Someone once said that you can tell the size of a boat by the size of the wake it leaves behind. An ocean liner will create and enormous tidal wave in its wake. On the other hand, a small sailboat hardly leaves a ripple. The same thing is true of a woman or a man. You can tell the greatness of people by the size of the wake they leave behind. Some people, when they’re gone, leave a tidal wave in their wake. The world is changed forever because of the impact of that one person. And some people barely leave a trace. There is nothing that indicates that they’ve passed this way.
At Christmas, all across the world, we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth whose impact is incalculably large. Consider for a moment the size of the wake Jesus left behind as a result of his birth, life, miracles, teachings, example, death, resurrection, ascension and gift of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever asked the question: What if Jesus had never been born?
Let me suggest three ways this one person changed the course of history:
Because Jesus was born, we connect religion and morality.
If you think that going to church, praying or being involved in religion ought to make someone a better person – more honest, more faithful to their marital vows, more charitable, more likely to be kind – why do you think that? Why do you think that being involved in church ought to make someone better? And, on the other hand, why do you think that someone who is involved in church and is dishonest or stingy is being a hypocrite?
At the time Jesus was born the Romans dominated the world. Roman religion had no problem with poverty, starvation, homelessness, gladiators, crucifixion, the deliberate killing of infants or adultery. In Roman religion there was no connection between offering sacrifices to the gods and being a moral person. There was no religious obligation to feed the hungry, to visit prisoners, to be honest or to be faithful to your marital vows.
It was Jesus, following the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, who pulled together religion and morality. It was Jesus who taught that if you are going to say you love God, you also ought to love your neighbor. And it was Jesus who said that we are hypocrites if we claim to love God and still cheat on our marital vows.
If Jesus had not been born, it is likely that people would continue to do religion without ever thinking that a relationship with God is designed to make us into better people.
Because Jesus was born women and girls are valued
Do you believe women and girls should be valued as much as men and boys? Where did you get that idea from? Whether you know it or not, you got it from Jesus and his early followers. Most people have no idea of the revolution in thinking about women and girls that took place because of Jesus.
The world into which Jesus was born taught that women needed to come into their marriages as virgins and be utterly faithful to their marital vows. But men operated by a totally different standard. The Roman world gave men as much sexual license as they wanted.
But Jesus said, “I’m calling my followers to sexual abstinence before marriage whether you are a man or a woman. And I’m calling men to absolute faithfulness to their marital vows as much as I call woman to faithfulness.” Before Jesus Roman widows were forced into remarriage. They weren’t allowed to hold on to their property. But Jesus and his early followers said, “Widows, you don’t have to remarry! And your property is your property.”
Women had almost no role in ancient Roman religion. But because of Jesus’ model, we have examples in the early church of women who were apostles, teachers, deacons, evangelists and prophets.
Because Jesus was born we know what God is like
Do you believe that the God we worship at Christmas is love? And that he loves all people – regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, mental or physical condition? Where did you get the idea that God is love and that God loved everyone on earth? You got it from Jesus.
At the time Jesus was born, Greek and Roman religion did not teach that God was love. Instead, Roman and Greek gods were petty, vindictive, jealous, and impulsive. These gods constantly needed to be paid off by religious rituals and sacrifices.
Even Jews, who had the Old Testament, did not think of God as love. They thought of God as holy! They thought of God as a covenant keeping God. He faithfully kept his promises and would one day give them the Messiah. And God did not love the other nations as much as he loved Israel! The notion that God is love in his essence, and his love is universal, was introduced to us by Jesus!
Jesus didn’t just teach that God is love, he showed it! And not just to religious types or those we would expect to be “in” with God. Jesus showed the love of God to outsiders – prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, children and everyone else whom the religious of that day considered to be unworthy of God’s concern.
If Jesus had not been born, the values that we most cherish – protection of victims, the equality of women, the protection of children, an understanding of what living a good life means and a clear, undistorted knowledge of God and his love – would not exist in this world. Thank God for Christmas! Thank God that Jesus was born!
This Christmas Eve, Vineyard Columbus will be hosting many Christmas services across all of our campuses. Invite someone to Christmas Eve services at Vineyard. Check our website (www.vineyardcolumbus.org) for service times.