Revisiting the Christ in Christmas

It is the season of nativity plays all across the world. In the run up to Christmas, children, and their unfortunate parents, are pulled to a stage to portray a well-known albeit poorly understood story. This writer went one step further this year, from attending such a play to starring in one. As the Angel Gabriel, I had the enviable job of announcing the incredulous — a Virgin is to conceive and birth a son — credibly enough to be believed by cast and audience. Fiction for some, an interesting tale for others, and a source of wondrous joy for others still.

The story of Jesus has baffled many and it is hard to understand, why seeing as he is one of the most researched characters in history. If the accounts of the gospel writers are accurate, and there is research to show that they are, then Jesus was either crazy, a fraud or omniscient. His words distressed some of his audience so significantly they sought to seize and kill him multiple times. If he was simply mad, then I don’t suspect anyone would have paid much attention. Who, after all, chases after a harmless lunatic? If he was a fraud, then he should have been caught out sooner rather than later. The Gospel accounts state that twelve men, and some, left their day jobs to follow him night and day for three and a half years. Then, they put their lives in danger afterwards to tell his story. Many died telling that story. No one sacrifices their life for a lie. If, however, he was omniscient, then we should have been listening since yesterday.

I have always considered myself something of a truth seeker. Those who profess to speak the truth have always been worth listening to. Truth is one word that featured quite prominently in Jesus’ more famous descriptions of himself. It is one thing for someone to profess to speak the truth, it is quite another for that person to declare himself the truth. Yet, the Carpenter’s Son, as some called him, would make many a bold assertion about his identity. As a teenager exploring the boundaries of the faith of the family I was born into, I did ask many questions of Jesus. On one such evening, while at University and walking back from my lectures, I looked up into the night sky and asked, “Lord, where are you? Why don’t you make yourself more apparent?” I wish I could say I heard a voice from the sky saying, “Thou shalt do your homework”. What I got however was something less dramatic. It was a simple thought which basically said, “Are you seeking without that which is within?” It is a profound thought which explains the wondrous joy for those others at this time of the year.

The story of man has been a search for God. Over millennia, we have gone from discovering what we thought was God to creating him. Man’s idea of god has ranged from the morning sun to statues of bronze to the modern day concepts of science or ideology. What the statues and science have in common is their limitation in the fixing of the human soul. A god worth its name would inspire faith in men to do more good, give hope to those who had none, and love those who were unworthy.

It is these ideas that Jesus spoke of with jarring conviction. Jesus spoke of a God who couldn’t wait to be reconciled with his creation. The God he presented was and is unlike anything or anyone ever described. He would forgive the repentant regardless of what crimes had been committed and give them a fresh start; He would see beyond the actions of men to their hearts, testing their motives and proving their authenticity; He would chase after the one lost sheep and bring it home. And in keeping with the message he preached, Jesus would turn no one away. He would strengthen weak arms, restore lost lives, and love those who would murder him. His story is tragic, yet joyful; hopeless yet full of hope. If ever there was a God man needed, this was it. And what’s more, Jesus would declare that man no longer needed to seek God. God had found man. And He would come into the accepting heart and be to Him what nothing else on earth ever could — a friend for now and all time.

Ordinarily, the story of a baby born in a manger 2000 years ago should not merit a mention in the family tree, not to speak of the Bible. Yet, this was no ordinary baby. Love was the name of his game and he would play it until his final breath. Love your neighbour as yourself, he would preach. One of his disciples would later write, “God is Love”. As we celebrate the season with friends and family, and consider what we feel towards those dearest and closest to us, let us remember the One who thinks more of us than mere masses of carbon and consider his gift of love to us. The Carpenter’s Son is still worth considering.

 

 Osita Egbubine is a believer in the capacity of every human being to lead a fulfilling, purpose-driven life. He tweets via @ositane.

 

Also by Osita Egbubine: Beware the “Little” Vices and How a Son Stands

Guest Post: How a Son Stands

Forgive my ‘presumptiveness’ but I do believe that there is nothing about our lives that has not been covered in the Book of books. The age is irrelevant- Classical, Middle, Early Modern or Post Cold War. There is not one issue we face today to which the Bible has not provided a true and effective response. The sceptic would call it a fraud of a book, created by men to advance selfish goals. Yet, that book still heals hearts and guides minds today as it did when the words were first written. That says something to us today, who are debating the ethics of stem cell research from human embryos as it did to men desiring to stone a woman to death as part of a scheming plot to trap a Preacher. The principles of creation and the story of salvation are immutable, indestructible truths that will last for millennia more.

