Christopher Columbus rattled the establishment. In 1492 he sailed west from Spain to discover a new trade route to the Far East, but instead he followed the stars to the Caribbean Basin.
At the time, Nicolaus Copernicus was a nineteen-year-old astronomer working on a radical theory that placed the sun at the center of the solar system and not the earth. It was a revolutionary concept because it challenged Aristotle. Scientists and philosophers held true to Aristotle’s principle that the earth was the fixed center of the universe.
Copernicus did not make many friends in religious circles either, but he persevered forward. His ideas outraged both the Catholic and emerging Protestant churches because from their perspective he was contradicting accepted theological understandings; he wasn’t just taking on Aristotle, he was attacking God’s Word. When Copernicus’s book Revolutions was published during the last year of his life it was heavily criticized from all sides.
Nearly a century later, Galileo was cautioned by churchmen and the scientific community not to defend Copernicus. Intellectual honesty caused him to disregard the warnings. In 1632, at nearly seventy years old and an invalid, Galileo published a book that held firm to the Copernican thesis. A firestorm of controversy erupted. He was immediately put on trial and remained under house arrest until his death in 1642.
1642 is an interesting date for it was the year Isaac Newton was born. The brilliant mathematician lived 1642-1727. His career probed the seams of the envelope as he proposed new angles of thought that dynamically altered conventional wisdom. It was his tremendous success with theoretical physics that finally brought the Copernican theory triumph. His contemporaries repudiated Copernicus because his viewpoints did not conform to the accumulated knowledge of the day. Though he was widely discredited in life, today Copernicus is considered the father of modern astronomy.
In all this there is a spiritual parallel. Jesus of Nazareth was rejected as messiah because he did not fit the mold the Pharisee’s had created for a messiah. The religious leaders in first-century Palestine were shortsighted and self-absorbed in the extreme for they desired an earthly warrior-king who would “restore the kingdom to Israel.”
Not much has changed in 2000 years. In our me-centric mania, we forget the infinite purposes of God embodied in Christmas; we reduce the miracle of incarnation to an orgy of consumerism. When we indiscriminately engage in the prevalent mindset of our society, in affect we love the baby and crucify the man. We want the warm sweetness associated with the child in the manger without actually acknowledging that Jesus, as the bumper sticker says, is the reason for the season.
In our glorification of prosperity we’ve exchanged eternal hope for temporal satisfaction while turning a deaf ear to the great question Christ asked: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” We do not like the sound of that because it disturbs our sense of self-worth. We are programmed to measure our value based on material wealth, so we gather and hoard for me and mine.
The Christmas Season is a prime example of our me-centric attitude. It seems that everyone hosts a party and everyone has a wish list for gifts. Decorations abound for all to see and enjoy; yet Jesus is almost nowhere to be found. How easy it has become to leave out the guest of honor at his own birthday; Jesus just does not fit into our plans or schedules.
Christmas is a holy-day to be commemorated in renewed awe; not a holiday shoe-horned in for self-gratification. Little by little, we have moved Christ from being the central focus of our celebration to being relegated to the fringe. Jesus is often rejected as Savior and Lord nowadays because he cannot be contained in the box our culture fashions for him.
However, our Everlasting Father is not easily rebuffed for he does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” As we contemplate our lives in the midst of pretty packages, may we cradle our hearts to receive the truly life-transforming message first delivered by angels to shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
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