THE ABSURDITY OF CHRISTMAS

--or rather, to be more specific, the absurdity of the early Christian (and our) talk about the babe of Bethlehem.

The early Christians ran around the most powerful empire of the time saying their leader was in charge of the world.

To see the patent absurdity of this claim, just remember that the Roman empire at that time was perhaps more dominant over a huge part of the earth than any empire until  America  after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And this vast overwhelmingly powerful Roman  empire was ruled by the almighty (divine) Caesar. The Romans had the best army in the world and they enforced Roman rule – – ruthlessly!

 But the early Christians said Jesus was in charge. And it was not some other obviously powerful person they claimed was lord. It was a Jew from a tiny despised  minority who lived at the frontier of the Roman empire. This Jew was from one of the small nations the Romans had ruthlessly conquered. And this person had gotten crucified as a dangerous political radical.

But the early  Christians said Jesus, not Caesar, was in charge of the world. When a riot broke out after Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica, the charge was treason: “They are all defying  Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7)  And the writer of Revelations put it bluntly: Jesus Christ…is{ i.e. now!}… the ruler of the kings of the earth: (1:5).

That was an absurd claim to any thinking person living in the first century. The all powerful Roman empire clearly ruled the world. The  Roman  military machine was vastly better than any other. They squelched dissent  with crucifixion.

Anybody  with even a modicum of political insight could see that Caesar was in charge of the world. Roman legions ruled. The emperor, a son of the gods, was Lord. Anybody who thought otherwise was either blatantly ignorant or grossly delusional. To say that a crucified Jewish carpenter was now ruler of the world was sheer absurdity.

Perhaps it does not seem quite so incredible in 2019 to say that the Jewish Carpenter is now lord of the world. The people who claim to follow him  have grown from a tiny, almost minuscule minority, to about 2.2 billion people – nearly 1/3 of the total population of the world today. Whole nations, even continents, have been shaped to some extent by people who claimed to be living by Christian values.

But troubling facts remain. People claiming to follow Jesus conquered and destroyed native people, fought devastating wars against each other, defended slavery and destroyed at least 5 million of Jesus’ relatives in the Holocaust.

Furthermore,  just take a clear eyed view of the world today. Any good historian will tell you that military and economic power still rule. The nations with the best guns and missiles prevail and dominate others. If one takes a ruthlessly honest, realistic view of the  contemporary world, it certainly looks like guns and money rule, not the Jesus who said we should love our enemies and lift up the weak. Racism, economic injustice, lies frequently, if not always, prevail.

The early Christian claim that Jesus is now “ruler of the kings of the earth” is still far from empirically obvious. Honest Christians in 2019 still need to feel the “absurdity of Christmas.”

Obviously, I believe there is more to be said. There is another part to Christian history. Many Christians have led in the struggle for justice, peace and freedom for all.

Furthermore, the early Christians believed and said what they did about the crucified Jewish Carpenter because the disciples and others had met the risen Jesus. I believe the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is strong. And as the early church preached that Jesus was now Lord of all, they also taught that his kingdom had already begun but was not yet complete. They thought that Satan was still alive and well, working hard against Jesus’ dawning kingdom.  And they said the final victory would only happen sometime in the future when the risen Lord will return to complete his victory over evil, injustice, even death itself. With them, we live in the hope of that coming day.

This Christmas, as I ponder our contemporary geo-political reality, I still feel the “absurdity of Christmas”. But finally, I am convinced, with the early Christians,  that the risen Lord Jesus has already decisively begun the battle against evil and that someday, in God’s timing, the kingdoms of this world will become the “kingdom of our Lord… and he will reign forever and ever“(Revelation 11:15).

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