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?