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?

Christmas Tree

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.

Nativity Creche

Creches tend to combine the conflicting birth stories

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.

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11 Responses to What happened to Jesus’s dash?

  1. Emma Young says:

    First let me say, the Bible, although inspired by God, was written by men – men are fallible. Secondly, in ancient Africa we know there were Griots. These people told history orally from generation to generation. Third, neither Matthew, nor Luke (nor Mark or John for that matter) were actually present at Jesus’ birth. Matthew and John met Jesus when he was about 30 years old (at the beginning of his ministry). They may have learned bits and pieces from him about his birth, and they reported on his ministry first-hand. Mark was a disciple of Peter’s, so what he wrote, he probably learned from Peter, and this was well after Jesus’ death. Luke was a disciple of Paul (formerly Saul, who was converted after Jesus’ death). He gives the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth, probably because he was a physician and concerned with things like that. Why did Joseph go to Bethlehem to register? Because all citizens had to go and register in their hometown. To the writer it fulfilled prophesy – but to Joseph and Mary, it was the law. Secondly, Luke records that Jesus was born in a manger. It doesn’t say the family continued to live in a barn. I’m sure they located a place to live between the time the shepards went and saw him in the manger, went back and told everyone, meanwhile the wisemen came from the East and began asking around, because they had seen the star, and the news eventually got
    back to Herod who called for the wisemen, and secretly called for them, then sent them to Bethlehem and traveled by foot (there were no planes, trains, buses, or cars back them). Herod sent out the word to search and destroy any child 2 years or under (“according to the time he had learned from the wise men”) – so we figure the child was somewhere close to 2 years old by then, plenty of time for the family to move out of the barn – especially since they had decided to live there for the time being. But in the end – what difference did it really make????
    Loving the lively discussions you bring up. 🙂

  2. Emma Young says:

    God didn’t punish Jesus, it was man, specifically the Jews with their warped sense of righteousness back then, who believed that the only way the “true Messiah” would come is if all of the Jewish people were perfect, free from any sin, and they felt that Jesus, calling himself the son of God, was commiting heresay, and thus represented sin that must be extricated from the Jewish nation. So they crucified him. Yes, it was prophesied. Yes, God allowed it. Was it so the guilty could go free? I didn’t interpret it in that way. Four-hundred years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that God would send a Savior, a Messiah, to take away the sin of the world. Go back even further to the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve that if they sinned they would die (the wages of sin are death); but although God hates sin, He loves man, so he made a way in which man could reconcile himself by to God, by sacrificing an innocent lamb (burnt offerings). As time went on, Jacob had 12 sons that represented 12 tribes.
    Only the High Priests from the tribe of Levite (Leviticus) could do the annual sin offering, taking the lamb and sacrificing it before the altar of God. Anyway, Isaiah (and other prophets) prophesied that there would one day be a perfect lamb, born without sin (because our blood comes from our father, not our mother, therefore he could not be born of man because all men are born with the “original” sin of Adam) (Is a virgin birth possible through God who created the process of birth and therefore can alter that process at any time and in any way he sees fit?). – so Jesus was born and throughout his ministry he prophesied about the way he would die. Many Christians, like yourself, whose faith is strong enough to ask the hard questions, and to examine the scriptures and look beyond the words into the real history and meanings, can and should question these things – but there are those “babes in Christ” whose faith is still fragile, and so they don’t question, they just know that Isaiah said, “he was wounded for our trangression, bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his stripes we are healed.” I, personally, have witnessed miracles when Christians repeated those words as they prayed about a terminally ill person “by his stripes, you are healed.” John called him the “lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world.” Paul declared that “the wages of sin are death, but the Gift of God (salvation through Jesus) is eternal life.” Last night my brother had a heart attack. I called everyone to pray. I sat in that hospital waiting room declaring over and over that by the stripes of Jesus he is healed. Today, my brother is still in the hospital taking tests. So far, they have found nothing and he is feeling fine.

  3. Emma Young says:

    Pat, One last thing then I’ll get off my soap box. I just wanted to post this quote from C.S. Lewis, who said it best. C.S. Lewis was a German scientist (some say he was Brithish, but he was one or the other) and avowed atheist, who decided he was going to use all of his research skills and knowledge to prove once and for all that God did not exist. Through his research, he converted himself, became a renowned theologian and wrote some of the best books on Christianity ever published. In his book, “Mere Christianity” he says this:
    , “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, The MacMillan Company, 1960, pp. 40-41.)

  4. Hal Hurst says:

    You have a good point concerning the dash. Unfortunately the spiritual development of many Christians seems to be arrested at the point at which they could get out of going to Sunday school.

    So you have the caricature being perpetuated and refined generation after generation, and religious practice limited to things which can capture a child’s imagination. Christmas? Heck yeah! Bring on Santa and the reindeer! Advent? What’s that? Easter- more like it- especially if you are able to attend an Easter Vigil, where the history of God’s covenant is told in story and song; Mardi Gras (the last day to party before the fasting season of Lent)? I’m in! but Lent, no thanks, if it requires sincere self-examination and turning away from our habitual focus on instant gratification.

    We Christians on the whole have cheated ourselves of the appreciation of Jesus’ message and the idea of emulating him in our lives, expecting to reap rewards without investment. If in spiritual matters we head straight for the dessert, like the spiritual children we have become, no wonder so many of us are spiritually sick.

