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Christmas Day is the world’s largest celebration of a baby born in a stable – Hanne Nabintu Herland

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Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the world´s largest celebrations of something as simple as a baby boy born in a Bethlehem stable. Recently, this extraordinary child, Jesus Christ, was voted the most significant person in world history.

Napoleon and Shakespeare came in second and third place, respectively, in a survey described by Professor Steven Skiena and Charles Ward in Who’s bigger? Where historical figures really rank. Social research has long documented that belief in the spiritual dimension has not decreased in modern secular society, as some previously assumed it would. In the West faith has acquired a private and partially uninstitutional character, yet religion still plays a significant role.

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Even in countries such as Norway, with politically correct elites and a media that is one of the world’s most hostile to religion, 84% of the population is a member of a religious community. Three out of four have faith in a God. In the USA the figure is as high as 80% (ISSP 2008), in Europe on the whole around 75 % state that Jesus is the Son of God.

This overwhelming international trend destroys the myth that there automatically is a conflict between rationalism and religious faith. According to the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion 2.2 billion people profess to the world’s largest religion, Christianity. Partly due to the mainstream media’s elitist censorship, we hear little about this. There is remarkably low respect in the Western mainstream for these underlying currents that run deep in the Western population.

The vast majority of religious people actively participate in the development of a modern, rational society, without these actions conflicting with their faith in the spiritual dimension and in God. It is true that few attend church in the West, in countries such as the Netherlands and the UK as low as 1.5 %.

Yet, an overwhelming majority remain religious, one model of explanation may point to the problem of the politization of churches, – they have become politically-correct, rendering the “church” without spiritual food in a crippling “cultural Christianity” that features values that are far from the ideals of its radically revolutionary founder, Jesus Christ. Much research is done on this subject, which we only briefly touch here. 

The extraordinary life of Jesus as he created conditions for a new understanding of spiritual and ethical principles is described in the Bible. This book is the most significant book of our culture — an ethical encyclopedia full of anecdotes, grand epic stories, poems and hymns. According to the Norwegian historian Karsten Alnes this book is so important that it can be considered the backdrop for our entire culture. Scandinavian authors like Roy Jacobsen maintain that the Old Testament towers above all other literature.

People like Napoleon Bonaparte referred to the Bible as living words that imparted spiritual power to readers. When many now flock to church on Christmas Eve, it is because they want to hear the Christmas Gospel and renew the Christmas traditions that have continued uninterrupted for generations. As the silence now settles over Christmas and the holidays that follow, it may therefore be constructive to reflect on the spiritual content of Christmas and why the Christian faith has such a special attraction for so many.

The modern vitality of faith is primarily based on the fact that it provides answers to existential, inner questions about the meaning of life. The poignant message of love expressed in the Scriptures is about God’s hand reaching down to man. God shows that He is near and passionately interested in the human situation. He chose his own Son to lead us out of the earth´s darkness.

God invites to a personal and loving relationship between man and himself. Therefore the Star shined brightly over the “deserted meadows of Bethlehem” and attracted leading astronomers and stargazers from the most powerful nations of the time. They came to worship the Child whose star surpassed all others.

“For God loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John. 3:16)

Today many feel that we need a value-related boost to shore up against the one-sided focus on materialism, extreme individualism and self-fulfillment in our society. We are wealthy in terms of material goods, but poverty-stricken in terms of knowledge about the spiritual dimension. Christian thought represents man as threefold: spirit, soul and body. All these dimensions must be well tended before optimal joy and harmony can be achieved in life. Other religions such as Buddhism also emphasize the necessary balance between internal and external values, and atonement for mentally toxic sins, such as envy, greed, hatred and falsehood.

Social scientist and atheist Jürgen Habermas has long emphasized the need for a renewed respect for faith in Europe. Religion, as an ethical guide to a good life, has an amazing ability to motivate people to acts of social solidarity and kindness towards others. The fact that Pope Francis was recently named man of the year in Time Magazine reflects a high level of esteem for spiritual people who have humbly given so much to their fellowmen.

As we celebrate Christmas, with traditional carols like “A child is born in Bethlehem” so pivotal, it is worthwhile to note the revolutionary social and political statement illustrated so poignantly in the Christmas Story´s vignette of the Virgin Mary holding her new born son in her arms: Jesus, the Son of God, was born among the poor, but had both rich and powerful friends during his life.

He extended his love to people equally, regardless of religion, ethnicity and gender. He participated actively in society as a whole, mingling by choice with people that others shunned. He criticized racism and resolutely challenged the double standards and self-serving hypocrisy of religious leaders. Jesus defended women and advocated for children´s rights at a time when child slavery was commonplace.

He was sharply criticized for his kindness to prostitutes and was called a “glutton and drunkard” by the religious, hypocrite elites. There were no one Jesus was more furious with than the religious leaders, whom he called serpents and vipers, stating that they did not, themselves, follow the heart of the Law. His first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding. With great acuity and honesty he inspired people to abandon their destructive behavior and follow him. At the same time he had boundless sympathy and understanding for those unfortunate and despondent souls weighed down by the trials and tribulations of life.

He was remarkably little consensus-oriented and radically committed to justice. He treated people with a refreshing respect that involved the innovative and highly liberating notion of forgiveness. Christianity continues to emphasize forgiveness instead of hatred and revenge. The Bible tells us that the strength of his spiritual power enabled him to heal the sick and restore peace of mind to those troubled by evil spirits. However his immense popularity caused envy and resentment among the clergy, and his close friend betrayed him when the controversy surrounding his person raged. Jesus’ message was spiritually ethical and not at all political, but all his actions had a significant social and political impact on society.

The ideals he formulated are a recipe for how we can cope with our complicated world and experience inner harmony and balance at the same time. The Christmas Gospel thus becomes a revitalizing source of spiritual thinking. It encourages us all to be honest, to be better people, to take care of each other, and to be more compassionate and more generous. Merry Christmas and God Jul.

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