Thursday, December 13, 2007


Every December, we are reminded by certain people that “Christ is Christmas”. What does that mean?

The word Christmas comes from two Latin words, Christ and mass. The word mass literally meant ‘dismissal.’ At the conclusion of the Communion Supper, the Medieval priests would say, "Ite, missa est,” which meant ‘Go, it is the dismissal.’ The priest was saying more than, “Ok, we’re done, you’re dismissed.” The intention was to remind the participants that they were now spiritually nourished and that they were dis-missed, or missionaries and agents of Christ’s gospel. So the word Christmas means to be missionaries of Christ’s gospel, or to actively share his gospel, or the good news.


But the gospel has been embarrassingly corrupted and complicated beyond recognition. The original Gospel of Jesus was uncomplicated, setting forth unconditional acceptance before a loving God for all humans – period. Jesus reminded people of a truth that is eternal, that God had always, and would always recognize anyone who sought Him.

We humans divide ourselves into groups based on social standing, gender, ethnicity, the colors of our flags, conflicting religious systems and differing political parties. But Jesus made it simple – no human being had a privileged standing before God. None! Christ’s radical mission (Christmas) was to let every human being know that God’s love and power were available to those who would trust or accept it. Jesus never once required anyone to believe in his death and resurrection, the Trinity, the virgin birth, an inspired Bible or any of the doctrinal accretions which have attached themselves to the Christian boat over the centuries, beginning with the Apostle Paul. Jesus gave one requirement, humble brokenness, a rare commodity among religious folks. That’s why he found a more receptive audience with whores and drunks. Some things never change.


Paul (Saul) the Jewish religious teacher originally hated this simple, all inclusive and unrestricted message of Jesus. It was an affront to his ethnically based Jewish Orthodoxy. Saul could not conceive of a God Who loved Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans equally. He was offended that Jesus and his followers placed men and women on equal footing, and that pagan slaves and Roman freemen were equal under God. Saul was outraged at the prospect of his beloved theological system not making him more right and righteous than others. Then Saul was converted and became a follower of Christ. That was great, but like most humans, Paul would think about his experience and complicate it.

As time went on, Paul began to find references in his Jewish scriptures which seemed to make more sense of Jesus than even Jesus and his uneducated disciples had known. Paul began to proclaim a new and improved Jesus, adding explanations and interpretations of Jesus’ life and death from the Jewish Bible. You can find Paul’s more complicated and conditional gospel in his epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians. Admittedly, Paul was brilliant and persuasive, but he added conditions again. Over the past two thousand years, others have emulated Paul and buried the gospel of Jesus under countless doctrinal dunes and divisive mountains.


I challenge you to read the Christmas stories in the gospels this year. After you read them, tell me who first came to worship the baby Jesus. Were they Jewish Pharisees and Levitical priests, or perhaps Baptists, Lutherans or Charismatic Christians. No, they were pagan Magi from Babylon and illiterate shepherds. Who protected Jesus from Herod? Israel? No, it was the arch nemesis of Moses, Egypt. The Christmas story goes out of its way to remind the reader that God’s unconditional love came to a dirt poor Nazarene, Babylonian pagans, Egyptian slavers and simple shepherds. That is the good news. That is the mission, to tell everyone that God requires nothing from them but simple spiritual surrender. Then the love of God and power of God floods in beyond comprehension.

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