Time magazine’s Person of the Year is The Protestor. From the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring to Muscovites telling Putin they have moved on, the protestor has made 2011 a memorable year. Rick Stengel writes the following about the protestor: “They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change.”
Christians gather this evening and tomorrow to celebrate the birth of their central religious figure, Jesus. Those that believe Jesus to be the divine Savior of all creation and those that merely recognize his presence in human history can agree that this single individual’s action has brought about collective and colossal change. No other figure in human history is as well known, has impacted as many governments, or motivated as many towards the values of love, peace, and justice.
Atrocities like the crusades and the hypocrisy of Christian priests and pastors are legitimate failures of Jesus followers, but we cannot allow them keep us from a fair evaluation of the Jesus movement. One must recognize Western civilization’s ethical foundation in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the free market principles of Scripture that have lifted billions out of poverty and translated into societies of generosity, and the underlying cause of human rights in which each person is to have done unto them as you would like done unto you.
Do we have a way to go to fully emulate the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth? Surely. But however you or your family may gather for Christmas, and whether you are convicted to the veracity of Jesus’ own words, that he was divine, may the words of Luke’s Gospel be a reminder of the humble beginnings for this sole individual who is deserving of cultural recognition merely for the impact his words and actions have had throughout human history.
The Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 1-20 (NIV)
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.