As I think about Christmas, I often go back to the Dad Pun “Christ’s mass.” It’s an important–if terribly hokey–reminder of the day’s significance.
It answers a vital question: how did Christianity start? It didn’t emerge as an institution with codified rules. It wasn’t a single person taking dictation during a divine vision. It wasn’t an invisible religious experience. It was a group of unrelated people–men and women, each from diverse backgrounds and social strata–telling others they had seen a dead man come back to life.
God promised the nation of Israel a savior thousands of years before this particular man lived. No doubt many claimed to be this Messiah over time, but no matter how large their followings, they died and were forgotten. This one, this Jesus, was mangled beyond recognition in public–executed in such a way that no one could claim a huckster had faked his death to pull off a trick “miracle.” And then he came back.
Now, you don’t have to have any particular religious background or education to understand that’s a big deal. You’ll hear the occasional story of a patient whose heart and breathing stop yet miraculously restart, but those situations never involve a person flayed and pierced who bleeds out after several hours. You hear about visions of the dead–but never with this many witnesses.
Therefore, no matter who you were, seeing this man would shake up everything you ever knew and believed.
Jesus’s risen body, then, is the reason his followers believe he is God. And, as the apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth, without this resurrection, belief in Jesus is meaningless and futile.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
To cut a long New Testament short, the change that Jesus brought to this world is not only a spiritual renewal but the promise of a physical one, as well. When God first made man, we weren’t destined to die; that development came when Adam and Eve disobeyed and were cursed for it. Once God existed in a body, died in it, and returned in it, he showed that this state of being–original sin and mortality–could be and would be reversed for any person.
And it starts here with his birth. The Christmas story is a fulfillment of God’s promises–not to completion, at that point, but a necessary step toward what came 33 years later. Today, we see it in hope and certainty, though the people who experienced it then felt great worry over what the future would bring.
Therefore, because we have seen what came of Jesus’s birth, we can have that same hope and certainty about our own lives and the struggles we face. God has told us exactly where history is going–a new Earth, new life, new bodies. If we follow him, those promises are done deals merely waiting for their appointed times, just as Jesus’s resurrection was–even as his parents fled to Egypt for their lives.
So I wish you all a great celebration of Christ’s mass–bad puns and all. May you experience hope and peace today and find time to reflect and renew your awe of this child who changed history.