A Historical Perspective on the Birth of Jesus, the Christ

          Every year around this time we celebrate a historical event. And what a fascinating event it is! Astronomical alignments, angel visitations, trekking eastern sages, a bloodthirsty jealous king and special revelation delivered directly to some shepherds (and, coincidentally, a flock of sheep that probably paid little attention to the good news and continued eating, as many men and women do to this day). 

            The Christmas narrative is a fascinating story with cosmic repercussions, but it is not the only significant event of its time. In fact, the birth of Jesus at the beginning of the first century AD (CE for the Latin-phobic among you) was insignificant and unknown to a vast majority of the world’s residents. Around the same time Mary and Joesph were making their slow way from Nazareth to Bethlehem the ancient Irish were constructing large stone forts at the mouth of Galway Bay; The Cherokee tribe was settling the lush southern Appalachians; The Friesians (my ancestors) were settling the future Netherlands; Roman legions and hoards of Germanic tribesmen were fighting in the misty woods of the north; The Chinese were conducting a census (they found fifty-nine million people); the poet Ovid was penning his classic, the Metamorphosis; the Mayans (those calendar makers of doom) were founding the city of La Milpa in modern-day Belize; The Roman Emperor Augustus was adopting his nephew, Gaius, and the first steam engine was being invented in Alexandria, Egypt.[1]

             To those alive at the time, wars, settlements, inventions, building projects and geo-political maneuvers would have outshined the birth of a Jewish boy in a backwater Roman dominion, but the memories of those conquests and accomplishments have died while the worship of Jesus has grown. His name is spoken, sung and shouted in every corner of the globe, while the name of Augustus, Emperor of Rome, is mentioned once or twice a year in dusty history classrooms or in books of fun facts about the month of August. And in fifty, one hundred, even one thousand years (if the LORD tarries) the same will hold true. The worship of Jesus will outlive the memory of elections, celebrities, wars and sports. The Christmas story will be relevant to humanity as long as humanity exists, because, unlike other historical events, it directly affects every aspect of our lives today. It is a living event with a living main character.

            And to those who say that Christmas is a crock because it was only a replacement of a Roman Pagan holiday called Saturnalia, the answer is simple. Yes! It replaced Saturnalia. It conquered Saturnalia. It crushed Saturnalia. Saturnalia had no power to hold Christmas back. Saturnalia bowed to Christmas’ strength and glory as a holiday based in history and true divinity rather than empty pagan frivolity. Christmas’ replacement of pagan holidays only proves its preeminence and the majesty of its God.

           So this Advent, sing your Christmas songs with gusto and eat your minced meat with glowing pride, for our savior’s birth, life, death and resurrection are, collectively, the pinnacle of human history, and all the powers of the earth cannot scale that peak. 

R. Eric Tippin
In a deep, dark, scary basement
November 29, 2012

"The Chariot Race"
Alexander Von Wagner
1882, Oil on Canvas 

[1] http://timelines.ws/01AD_299AD.HTML, http://ehistory.osu.edu/world/TimeLineDisplay.cfm?Era_id=4,