Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
THE BEST GIFT
The Online Etymology Dictionary reveals that the compound word, “Christmas” (Christ + mass, combined and shortened), introduced in the mid-fourteenth century, refers to the “sending, letting go” of Christ (kind of like somebody or even Somebody giving a gift from afar, no?).
But pretty much everything else about “Christmas,” the holiday on which believers and skeptics alike celebrate Jesus’ birth, seems to be subject to controversy.
The troubles that trouble the celebration include the sourcing of some elements from pagan practices, the commercialization of the entire season, and the varied opinions regarding the year, month, and day of Jesus’ birth in this or that stable behind this or that inn, cows or no cows present (just kidding about the cows, but there are a number of legitimate issues).
What remains without doubt, however, is the historical account of the census taken that year, for the first time, during the reign of Augustus.
Interestingly, and another documentable point, this puts the Nazarene couple Joseph and Mary in the exact location of the little town wherein the Messiah was prophesied to have entered earth’s scene, Mary closing in on childbirth at the time–a point in the gestational process when, normally, no pregnant woman in her right mind would travel on the back of a donkey, appr. 90 miles from home, for an estimated 4 to 7 days, over hilly terrain with the ever-present threat of ambush by hostile locals.
But one thing remains assured: like the trio of Wise Men (astrologers) following the Sign (star) above Bethlehem, wise (discerning) men and women still find their way to Jesus, Who is no longer an infant but a resurrected Savior.
Seekers today follow revelatory signs of their own, as it were, despite the troubles plaguing the holiday. They follow “signs” in myriad forms, literal or spiritual or, for some, a combination of both manifested in the form of a miracle. There are plenty of those.
For most, however, I think it’s that quiet “knowing” birthed from yielding to the presence of the Holy Spirit’s invitation from which, ever after, they will proclaim, “I ‘got saved’ when…”
Maybe listening to a Bible story or a sermon points the way, or reading a verse of Scripture or an inspirational story, or maybe observing from near or far a life lived as if Jesus is real and influencing that life and there is a certain peace present no matter the circumstances…
But, back to the controversies (aka doubts) surrounding Christmas (you pick): I believe a doubt is, in fact, a little gift in and of itself, no matter one’s beliefs or degree of skepticism.
It’s a “second-best present,” you might say, besides the greatest of all from Father to sons and daughters: the gift of a Savior sent to take on human form in order to pay the price of salvation for humans…in our stead… (which is the real reason, of course, all those angels “harked” on the hillside…)
But–doubt a gift?
THE NEXT-BEST GIFT
I invite the reader, especially the skeptical, to ponder this: if there were absolutely no question–no doubt–whatsoever about each and every single element of the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ (God’s greatest gift to us), what about God’s second greatest gift, at least I think it rates that high: “free will”–to choose to believe or not?
I mean, “freely” believe or not?
I mean, if there were no doubts, no various and sundry interpretations, suppositions, assumptions, presumptions, and/or politicization of the whole event, we would be forced to believe, thus, call into question the real “freedom” of “free will,” and in effect, doubt God’s veracity on everything else.
Because how can you doubt a deity and remain a believer? Interestingly, that was the first temptation, i.e., the suggestion that all that was told the first two believers was not so…and things went downhill from there…except for the promise of, well, the greatest gift yet to come (see above…).
But as it is, God indeed “sent” Jesus that night: a human boy named, for the record, Yeshua. You can find the proof not only in the Bible but also in a variety of non-biblical accounts as well, some of even hostile origin. And He really traveled around making religious leaders mad, performing miracles, preaching and teaching, and to this day they’re still trying to find His grave site–with anything in it, that is.
Nevertheless, ’tis true, there will be those who will reject both gifts–the Savior and the choice. And the conundrum will remain, the interminable “what if’s” and “yeah, but’s”
Unless today the skeptical reader would choose to step off the doubt-go-round, hop down off the skeptic’s fence, and ponder just a little longer…
Because, really, every day is Christ mass…you don’t have to wait until December.
There will always be this or that controversy, it’s just the nature of the freedom of mind, will, and emotion.
Nevertheless, Jesus, now centuries past Bethlehem’s manger–and Golgotha’s cross–still waits for all who so will, as in choose, as in believe.
He waits, still, for those yet searching under the gift tree for something truly satisfying; something that won’t tarnish, stain, or rust; that will salve wounds and heal hearts–the kind of “Christmas miracle” that all the trinkets and idols of the world cannot bring.
But Jesus can.
And, best of all, you don’t have to wait until December 25th.
Just, I ask you in the spirit of Christmas today…from the bottom of my (former skeptical) heart, ponder this…a little longer…if you will…