Monday, December 24, 2007

Keeping Christ in Christmas

In the midst of the voracious consumerism, unbridled marketing and paganization that are characterizing the December holiday season, combined with the recent proliferation and dissemination of falsehoods regarding Jesus of Nazareth – lies that are an affront to the very foundations of the Christian Faith – the essence, sense and significance of Christmas are obscured, and we Christians run the risk of forgetting what it is that we are actually celebrating and the implications of this annual commemoration within our Christian and ecclesiastical life, and in the lives of every man and woman of goodwill.

The remembrance of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which we Catholics celebrate in the liturgical holiday season of Christmas, finds its inspiration, foundation and source in the birth and infancy of Jesus as related to us in the New Testament and, more specifically, in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, whose works take up that portion of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In order to achieve an “intelligent” reading of the Bible and, with it, a “Christian” celebration of Christmas, one must distinguish and differentiate, within all of the stories related in the Bible, between two types of data on which all human stories are built and which provide the written plot for the story of Mankind as such: namely, historical data and testimonies of faith.

Historical data are all of those that provide tangible evidence, provable within our classifications of time/space, and verifiable – as such – by a universe of individuals. These data are even present in extra-biblical narratives. For example: the existence of persons and events such as the group of slaves of the Egyptians, banishment to Babylonia, Jesus of Nazareth, His ministry, His death on the cross, the first disciples (Peter and Paul), the founding of the first Christian communities, their persecution, and so on.

Testimonies of faith are data that are only valid for a certain community or group of persons and born of a singular experience. For example, that Jesus "is the Lord God" or "the Light of the World" are testimonies of faith that are valid only for Christians. Testimonies of faith constitute the priority and the main aspect in the theological purpose of the holy scribes, but they nonetheless would be impossible without historical foundation.

In other words, while it is true that the purpose of the writers of the Gospel is, first and foremost, theological – that is to say, to profess and proclaim faith in Jesus Christ (in the case of the New Testament), and not necessarily to relate historical fact in the style of today and in accordance with history as we understand it from our chronological and chronometric viewpoint, it remains, nevertheless, possible, in stories from the Bible and the New Testament, to find historical information to support and make possible the experience of Jesus Christ and information that has given rise to testimonies of faith. These are testimonies of faith, from another time and in different historical contexts and circumstances, which connect the Christians of today – and throughout history – with the same faith confessed and proclaimed in the New Testament by the very first Christians.

Among historical data and testimonies that we find, and might point to as noteworthy, within the so-called “childhood stories” of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, are the following:

Historical Data: A male child called Jesus is born in the days of King Herod, when Augustus Caesar issued an edict requiring census registration, at the time when Cirinus was governor of Syria. The Child’s parents, Joseph and Mary, in compliance with the law of Moses, circumcised him and presented him in the Temple. The boy grew up in Nazareth and there grew strong and full with wisdom.

Testimonies of Faith: Through the stories of his genealogy, the Annunciation of His coming to Mary and the shepherds, the Immaculate Conception, his birth in Bethlehem and in a manger, the presentation of Joseph as a descendant of David, the persecution led by Herod, the adoration of the Magi, the journey into Egypt, the Visitation, the circumcision, the presentation in the Temple…through all of these things, the Christian communities of Matthew and Luke seek to testify – and indeed do testify – (in the light of Easter) to the Resurrected Lord, already from His childhood, as the long-awaited, almighty, central figure in the history of Israel (in the case of St. Matthew, who relates him with personages of the ilk of David and Abraham) and of Mankind (according to St. Luke, who relates him directly to Adam), as the Son of God, Christ the Lord, the Messiah, whose coming the prophets of the Old Testament foresaw, even as they held up David as the model for the King of Israel, King of Kings, Light of Nations, Glory of Israel, born among and in the manner of the world’s humble, to serve as their savior, the Savior of Israel and of all peoples who live in the Grace of God. And testimony and recognition are also borne to Mary and Joseph and other characters as well (Simeon the Righteous, the Prophet Anna, John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth, the shepherds…) as faithful followers of the will of God the Father and, therefore, benefactors of the promises set down in the Old Testament.

It is all of this that we Christians recall, testify to and celebrate during this liturgical holiday season of Christmas.