Christmas, John Stuart Mill, and Jesus
While reviewing some personal items, I read again several lines by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). In his work “The Contest in America”, published in the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of April 1862, Mill addressed some of the public thinking during the Civil War in the United Sates. Mill’s article included his famous lines:
“. . .war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse.. . . A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
Perhaps you wonder what Mill’s statement has to do with Christmas. It has much to do with Christmas – the real “why?” of Christmas, not the syrupy reasons that barely even touch the edges of the real reason.
Christmas celebrations over the past 2000 years, and in a multitude of social contexts, have taken many forms and practices. We are far removed from the first Christmas!! We will do well to ponder why celebrate the birth of Jesus. We will do harm to ourselves if we fail to ask the deep question, “Why did the Son of God take on flesh in the first place? And why, in the second place, did Jesus die? Mill points to the answer, even if what he said was in the context of the deadly War between the States in the 1860’s.
Jesus, the incarnated Son of God, came to earth to take part in a war. It is true that He held infants in his arms. Yes, He gave a hungry multitude their fill of fish and bread. But, His reason for being on the Earth in the first place was related to the war between good (God) and evil (Satan). It was a war “in a good cause”, that of freeing humanity from the bonds of moral evil and restoring humanity to God’s family. This war ultimately cost the innocent Jesus his life, as he bore the “ugly” murder of crucifixion.
Jesus, born to die – it is, admittedly, ugly. But, as Mill states, it would have been even more ugly if Jesus would have thought that nothing was worth His death!!! Although not referring to Jesus when he wrote it, Mill’s point is appropriate. If Jesus would have cared more for His personal safety than the spiritual freedom of His murderers and their sympathizers, Jesus would have been a miserable creature “with no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
But, Jesus was free. He was noble. He knew that there was something worse than dying in the war for humans’ salvation – It would have been morally worse for Him to not die!!
This, my friends, is taking us deeply into the Why of Christmas. The original Christmas was the necessary first step to His victory over what is even worse than dying for the sins of others. That worse thing? to not die for the sins of others!!!