Christian. The word in Greek, transliterated, is Christianos, and according to Thayer's Greek Definitions means, ". . . a follower of Christ." Merriam-Webster is a little more lenient, defining the word as "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ." So what is a Christian, truly? A follower, or one who merely professes belief? Either way, what does it mean, exactly?
The word, "Christian," did not even exist at the time Mary gave birth to the baby that would be the focus of such tumultuous events in just a few decades. Mary simply knew that she had never been with a man, yet she was pregnant. She had been told that it would be a boy and she was to call him Jesus. She knew that he would "reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there would be no end." She knew that, shortly after His birth, some shepherds came to worship Him and went away telling everyone that the Savior had been born. In the first week or so of the Child's life she was also told many other things, including that "a sword will pierce through your own soul, also." All these bits of seemingly conflicting information must have been confusing for a young mother. Is it any wonder she pondered them in her heart?
On this day when we look back to Jesus' birth and the joyful announcement of the angels to the shepherds in the fields, I cannot help but think about the whole span of His earthly ministry. Jesus--God incarnate--gave up the power and glory that was rightfully His, and willingly took on the flesh of a man with all its weaknesses and limitations. No, not a man, an infant! He chose to endure birth, chose to learn to use His hands, to learn to talk and walk. He, the One through Whom all things were created, chose to live in His creation, even to live as His creation. He chose to feel the pull of temptation--and by living a life in abject surrender to the will of God, to overcome it and never sin. He chose to be betrayed, criticized, beaten, and mocked by the very people He came to save. He chose to live out a human life in perfect obedience and surrender and to give His utterly pure life as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for human sin. He chose to die on a tree that He had crafted Himself.
He did not give gifts that would be consumed or break in a few weeks; He gave Himself. In doing so, He set an example of humility that cannot be matched by human effort. He, the King of kings, knelt in the mud and muck of human existence and made Himself a stepping stone to allow mankind to reach God. It has been said that "religion is man's attempt at reaching God, but Christianity is God reaching down to man to restore a relationship we severed through our sin." This is true, but may I point out that in Jesus, God did not only reach toward us, He made Himself the bridge for us to walk across! It only remains that we choose Him.
When I think of the sacrifice that was made on my behalf, my mind shuts down. It is just too much to wrap my head around, too unbelievably perfect an act of selflessness, too incredible a feat of love. I think of living a sinless life, and it is beyond my imagination. I cannot even live a sinless 60-second minute! My very thoughts are drenched in transgression. When I examine my most generous moments, I find some kernel of self-serving or hope of glory within them that sullies the deed. My highest virtue is revealed to be rotten at its core. Christ lived without this, and rather than claiming His right, He instead washed the very feet of the man who sent Him to a prolonged and excruciating death. He did this because He loved him--loved all of us--even though we do not deserve it. He loved without the taint of selfishness we persist in, but truly and wholly, not considering the status or the social acceptability of the people He loved.
So what does it mean to be a Christian? It is more than professing, I can tell you that. To follow Christ is not to attend church, nor is it to spend our days examining the specks in the eyes of others, as Christ put it in Matthew chapter 7. To be a follower of Christ means that we should be willing to devote our all to Him, just as He gave up everything that was rightfully His for us. We must not think we can have Christ and our favorite hobby, or Christ and the perfect job. He, in his mercy, may allow that, but we should be, in the very depths of our hearts honestly and completely willing to let go the job, the hobby, or what have you and have Christ alone. We must live in surrender to the Holy Spirit, which He sent to guide us, so that in His power we can love others as selflessly as He loved us. To be a follower of Christ means that we should show the world that we are His disciples by the love we have for each other. It means laying down our life for our friends. It means that our lives should reflect Immanuel--God with us. It means so much more than I can even find the time or the words for, and yet it is really so very simple. Being a Christian means, in Paul's words, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." It means that Christ, in making Himself next to nothing, has become to us everything.
". . . 'For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.' . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.' " Luke 2:11, 13-14