It’s been said that it’s not the dates of a person’s birth or death that are important; it’s the dash between the two: What did they do while they were on the planet?
As I witness the annual frenzy surrounding Jesus’s birth—weeks of preparations, billions spent on decorations, office parties, gifts, wrapping paper and bows—I can’t help but wonder: What happened to his dash?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Jesus is not the reason for this season. Nowhere in the scriptures is it said that Jesus was born on December 25.
What we do know is that it’s the same birthday as mythological gods and saviors who were born of virgin mothers. They all healed the sick, raised the dead, were brutally murdered at a young age by those who took issue with their talents and teachings, and were resurrected in three days.
We also know that pagans celebrated the all-important winter solstice at this time of year, with decorated trees and other vestiges of modern celebrations. In fact, these grand festivities posed the greatest hurdle for those who were trying to convert pagans to Christianity. The Jews had Hanukkah in December. The pagans had Solstice. The Christians had, well, nothing.
Wait! We can still have a party! How about if we call it Christmas?
Even if we don’t care to bone up on our ancient history or mythology, those who actually read the Bible know that there are conflicting narratives of Jesus’s birth. The Book of Luke, written by a gentile physician who wanted to convert gentiles to Christianity, claims that Jesus was born in a Bethlehem barn.
As the story goes, Jesus’s very pregnant mother’s husband, Joseph, made her ride 80 miles from their home in Nazareth on a donkey so that he could pay his taxes in Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? Because Joseph was of the lineage of David, and Hebrew scriptures had prophesied that the savior would emerge from that lineage and that village. But Jesus’s father was Invisible Spirit, God; so what was Luke’s point, exactly?
The Book of Matthew, written by a Jew who wanted to convert Jews to Christianity, totally disagrees with Luke’s barn birth narrative. Matthew says that Jesus was born in Joseph and Mary’s Bethlehem home. It is to this home that the brilliant star guided three wise men.
Archeologists recently discovered homes in that region, built during that era. They looked more like little caves, and were very close to each other. That starlight was either laser-focused or the wise men knocked on several doors before finding the savior in Matthew’s story.
Either confusion or compromise has resulted in a plethora of manger scenes and school plays that include the wise men and the star. Heaven forbid that future generations would think that Jesus was born twice, in different parts of town.
Aside from agreeing that Jesus was crucified, the Bible’s death narratives are just as argumentative, which to this Christian lends credence to the claim that it’s really not the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth or death that matter, it’s his dash. Most Christians disagree, some more vehemently than others.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I’m not really Christian unless I believe Jesus’s birth narrative. Which one, exactly?
And, they say, I’m really not Christian unless I believe that only three years into Jesus’s “good news” ministry, God had him murdered in a manner that can only be described as satanic. Let me get this straight: Our Father is going to brutalize me eternally unless I believe that He inhumanely subjected the innocent Jesus to sadistic torture instead of me. Yes, they say, and if I was really a Christian, I’d be grateful.
I generally don’t celebrate when an innocent person is executed so that the guilty can go free. Instead, I celebrate a God that is bigger, better and less barbaric than portrayed by ancient scribes for whom live sacrifice was normal. I also celebrate Jesus’s dash, which overshadows the curious narratives about his birth and death.
During his dash, the religious rebel and rabbi Jesus taught us how to heal ourselves and our relationships. He taught us not to judge or condemn each other; he urged us to love our enemies and love ourselves. He taught us to forgive 70 times seven. He also taught that God is the unconditionally loving father of prodigal children who celebrates our return, even after an errant lifetime away from home. He taught that he is One with the Father, and we are One with him.
In our focus on Jesus’s beginning and end, we’ve given short shrift to the dash. In the dash, Jesus cautioned against putting new wine in old skins: Combining the ancients’ view of God as vengeful, punitive, angry, judgmental, distant, male, genocidal and hard-to-please with the “good news” that Our Father is spirit, is love, is forgiveness, is within. As a result , we’ve created a bi-polar God who loves us—but will satanically brutalize us if we don’t toe the line.
Many Christians I know believe that it’s not enough to live a life that emulates the lessons Jesus taught. Good people will be sent to hell and robbers, thieves and murders who confess with their mouths that they believe the birth and death narratives will be spared God’s horrific punishment.
Perpetrating beliefs such as that not only demonizes God; it dishonors the good news of Jesus’s wholly empowering dash.