On Friday, we celebrate Christmas.
Tradition holds that 2,015 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of God, was born to Mary, a virgin, in the town of Bethlehem.
Modern scholars have cast reasonable doubt upon many elements of the biblical Christmas story while proving others.
Mistranslation upon mistranslation, intentional and accidental, have skewed our view of Jesus’ life. A stonemason, or possibly a carpenter or other artisan, he was probably born sometime in the spring around 6 to 4 B.C. He grew up in the small village of Nazareth.
However, the small details matter little when considering the overall significance of his life and, more importantly, his message.
The life story of this young preacher, who, in three short years, forever changed the course of human history, is still the greatest story ever told, even if you don’t believe he was the Christ. Think about it, most of the world is preparing to celebrate his birth some 2,000 years later. And not just the religious. Even nonbelievers.
While there are many spiritual and moral lessons to be found in Jesus’ life, most of those are best left to the theologians and preachers in the more than 22,000 separate churches, sects and denominations that make up the Christian faith today.
One thing, however, that can’t be ignored is that the birth, life and death of Jesus marked a significant turning point in human history. His life and teachings eventually became the cornerstone of a religious movement that has survived the test of time.
There is another lesson, as well.
In addition to everything else the story of Jesus stands for — brotherly love, redemption, and hope, as well as “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men” — it stands as a testament to the dangers of an intrusive and overbearing government engaged in continual foreign military adventures with ballooning financial problems and a growing welfare state.
From beginning to end, the story of Jesus is a cautionary tale of the dangers of big government. Now, I am writing only about the story as told in the Gospels recognizing that it might not be historically accurate in all respects. Even if historically inaccurate, though, it still serves as a warning tale.
The story begins with a villainous government. St. Joseph and his very pregnant wife were forced by big government to undergo a perilous journey. Only a big, uncaring Leviathan would force a woman ready to give birth to walk or perhaps hop on a donkey and travel 80 miles, which in those days would have taken at least four days, maybe longer given Mary’s advanced pregnancy.
Nor would this have been a safe journey. The danger of such a voyage for a pregnant woman in those primitive times is obvious. Also, there was a certain amount of lawlessness in the area as well as wild animals.
And why would they have to take such a risk? Because, according to St. Luke, Caesar Augustus declared that every person in the Roman world had to be counted.
So they risked life and limb and their unborn child for the bureaucratic state.
But it doesn’t stop there. An underlying subplot throughout the life of Jesus is the battle between heavenly authority and secular authority. Jesus, as evidence by his actions and teachings, was opposed to big government. He was libertarian in his opposition to aggression and belief in the silver and golden rules of reciprocity. The earliest Christians carried anarchic tendencies.
It was government, in the end, that executed Jesus in a horrific manner because he posed a threat to the good order of society as imagined by the government’s minions. The state also executed several of his apostles and for centuries after would occassionally execute Christians.
Jesus’s murder by big government was not the end of his message, but the beginning.
In perhaps one of history’s greatest ironies, the very government that executed him eventually made Christianity its official religion, all but ensuring its growth around the globe into the world’s largest faith.
Regardless of whether one believes in God or in the divinity of Jesus, his message of peace and love is universal and requires no faith and his birth is worthy of marking by all, even if it means the occasional religious symbol in the public space.
Merry Christmas to all, believers and nonbelievers alike.