to know the true heart of God out of their own bold ego. They would be all those who embrace such leaders and buy into their serpentine logic that trying to act like God equates to being like God.

The characters we know as Adam and Eve fell for that trick once long ago. Christians call it Original Sin, and it resonates through the world to this very day.

So when you find a moment to consider the real meaning of Christmas, consider not how or where Jesus was born, but why. And apply that lesson to all that you do. The world will expose itself one egregious scam at a time.

And you will be blessed for knowing it.

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Who are my mother and brothers?

Mark 3:33 New International Version (NIV) 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

By Christopher Cudworth

It is not often preached from the pulpit that Jesus so profoundly emphasized the isolation of the human condition. In 50 years of cognizant Christian worship, I have not heard this isolation emphasized with much clarity or conviction. It is too lonely a piece of scripture upon which to focus. It can frighten believers and frighten away possible converts.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

The power to stand alone is important, but not the point of Christianity.

Yet the Bible clearly shows that Jesus, and God especially, want us to know that to be human is ultimately to be alone.

Part of the plan?

Of course that is what Christian fellowship is designed to conquer. And the Kingdom of God is created here on earth to prevent this form of isolation. From others. Even from oneself.

Yet the undeniable message of Mark 3:33 is this: Even your family and friends can and will let you down. God alone is the ultimate solace.

This isolating message is likely ignored in the Christian church because it flies too near the methods used by cults to trap people into wicked devotion. The famously devious method of some network marketing organizations is to have you try to sell and recruit your friends into the organization. But people are repelled by such efforts. Those who see the folly and the scam are legitimately repulsed. Yet a desperate soul often tarries on, convinced perhaps of possible wealth if only friends and family really understood the potential in the scheme.

The ultimate effect of network marketing schemes is that they can divest people of their human network. Then the “organization” or whatever you want to call it (some call it “my business”) has you dead to rights. Because once you have scared off your friends and family, the network marketing organization (or a cult) sets out to replace that network with whatever they tell you is vital and true.

Who are my mother and my brothers? 

How does that compare to Christianity? To the example set by Jesus in saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

We can take another example from the Bible to examine the issue of isolation. Just before he was taken into captivity by a calculating band of priests from the very faith he had come to fulfill, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

Mark 14:32
Gethsemane ] They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

Of course we know how that segment of the story comes out. His disciples, who are depicted in the Bible as often failing in tasks of devotion and understanding, cannot stay awake while Jesus goes to pray. They fall asleep and when Jesus returns, having prayed to understand the very life he would soon give away as redemption for all, finds his devoted friends asleep on the job.

The deeper meaning of disappointment

It happens often to all of us. People disappoint us. We disappoint other people. And look at the word structure of that word, “disappoint.” To dis-appoint is to disassociate, or to send away either by intent or by mistake.

Jesus tries to warn us that disappointment is a big part of the human condition. Our failures are characterized by many as our sins, or our almost predestined capacity to sin.

Sin is the ultimate isolation from God. It is what separated the proverbial Adam and Eve from God in the Garden of Eden. Another garden. Another time. The garden is supposed to be a place of consideration and worship, our connection to stewardship and creation. And yet here we have two biting examples in the Bible where a garden is a rife example of disappointment. God disappointed in Adam and Eve. Jesus disappointed in his disciples.

And what are we to make of the idea that the world can be such a disappointing place?

Friendship and fellowship

This message seems to run counter from the idea that our fellowship here on earth can be a salve for the soul. Well, it is not wise to give up on friendship and love so easily, now is it? Our relationships are clearly of great value in this world. Love is built around and in them. Our families are designed, both in faith and through nature, to be a sustaining force in this world. The friends we gather around us and trust are people in whom we find joy and support.

None of those truths is undermined by the example Jesus makes in both his statement about his mother and brothers or his disappointment in his disciples. Jesus is master not only of this world in the spiritual sense, but also of necessary hyperbole. His teachings are full of striking examples that cut through our perceptions of what human relationships really are, and what they offer.

