Christmas – washing away our stains

When I was at theological college, I studied two languages, biblical Hebrew and biblical Greek. I have to make the distinction of ‘biblical’ in regards to Hebrew and Greek, because the Hebrew from which our Old Testament is translated is different to the Hebrew that an Israeli would speak today. The modern Hebrew may or may not be different to Yiddish, and is definitely different to Aramaic, which Jesus also spoke. Like wise with biblical Greek, also called Koine (meaning colloquial) Greek, which is different from Modern Greek, which is again different from Classical Greek. This is not unusual for English speakers. We identify Classical English, as in Shakespeare, perhaps, and modern English, not to mention the variation between English in England, Australia and the United States, nor to discount the difference between the various generations. Latin is different because it is no longer a spoken language. Although still having a place in Law, Theology and Medicine, Latin remains classical. It is, therefore, a dead language because it is not spoken it does not have opportunity to change. Contrary, but not limited to, Hebrew, Greek and English, are living languages because, by spoken use, words are transformed or meaning develops. Meanings of words may even change or, as the examples of ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’, may come to mean something of the opposite. I have noticed two words that have undergone a subtle change of meaning. The first is more telling in a recent advertisement for Soda Stream where the actor who plays Stephanie Hoyland in the evening soap, Neighbours, says something about a soft drink, ‘I make it myself so I know its fresh’. What the!… A soft drink, purchased from a supermarket, stored as a concentrate, loaded with sugar, artificial flavourings and colourings, to which your own chemically purified tap water is added, after it has been infused with the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is ‘fresh’! In terms of food, I remember when fresh meant, ‘not canned or frozen; not preserved by pickling, salting, drying, etc; not deteriorated’. I remember, too, when a stain, in terms of clothing, was a permanent ‘discolouration produced by foreign matter’. When you washed the clothing, the dirty mark; stains do not come out, that is what makes a dirt mark a stain. Today, it seems, a stain means any discolouration on your clothing before you put it into the wash. Of course your stain removal product is going to work, because it is not yet a stain, it is just a dirt mark on your clothing, or carpet, or teeth, or soap residue on your shower screen. You know you are getting old when you start to complain about the way young people speak, the poverty of grammar in the newspaper, and find spelling mistakes, even though spelling was your worst subject in primary school, as my mum reminded me the other day. Perhaps I should just get a life and accept that the language I speak is a living language and even I, surely not, am a co-conspirator in its transformation. I blame the advertisement writers. (I think they hold more power to change the nature of our society than just cause us to purchase their client’s product.) We are complicit in their social transformation because we choose to believe their words through television and movie actors more than we believe our politicians (well that may be legitimate), more than we believe in those who are charged with changing our society, and more than we believe God spoken through Jesus Christ. Experts rightly tell us that our junk food lifestyle is creating a health crisis; we need to get healthy. Therefore, we are turning to fresh and nutritious foods. The advertisers redefine ‘fresh’ and promote their junk food, ‘I know it’s fresh because I made it myself’, or in another ad, ‘This [pre-made, pre-cooked, vacuum-packed] lasagne is fresh, not frozen’. We are told in this competitive world that first impressions are important. So we want to look good and we hate stains, so the advertising writers redefine ‘stain’ and promote a product to remove a dirt mark that would probably come out in a normal wash cycle. The title of ‘Christmas’ is no exception to this conspiracy. Now I do not want to denounce Santa, or shriek about commercialism and materialism, condemn gift giving, or jump up and down about the amount of food we eat and the amount of alcohol that we drink, I do not want to expose the myth about children and families coming together as a part of our celebrations of Christmas. Apart from the abuse of alcohol (and perhaps too much food and credit card debt), these are all good and important expressions of our celebrations of Christmas. However, we have allowed these means to celebrate to define the celebration and this leaves the way open for some people to challenge the very concept and place of Christmas in our schools and society. Having said that, you will not find ‘Christmas’ in the bible. You will find Christ in the bible, although that does not mean that you can use his name as a swear word. You will not, however, find ‘mass’, except, may be, if you are reading the Latin bible. Christmas is Latin. Christ, translated from the biblical Greek, Messiah, a rendering of the Hebrew referring to the king, means ‘anointed one’, one set apart, in this case, Jesus. Mass means thanksgiving. That we celebrate Christmas in a fashion beyond normal celebrations: decorating our houses too much, spending too much, eating too much, possibly drinking too much, falling asleep after too much, is fitting. The celebration is big and significant because it is one of thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus, the Christ. The God who is spirit, being conjoined with the flesh of his creation, enters into his creation as a human. And the reason God does this is because his creation became stained. In his desire that we should not be his puppets, God gave us freedom to choose and we chose ourselves at the cost of the relationships around us, including God. This is what we mean by ‘sin’. Humanity, and the whole creation, is seriously stained. Now, God has been trying to wash the stain out since the beginning. God tried literally washing it out with water, flooding creation. God even tried washing creation in the blood of lambs and bulls. But that stain would just not shift. So God tries something fresh, something new, something completely hand made from home made produce. In Jesus, God takes on that nature he formed out of the earth into which he breathed life. And in this world where sin is expressed in domestic violence, terrorism, bullying, isolation, racism, prejudice and, not conclusively, wars, in Iraq, Sudan, Aché and at least 20 other locations, we would be understood if we thought, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours’ means simply an end to wars and all forms of violence. But again, this is not the original meaning of the word, ‘peace’. God’s promise of peace is a promise that, in his coming amongst us in Jesus, he is going to accept us even though our stain is abiding. God stops looking at us with microscopes, ultraviolet lights and animated, simulated diagrams to prove that the stain exists. God does not worry about the micro-organisms that remain that will require the addition of an anti-bacterial agent. For all those who trust his presence in Jesus, they are secure in God, even though they are still stained. Jesus, a Greek derivation of the Hebrew Joshua, means, ‘God saves’. God is doing something fresh about dealing with our dirty laundry. Only in and through Christ will we ever be clean because we have comprehended the original meaning and purpose of God’s work in the event we celebrate at Christmas.

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