  5. Thanks, Emma. As my executive producer would say in the newsroom: You buried your lead. If I hadn’t read your entire comment, I would have missed your mention of your brother’s heart attack. I am holding him and your entire family in Light, in support of his divine and eternal soul.

    As always, I appreciate your comments. I know how difficult it is to acknowledge that Bible is written by men, based on oral tradition and reflects human error, mistranslation and misunderstanding–and then quote the parts we believe to be true. But what choice do we have? 🙂

  6. @Hal: Thanks, you remind me that in our humanness, we have failed to see our divinity. 🙂

  7. Emma Young says:

    Pat, let me clarify what I was saying. The Bible, although inspired by God was written by men – men are fallible. Does that mean that they lied? No, at least that’s not what I meant. It’s just that they don’t always go back and check all the fine details. Would a God-inspired book that lasted over 2,000 years and is still a best-seller be chock full of lies? I doubt it. I believe the Bible to be true. I believe that there may be some mistakes in the translation for many reasons – which does not mean that it is basically untrue. Remember, the original New Testament was written in Hebrew, and by the time King James called for a translation, most of the original Jews were in Diaspora, and many no longer spoke the language. Then, there are some Hebrew words that would take a phrase as opposed to one word to be translated into English. So many Bible translations use the closest phrase. One example is the Hebrew word “to be in awe of” which translates into English as “fear” – which in English means “to be afraid of.” So whereas the original writers admonished us to be in awe of God, many Bible readers think we are supposed to fear God.

  8. Nope, I wasn’t saying that they lied. They were speaking the truth as they knew it, and sometimes according to their political leanings.

    The book frequently reveals that what we now know about astronomy, history, genetics, geography, meteorology and a number of other fields was not known then. God, on the other hand, is omniscient.

    And frankly, if the book is true and God solves problems by killing his children singularly or en mass–and tells us to solve problems by killing people, I am not in awe; I am in fear.

  9. Saint says:

    You sure know how to start a discussion. This one is very timely.(see article I sent to you and feel free to quote in the future). It is good that you mentioned the various religious figures in pre-Christian history that exemplify the principle and the whole point of the teachings of Jesus which make up the dash. The legend and story of Ausar, Auset, and Horus is almost identical to the historic story of Jesus. In the Ausarian Religion of ancient KMT (Kemet, currently called Egypt) the main idea is that we were one with GOD. This is why in the famous Papyrus of Ani( best known as the Book of the Dead), the scribe Ani
    always refers to himself as Ausar Ani. Which is similar to saying Christ-Jesus. A study of ancillary documents about the life of Jesus give much credance to the possibility that much of the Jesus’s training comes from these earlier teachings. The point being that the message of Jesus’s oneness with GOD is one we can all live by. Jesus never said that he was GOD…it is believed that he said that the Kingdom of God is within and that when you see me you see the Father…He also is reputed to have said to his disciples that they would do even greater things than he did. Clear evidence that the whole point of the Christian story is that all things are possible when we recognize our own connection to GOD and not seperation from it.

    Of course what we call Christmas has become mostly a commercial excuse to spend money, but to true believers it can and is a time to refect on the great lesson of the life story of Christ-Jesus. That is the Dash…..Have a blessed Holiday Season. Peace, Saint

  10. @Saint: Thanks so much for the context!

  11. @Emma: I love you; I know that you have engaged in Bible study and I respect your feedback. But I have a couple of observations:

    You suggest that there was a possible two-year time lapse between Jesus’s birth in the barn (Luke) and the wise men’s appearance at his parents’ home in Bethlehem (Matthew). Matthew 2:4 says, “So [Herod] gathered together all the high priests and the scribes of all the people, and he kept asking them where the Christ would be born.

    This does not indicate a time lapse–and explains why the Magi are present soon after the birth, even if the creches place them in the wrong location.

    In addition, Jesus was never colloquially known as Jesus of Bethlehem. He was Jesus of Nazareth, so the likelihood that he or his parents actually lived
    there is slim.

    Plus, Bible scholars say that the oldest book of the New Testament was written by Mark, not by Matthew. Both Matthew and Luke lifted major portions of Mark’s work for their own books, which is why we note the repetition, almost verbatim, in some sections.

    Scholars point out that the Book of Mark was written between 50-60 years after Jesus’s death. Matthew was written about five years later, and scholars say that gives him enough time to have encountered Mark’s work and copied large blocks of it to aid his effort to convert Jews to Christianity.

    The Book of Luke was written approximately five years after Matthew’s–again, after Jesus’s crucifixion. None of them knew him. It’s not as if Jesus told either of him about his birth or birthplace.

    What’s interesting is that the source book, Mark, doesn’t include a birth narrative. Matthew and Luke added their own–making sure that the facts correlated with Hebrew prophesy so that they could convince their constituents that Jesus was the Messiah.

    Do we become transfixed on the birth narratives or on the “dash,” the lessons this great rabbi taught us about building a closer relationship with the God who dwells within? Does believing that God is a filicidal maniac who demands that we satanically wash ourselves in the blood of an innocent man enhance that relationship? Or must we believe that God does things that Love simply would not do?

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