As an individual living each day the best I can as I press towards the prize that is my heart’s vision, I have often wondered how to always Stand. My being human means I am not infallible but as a son, I’d rather have more scenarios of standing in victory than staggering up from defeat. And again, the Book provides answers.

It comes in the way of three tests of a man at his weakest- emotionally, mentally and physically. It comes to Bethlehem’s son in the arid Palestinian desert. The Preacher had just gone through roughly six weeks of food abstinence only to be presented with the chance to break his fast, at the end of this exercise with something he could very well do. Yet, the challenge was not the act of turning stone into bread. It was the fact that his adversary had qualified the act by calling into question his identity.

We do not fully understand what was at stake with this temptation. A few weeks earlier, this same Preacher had received a divine confirmation of the Father’s approval of his person and mission. To then ask him to turn stone into bread as evidence of his sonship was to draw him into a place where his heart and mind would succumb to doubt. Imagine what doubt would have done to the ministry of Jesus. There would in short have been no ministry. All his bodacious declarations of self and authenticity that the apostle John covers beautifully in his gospel would have been non-existent. This ‘Validation by Performance’ is the first temptation many a son experience. Many sons are natural achievers with an inborn drive and passion to succeed. Sons embrace the earthly merit based system of accomplishment. They are firm believers in their capacity to do. To be challenged this way then by the enemy would have played right into his natural instincts to let everyone including himself and the enemy know that ‘the king is here’. But the Lord was above needing to prove his identity by a test.  He retorted calmly – I don’t live by what I am able to do, I live by what my Father speaks to me. In other words, it is not my accomplishments that make me, it is my Father’s words that do.

Next, The Preacher is taken to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world in their scintillating glory. I bet he got a HD viewing of the Roman royal tables and feasts in Egypt. Not an easy sight for a man who had just subjected himself to a most intense personal sacrifice. Knowing who and what he was, he could have allowed himself get drawn into a discussion on how to get all these kingdom’s glories.  This was then the second test, a “Validation by Possession” challenge. The Lord however was the wiser as to where his personhood lay, not in the glories of earth’s many kingdoms but in the servitude of the Father. “Worship the Lord only”, he responded, “and him only shall you serve”. We must remember that while it is in the nature of the Father-Son relationship to have resources bequeathed to us, it does not define whether that relationship exists or not. Nor should it ever be in doubt that even where ownership isn’t a present reality, it is in the Father’s script to have it transferred eventually.

Finally, the Lord is led to the pinnacle’s temple and asked to prove the truth of the Word by throwing himself down and having the angels, as written, bear him up. This ‘Validation by Privilege’ challenge presents the ultimate test for a man of status. He had every right to feel privileged; afterall he had just received confirmation from Heaven of his special standing. He had also just pulled through a biological miracle in surviving without food for so long. Surely, with all he had done, he could expect such privileges. But a son does not ride on status. He rides on principles. Thus, he reminded the wily foe, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’. Now that’s a classic. Not even in this most dire of circumstances would his sonship be proven by his receipt of any preferential treatment. Said another way, ‘…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped’. Again nothing to prove. He was who he was already and didn’t need to test the efficacy of the word to prove it.

And that my friends is how we stand, by being fully aware of our identity as sons without needing any performance, possessions or divine perks to prove it. To the one who shows that neither of these defines their knowledge of self, to that one shall great power and influence be made available.

Indeed, Identity is everything!

PS: References to ‘son’ are gender neutral

 

Osita Egbubine is a believer in the capacity of every human being to lead a fulfilling, purpose-driven life. He is currently pursuing a Finance degree in the UK and tweets via @ositane.

Guest Post: Beware the “Little” Vices

Peter Russo

It’s amazing how Hollywood binds audiences to the characters in movies. It remains the most stellar and surreal of art forms. Movie directors are able to infuse those characters into our subconscious and we inevitably have such a tryst with them that years on it is impossible to break away. Who could forget Michael in The Godfather and our journey with him as he morphed from naïve young son to god of the mafia? Don’t we all remember our walk with Frodo as he made his way through the middle Kingdoms in the Lord of the Rings? Or Walter Whyte as he moved from victim to victor to villain in Breaking Bad? I would be the first to admit my fragility when it comes to the force of Hollywood’s storytelling.

