A very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! How wonderful to be sharing this season of Light with you as we celebrate this very special time of year!
Do you know why Christmas is called the season of Light? Permit me to share a brief history of a people and a time, and of a point in human history that heralded the dawn of Light through celestial pronouncement and the birth a long foretold Redeemer during a protracted span of spiritual darkness and temporal urgency.
Approximately 4,000 years ago, a man named Abraham was called of God to embrace a monotheistic (belief in one God) ideology in a world beset by polytheistic (belief in many idol gods) worship. God made a covenant with Abraham that extended to his offspring, and God promised Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Though Abraham was without posterity at the time the covenant was made, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Abraham’s seed grew to mirror God’s promise.
Abraham’s descendents would come to be known as Israelites through the lineage of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, and centuries later, as Jews. On direction from God, Abraham moved with his very large family to the land of Canaan (modern Israel) and therein dwelt.
Over the ensuing 1850 years, the nation of Israel would be repeatedly thrust into bondage, exile, and slavery through conquest after conquest, collectively lasting many hundreds of years. Their long periods of subjugation, suffering, and bondage were accompanied by prophetic pronouncements of a coming Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, a Redeemer who would free His people.
Besides their hundreds of years of enslavement to the Egyptian Pharaohs in early Israelite history, sometime between 606 B.C.E. (BC) and 587 B.C.E. (BC), King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched on Jerusalem, destroyed the whole of Jerusalem, as well as its holy temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. Their exile lasted 70 years. Jeremiah was the prophet at the time who took the cries and lamentations of his people, the Israelites (Jews), before God. Through Jeremiah, God promised to save His people and to allow their return to Judea. In 538 B.C.E. (BC), the Jews were freed to return to their homeland and were permitted to rebuild their temple.
For nearly 500 years thereafter, Judea would be ruled by one empire after another. The rebuilt temple, the most hallowed of places in the Jewish world, would be used to leverage control over the Jews.
In 64 – 63 B.C.E. (BC), Rome’s conquest of the Middle East was nearly complete, and once Galilee and Judea were seized, Rome became the undisputed superpower of the Mediterranean region and of the known world.
Imperial Rome was a violent and brutal overlord to the people of its empire, particularly to those who did not show full allegiance to and lockstep conformity with Rome, who did not acknowledge the Roman emperors as divine deities, and those considered of a lowly station in life. These characteristics encapsulated most of the Jews.
The Jews, as well as other conquered peoples of the Roman Empire, endured an existence of terror, anxiety and grief. Rome built a healthy portion of her treasury on the backs of the Jews, which also made wealthy the Roman elite. Jews bore the burdens of multiple heavy taxes, were required to relinquish up to 66% of their grain and other food harvests to feed the Roman armies and the people in Rome, as well as submit to Rome any substance and tribute that Rome demanded.
Hunger and debt were prevalent among the Jews, and scarcity of resources punctuated their lives. The slightest hint of opposition or rebellion was met with swift and ferocious punishment by torture, imprisonment, crucifixion, destruction of home and property, confiscation of property, and genocide. As an example, in response to an uprising in 4 B.C.E. (BC), approaching the time of the birth of Jesus, the Roman general, Varus, burned many towns in the Judean and Galilean countryside and crucified about 2,000 men. Common were the tactics of terror and crucifixion used to deter resistance. This brutal and oppressive Roman rule lasted for about 200 years.
It was into this climate and into the most ruthlessly governed regions of Judea and Galilee that Jesus was born and wherein He subsequently delivered His teachings. Jesus, the Christ, entered a world that was besieged by darkness, brutality, dyer suffering, and greed that engulfed and rewarded even members of the Jewish Temple hierarchy, the Sanhedrin.
The time had come for Light to pierce the darkness, and the LIGHT shone in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5). So revolutionary were the teachings of Jesus to the context of human understanding, so diametrically opposite were His principle lessons on the higher methods and meanings of living life and on eternal perspective from the law-riddled and lawless world that prevailed, so directed was He to imparting the message of the kingdom of heaven that could be found on earth, so powerfully endowed was He as to captivate the throngs with His many miracles and His mastery over the elements - so much a threat was He to the establishment that His life was destined to be sacrificed. For this was He born, for this did He live, for Life, that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10), did He die. And to this day, His enduring teachings remain fundamental to a world that is still in need of comprehension of and unity with the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
In celebration of the One who brought Light, who was and is The LIGHT that shone in darkness, whose transcendent teachings could make of earth a heaven and of every human being a beloved brother and sister, whose compassion could eradicate suffering and whose power trumped the elements of nature – it is to this LIGHT that the season of Christmas is dedicated.
May this blessed holiday season fill you with joy! And above all, may peace dwell in your heart and reign on your lips and in your life this day and always.
Biblical history and data were taken from the following references:
St. Paul: The Apostle We Love To Hate, (2015). Armstrong, Karen. Boston: New Harvest Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jesus And Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, (2003). Horsley, Richard A. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
A History Of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (1993). Armstrong, Karen. New York: Ballentine Books.
The Man From Nazareth, (1949). Fosdick, Harry Emerson. New York: Harper & Brothers.
King James Bible
Essential Qualities to Live a More Fulling Life