Salvation

Our disappointment is our salvation, you see. Friends and family can and do disappoint us, just as we sometimes disappoint them. It is the isolating nature of the human condition to disappoint those we need and love the most.

But the real message of disappointment and resultant isolation is that God provides a model of unifying faith. Because to love is to forgive, even when our friends and family doubt in us, and disappoint. We trust in God because God trusts in us to make choices that reach across that disappointment to heal and forgive. God even asks us to love our enemies. That is a potent message if you want to understand the true “way of the world” through the eyes of God. You cannot ultimately conquer disappointment and isolation if you do not choose to love. You will be alone if you choose not to forgive, or fail in your devotion to a friend.

Yet when hurt comes calling, our natural tendency is to withdraw, pull back, and feel disappointment. We feel it so keenly we can begin to hate. Then we begin to seek targets for our hate because it becomes part of our nature. We look for the disadvantaged and the weak because in our own weakness and fear we want only to feel superior to others, somehow, so that we do not feel put down or pushed away from life itself.

The dangers of prejudice

Those are the foundations of prejudice of course. And of economic inequality, and caring not for the poor. We find the wealthiest among us susceptible to this isolating force of the “other.” Often that sense of disgust toward those we consider inferior becomes magnifying the more life seems to dispense fortune upon us.

Jesus recognized all this potential for prejudice, power and loss of imagination. Because imagining ourselves to be superior to others in any way is the ultimate sin, at least in the eyes of God. That is why Jesus told the wealthy to give away their riches and follow him. That is why it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to gain entrance to heaven. Wealth can be an isolating force.

It can, of course, also be an instrument for good. We see many examples of people who use their wealth for good. Even the robber barons of the early 20th century, who built monopolies and wealth beyond imagination through industry did turn around and do great things with their money. Carnegie. Rockefeller. The list goes on, and continues to this day.

So it is not wealth alone that is a sin, but wealth in some way that combines with isolation that God does not appreciate. Jesus broke through social strata and perceptions that people who were disadvantaged or different were somehow victims of their own sin. He also forcefully resisted the practice by priests of his day (and ever after, it seems) to turn scripture into laws that trap and hurt others. Jesus did not tolerate using God’s word for punishment and isolation. He would definitely not approve of the manner in which so many supposed Christians  use scripture to create false social and economic strata today. The practice of using literalism to ostracize gays and women, for example, is abhorrent by nature to Jesus. The idea that the Bible is somehow a scientific text would also be absurd to Jesus, who taught in organic parables using examples from nature to teach spiritual concepts. Jesus was no literalist. He was no fool, in other words. Jesus disliked the actions of fools like that.

And what do we find as a result of such actions today? An increasingly divided faith, in Christianity. It has been that way since the start, it seems, where zealots who wanted a literal earthly kingdom ruled by Jesus were “disappointed” to find that his kingdom was one of spirit, not earthly wealth and power.

The many kinds of wealth, and corruption

Wealth is relative, of course. One of the catchiest devices of certain political parties is to figure out how to make people feel like they have ownership or a stake in the result of an election simply by making people feel like they will “win” somehow if they cast their vote in favor of the party making the promises. Of course, people can often be found voting against their best interests, be they economic or even spiritual, and voting on a one-issue platform that hands over power to people who pretend to care but really do not.

So we see that it is at times the power of isolating people from their best interests that is the most powerful political tool of all. Politics is the ultimate form of network marketing. It is the cult of all human cults.

Cutting through the lies

Jesus cut through the lies to make us understand that disappointment and fear of isolation is our worst enemy. Yet he calls us to stand alone first, to accept and understand that with the love of God, the grace of acceptance, we are never alone.

So have the courage to stand alone, and not be disappointed to the point of isolation when your friends or family fail you, or your work environment seems poison, or the very church that you attend turns out to be a flawed human enterprise. All these things are to be expected. Jesus and God want us not to be surprised by events like these.

Yes, we can still love the world, our friends and ourselves if we understand that the kingdom of God is made from the commitment to love and forgive. Then we will find and know our mother and our brothers, our sisters and our friends. They will be drawn to us by our humility and our example of faith. That is how it is all supposed to work.