Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2003 December 25 -- What's the Big Deal?

Today is Christmas. Some people make a Big Deal out of that.

The pastor of the church I attend said the virgin birth was the greatest miracle of all time. Oh really? You wouldn't get that impression from the Bible. It's only mentioned in two of the four Gospels -- OK, it's important enough that God gave it two witnesses [see Gen.41:32, Deut.19:15], but nothing more. The Disciples never breathed a word about it in evangelizing the early church; Paul never mentioned it in all his theological epistles; even the prophets gave only one cryptic and easily misunderstood reference to it. If it's so important, why is there no church service to celebrate it today? 20 years ago I was a member of a church that actually held services on Christmas day, but most churches do not. Actions speak louder than words.

If not the virgin birth, if not Christmas, then what is the most important miracle of all time?

Scientifically, I would argue for Creation Week, when God created the universe out of nothing, placed the celestial bodies into space, built the DNA of life -- those are things for which we have no scientific explanation at all; all the atheists can do is push the time back and hope that time + chance + random events might have done what their own theories cannot. A virgin birth? I suspect that scientists using today's technology could pull that off today.

The early church seemed to think the Resurrection was pretty important. It got a lot of treatment in all four gospels and was prominently featured in the preaching and teaching of the Apostles, including the epistles of Paul. There are a number of prophetic Old Testament references to it. Scientifically, we have a number of minor medical resurrections today (none on the third day yet), and the skeptics are particularly fond of swoon theories.

Theologically, I think the really greatest miracle of all time was the Atonement. Even the non-Christian religions understand karma, the moral fact that people should pay for their own sins. Post-modern no-fault, no right or wrong, no-guilt westernism has not eradicated the deep belief that when I am injured, "somebody must pay!" Somehow, God put the blame on Jesus Christ on the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might have the righteousness of God. That's pretty amazing. The Resurrection merely proves that God accepted the sacrifice.

So what's the big deal over Christmas?

I think there is a simple answer to that question: It's "safe". The Atonement makes demands on our lives; a helpless baby in a manger does not. Oh, you have to be Nice (notice the capitalization) for a few days each year (a feat most church members have already mastered for a couple hours on Sunday morning every week), and spend a bunch of money keeping the economy going by buying worthless junk to wrap and give to people -- but you get that back, because these are not really gifts (for which you receive nothing in return), but a barter system where everybody is careful to give equal value for what they receive.

A few Christmas cards with pretty pictures and maybe -- just rarely -- a Scripture reference that nobody reads anyway, a month of inconsequential sermons about making room for Jesus (remember, the helpless safe baby in the manger), these are the things that warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter night, all without requiring anybody to actually be Holy as God is Holy...

Me, I'd rather make a Big Deal out of the Resurrection. Today I'm a humbugger.