Sunday, August 3, 2014

Christmas in August

Enter one Yeshua or Yehoshua bar Yosif, also known by his Latin name, Jesus. If we had lived in the Rome of his day, most likely we would have first heard about his execution, accompanied by the strange rumor that he rose from the dead.

The execution by order of the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, appointed by Emperor Tiberius in the year 26 then removed in 36, is the most universally accepted historical fact about Jesus.

If we had been Palestinian Jews in Jerusalem we might have heard somewhat more about this Joshua from the hinterlands of Galilee, a woodworker turned preacher. The priests might have said he was a troublemaker, less exalted and poorer people might have been in awe of his oratory or the wonders he performed. But it all would have been in retrospect.

The first thing the people of his time who had not known him ever heard was, “He is risen!”

This startling assertion of faith was how an insignificant craftsman from a small village in a distant region at the edges of the Greco-Roman world came to the attention of the high and mighty, enough to make an emperor ask, “Who is this Chrestus [sic] people are talking about?”

What a startling claim these followers of Jesus made!

Jesus had been killed stone dead in a world dominated brutally by effectively universal one-man rule. The emperor spoke and you obeyed. He had your life and limb in his hands.

Only the citizens born in, or lawfully adopted by, one shining city of marble and stone had a measure of freedom to possess and dispose of the riches of the Earth in the relatively short span of life allotted them. The rest were conquered subjects, servants and slaves, who owed taxes, labor and submission to Rome and its emperor.

And here comes some obscure little country-bumpkin Jew and defies the emperor by rising from the dead? By Jupiter!

That is the essence of the earliest statement of faith:
“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words ... Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know -- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men  ... God has made him both Lord and Christ ...” (Acts 2:14-36)
That was the first Christian creed: Jesus is Lord. (Not the emperor.) That's where the good story (which is English for the Anglo-Saxon gospel) about Jesus, the Christ, begins.

We usually begin with a stable in Bethlehem, but that's debatable. According to Eusebius, the earliest Christian historiographer, Jesus was believed by some to have been born in the summer. After much doubting, scholars now lean toward the December birth. Still, in honor of a little boy whose birthday occurs this week, let's have a little Christmas in August.

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