Christmas Tidbits

Well, it’s Christmas day for western Christianity.

There are many sites out there talking about one aspect of Christmas or another, and about its pagan roots.  (A very recent blog post that does a decent overall summary is by J.M.’s History Corner).  However, this blog isn’t about any of that.  This is just some fun tidbits taken out of the gospel accounts of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth.  I haven’t completely studied out all these points, but I mention them as they are good to ponder.

  • In the genealogy listed in Matthew 1, the wording is such that it is clear that Joseph is not the father of Yeshua (Jesus): “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus (Yeshua) was born.” Matthew 1:16 (ESV)
  • We have no idea how many ‘wise’ men actually visited.  It is most likely, though, that it was, at least, a small entourage, as they were carrying some expensive gifts.
  • The priests and scribes were very learned in scripture, and knew immediately where the Messiah (Christ) was to be born.  But they were only interested in knowledge, and not experience, as shown by the fact that they never went down to Bethlehem after the wise men showed up.  Seems to me that such a monumenteous happening should illicit some sort of response.  Even King Herod had more belief then the priests as he acted on what he heard!
  • The wise men didn’t visit Yeshua (Jesus) as a baby.  Nor did they visit him when he was in the manger.  He was a child, living in a house, when they visited.  (Matthew 2:11)
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were ‘blameless’ according to the Law of God, following all of it!  I thought that it was not possible to completely follow the Law!?!  (See this post.)
  • Though the words used to describe Mary do not have to mean ‘virgin’, her own words make it clear she was.  (Luke 1:34)
  • Most of Western Christianity holds that Mary had children after Yeshua (Jesus).  Orthodoxy holds that those referred to as Yeshua’s brothers and sisters were step siblings or even cousins.  The language of the texts is, unfortunately, not absolutely clear one way or the other.
  • Was Zechariah only mute?  If so, why did people have to make signs to him, asking what he wanted to name John?  see Luke 1:62.
  • A completely plausible (and in my opinion correct) understanding of the whole ‘manger’ scene is that Mary and Joseph were offered accommodations in the inn keeper’s Sukkah (booth), as the feast of Tabernacles (or feast of booths) was under way.
  • Western and Orthodox Christianity celebrate Christmas on different days.  Not because of debate as to when it really was, but because the two are following different calendars.
  • The angels announcing the birth of Yeshua (Luke 2:8-20) is the closest thing we have in scripture to a birthday party.

I don’t actually ‘do’ Christmas.  I do, however, celebrate His birth according to the calendar God gave us, which places it during the feast of Tabernacles.

No matter what, though, there are two very good reasons for celebrating, and Christmas does (or used to) emphasize them.

Get together and get closer as a family.  Be nice to one another!

One can’t go wrong with that as a goal.

Shalom! – Yosef

 

 

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Christmas, and the Law of God

It’s Christmas time!  (No, I don’t observe Christmas, but the telling of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth in the gospels is always fun to read!)

The gospel of Luke tells of the priest Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and how they became the parents of the one called “John the Baptist.”  (See Luke 1:5-24).  At the beginning of the story this comment is made about them.

“And they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”  Luke 1:6 (ESV), [parenthetical comment mine].

I’ll admit that I had read this verse many times over the years before it hit me what it was saying.  ‘Blameless’ under “the law”???  That’s not possible, is it?  At least it isn’t possible according to most teachings.  But there isn’t any confusion about what the verse means.  They were walking blamelessly.

The confusion stems from a false idea that the law of God was given so that people could attain salvation.  But nowhere in the Bible is any such comment made or alluded to.  The law of God defines God’s standard of righteousness, and details His grace, mercy, loving kindness, and forgiveness.

Zechariah and Elizabeth could walk blamelessly because they walked according to how God said to live, and when they messed up, they sought His forgiveness and, if required, offered a sacrifice.

They were ‘blameless’ not because of perfection, but because they adhered to what God said in all aspects of life, including doing what He said when they did something intentionally or inadvertently wrong.

