Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

It has been about 2,000 years since the man we now call Jesus, but whose Jewish name was most likely Yehoshua or Yeshua, lived in the land of Judea (from which we derive the word Jew). There are an endless number of theology books that have been written about his teachings and a very large number of churches created, all of which profess to know his true message. The problem is that these churches tend to disagree, some almost completely, about exactly what he said and what he meant by the words he said. The issue is compounded by the fact that he wrote nothing himself and the major sources of information about his teachings , the Gospels, were written long after he died.

This much we do know: he lived and taught in the land of Judea. He ran afoul of both the Jewish leadership and the Roman leadership of the land and he was executed by the government of the Roman Empire for what we would today call treason. It seems that he had somehow acquired the title “King of the Jews” and, of course there could only be one king in the Roman Empire, and that was Caesar. He had also drawn the ire of the Jewish theocracy by teaching that the religious laws of the land were not the laws of God and need not be followed. Furthermore, he went around forgiving people who had broken the religious laws of Judea, thus robbing the priests and leaders of the Judea of their power over the people. For a theocracy, either Jewish or Roman, (and they were both theocracies) this was an unforgivable sin.

For centuries after his death his followers were persecuted by the Roman Empire in an attempt to quell the growth of the movement he had started. It was only when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared tolerance for Christians in the year 313 than the attitude of the Empire began to change. It wasn’t too long afterward that Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire and all the laws of the Roman Catholic Church were incorporated into the laws of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had become a worldwide theocracy. Over the centuries many of the old Judean theocracy laws were included in “Christian” teachings, and “Christian” theocracies eventually came to Europe, first as part of the Roman Empire and later as Protestant “Christian” theocracies, such as England. The mixing of public law and religious laws eventually followed the Puritans to America and became part of American life with Christian prayers being said in public schools at the start of the school day, Christian holidays becoming state holidays, and so forth. It was accepted as normal by the people. The question is this: is this what Jesus had in mind? Is this why he was willing to die by Roman torture? The answer, of course, is no.

At the core of the New Testament story is the continual adversarial relationship between the theocracy of Judea and the teaching of Jesus. The reason for this is the nature of theocracies: they impose their will upon the people under threat of punishment by God. All you have to do is convince the people that your government is in touch with God and you have total control of the people. This method of control has worked well for thousands of years, not only for the Christian countries, but for countries that espouse other religions too. The initial teaching of Jesus was simple – the government does not speak for God.

However, as time went on and Jesus fell under heavy criticism from the religious leaders of  Judea, he also rebuked their teachings. It wasn’t long before he was teaching that neither the government nor the priests speak for God. Well then, you might ask, who does? The response of Jesus  to this is what he told his followers: I will send a counselor to you, the Holy Spirit of God, who will advise you about what is right or wrong. When Jesus was gone there would be no priest or governor to interpret the will of God because each person will be informed directly by the Spirit of God. Or, as Jesus also stated, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.

The key message of Jesus was not that he was establishing a new religion, it was that men do not need the established religions in order to be in contact with God. His words were the words of treason against all theocracies. His words were the words of freedom for all individuals. His words were the rejection of the existence of any theocracy or priest – there was no need for an intermediary between you and God – in fact, this would be the only way you could ever experience God. You have to do it yourself. That was his message.

Now, 2,000 years later, as millions, perhaps billions celebrate Christmas, it is worth remembering that this man who gave his life for his message of defiance to theocracies was striking a blow for all of us to be free of religious leaders, like the present Pope, who say that pedophilia is OK, or other leaders of other religions who call for “Holy Wars”, or others who call for you to give 10% of your money to them because God wants you to, or those who say you must be a virgin, or those who say you must not eat this or you must not wear those clothes, or those who say you must not think this or say that. The list goes on and on of “religious” people who would control you, who tell you they speak for God, when of course they do not.

So why should we celebrate Christmas? Because in doing so we celebrate the life of a true hero of the world who 2,000 years ago stood up and defied the Roman Empire and the Jewish theocracy, and sacrificed his life, on behalf of every one of us. He  spoke out on behalf of freedom and the ability of each man to know God without the assistance of any other man.

We should celebrate the life of Jesus because he taught us that we are free of theocracies, because the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the Spirit of God, is already within all of us.

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It is about 2009 years since the birth of the man we call Jesus.  No one really knows the exact year of his birth and as for the day of his birth, well there are a lot of theories, but the chance of it being December 25th is about 1 in 365. The selection of Dec 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus is really due to the desire of the Roman Church to co-opt the “Pagan” holidays that were associated with the winter solstice.  It turned out to be a pretty good strategy, although, over the years, it did bring a lot of the Pagan symbols – like the Christmas tree – into the whole Christmas package.

The various Christian churches have tried, over the past two thousand years, to keep “Christ in Christmas”, mainly by making sure their members attended church services on Christmas Day, but in recent years Christmas has been co-opted by the business community, particularly the retail industry. This industry has now become so dependent on an annual “Christmas bubble” that they now depend on good Christmas sales to finish their fiscal year with a profit.  This year could be a close call. I guess they might be learning another lesson about depending on bubbles to make money.

Nevertheless, if we look at all the buying and giving of presents during Christmas, it is all happening for one basic reason: people are showing that they care for each other, that they love each other.  So, in a strange way, the retail industry – with all its avarice and manipulation of customers, is essentially helping people to follow the only commandment that Jesus ever gave: “Love one another.”  Today, many people celebrate Christmas gift giving even though they are not Christian. In some ways, I suppose you might say it has almost become a secular holiday.  Yet, this gift-giving by so many people, regardless of their religious affiliations, is at the heart of Christianity. As Martha Stewart might say: it’s a good thing.

The traditional churches have had a long history of c0-opting the teaching of Jesus – even to the point of changing his name from Yehoshua or Yeshua (after all, he was Jewish) to the Romanized  and then Anglicized “Jesus”.  The Roman Empire seized upon Christianity, after hundreds of years of persecution, and co-opted it, turning it into a tool to control the populace – a common practice in the ancient world.  Most religions were associated with theocracies, including the Judaic religion, and they were a very important means of influencing and controlling people.  It was his opposition to the theocracy of Judea, and his teaching that “the Law and the Prophets were until John”, that led directly to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Today, it is the new “Evangelical Christian” Churches that have c0-0pted the true message of Jesus.  Teaching primarily from the Old Testament (i.e. the Law and the Prophets) in their mega churches, they ignore the true teaching of Jesus, because the true teaching of Jesus is directed at the individual person. This message is a message of freedom from theocratic rule – a message that established churches and governments find very difficult, if not impossible, to accept.

The long history of Christianity has been a tragic tale of powerful organizations co-opting the true teachings of a man named Yeshua who dared to oppose the rich and powerful. He taught that one can only enter the “Kingdom of Heaven” as an individual – no one else holds the key and no one else can do it for you.  It wasn’t a popular teaching then among the rich and powerful, and it isn’t now.

So, it is interesting to note, as we again celebrate the birth of Yeshua, that it is not our governments and not our rule-making churches but the rich and powerful merchants of today who, ironically, through their avarice during the Christmas season, are in fact encouraging all of us to follow Yeshua’s one and only commandment: “love one another”.

Merry Christmas

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