Jesus in the Bleak Mid-winter
by the Northern Churchman
There is only one story in the four gospels that we can reasonably assume takes place in December – and it’s not the Christmas story! We find it in John chapter 10, when Jesus visits Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights (Hannukah).
Provision for this festival is not written in the Old Testament; it is not one of the feasts required by the Law of Moses. It has a later provenance, dating from the period between the Testaments. Its history can be found in the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees, which Protestants and Jews do not regard to be canonical Scripture. We might therefore wonder at Jesus’ attendance at this feast. Surely he came to our world as the obedient Son of the Father, careful to keep the Law of God so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled? Why then, is he giving time to a non-biblical festival, joining in celebrations that are based on mere tradition rather than the Word of God?
As a Jewish man, Jesus participated in the culture and celebrations of his time and of his people. By living a full life, he was not disobeying God, nor dishonouring the Bible. Indeed, in John 10 verses 22-37 we see that he became the focus at the feast, with questions being asked about his very identity as God’s Son. Jesus was able to use the customs of his time to reach people and teach the truth of God.
How Jesus spent his December should inspire our Decembers. Some Christians consider it wrong to celebrate or acknowledge Christmas, since it is not mandated in the Bible. Yet we see how Jesus could keep a feast not required in Scripture without displeasing his Father. It would be odd for Christians not to celebrate when the rest of society is. We have a better reason – the best reason – for celebrating, and not to wild excess or with mawkish sentiment.
Let us consider how we can make the most of Christmas parties, carolling and seasonal cheer. December is the one time in the year when people often choose to come through Church doors for the familiarity of the Carol Service. Are there friends and neighbours we might invite? A Carol Service invitation seems much safer than an invitation to church at another time of the year. Are there people we might befriend at Christmas events? A person to talk to over a mince pie? Are there gospel-based courses in the New Year we can mention now that we are getting into the habit of inviting people?
It is the most wonderful time of the year, if we have a focus on Jesus and a desire for people to know him and his love. The season brings opportunities. Let Jesus be the talk of the Feast as he was in John 10. Let us find ways of using our traditions to prompt people to ask the all-important question: Who is he in yonder stall?