Many thought World War I would be over in days, surely by Christmas. To many, Christmas was a time of peace and goodwill towards others, the celebration of the Prince of Peace. Each side considered that their cause was just and many thought God was on their side.
But the war was not over by Christmas 1914. In fact the war saw several Christmases come and go. And what’s more, as history shows, World War 1 was not “the war to end all wars” as some vainly hoped. Just how many Christmases will pass before the current war in Syria is thought to be over is anyone’s guess.
Filling the gap
With Christmas fast approaching, many Christians will be attending church and perhaps reciting the Nicene Creed, part of which reads:
“…of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary was made man; was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate…”
That Creed is an official statement of Christian beliefs and it jumps straight from the birth of Jesus Christ to a mention of his death. Some say it seems indifferent to what happened in between.
In effect, Nicene Christianity could be seen as a religion limited to Christmas and Easter. By not mentioning the essential middle period in the life of Jesus, the period when “good news” was preached for the first time, Christianity has been hijacked by many now paying too much attention to a new born baby and a dying man.
During his short ministry, amongst other things Jesus called his followers to renounce wealth, power and violence, while giving them reasons to have hope and confidence about the future. In this unbalanced world, increasingly given over to warfare, greed and corruption, the true Christian message needs to ‘fill the howling gap‘ left open by the Nicene Creed. Christ’s birth and his death are only part of the story.
The story of Christmas
It was in AD 312 that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, ruled at that time by the emperor Constantine. The Nicene Creed was composed a few years later and it was Constantine who decided that December 25 would be the date Christians should celebrate Christmas.
From the time of Constantine onwards the radical “good news” preached by Jesus and the early Christians was pushed to one side, giving more and more attention instead to celebrating the birth and death of Jesus. It’s only been comparatively recently that some have called for more attention to be given to that original and complete Christian message.
Christianity without politics
It has been argued that one of the benefits of the Nicene Creed is that it gives its adherents ‘Christianity without politics’. By that is meant that by focussing attention on the birth and death of Jesus, and leaving out any mention of the things Jesus and his followers said and did, that Creed keeps clear of promoting involvement in this world’s affairs, including present-day politics. In that respect the Nicene Creed could be commended.
But politics aside, Jesus still left his followers with practical instructions about changing themselves now, leaving God to mend the world in the future. Jesus himself described his mission as being to:
“To preach good tidings to the poor; He (God) has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61.1 NKJV)
Those instructions are personal, not political. With numerous charity appeals now coming in every Christmas post, we all have numerous opportunities to “love our neighbour”.
Jesus taught that social outcasts need to be loved and cared for by Christians, and that those who hold onto their riches while others die in hunger and poverty have less chance of getting into the Kingdom of God than a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle! He even went so far to say we should all “love our enemies”, not hate them and seek their destruction!
The true Christian message
In many parts of the world it is impossible to ignore the approach of Christmas. Unfortunately, with all the commercial rumpus filling our eyes and ears, we can become blind and deaf to the true Christian message.
The birth of Jesus, whenever that really was, was only the beginning of something that will soon change this world completely when Jesus returns. The angels that rejoiced at his birth were also present when Jesus went to heaven soon after his resurrection. The angels told his followers:
“This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NKJV)
When Jesus returns and, according to the Bible, takes his place as ‘king of the world’, the world as we now know it will end and be replaced by the worldwide Kingdom of God.
We don’t know exactly when God plans to set up his Kingdom, but Jesus told his followers to expect and pray for it regularly:
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 NKJV)
By describing the sort of things we should expect to happen just before Jesus returns, the Bible shows us that it could happen any day now, so we need to be ready.
The corruption, terrorism, violence and bloodshed currently filling the news could certainly be all over in our lifetime….perhaps even by Christmas!!