Category Archives: Jesus Christ
Joy to the world! It’s a popular expression at this time of year as we focus on celebrating the birth of Jesus.
We sing about joy in song, post it on walls and send it in Christmas cards. Joy is all around us. Right?
Unfortunately, not always. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, can be a tough time for many people. (Although it is frequently reported that suicides increase during this time, statistical analysis shows that the rate actually declines right before Christmas.) People dealing with their first Christmas following the death of a loved one, losing a job, dealing with exes and step-children during the Christmas week, going into debt to buy gifts, negative family situations – all of these and more can leave people feeling anything but joyous at the holiday season. This is even true for many Christians.
So why doesn’t the joy from the Christmas carols translate into real lasting joy?
For starters, many people rely on their circumstances or their relationships to bring them joy. At this time of year, they also hope to derive joy from the songs, sights and traditions of the season.
According to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
They are, however, confusing happiness with joy. Happiness depends on things going well for us. But according to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
Jesus and the apostles often talked about joy in the midst of persecution and suffering. Jesus endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy he knew would result from it (Heb. 12:2); the Macedonian churches exhibited great joy during affliction and deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2); the Hebrew churches accepted with joy having their possessions seized from them (Heb. 10:34); and Peter urged his readers to rejoice when suffering for Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
So if not the circumstances, where does the Bible tell us to find our joy? Surprisingly, it’s not in the birth of Jesus, which is when we most commonly think of joy. Not that we aren’t to rejoice at his birth – the wise men were overjoyed beyond measure when they saw him, and the angel told the shepherds that Jesus’ birth signaled great joy for the world.
But other than the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ birth is never mentioned again.
Instead, we read that we derive joy from entering into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:34), serving God faithfully (Matt. 25:21), the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:4-10; Acts 15:3; Rom. 4:7-8) and living out our faith (Phil. 2:2; 1 Peter 1:8-9).
Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Primarily, though, our joy is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this fact that makes our salvation possible, gives us our entrance into the Kingdom, empowers us to live out our faith and offers us hope for eternal life after death. Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Notice that the death and resurrection is a fact. We don’t hope that Jesus will die for us and then be raised to life. It already happened, in a specific time and place, nearly 2,000 years ago. It validated everything Jesus said and did.
And because it already took place, we know that we already have all the things Jesus promised (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Since that is true, we can live life in great joy, no matter our circumstances. Whether we have abundance, health and are surrounded by loved ones, or we’re persecuted, destitute and bereft of close relationships, we still have the same source of joy anchored in a fact that already happened. That source of joy can never be revoked or taken away from us.
People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
That is so much better than relying on circumstances or relationships as a source of joy. People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
The fourth verse of the hymn Joy to the World says, “He rules the world, with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”
The wonder of his love is not just that he came into the world, born in a stable, but that he died to cleanse us of sin, and rose again to give us new life in him. That truly is joy in our world.
In a few weeks we’ll celebrate the birth of Christ – some children will even innocently celebrate it as Jesus’ birthday. But there is still an element of the unknown about the exact date when this event happened. About the only thing we’re certain of is that it definitely did not occur on December 25, in the Year 0.
For starters, there was no Year 0; in fact, there was no specific dating system then. Dates back then were measured by the year of a king’s reign, which would have varied from country to country. The Jews currently do have a specific dating system that puts us in the year 5778, which would have Jesus’ birth around the year 3760. But even this has a flaw, since the Jewish calendar doesn’t line up exactly with our current calendar.
The dating system that we use today was divided into two periods – B.C., or Before the birth of Christ, and A.D., Anno Domini, Latin for the Year of the Lord, meaning after his birth. This dating system came about long after the fact, in about 525 A.D. although it wasn’t widely used until 800 A.D. In this dating system, we have the year 1 B.C. followed by the year 1 A.D. – no Year Zero. So, at best, Jesus would have been born in 1 A.D. But that is also not the case.
Herod died in March or April of what we now call 4 B.C., meaning Jesus was born at least four years Before Christ.
We know that, according to Matthew 2, that King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born. Herod died in March or April of what we now call 4 B.C., meaning Jesus was born at least four years Before Christ. Hmmm.
But it may have been even earlier. We don’t know when the wise men from the East visited the baby Jesus. While some have speculated it could have been up to two years after his birth, Matt. 2:8 suggests that he was still in Bethlehem. Since Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth (Luke 2:4), it is likely they would have made their way back home within a few months after the birth.
