Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Holy Days

One might have thought that the secular-sophist culture's concerted effort to marginalize "Christmas" in favor of the vapid and politically-correct "Holidays" was insulting enough (it's being done in the name of "tolerance," of course). Are there several holidays in the season? Of course. And in a pluralistic society, let's respect them all. What I take issue with, though, is this unknown "Holiday" that merchants want me to buy for. "This Holiday, buy her a-" "Have a Happy Holiday." This started with good intentions, to be inclusive. And generally, I think we all know which particular "holiday" is usually meant, though it is rapidly becoming a merchants' "holiday" characterized by snowflakes, snow figures, elves, bells, reindeer, penguins and polar bears - anything winter, but never anything Christmas. The White Witch of Narnia has cast the land into a freeze where "it is always winter but never Christmas."

There is little comfort in knowing that "holidays" is a short form of "Holy Days," which these days of Advent truly are. In a small act of concession, the television channels are beginning to present programs on the Christian faith just in time for the season. The problem is this: some programs are determined to discredit Christianity. The History Channel ran a piece last year largely meant to dismiss the idea of Christ's physical resurrection (yes, that's Easter, but why miss a chance to bash Christians and disabuse them of their un-scientific superstitions?). Expert after expert on the program argued that Jesus did not physically arise from the Tomb but he "appeared to" devout (and disillusioned, distraught, disturbed) followers in "visions" and dreams so real that they thought he was physically returned. As they reported their dreams, people took it the wrong way, the stories were repeated until Presto! A myth of the resurrection resulted.

OK, let me tease this out: Were the first disciples, both men and women, disillusioned, distraught, and disturbed? Of course - they believed Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Anointed King promised in the Scriptures, except they were expecting the promised Davidic King who would restore a political kingdom, not the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 whose "kingdom is not of this world." Despite His telling them three times clearly about His coming rejection, death, and rising, His betrayal and crucifixion sent them into fearful hiding.

But what's this bit about wishful dreams and hopeful visions? The "experts" believe the followers were overwhelmed by what-might-have-been fantasies. This can sound plausible to the uninformed. The funny thing is, these experts appeal to I Corinthians 15 (this letter of Paul is one of the oldest and certainly one of the undisputably authentic historical records of the Early Church). They assert that the words "appeared to" or "was seen by" is a way of referring to visions and dreams, "a common middle Eastern phenomenon." Granted, it was common. But that can't be what happened here. Why not? Read the text yourself: were such visions experienced by a dozen (or probably more) people all at once (as in I Cor 15:5) or by a large crowd of 500 ALL AT ONCE (as reported in the next line, I Cor 15:6)? Hardly. And this also excludes the extraordinary passages where the risen Jesus tells His followers to touch His wounds and prepare Him a meal which he eats (Luke 24) or where He prepares a beach barbeque in the presence of people who did not expect Him (John 21).

Look - the reason these so-called experts cannot read the historical record plainly is that they don't want to. It is an issue of the will, not the intellect. The resurrection of Christ is an historically verifiable event. How about the Birth of Christ, which we celebrate this season? There are, admittedly, a few more gaps and difficulties in the details of the historical record about it. But there is no doubt about what was involved, as John says: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory."

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