By Jonathan Lange, guest columnist
Christmas is, without a doubt, the greatest unifying holiday on the world’s calendar. In these days of turmoil and division we cannot do better than to think on this blessed unity during these holy days.
First, consider how Christmas unifies us on a cultural level. It remains one of the few holidays that all Americans celebrate together. Globally it stands with Easter as the only two holidays that are celebrated on every continent. On December 25th of each year people from Siberia to South Africa to San Francisco set their minds on a singular event that forever changed the world.
Christ’s birth made such an impact around the globe that nearly every person alive can name the number of years since his birth without a moment’s hesitation. While scholars may quibble about whether the ancient calculations were completely accurate, it cannot be denied that the year 2020 intends to count the years since Jesus’ birth.
For all the time before Christ, civilizations marked time by the establishment of a new local kingdom. Judea might note the year as, “the 39th year of King Uzziah.” Next door, Israel had a different king; and that same year was called the first year of King Jabesh (See 2 Kings 15:13).
With rare exceptions, that is no longer the custom. Rather, nations the world over all count back to the date of Jesus’ birth. We acknowledge this every time we put the letters “A.D.” after the year. These initials stand for the Latin words “anno domini,” which are translated, “in the year of our Lord.”
This reveals the second of Christmas’ unifying qualities. It declares that Jesus is the king of all the earth. While the ancient world knew of great and sprawling empires like those of the Persians, Greeks and Romans, never was there a single man ruling over the entire globe. The birth of Christ changed all that.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6). The “King of kings and Lord of lords” was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger (see Revelation 17:14 and 19:16).
Of course, the principalities and powers of this world are always attempting to achieve a one-world government. By the exercise of raw power through vast stores of wealth, they believe that they can solve the world’s problems if only they can control one more lever of power. Yet, the more power they gain, the more misery spreads.
Jesus’ lordship is not like that. He rules not by raw power, but by self-sacrifice. The Creator was born as a man to give His life as a ransom for the sins of the world. What sets Jesus apart from every other king and lord is that he knows the true cause of the world’s division.
The hate, anger and lust that destroy and divide us are not caused by the differences among us. They are caused by the sin within us. So, the unity that Jesus brings to the world is not accomplished by the mere shuffling of power, wealth and status. The unity that is the true hope for the world is brought about by addressing the problem of sin. For Christendom, that means repentance.
This is what makes Christmas truly unifying. Unity begins when each of us, individually, stops blaming others for the evils around us. When we face up to the greed, lust, anger and ill will in our own hearts, the Christ-child comes with His forgiveness to reconcile us to all those who are around us.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it well. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” Jesus brings reconciliation not by forcing others to treat us differently, but by changing our own hearts. This permits us to love and be loved despite our sins.
When sins are real and cause real harm, forgiveness cannot be mere sentimentality. Real forgiveness comes at a high price. That is why Jesus’ lordship over the world was brought about by his own self-sacrifice. By paying the debt that we cannot pay, He reconciles us to one another by restoring what others stole from us by their sin and by restoring to others what we stole from them. This, and this alone, brings unity and good will to the world.
As you celebrate the birth of Jesus, seek out the true unity that He came to bring.
“O come, Desire of Nations, Bind in one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to Thee, O Israel.”