Frodo

Consequently, Hollywood has become for me a true source for inspiration in all fields. Neo in The Matrix taught me the power of self-belief, Charlie Simms in Scent of a Woman taught me loyalty, and Michael Glass in Basic Instinct 2 was a perfect physical example of “Let him that stands take heed lest he falls”. What’s not to love about Hollywood? Even scripture is visualisable (and that’s not speaking about the false Noah with Russell Crowe).

One of the finest lessons I have learnt though is the danger of permitting “little” vices. And the most recent example of that is Peter Russo in House of Cards. A fine young Congressman from Philly, Peter has the energy and passion to become the President of the country and yet, he struggles with alcohol and women. At the cusp of his finest moment, he flunks a radio interview as he is inebriated and becomes so broken by the pain he has caused his family that he eventually ends up dead (let me spare you the details). As usual, I am gutted by his death; it seems like I have lost a real friend. How could he not show a bit more discretion the night before a major interview? How could the love of a glass affect his judgment so significantly?

As someone who has known a thing or two about dealing with “little” vices, I can relate to the battle Peter fought and lost so spectacularly. “Little” vices may be permitted by the mediocre soul without much consequence but they are the difference between glory and shame for the one who dreams of greatness. Like little serpents, they do not make their presence known, do not disturb, show up only once in a while and grow in size with every indulgence. From hiding in a corner of the room, they eventually sit behind the door, then they share the bed, then they grow so large until they seize the room. Eventually, they push the subject into the cold and leave that soul weary, alone and wrecked.

There are not many graver errors to be made in a life than to allow these vices have a place in the room. A Hitler-like ruthlessness has to be applied to them. They must be killed at every notice, they must not be allowed to fester, or be granted accommodation. Occasionally, good souls are tempted to think that a small vice may be permitted but that is as safe a ground to stand on as the head of a python. Little vices were Samson’s undoing and Judas’ hell. No soul should suffer them to coexist.

These vices show up in different forms- drugs, alcohol, sex, power, greed, naïveté, sloth, scorn, vulgarity, vengefulness, etc. In fact, if a full life is one that comprises mastery, decency, compassion, worship and graciousness, a vice is would be anything that takes away from your capacity to live such a life. What more? They don’t always start off presenting much of a problem. The casual heart will not take note but the watchful soul will soon begin to identify them. The best identifier of a vice is the feeling of helplessness that comes when it craves expression. It is the worst feeling ever, knowing the good to do and being unable to do it. Ultimately, such a path leads on to regret, depression and ill health.

take the foxes

Thankfully, it isn’t a peculiar fight. Most humans fight one or the other and many win. Make no mistakes about it; it is one which in many cases has to be won daily. But victory is possible and a fight against the vice should begin with the knowledge that it can be defeated. Three simple steps can provide the support needed for an effective fight.

Talk to Someone- A confidant would be great, preferably someone with a bit more experience on life, either by reason of their age or vocation; or simply someone who is important to you. Sharing the challenge is a critical first step to winning. Because of the relationship between you and this person, you are better able to weather the storm and commit.

Take Responsibility- There is nothing more frustrating than an uncommitted soul. Dealing with a vice means standing up daily and ensuring you don’t get beat. It means building an atmosphere that supports your goal; it means devising strategies to nullify the impulses. The creation of the right atmosphere would more often than not simplify the task. How exhausting would it be to try to deal with an alcohol vice by hanging out at the bar every day?

Focus on the goal- As important as strategies are, they are not sufficient enough motivation. The goal has to be the motivation. Imagine having no skeletons in the cupboard, a life free of pesky flies that leave you going nuts; Imagine being in the driver’s seat, living the full life, having none of your free will or power taken away from you; Imagine being in peace with all men, insofar as lies with you of course; imagine having the grace to be able to seize every opportunity, extend kindness to every human being, shine in every situation. If that sounds good to you, then let that be the motivation.

Life’s vices are myriad. They have stolen the dream of many men and women and left them in tatters. No human should have to fall to these. By finding a partner in your fight, being firm and responsible about dealing with them; and focussing on the goal, everyone can get the snakes out. And whatever happens, it is worth remembering that a heartfelt confession to heaven of a stumble is all it takes to get back on the road to victory.

My friend Peter Russo is gone but I am sure the grief will last only as long as it takes to hear Hollywood’s next story.

 

Osita Egbubine is a believer in the capacity of every human being to lead a fulfilling, purpose-driven life. He is currently pursuing a Finance degree in the UK and tweets via @ositane.