We also don’t know how long the wise men stayed, or how long it took Herod to figure out that they’d tricked him. Long enough, it seems, for Joseph to gather his family to flee to Egypt. Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys in the area ages 2 and under “in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men.” That does seem to indicate that Jesus may have been a toddler by this time, or it may mean that Herod just wanted to make really sure he got the right kid.
But what day was Jesus born on if he wasn’t born on Dec. 25?
So, at the very least, Jesus would have had to have been born at the very beginning of 4 B.C., but more likely in 5 B.C. or even as early as 6 or 7 B.C.
But what day was Jesus born on if he wasn’t born on Dec. 25? Since the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks at night (Luke 2:8), the angelic visitation would have occurred between April and October (the other months would have been too cold to keep the sheep out at night). Some scholars have used the knowledge of the priestly cycle of service to determine when John the Baptist was likely born, and then been able to extrapolate from that a date for Jesus’ birth. The best guess currently is that Jesus was born sometime in the last half of what we now know as September. If that was in 5 B.C., he would have been around six months old when King Herod died, or 1-1/2 if he was born in 6 B.C.
The first record of a Christmas celebration is Dec. 25, 336 A.D.
So why has Dec. 25 been recognized as the day for Jesus’ birth? No one knows for sure. For the first 300 years the early church didn’t celebrate his birth at all, focusing instead on his crucifixion and resurrection. The first record of a Christmas celebration is Dec. 25, 336 A.D., ordered by the Roman Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity.
Dec. 25 may have been chosen because it coincided with pagan winter solstice celebrations, or aligned with the Jewish Hanukkah festival. Early Christians speculated that, based on the date of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary conceived on March 25. That meant that if her pregnancy went exactly nine months, he would have been born on Dec. 25. Eastern churches, however, calculated that he would have been born on Jan. 6 and celebrated Christmas on that day. Some groups, like the Amish, still celebrate Jan. 6 as Old Christmas. It is also the 12th day of Christmas.
Over the years, Dec. 25 became a convenient time in Western Europe and America to celebrate Christmas because it was too cold to engage in any farming. They had more time to plan a celebration. For many people today in northern countries, the cold and shorter days mean more indoor time, so it is still a convenient time for celebrations.
We’ll all feel very blessed this year as we celebrate the Savior’s birth on Dec. 25. But if you really want to get Jesus a birthday cake, the more realistic time to do so would be around September 25. And add four or five candles since he was born at least several years before 1 A.D.
It’s the beginning of December, the time of year to remember the suffering of our Lord.
Wait, what did I just read? Did this guy accidentally post an Easter column by mistake? This is the season of joy to the world, of peace on earth, of angels and shepherds, gold, frankincense and myrrh. It’s the season of the birth of a beautiful baby, not of a grown man being cruelly crucified to a cross.
True. But let me ask this question: When did Jesus’ suffering begin?
Before answering that, let me start with a sort-of parable – suppose you have been selected to be the savior of the earthworms. You are zapped into the body of an earthworm, although you still have access to all your human senses, thoughts and memories. Your mission now is to tunnel daily through the dirt, bringing the words of salvation to the earthworm population. Eventually you are sacrificed on a cruel hook and dropped into the water, where a large fish swallows you, and the earthworms have their salvation.
At what point do you think your suffering would begin? Only when the hook pierced your body?
No, I think your suffering would begin the moment you left the world of humans and entered into the earthworm body. Still being fully aware of your humanity, it would be humbling and true suffering to now be confined to a body that had so little mobility and ability.
He entered the confines of not just a human body, but an infant human body.
Jesus was fully God, a partner in the creation of the world, with all the power, omniscience, glory and other aspects of the Father. And then he entered the confines of not just a human body, but an infant human body. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t walk and he had to depend on someone to change his diaper. We can’t begin to imagine what kind of suffering that was for him.
Even when he became an adult, he was still shackled to the most basic of human needs for food, shelter, sleep and bowel movements. He was tempted in every way we are, with pride, lust, anger and fear, yet successfully overcame succumbing to any of them.
Jesus had to endure the plodding simplicity of the humans around him – even the wisest, most educated human being was little more than a doddering fool in comparison to his wisdom. Even in his last hours on earth, he had to face the inevitability of human death, even though he was immortal God.
This is how Paul described Jesus’ sacrifice in Phil. 2:6-8:
“(Jesus), existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” (HCSB)
There is no doubt that Jesus’ birth, eventual death and his resurrection gave us the opportunity to experience joy and peace on earth. We can celebrate that birth with joy. But I think it is good for us to remember how much that joy cost God the Father and God the Son. It’s when we realize that Jesus willingly placed himself in a position of suffering in human form because of his great love for us that we can truly rejoice in the true Christmas spirit.