'Tis the season to be Jesus stealing? Away in a manger, no Christ for the bed? It has become a new Christmas fetish -- neutering Nativity scenes by jacking Jesus.
Just over the past week, dozens of mini-messiahs have been nabbed from Nativities across the country. Residences, churches and even civic displays in New York, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Texas have been exploited by these Christmas scrooges.
And such criminal acts are not restricted to America, as a baby Jesus was smashed and then stolen at the 12th-century St. John's Church in Cardiff, Wales, and a beer was blasphemously left in its place.
To prevent further sacred thefts, thousands of churches and private residences are turning to technology to help them "save" Jesus. But when GPS devices have to be planted in the skulls of the Savior and security cameras have to guard the path of the three wise men, can't we see that society is a bit off-center?
Skeptics might mock these defacements as negligible crimes, but stealing the soul of Nativities is one more dismal sign of a culture gone awry. What type of world do we live in when hoodlums (young and old) commit sacrilege for entertainment?
So here's the hope. These distressing religious crimes probably won't decrease over the years, but no matter how often Christmas thugs try to pilfer Nativities, they can't take away the real Jesus of history.
Sure, cases have been made. Some hope he never existed. In a recent survey, 70 percent of Britons doubted the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. But rebutting such uncertainty as naive, Simon Gathercole, a scholar at Cambridge University, explained that people today are cynical because they don't realize the origins of Christianity are entrenched in real history. Gathercole admonished: "Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome, just before Herod died. … We're talking about events that are anchored in real history, not in ancient Greek myths."
Another British scholar, N.T. Wright, wrote that most opposing views of Jesus are simply pseudo-historical evaluations: "My argument from this point onward … will be that they have offered us a Jesus of their own imagination, which the church, and anyone else who may be interested ought to resist in the name of serious history."
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi -- a professor of history at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio -- said: "The fact is that we have better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion."
That is why F.F. Bruce, late professor at the University of Manchester, concluded: "Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic (universally a statement of fact) for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the 'Christ-myth' theories."
The question is not whether Jesus lived but who he was and is. It's a question we all will answer, consciously or not, especially this Christmas week. It's a question even Jesus asked the people of his day. "Who do people say that I am?"
As for me and my house, he is the Son of God and Savior of the world. That's what we celebrate most on Christmas Day. At the very least, any unbiased reviewer of history cannot deny that time and civilizations have pivoted on his unique and "One Solitary Life":
"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
"He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of these things one usually associates with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
"He was only 33 when public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
"When he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
"Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race, the leader of mankind's progress.
"All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that One Solitary Life."
The fact is wise men still seek him. And if you genuinely follow his star, you'll find a stable, not a fable.
For those who seek him, I recommend that you check out these scholarly works: N.T. Wright's "Who Was Jesus?"; F.F. Bruce's "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?"; Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" (or check out his resource-full Web site, www.LeeStrobel.com); or Ravi Zacharias' "Jesus Among Other Gods." And, of course, the Bible, which makes the best of Christmas gifts.
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