There’s just something striking to me about Christmas and its humility. On the day that Jesus was born, there was nothing about his circumstances that would have indicated that his life would change or mark the world. Absolutely nothing that would have prompted anyone to think this child will be remembered.
Nazareth was an obscure place with Judea in the desert. Bethlehem was tiny and insignificant other than the prophetic nature that it was imbued with by the ancient prophets. He was born into human obscurity, a tiny little village, actually outside the village in a shepherd’s field. A field that was used to keep sheep.
His parents were most likely teenagers, unknown, and poor. Jesus was born under spurious, questionable circumstances, at least from the vantage point of the world. Joseph really wanted to decline Mary as a candidate for a wife because she was a child. And yet, of course, he found inspiration outside the world to not do that. Many could have assumed that things were not right or noble here in this marriage. Society would have assumed scandal.
They were good, honest, yet poor people. However, they both had a rather famous lineage. Now this would have been only famous in Israel. The rest of the world would have thought nothing of it. Both mom and father traced their lineage back to a famous king who lived a long, long time ago. Joseph and Mary held no earthly title. They had no wealth. Most likely, everything they had was on that donkey that Mary sat upon. As their parents and their grandparents before them, they were born, they lived, and they died. And no one from the human perspective, probably really noticed. Their lives were as a grain of sand, one among many. They were just a finite speck of dust on the seashore.
Little was noticed from the human realm concerning the birth of Christ or his family. On the day that Jesus died, it looked as if whatever small mark he left in the world would have and should have rapidly disappeared. The friends and family he did have were scattered. Many had forsaken him, and they were in hiding. There was only a handful of them.
During his life, Jesus never held any formal title or position. There was one bestowed upon him, teacher, but that would have been it. He wasn’t involved in politics. He never served in the military. Jesus accumulated no earthly possessions or wealth. He had no land, no titles, no meaningful assets; save his family. I suppose it’s fair to assume the only thing Jesus ever owned were the clothes on his own back.
Jesus was the son of a carpenter. The word could be mason, whatever the case, either with wood or stone, he worked with his hands and no doubt they were strong as he chiseled into masonry and wood. And I am sure he provided for himself through those skills, but he never worked for the accumulation of things. Usually, if someone, if anyone leaves a legacy, that legacy is probably going to be a parent, if not in their lives, certainly at their death.
But Jesus left no will, no lands, or no tangible items before he died. He did ask a favorite friend to care for his mother. And he did.
He was murdered by the Romans, in the most contemptible way. It was a way that was reserved for the worst of men. There was an ancient proverb among many peoples that cursed is everyone or anyone who hangs on a tree. It was an inference of the cross. You see a cross was used for thieves and robbers, killers, traitors, for the most heinous of mankind. Jesus was crucified on the cross.
He was then buried in a borrowed tomb. He was abandoned at that moment by all of his friends. A few people who loved him cared enough, to face the potential consequences of Rome and care for his body and lay him in a tomb. It was a very small group of people, mostly ladies. The few friends he did manage to make in life they all had abandoned him.
So let me repeat. There were no earthly indicators that his name would have been remembered beyond the life of those who knew him when he was alive.
No monuments were erected. He wrote no books, no poetry, and no art. He was not an inventor. He led no uprising. If anything, he would have been known at some small level for his infamy. He was hated by his own kind, the Jews.
He was seen by the Romans as an enemy of the state. To this day, no one has ever known what Jesus Christ looks like. He was never married. He had no children. His life ended with his mother in tears and a jeering crowd favoring a criminal over him. The Romans mocked him, and the Jews hated him as well as a very small band of his followers.
Humanly speaking, it seems any chance of Jesus making a difference or be remembered in this world was like the sliver of a thread.
