Hallmark Jesus or Real Jesus?

Who is this Jesus we celebrate at Christmas?  That may seem like a silly question, for most of us know the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but the identity of Jesus Christ has always been a matter of controversy.

Jesus himself asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) Apparently it was an open question even when Jesus walked the earth.

Historically, according to the Bible, he was a Jew from the line of David born in Bethlehem to a young virgin named Mary.  He worked with his father, Joseph, as a carpenter until at the age of 30 he began a three-year ministry of “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

Theologically, Jesus is God incarnate, fully God and fully man.  “He is the image of the invisible God.”  He is Immanuel, “God with us.” He is our Savior, Christ the Lord.  He was crucified, died and was buried.  He was raised on the third day and so defeated sin and death for everyone who believes in Him.

And still today, as evidence of continued confusion over the identity of Jesus Christ, we recognize the birth of the Son of God by shopping, partying, the giving and receiving of gifts, generic “holiday” greetings, and nice Hallmark moments of human love, joy and peace.  I enjoy shopping, partying and gift giving as much as anyone, and I am a reliable sucker for predictable feel-good holiday entertainment, but it seems to me there is a difference between participating in culturally defined holiday activities and remembering the birth of Jesus.

Sometimes, I think we confuse the two, and we mentally manufacture someone I’ll call “Hallmark Jesus.”  Hallmark Jesus is predictable; Real Jesus is anything but. Hallmark Jesus is sentimental and inoffensive; Real Jesus demonstrated unflinching obedience to his Father and radical love for those he came to save, and in so doing he offended the power brokers of his day.

Hallmark Jesus does not demand a decision; Real Jesus does.

Jesus asked his disciples the direct question that each one of us must answer,“‘But what about you?’ he asked, ‘Who do you say I am?'” (Mark 8:29)  This Christmas, who do you say Jesus is: Hallmark Jesus or Real Jesus?

14 thoughts on “Hallmark Jesus or Real Jesus?

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  1. Judy, you ended this so perfectly–that the real Jesus demands a decision! For some reason, as I read this post I got really sad about the Hallmark Jesus–that’s the one I knew for so long, and didn’t realize it wasn’t enough. Thank You, Lord–that I’ve got the Real Thing now!! Thanks so much, Judy–for being here. God bless you Big–love, sis Caddo

  2. Reblogged this on Connecting Dots…to God and commented:

    This post, written about a year ago, is by far this blog’s most frequently viewed entry. Since it seems to be of interest and many of you were not reading Connecting Dots to God a year ago, here it is again. May we all seek the real Jesus this Advent season!

  3. Sadly, I agree with you that even people who claim to be Christian only know a “Hallmark Jesus” in much the same category as a good luck charm, to be brought out when needed.

    I’m afraid even the “Hallmark Jesus” is being replaced by Hallmark, as fewer and fewer Christmas cards have any reference to Jesus. Only last pre-Christmas, I overheard two women choosing cards and one complained “Oh no! Look at this. They are even bringing religion into Christmas now!” Yes, I did join their conversation and politely tell them the real meaning of Christmas.

    For several years now, I have designed and made my own Christmas cards which relate the truth that Jesus was born to die and He died to save and lives to keep.

    We serve an amazing triune God and it is our responsibility – and delight and enormous privilege – to make Him known to all.

    1. Those of us who grew up understanding what Christmas is about might assume that everyone knows. Based on the Christmas card comment you overheard we clearly should not make that assumption. I really appreciate being reminded of that. Thanks so much for stopping by and for adding your observations!

  4. What other day of the year do businesses and airlines come to an almost standstill because a man named Jesus was born. Yes, Christmas may be too commercialized, but I still like it. So, pass the sugar cookies, eggnog, candy canes, and whatever, I love Christmas.

  5. Even after so many years, getting to know Jesus and His character, there is — and always has been — this temptation to use Him in much of the same way one would use a rolodex. Depending on what I need I will seek out compassionate Jesus, zealous Jesus, miracle-performing Jesus; in doing so I make a grievous mistake, thinking that the Savior of this world can act apart from Himself. Sadly, on occasion I have petitioned to Hallmark Jesus; though in truth I spoke to no one at all . . . You said it best, Judy, when you said that Real Jesus is anything but predictable. Yes, this is true and Good.

    ~ Cara

    1. Hi Cara! “Rolodex Jesus” is quite a descriptive image for how we approach our Savior. Wow. I guess it’s a human tendency to want to arrange his qualities, assign them categories and file them away for our future use, instead of letting God be God. In our defense, I think it’s impossible for our brains to comprehend the enormity of his being and presence, so we slice and dice into manageable attributes. May we let go of our perceptions and open our eyes to His reality! Thanks Cara!

  6. I like your thought of searching for the “full Jesus.” It’s an endless search, isn’t it? Christmas blessings to you and your family, Linda!

    1. I walked away from my computer after posting this comment and realized that I used the wrong word. (Why does that so often happen after I walk away? Another subject for another day…) Our search for Jesus isn’t endless, for he IS the end. What I meant to say is that we can (and will) seek to know him more completely throughout all of eternity and still not fully grasp the infinite reality of who he is. There. That’s better.

  7. Judy,

    I love your post! Last night we were singing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” as a family (which is a challenge in and of itself, I know…) and I noticed that this carol starts out singing about the birth of Christ and then the last verse talks about the death of Christ: “Glorious now behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice, Alleluia, Alleluia, Earth to heav’n replies.” The fact that most of us never take the time to know the full carol alludes to the possibility that at Christmastime (or any other time really) we might not take the time to know the “full Jesus.” The challenge is to read down/sing down/love all the way down to find Him and to bring His fullness into our lives and certainly in to the celebration of His birth. As for me…I’m going to sing all the carol verses from now on — in search of Him!

    Blessings Judy and a Merry Christmastime to you and your family!

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