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Xenophobia and the Message of Christmas (published in The Tribune 12/24/11)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:17 PM by Fccea Webmaster
To many people, the Enlightenment explained God away and yet an almost universal worship of some Supreme Being persisted. The question was, Why?

Freud claimed that mankind is terrified of death, yet nature is stupifyingly indifferent. There is no consideration of persons by tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fire or cancer.

To compensate, says Freud, mankind defied the effects of nature, creating god(s) to appeal to for mercy. This provided illusionary relief from randomness through worship, bribery, flattery, begging or other manipulative techniques. Per Freud, religion, including Christianity, is thus born from fear of nature and death.

In Mark 4:35-41we find Christ confronting nature. After a long day Jesus asks His disciples to take Him to the other side of the lake. They shove off and He immediately falls asleep in the stern.

But nature intervenes. A fierce windstorm causes even these seasoned fishermen to fear for their lives -- confirmation of Freud's analysis that we fear nature. They awaken Jesus; He rebukes the wind with "Peace, be still," and calm immediately prevails. So the disciples fall all over themselves expressing their gratitude, right?

Well, not quite. Two almost inexplicable things happen. First, their fright level, which already registers "10" -- "fear of death" -- goes even higher! But more astounding, the focus of their fear moves from nature to Christ. They suddenly see His "otherness" and are scared beyond death. What kind of person commands nature? They have no category for Him.

Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners or strangers. Theologian, R. C. Sproul comments: "What was experienced in that boat that night was xenophobia with a vengeance! And at the heart of His alien character was His perfection. They were in dread fear of His holiness."

Question: If Freud was right, and mankind in general and Christians in particular have made up their own god to protect from nature, would they have made up a god whom they fear more than nature?

At the Kemper Open golf tournament one year, Billy Graham was paired with the US President, Jack Nicklaus, and a PGA star player. As they finished, the pro, who had played badly, was asked by a friend how he liked playing with the President and Billy Graham. He replied that he didnt appreciate "having Billy Graham shove religion down my throat!" Then he retreated to the range to hammer away at golf balls.

He later admitted that Billy Graham hadn't said a single word about religion or Christ. His personal frustration had boiled over in a reaction of dread and resentment at the holiness that Graham represented.

Study the life of Christ carefully. You will find nothing there to support the idea that He is a "made-up god". But you will find everything to suggest that those who knew Him most intimately lived in fear and awe of the holiness He represented. It led His enemies to kill Him, the most innocent man who ever lived.

But while His holiness drives our sense of unworthiness and xenophobia, that same holiness equipped Him to do what He came to do in the first place -- "to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). His perfect life made our ransom possible.

Christmas is God answering man's need for control over nature and death -- but for real, not as a placebo. Christmas is when we, ravaged by the guilt of a brokenness we cannot control, throw ourselves on His mercy and hear, "Peace, be still." Christmas is me getting to be what He is because He became what I am!

A letter to Groucho Marx from his banker ended with the standard, "If I can be of any service to you, do not hesitate to call." Marx wrote back, "Dear Sir, the best thing you can do to serve me is to steal some money from the account of some rich client and credit it to mine." Exactly what God has done in Christ only He didnt steal it; He paid for it.

Paul summed it up in II Cor 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Accept His gift, and have a Merry Christmas!

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton/Ault