The Words of the Fefferman Family

Three Stages of Christmas

Dan Fefferman
December 10, 2000
Washington, DC

The Lord himself will give you a sign
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son
And call his name Emmanuel
(Isaiah 7:14-15)  

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Christ, the messiah. What I want to talk about today is the three providential "stages" of Christmas. Another way of saying this, is that I want to talk about the three concepts of the Christ and three significant holidays represented by what Rev Moon calls the three "brother religions" of Judaism, Christianity and Unificationism.

The messianic idea in Judaism is closely tied to the idea of the restoration of the nation of Israel. The messiah is generally thought of in Judaism as a national redeemer who comes to re-establish the David dynasty. In Christianity, the messiah is also thought of as the Son of David, but his role is primarily that of a spiritual savior, not the restorer of Israelís national sovereignty. Finally, in Unificationism, the messiah is thought of a both a spiritual redeemer, and as leader who is to establish Godís sovereignty.

Letís look at these three ideas more closely. As I said, Judaism generally looks to the messiah as the redeemer of Israel. The concept is well summarized by the song we sang earlier: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel." The concept of the messiah grew up during the period of Israelís exile in Babylon. The Jewsí longing for release from captivity produced a fervent hope that a chosen person, an anointed man of God, would arise and led the captives homes. The book of Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful expressions of this messianic hope:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, [2] Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (9: 6-7)