Over 2000 years later, separated by some 7,000 miles from where Jesus lived, speaking a different language in a different culture with tens of billions of lives between his life and ours against mathematically incalculable odds, countless people all over the world will soon assemble to remember the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are worshiping the son of a carpenter who gave us hope that we could be reconciled to God, and he provided for that hope by what he did on the cross. His three and a half years of contribution seem to have been immortalized and eternally remembered since his disappearance (I hear there is another word for that). His impact on human history has been unparalleled. Normally, when someone dies, their impact, their influence, begins to recede. His did not begin to recede.
Jesus inverted this normal trajectory. At his death, there were no more than 20 people who cared anything about him. At his resurrection, however, there were 500. His impact and influence were greater 100 years after his death than during his life. It grew even greater after 500 years. After a millennium his legacy laid the foundations of the western world and all of Europe reaching into the Americas. 2000 years after his brief life, his ministry of three and a half years, he has billions of followers on every corner of the globe, and an incalculable greater number that have trusted him since his resurrection.
His influence has swept over human history like the tail of a comet. Jesus’ life and teachings have been the singular source of countless pieces of art, of all true science, in government, medicine, culture, and education.
Jesus changed the way human beings think. For the 4000 years before him, there was never any man like him. A man who had a heart of compassion and kindness and yet spoke with incredible authority. He gave the world dignity, love, grace and caring. He changed the world by changing people, not corporately, but individually. He changed the world by changing a heart.
Everyone may not know Jesus today, but nearly every human on earth knows his name.
Great historical figures have tried to secure and memorialize their lives by building great monuments and cities. Alexander the Great. How many cities go by Alexandria today. Cesaria for Caesar. San Francisco for Saint Francis, but really that was born out of a respect for Christ.
Some men tried to be remembered by changing time. Literally changing the calendar. The Romans did this. At the height of the Napoleon reign in France, they tried to change the calendar. More recently, the former Soviet Union made an attempt to change the human calendar. Those attempts are all gone and forgotten and today, we still divide human history into 2 categories, BC (before Christ), and AD (after death).
Some sought greatness by their conquests and cruelty. By crushing cities, tribes and nations and peoples, but Jesus chose rather to be crushed. The communists once formed what was known as the League of the Militant Godless, whose goal and aim was to end the influence of Jesus Christ. But these leaders soon learned that Christianity was like a nail. The harder you strike it, the deeper it goes.
Jesus and his followers occupy today the greatest places of prominence in the world in terms of art. Countless songs have been written about him. The writing of books about him has no end. In Jesus’ name, people pray. In Jesus’ name, bad people curse. People of desperation cry out to Christ. This man just won’t go away.
From the dark ages to the enlightenment and the renaissance, it was the name of Jesus that brought people back out of darkness. Jesus, the person and the name is eternal no matter what has happened. A Yale historian wrote….
“Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of western culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible with some sort of super magnet to pull up and out of history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name would there be anything left?”
Before Jesus, those who didn’t want a child could just abandon them, just leave them. It was called exposure. But when Jesus came, he loved the children. And even in Jesus’ day when the disciples saw children coming to him, they believed children were beneath him and Jesus said, ‘let those little kids come to me’. He dignified them. He gave their life meaning. And today, many hold dear life from conception. Even with all manner of difficulty and abnormality, children and others forsaken are loved by people today.
Jesus did that.
Women once regarded as property of a lower dignity, Jesus through the way he treated them, declared them equal, an object that should be cherished and loved and taken care of with honor.
When slaves had no rights, well, Jesus gave them the right of equality. The worlds worthless were made worthy of God’s love through Jesus. Christ granted equality and value. He taught us that love was important to cherish and protect the defenseless.
Again, when the dark ages came, and mankind was hurling backwards a thousand years, it was Jesus and his teachings that saved the day. His followers created libraries and orphanages. They started schools and churches, and he led the world back to light.
Jesus was never a general. Yet he commands the largest army this earth has ever seen.
Many men have turned back in difficulty, but most of the followers of Christ would march to death for their savior.
