Thoughts on Christmas and a Fascinating 60 MInutes Piece from 1968
Being in Germany this year on Sabbatical, it takes a while for things to reach me here. So in my email yesterday was a note from a good friend about a piece 60 Minutes ran on Jesus from 1968.
Harry Reasoner, the old CBS veteran reporter (No. 2 at CBS to Walter Cronkite at the time for you oldies amongst us) offered a commentary. He spent 8 minutes asking what we know about what Jesus looked like. (Of course, there was no clear answer to this question, but it does show how we love to focus on appearances as a culture). It was an interesting piece with some interesting imagery about how Jesus has been portrayed in painting through the centuries. If you missed it, here is the URL.
What struck me about it was that nowhere in the piece was the idea raised that Jesus was a Jew who lived in the Holy Land of what is now called Israel or Palestine (depending on your political correctness!). This would have been a historical place to start.
What also was striking was the the URL entry made a point of saying how much more common it was the speak of Christmas and the Christ during this time of year in 1968 than it is now. But CBS was doing now anyway. This may show were forty plus years has taken us.
The comments after the entry on the site from those who visited it and commented are also enlightening. Several entries suggest Jesus never existed, the ultimate bah-humbug on Christmas. This simply reflects ignorance of history. Jesus is testified to in sources from Rome (Tacitus and Suetonius) and Judaism (Josephus). I have commented on these texts in the past. The Jewish tradition never handles Jesus by saying he was a fabricated figure and that tradition would know. The remarks about Jesus never existing show how detached many Americans have become from understanding some core ancient history.
One final observation is that the usual focus on some aspect of revising Christianity that normally surfaces this time of year is certainly missing in Germany-- and perhaps also in the States. In two key national magazines here, the stories during this season are about Mecca being made into a more attractive city and some remarks about Buddhism and other Eastern faiths. There also was a story in the local paper about how Muslims understand Jesus and his birth (born of a virgin but still a man). The writer, a German pastor, closed by noting how all faiths see him as a great religious figure and bringer of peace (what is left out about Jesus is pretty important in this summary!). A glance at US magazines shows a similar shift. Let's not talk about Christmas and what it has meant, but about religion in general is the approach,, if the topic of religion is raised at all. The best I can tell Newsweek largely passed on this topic this year (But being overseas and not having a copy I cannot ay for sure. Their website gives no clue we are in a holiday season). On the other hand, Time has an article on "The Real War on Christmas: The Failure to Teach Religion." The point of the article is a good one. Without some teaching on world religion, it is hard to understand much of what happens in our world. The point is an old one. Madeleine Albright made it in a book years ago when she spoke of how diplomats are unprepared for the impact of religion in the countries they serve. Many seminaries do not teach enough on world religions for pastors and clerics to understand their own area of labor.
But this is NOT a war on Christmas. Time's piece is a work around what Christmas is about. The issue of Christmas is that most people have no clue why we celebrate the holiday to begin with or what the message Christ brought was about. This omission is probably because in part Jesus asked humanity to take a close look at itself in a mirror and see how detached we have become from God, not God made in image we desire him to be in, but God as one who as Creator both loves us and holds us accountable for how we respond to him. A careful study of world religion would show how unique are some of the claims Christianity makes about the human condition and how to fix (not by lifting ourselves up by our won bootstraps or not by creating a world that works for you) . We need God and his forgiveness. We need to see our need for him and our inability to fix it ourselves. We need to embrace the love of God that offers us such a redirected life through the gift of life and His Spirit that is found in acknowledging our need for God and his work through Jesus on our behalf generating a love and devotion for him that also leads us to love others. I often say that Christmas is not about the infant in a manger. That is but the start, that God would take up a human existence. Christmas is about what that Christ did for us. If I can use Spanish. He did "mas" than we can imagine. It is a shame that so mush of the West has lost this story and its importance during the very time of year we have the chance to recall it.
So I take this time to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas season with the hope and prayer that you will pause and recall why we really celebrate Jesus' birth. As I do so, I am not sure what is better to be culturally in 1968 with 60 Minutes, to see a call for Christianity to be revised, or to turn our eye to religion in general. Maybe the better way is to regain an appreciation for why many have celebrated this holiday for centuries and recover the real Christmas story. In the process we may learn a lot more about ourselves as God's creatures and in the process about liviing life.