Chapter 11 of Isaiah refers to this chosen one as "the root of Jesse," Davidís father, and foresees a worldwide reign of justice and righteousness that will even extend to the Gentiles.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
And perhaps most famous of all is chapter 60.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried in arms. Then you will see and rejoice, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come... Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations--their kings led in triumphal procession.
Although some of these passages refer to the messiah in an almost supernatural light, it is fair to say that the concept of the messiah in Judaism is a practical one. As Rabbi Josef Hausner used to teach us at the Unification Theological Seminary, "The messiah is not a title, itís a task." The job of the messiah in Judaism is primarily the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom in Israel and to gather together of Jews who have been scattered. Secondarily, it is the establishment of righteousness: that is, the rule of the Law of Moses and among all Jews. Thirdly, it is to extend the blessings of peace and justice to all nations.
It may come as a surprise to many of you to learn that the Jewish Bible tells us that one messiah already came, and his name was not Jesus. This "messiah," as the Bible calls him, was not even a Jew. It was Cyrus the Great of Persia. Hereís what Isaiah says of him: (chapters 44-45) 
(The Lord) says of Cyrus, "He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ĎLet it be rebuilt,í and of the temple, ĎLet its foundations be laid.í" This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to CyrusÖ: "I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name."
Isaiah tells us that God called Cyrus his "shepherd" and his "anointed." The word translated as "anointed" is none other than "massiach," or messiah. Why does Isaiah portray God as referring to Cyrus as a messiah? It is precisely because Cyrus was the one who in fact enabled the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. God indeed works in strange and mysterious ways.
Between the time of the re-establishment of the Temple and the time of Jesus, Israel suffered under a number of foreign oppressors. This was time the Divine Principle calls the period of preparation for the messiah, after the period of Babylonian exile and return. It was during this time that the story of Hanukkah came to pass. The story is very instructive in terms of what the DP calls the "national foundation for the messiah centering on the ideal of the Temple."
Jews had a history of resisting attempts to get them to compromise their religious traditions in order to assimilate into the prevailing culture, be it Babylonian, Greek, Turk or Roman. In some cases, they suffered greatly as a result. During the period of Greek domination, one ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, caused a statue of himself to be erected at the Temple entrance and forced certain priests to sacrifice swine, a forbidden animal, on the sacred altar. To pious Jews, this represented a defiling of the Temple. In DP terms we could see it as a satanic invasion of the national foundation to receive the messiah. The Jews, under the leadership of the military captain Judah Macabee, revolted. To make a long story short, they eventually prevailed. They retook the Temple and prepared to sanctify it. But when it came time to light the lamps in the Holy of Holies, there was only enough oil for one day. The story goes that it would take eight to get more. But by a miracle, that one dayís worth of oil lasted for eight days. Thatís where the menorah comes from. So the story of Hanukkah is all about the concept of the restoration of the Temple in preparation for the messiah.
Now, on to Jesus and Christmas. As we all know, the first followers of Jesus were Jews. Not educated, literate Jews, but people such as fishermen and tradesmen. Some of them were of the party known as the "Zealots," those who looked to the messiah mainly to liberate them from Roman oppression. Jesus had to educate his disciples about his concept of the messiah, compared to the traditional concept. Of course, it is difficult to know with certainty how Jesus thought about his messianic role. The accounts that we have were all recorded at least one or two generations after Jesus was killed. But there are some points that stand out.
First, Jesus did not seem to emphasize the Davidic Kingdom in the sense that most Jews thought of it. Itís conceivable that he might have emphasized it more once he had a strong enough foundation. But generally, he seems to have emphasized, instead of a political program, a messianic ethic. That ethic is summarized of course in the sermon on the mount: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, judge not lest you be judged, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, love even your enemy. It can be further summarized in Jesusí own nutshell version, "Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." The bottom line for Jesus seems to have been that "The Kingdom of God is within you." It does not manifest itself through a political or military program, but through Jesusí followersí practice his teachings in their daily lives in an ever-expanding circle.
It can also be said that Jesus had what I would call a liberal attitude toward the Mosaic Law. He was by no means unique in this. In fact the great teacher Hillel the Elder, an older contemporary of Jesus, is recorded as having taught some of Jesusí most famous sayings a generation before Jesus did. When Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or "love your neighbor as yourself," his hearers would recognize these slogans as putting him solidly on the Hillel side of the current debate about how strictly to follow the Law. (Just as today we can tell which presidential candidate a person is for by whether he says: "Every vote should count" or "You canít change the rules in the middle of the game.")
That said, it is apparent that Jesus also seems to have thought of himself in some sense as responsible to bring the religious institutions, and perhaps the political as well, into line with Godís will. And he took this mission very seriously. His cleansing of the Temple, for example, was clearly a political act of dramatic civil disobedience aimed and bringing about reform of the Temple as an institution. It also precipitated his arrest and imprisonment--during which the Biblical record indicates he did not answer his interrogators clearly about his role except to state that "My Kingdom is not of this world."
Because of his execution at the age of 33, we may never know clearly what Jesus had in mind in terms of the form of the ideal society he envisioned. Faced with the shocking death of their messiah, the disciples searched the scriptures for clues as to the providential meaning of his demise. They came up with a novel interpretation of Isaiah, which viewed the messiah not as Israelís redeemer in the traditional sense, but as the Suffering Servant whose tribulation pays for our sins. Jews had long understood these passages as referring not to the messiah but to Israel itself. Listen to this excerpt from the chapter just prior to the famous passages and see what you think about the term "arm of the Lord." Does it refer to Israel or to the messiah?
"Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations." Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Ö I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand--I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, `You are my people.'" Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger. (51:7-17)

