Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christ Before Christmas

I have been asking some fundamental spiritual questions during Advent. The “elephant in the room” question is about Christ. After all, the holiday is named after him! Christ is what Christmas is all about.

Usually people answer questions about Christ by making theological statements about the babe of Bethlehem who grew up to be the carpenter of Nazareth, the rabbi of Galilee, and the Crucified and Risen One of Jerusalem.

I want to try another approach. I want to go back in time before the historical Jesus. I want to ask about Christ before Christmas. That is how the apostle John began his Christmas story.

The Gospel of John opens: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He goes on to say, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He was talking about the immortal Christ who became the mortal Jesus.

Who was Christ before Jesus? John says he was God. Did people know Christ before Christmas? Even the most conservative Christians talk about Christ appearing in the Old Testament long before Jesus was born. These appearances are called theophanies.

The apostle Paul even says that Christ appeared as a rock! He writes about the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness: “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”

People knew Christ before Jesus. Non-Hebrew people knew Christ before Jesus. The Gentile Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.”

Christ is so much bigger than the miniature versions of Jesus preached by popular Christianity these days. Christ is neither a dogma nor a spiritual fad. Christ is not a theological weapon to be used against nonChristians. Christ is God. As infinite and eternal God, Christ is not subject to human interpretation.

Christ was God before he was Jesus. Christ was God in Jesus, and Christ is God now. Christ cannot be pigeonholed into manageable doctrinal categories. Christ can only be worshiped, adored, celebrated and glorified.

This is the Christ I know. This is the Christ who was born in Bethlehem. This Christ is born in the lives of those who worship him, serve him and surrender their lives to him. This is the Christ who died at the hand of religion and state. This is the Christ who lives. This is Christ, the Savior of the world. This is the Christ of Christmas.

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Image is “God resting after Creation,” a Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, Sicily. Christ is depicted as the Creator of the world. Depictions of God the Father became prevalent only in the 15th century. Before then Jesus was often shown as God.  

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