We need to get rid of this idea that the law of God can’t be followed.  That idea has been eroding the foundations of the church for long enough!

We can walk blamelessly, and Yeshua (Jesus) opened up that possibility to all people.  But to do so one has to first commit to completely following God and His ways.

I don’t mean that everyone has to suddenly learn and follow all the law of God upon “accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and savior.”  Paul addresses this in most of his letters, as does the council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1-35).

The walk in righteousness is a process.  Paul understood that to suddenly require someone to follow the entire law of God will lead to legalism every time.  (Legalism is the thought that one needs to follow God’s law to acquire salvation).

God’s law is perfect and is His unchanging standard of righteousness.  But there are really only 5 fundamental things required of new (gentile) believers.  Yes, I said ‘required.’  They are listed in the letter written to the gentiles by those at the council in Acts 15:1-35.  Well, they list 4 things, abstain from: blood; meat from animals strangled; from food offered to idols; and from fornication.  The fifth thing is assumed from the context: the regular hearing of God’s word.

So, walk can walk blamelessly.  And with joy knowing that Yeshua (Jesus) walks with.

Shalom!  – Yosef

 

Hanukkah!? does it have any relevance to Christians?

First, what is Hanukkah?

Well here is a super short summary.  Way back when, when Israel was ruled by another nation, that nation’s rulers decided to force Jews to follow their ways with, among other things, eating pork.  One Jewish man, and his sons, stood up and said, “No!”.  They succeeded in throwing off the oppressors for a while.  They regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, sanctified it, and started worship there again.  There is a tradition about a miracle taking place for eight days during the Temple sanctification, and from that comes the eight days of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is celebrating the restoration of the Temple back then (it’s really not about the defeat of the oppressing nation).

That’s its history.  But what about today?

I’ve heard many compare Hanukkah to Christmas.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Hanukkah is the antithesis of Christmas.  Hanukkah is about not assimilating into the world around us.  Christmas is, well, the opposite.

Hanukkah is a time to question our lives in view of removing anything that does not please our Lord and Savior, Yeshua (Jesus).

Hanukkah is about rededicating our lives to obeying our father, Yehovah (the LORD).  Even if we have to go against the crowd.  That man and his sons way back when stood up against both the oppressing nation and against their fellow Jews who were all for what the oppressor wanted.  Following God is not always (or not usually) going along with the crowd.  It may ‘cost’ something, such as giving up a tradition dear to us.

Here are a couple other tidbits about Hanukkah.

Hanukkah can truly be called a “Jewish Feast.”  The other feasts, Passover, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles, and even the Sabbath, are called by God, “His appointed times.”  (See beginning of Leviticus 23).  But Hanukkah was started by Jews to remember something good that happened: people turned back to following God as He wanted.

Yeshua (Jesus) likely observed Hanukkah.  In the book of John 10:22, we see Yeshua being at the Temple during the feast of dedication.  That’s another word for Hanukkah: feast of Dedication.

Hanukkah shows us another thing.  Yehovah (the LORD) leaves us the opportunity to make our own traditions and holidays, as long as they glorify Him, and don’t include the ways of the nations.

So, for the next week, be thinking about your life and your traditions.  Is there any place where something needs to be cleaned out and your life rededicated to God?  It’s supposed to be a joyous time, and it is a joy when we find that our God loves us so much that He will show us how to make our lives more pleasing to Him!

Shalom!   – Yosef

 

 

Christmas vs. Hanukkah

The internet is full of reasons why the one holiday is better then the other and vice versa.  But there is one difference that most simply ignore, and that difference is the core of the issue.

Christmas is all about assimilation.  Taking in practices of many people so as to be acceptable to as many people as possible.  Morphing to be relevant.

Hanukkah is all about resisting assimilation.  Staying pure.

It is written in the Bible, in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 12 verse 30, “…do not ask about their gods, saying, ‘how did these nations serve their gods?  I want to do the same. You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.”  There are other verses stating the same principle: don’t assimilate.

So, which holiday pleases Yehova (or Yahweh), God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

– Yosef