Question: On which day (or night) of the year are Israeli Jews most likely to set foot in a church?
Answer: Christmas Day (or Eve).
Surprised? It’s true. Add to that the annual “December dilemma” discussions in synagogues, Jewish newspapers, magazines and websites about Jewish participation in cultural/secular Christmas activities . . . and you may notice that the growing interest in Christmas has Jewish religious leaders in Israel (and elsewhere) concerned.
Many Jewish people are genuinely attracted to Christmas. That is why Jews for Jesus often chooses to place full-page gospel ads in major newspapers and magazines during this season. With headlines such as “Christmas is a Jewish holiday, or at least it should be,” we receive a greater response to our gospel ads during this season than we do at any other time of the year. Why?
Stringing lights or setting up “Hanukkah bushes” (a Jewish version of Christmas trees) may not indicate deep, spiritual yearnings, but beyond all that, on some level many Jewish people are drawn to the powerful message of hope that Christmas delivers. God’s entrance into human history through the birth of a tiny baby is one of the most captivating and irresistible dramas of all time. One well-known carol declares that in His birth: “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met. The world can be very dark; yet the song declares that “in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light.” Yes, Jewish people have been told over and over again that Jesus is not Israel’s Messiah. Yet carols of hope—with their message of promise—beckon many to consider the improbable, the implausible, the forbidden. Could it really be true?
Despite the secularization and anti-supernatural sentiment that is so prevalent today, the Messianic hope is deeply rooted in Jewish consciousness. Though relatively few Jewish people can document that hope, many know that the Christmas story claims to fulfill it. Maybe that is why performances of Handel’s Messiah have consistently drawn significant Jewish attendance every year. This month, orchestras, choruses, choirs and ensembles in major cities throughout the world will perform this powerful, biblical account of the hope and coming of the Messiah. Many Jewish musicians will participate in these performances, and there will be many Jewish people in the audiences as well.
This oratorio is a wonderful means to convey the powerful message of the Messiah (see pp. 4, 5). It is one of countless wonderful opportunities God has given the Church to make His message of hope known during this season.
Some Christians worry about efforts to prevent public displays of crèches, or even secular symbols such as Christmas trees. The not-so-subtle pressure to say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” in public can oppress and depress us if we let it—so let’s not let it. Yes, we should guard our freedoms of religion and speech, but we should also have great faith in the irresistible and irrepressible nature of the message of hope in the birth of our Messiah Jesus. No attempt to suppress, ignore or undermine this story of God’s saving power will ever succeed in dampening or diminishing this great hope for the world in Jesus. We can become distracted from sharing that wonderful story if we aren’t careful. Whether or not you can put up a creche in your town, you can tell people why you celebrate the birth of Jesus all year round.
Frankly I don’t know that Jesus was born on December 25, or that this is the only time to celebrate His Incarnation. I understand that some regard Christmas as a pagan invasion of the Church. I am not suggesting that everyone run out and buy a Christmas tree. I am saying let’s do what we can to notice and act on the many divine opportunities to share the Messiah this month.
Every year at this season Jesus’ name is splashed across the pages of TIME and Newsweek magazines, and figures prominently in a host of other secular journals. The articles are rarely designed to inspire faith in our wonderful Savior. Mainly they undermine the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. Hey, what else would you expect the world, the flesh and the devil to do about God’s amazing and extravagant gift? Yet despite this constant drumbeat, the hopeful message of Messiah is irrepressible, it can’t be drowned out, shouted down or diluted into a secular meaninglessness.
This newsletter includes a pamphlet that I hope you will read if you have not already: the story of Ceil Rosen, wife of our Jews for Jesus founder Moishe. The Lord used Christmas carols to help open Ceil’s heart and mind to faith in Jesus. Through her story, Moishe came to Christ as well. What a powerful affirmation of this irresistible, irrepressible message of hope. Just think what might happen if everyone who received this newsletter passed along this pamphlet to someone who needs to know the Messiah. Imagine what God can do through that simple act of bearing witness.
Can you think of someone in your life who might be willing to read that story this month? Will you make a prayerful effort to pass it along to them? And if God uses your effort to share Ceil’s story with someone this month, would you tell us about it? The ideal way to do that would be to e-mail us the story at [email protected]. But you can also mail it to us at: Newsletter Editor, 60 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Maybe we’ll be able to publish some of the stories as an encouragement to the entire Jews for Jesus family.
In this cynical and suspicious world, many delight in dashing hope, extinguishing embers of expectation, drowning out any note of God’s good word of grace. But godly hope is rooted in a deep reality that enables the believer to lean hard against the winds of doubt and push back inexorably against the darkness of worldly despair.
No matter how difficult the circumstances we face, we can renew our hope, and perhaps for you, this is the time to do so. The message of Messiah’s birth is the promise that God has come to rescue and save us forever, save us out of our desperate and difficult circumstances and provide a way to live abundantly here and now. Let’s remember that hope and let’s declare the power of that hope. May it burst forth into the world and change lives all around us, especially during this season. And, “. . . may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).