We spend a lot of time during the Christmas season talking about things that don’t have much to do with what the holiday commemorates. There is certainly a lot of misguided focus on gift-giving and consumerism. Some Christians and television stations are overly focused on a war on Christmas that is not nearly as extensive as they seem to want it to be. The cliché is that Jesus is the reason for the season – and that is certainly true. If we are going to celebrate the coming of the Savior during this holiday season, then it is important for us to understand who Jesus is.
On one hand, Jesus is the paragon of conservative virtue. If there is one thing that Jesus made clear, it is His love and respect for the law. After all, it was Jesus who said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt 5:18) In fact, it appears that Jesus was more of a stickler for the law than even the most pharisaical legalist of His day. Jesus preached a message that required not only your actions to be godly, but your thoughts as well. It is Jesus who focuses on lust in conjunction with adultery and anger in conjunction with murder. Going beyond action and into the realm of the mind seems to be a step that most of us even today seem unwilling to take. Jesus’ emphasis on the law is undeniable. Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, it is not surprising that the law would figure prominently into His ministry. Yet Jesus’ attention to the law, what the law is, and how best to follow the law strikes me as incredibly conservative. The modern conservative Christian who focuses on the dos and don’ts of Jesus’ ministry is not necessarily wrong.
On the other hand, Jesus also seems so stereotypically liberal. There is all this emphasis on loving your neighbor and realizing that your neighbor is everyone around you. Jesus spends so much of his time with the people who are living on the margins of His society. He congregates with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners. He is willing to challenge the status quo of the church of his day, and He’s even willing to flip over a few tables to do it. His life was a life of love, service, and selfless sacrifice not only for those of His own group or those of His own class, but for everyone, from the richest to the poorest, from Jews to Gentiles. It is undeniable that Jesus places an emphasis on love and mercy and grace. In fact, the very reason why Jesus came to this earth was to exemplify love, mercy, and grace for every single human being who has lived, is living, or ever will live. It should not come as a surprise that these principles appear throughout the Gospels and are central to Jesus’s ministry on earth. His message is fill with a lot of love and peace and nonviolent resistance – all of the things that liberals love to rally around. Liberal Christians who focus on these aspects of Christ’s ministry are not wrong either.
I have been deliberately fast and loose with my descriptions and categories here. I admit that I am working in the extremes to make a point. The Christmas season is about celebrating the birth of Christ and yet there is so little emphasis in this time about who He is and what He has done. Part of that, I surmise, is certainly because we have at least one other holiday in the year devoted to that subject. But I think that part of it is also because if we really sit down and think about who Jesus is and what He came to do, we are forced to admit to ourselves that He is more than we make Him out to be. Jesus cannot be limited by our myopic categories, no matter what they may be. Jesus is the liberal conservative. He is the traditional progressive. There is a balance to Christ that is so much more than we can understand or really comprehend. We do a disservice to Christ when we deemphasize either the liberal or conservative aspects of His life and His mission.If we are going to say that Jesus is the reason for the season, then we should be true to what that means. There is no better time than the Christmas season to reflect on all that Christ is, how far we have come in living to His standard, and how much farther we have to go in order to be what His birth, life, death, and resurrection calls us to be.
 This statement is made with the understanding that it is somewhat of a disservice to put Christ on the liberal conservative binary line in the first place.
Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5722