Christians turned instead to Is 53. which states

Who has heard our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?Ö He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer.
Thus, in Christianity, the messiah came to be viewed neither primarily as a political redeemer, not as an ethical teacher. Instead, he was primarily a spiritual savior--the Son of God who came to earth as a man with the express purpose to die so that we could be forgiven of sin. This is not to say that Jesusí ethical teachings have not been important in Christianity, but rather to say that his role as savior takes priority. Moreover, most Christians do not expect to live up fully to Jesusí teaching to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," but rather expect to continue throughout their lives to rely on him as Savior.
Applying this to the story of Christmas, a bittersweet picture emerges, especially for Unificationists. We agree with traditional Christians that the birth of the Savior is a time of great hope. The Christ child represents the spark of divinity within each of us. And so by celebrating his birth we also celebrate our own potential divinization. As the great champion of Nicene orthodoxy, Athanasius of Alexandria, proclaimed, "God became man that man might become divine."
Yet a central part of this plan for manís divinization was Jesusí sacrifice on the Cross. And as most of us here surely know, Rev Moon teaches that it was NOT Godís primary will for Jesus to die on the Cross. Instead it was a secondary course that became necessary only because of the failure of Jesusí family, his disciples, and his people, to recognize and support him. For Unificationists, Jesusí was intended to marry and have a True Family. He was to become a model of True Family Values, and together with his wife would provide a full expression of Godís masculinity and femininity. Jesusí crucifixion prevented him as the Son of God from accomplishing this, and also prevented the birth of what Rev. Moon calls "Godís grandchildren." And so Christmas for us is indeed a time of hope, but it is also a time of serious reflection about the tragedy and suffering that both God and Jesus experienced during Jesusí life. Says Rev. Moon:
Will fruitcake and ice cream make a merry Christmas? Christmas is truly the celebration of the birth of God's son, but without knowing God's purpose for sending him there cannot truly be a celebration of ChristmasÖ After hearing me, "Merry Christmas" becomes "Concerned Christmas." The true content of Christmas is the amount of love you gave during the year. That is far more dazzling than any amount of decorations.
And so we come to the third stage of Christmas. In Unificationism, we recognize Rev. and Mrs. Moon as the True Parents, as fulfilling the mission that Jesus started. That mission was to establish the first True Family, the task that Adam and Eve failed to accomplish and which God has seeking to restore from the beginning of human experience.
So in Unificationism, we could say that the "real" Christmasóthe day on which the Christ was born--is the birthday of Rev. and Mrs. Moon. We do celebrate their birthdays as a one of our Holy Days, usually in January, although our calendar date varies since it is marked by the lunar calendar. An even more sacred day for us though, is Godís Day, which we celebrate on January 1. Godís Day is the most sacred of all our Holy Days, for it represents the complete restoration of Godís Ideal. In a sense, Godís Day is Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter all rolled up into one. It is like Hanukkah because it represents the fulfillment of the Ideal of the Temple. It is Christmas because it represents the fulfillment of Godís hope at the birth of Jesus. And it is Easter because it represents the resurrection of Godís ideal just as Easter represented the resurrection of Jesus. We could even call it "Godís Birthday." So Godís Day, to Unificationists, is an even more precious holiday than Hanukah or Christmas.
But in the real world, there is no way for Godís Day to compete with Christmas yet. Perhaps someday it will. I think Rev. Moon envisions a time in which the whole world celebrates Godís Day for three full days as a national holiday. There will be feasting, parties, sporting events. Well, come to think of it, there already ARE those things on what we call New Yearís Day, but unfortunately they are not yet part of Godís Day. For now, no one thinks about God when they watch the Bowl games, go out for dinner on New Yearís Eve or party into the coming year. And the marketing power of Christmas is just too powerful for Godís Day to compete. But it is not so farfetched to think that New Yearís Eve parties and Bowl Games will one day be a part of Godís Day even if not in their present form. After, the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and Druid customs of decorating trees in preparation for the Winter Solstice are now part of Christmas.
So what should our attitude be toward Christmas? I found several relevant quotes from Rev Moon on this topic last year when I spoke on "Christmas and the Book of Job." Remember?
We are gathered to celebrate the true Christmas because we know God and His purpose; we know Jesus' purpose and intention for coming to this world. And in addition we are handpicked by God to vindicate Jesus and liberate the heart of God by accomplishing what Jesus left undone. If we say Merry Christmas with that mind then God and Jesus would respond thousands of times, "Merry, merry, merry Christmas." (The True Meaning of Christmas, December 25, 1979)

As for Hanukkah, well, I donít think Rev. Moon has said too much about that. But I can tell you itís a great way to teach your kids the concept of the foundation for the messiah centering on the Temple. And I happen to know that Rev. Moon did celebrate Hanukkah once with Rabbi Hausner. And if Rev. Moon can do it, so can we!

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