In America, his teaching, his example, his life, because he inspired these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And that they are endowed by their creator, we’re certain in unalienable rights. Everything that is good and virtuous about America comes from him. Not just in terms of grit, the gift of grace, but legacy and heritage and a way of life. The way we live, we take for granted, but it was a gift from Christ.
Before Christ, this world was cruel and hostile without love. Power was the ultimate virtue. Humility was considered weakness, but Jesus taught every life was worth loving, it was good to treat people with dignity and respect.
Jesus challenged the notion and practice that brutality and strength were virtues. Instead, he taught kindness, patience, humility, and forgiveness. These were the ultimate signs of greatness. The ancient world hated their enemies and Jesus suggested that we should love them.
When Jesus taught, most were offended. Some were delighted. Everyone was astounded. They were amazed. Never before has a man spoken like this, because Jesus brought something in great peril today, he brought the truth. Truth about you, truth about me, truth about who we are. Truth about identity, our likeness, about our greatest need as sinful beings, and the only solution for our poverty of spirit was in him. Jesus brought the absolute arguable, equivocal truth wrapped in love, which is important and different too.
Throughout history, men have rejected him. Men, great and small, have ignored him. They tried to bury his truth, marginalize it, and even burn it. They tried to hate it, but Jesus and his truth have endured.
But perhaps most amazingly of all, Jesus has survived his ‘so-called’ followers who could very well pose the greatest threat to his enduring nature. Over the ages, men have coopted Jesus’ name for their nefarious purposes. Slavery was justified in the name of Christ. Unbiblical patriarchy justified tens of thousands of abuses. The crusades murdered tens of thousands or millions in the name of Christ.
And yet, his name, his history, his truth, his love…..all have survived despite who we are. It is because of who we are, in some ways, his name endures, because we so desperately need a solution for our problem.
So, when I think about the miracle of Christmas, the incarnation, and the way Jesus brought bloodlines together despite multiplication, unnecessary division, ugly infighting, and persecutions within and without. This is the miracle considering it started on the sliver of a thread.
We follow one whose parents were poor peasants. We declare faith to a man who was a transient. We worship someone that the world despises. Even the world’s greatest leaders and historians will not deny the obvious, while some go further than others.
“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history, but He does not dominate my heart.”
– H. G. Wells – English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian.
“I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word.”
– Albert Einstein – Theoretical Physicist who developed the Theory of Relativity.
“Without my Savior (Jesus Christ), I am nothing. Human need is really a great spiritual vacuum which God seeks to fill. With one hand in the hand of a fellow man in need and the other in the hand of Christ, he could get across the vacuum.”
– George Washington Carver – American Agricultural Scientist and Inventor
When we think about Jesus and his impact on the world, his example that has transformed the world for 2000 years, how much have we allowed him to transform us? If his love and compassion inspired great literature and art, if hospitals and orphanages and churches have been built in his name, then where is his monument in our lives?
The very field that Jesus was born in was the field in which the sacrificial lambs were often taken, to be sacrificed for the sins of Israel. And they would often take these newborn sheep and try to keep them from blemish. They would protect them in swaddling clothes. But ultimately, Jesus was destined to become the ultimate sacrificial lamb. Even when you ask an artificial intelligence engine the question, it’s not able to hide the fact that the very gift of myrrh that was given to Jesus would be a forerunner to his ultimate purpose.
And for this reason and many others, God has highly exalted him and given him a name, which is above every name. And for anyone thinking that God has turned His back on Israel then you are sorely mistaken because that would make God a liar which is impossible.
Phillips Brooks, the composer of the famous 1874 Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” once said…
“I remember especially on Christmas Eve, when I was standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the “wonderful night” of the Savior’s birth.”
Within the beauty of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of God’s promises from the prophet Micah.
MICAH 5:2 – Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the little towns of Judah, but from you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.
Though every street be filled with darkness, the brightness of the lowly, eternal, and risen Messiah is, and shall forever be………the Everlasting Light.
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