Peeking a bit into my personal squabbles… one of those reasons why I don’t mind Christmas, I just don’t like how many Christians go about understanding it.
One of the things that a few Messianic Jews taught me — back when I used to walk up to their information table at my college’s open dining area — was that salvation wasn’t the point of the Messiah. Yes, there was a military, political, and social purpose to Jesus being born when and how he was. But, the need for the culture was closer to the heart than what it appears.
They needed to know that God was near them.
So, as those guys spoke to me, I started looking at Jesus not so much in this religious framing of “you need to be delivered from your sins,” “you need to be saved,” or “you need to live for eternity.” I started seeing him as an answer to something a lot deeper. Something that reminded me of the very way that I felt about the relationship with my father.
God — my author, my father — was near to me and wanted me near to him.
Its a rough thing when you have a parent that rejects you. Even more so when that parent is your father. A good sense of whom we are and how we create this sense of how large we can be comes from that relationship with our father. Its with our fathers that we learn to harness creativity, direction, and discipline. Its from dad that we learn that strength has bounds if it will be used to help others… that same strength would be used to control if handled unappropriately. Fathers, at least as they are designed… help us to be a servant to others.
I looked back at the relationship that started it all: Adam and God. And I noticed those same characteristics. Adam had only one other to talk to. It wasn’t someone he could relate to as one-like-him, but he knew that he was created by God, and it gave him pleasure to find out those things that God could do that he could as well — even if not on the same scale.
Then came that break. Adam exercised choice. He chose to take a gift from the one-who-was-like-him: Eve. He chose to agree with someone who was like him, over someone who created him. And the consequence of that is like that of a parent who feels that they are rejected, and a child that shares in that rejection. Adam was removed from the place — home — where he enjoyed an intimate fellowship with God, and had someone who looked/acted like him that he could share that with.
Adam felt rejected, and the lesson God couldn’t teach now needed to be taught: how does a man deal with rejection, and then get back to that place he was at, even if Paradise looks a bit different than when he left.
As you read past Adam and his children, and the evolution of culture and behavior in the Bible, there’s this overwhelming common denominator: rejection unresolved causes conflict. When a young son feels rejected by his brothers for his dreams, and his brothers likewise feel rejected by their father because of the favor towards the dreamer, the dreamer is removed from the presence of his father. When a son watches how another brother is preferred for a throne he thought was his, he reacts by wanting to take the throne by force, and ends up hanging himself. Rejection, or at least when that feeling of rejection is unresolved, causes us to do some crazy things — especially when that rejection starts as a feeling attached to your father.
And so we have the Jewish culture. Exiled 3 times, now living as citizens in Roman lands, speaking Greek, and socially Persian have only a small memory to hold onto. We have a God, a dad, who we were once close to and spoke to us, but now doesn’t. He’s been silent to the priests and prophets for 500 years. What next? Who are we?
The name was given to Joseph to give to the son he didn’t conceive with Mary. “God with us.” Its a really simple statement, but to the base emotion of a culture, its the kind of name that makes you remember the hurt, and (hopefully) take steps towards reconciling it. God removed them from Paradise, but never from himself. But Adam, so hurt, and wanting so much to believe that he just acted like his Creator for making a choice, shut out the entire relationship.
And don’t get it wrong, God made an attempt long before Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to reconcile things. At Mount Hebron/Sinai, God tells Moses to let the people know that he wants to speak directly to them. God wants to remind 2 million of his people, 400 years removed from their home, probably 600-800 years removed from Noah and the flood, that he still wants to walk and talk with them. So he comes off the mountain (one of his names is God of the High Mountain and another Oh Most High comes from this realization and scene). And the people tremble. They knew that he was powerful from the miracles wrought through the staff and presence of Moses. And some even sang stories of what things God had done before. But, now he was near, and the pain came back. So they asked Moses to let him know that it would be better if God would speak to Moses and Moses speak to them. It was too great a pain to revisit speaking to the Creator directly.
And so a plan was hatched. And the Creator, wanting so much to reset the relationship that was so long ago fractured, revisited the break in the relationship and looked to understand it from the eyes of a child who could/would be rejected.
Joseph’s first response: that’s not my child. I don’t want him, or his mother.
God could get it now. God could feel what Adam felt. Sense what Adam sensed. But, get that even earlier than Adam would. And that wouldn’t be the last time. We read later in the Gospels that Jesus had a number of brothers and sisters. These were children who truly belonged to Joseph and that there was a more special attachment towards. It didn’t matter that Jesus was Mary’s, nor that he was first. He didn’t belong to Joseph, and there were likely several times where Joseph rejected Jesus for someone else, something more comfortable, something his.
And so I began to better understand the core of Judaism’s heart. The Messiah, the deliverer didn’t just need to redeem folks in an ethereal sense. They also needed it in the most basic sense — that God never left them. I don’t (fully) reject everything that comes with the Christmas and Easter holidays. I do carry a much different understanding though that it was a lot simpler, and a lot less “gimmie” than what is portrayed by many faith perspectives within Christianity. The reason for the season was secular (illustrated nicely here), and the adaptation was to make sure that God wasn’t forgotten even in the darkest times of the year. But, the core of that was that God didn’t reject us — he rejected a decision we made. And God understanding that tried to point out that He never left us. That He never wanted a break in the relationship with us. Jesus… er, Emmanuel, came to be the living and loving proof of that.
Do you get the point of Christmas now? Rejection unreconciled causes us to make scores of crazy decisions. But, when we have that acceptance, that fellowship, that conversation… then we can move from being here to living. Now, that’s something to celebrate.