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December 23rd, 2013
03:29 PM ET

A Christmas apology, and the seeds of hope

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

(CNN) - This week we celebrate Christmas, and as a Christian, I want to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that this season has become about fights over manger scenes on public property, about complaining when clerks say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” about rampant commercialism and faux persecution.

I’m sorry that Christians in the United States can be so entitled when we’ve long enjoyed majority status, when we can be so blind to our own privilege.

It is ironic, really, because in the church calendar, the seasons of Advent and Christmas call us to reflect upon and celebrate what Christians believe was the most radical act of humility of all time - the incarnation.

The doctrine of the incarnation holds that the God of the universe, in his love for humanity, emptied himself of his power and became human, like us, in the form of Jesus.

The word incarnation literally means “to make into flesh” and refers to the apostle John’s teaching that “(t)he Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

“No one has ever seen God,” John explains, but Jesus “has made him known.”

In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus -

Jesus, who was born as an oppressed minority in an occupied land,

Jesus who was an immigrant,

Jesus, who surrounded himself with the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the “untouchables,”

Jesus who was criticized by the religious for hanging out with sinners,

Jesus who treated women with dignity and respect,

Jesus who taught his disciples to love their enemies, to give without expecting anything in return, to overcome evil with love,

Jesus who suffered,

Jesus who wept,

Jesus who - while hanging on a Roman cross - said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood put it this way: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.”

It means that God suffers, God forgives, God fellowships with the poor, God cares for the sick, God loves His enemies.

Even as a lifelong Christian, I struggle with doubts about God. I struggle to make sense of the violence in the world, the violence in the Bible, the violence in my own heart. I don’t have all the answers.

But even when there’s nothing left to my faith but a little seed of hope, that hope is in the incarnation, in the radical teaching that God loved us enough to become like us, and that when God wanted to show us what he was like, God showed us Jesus.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" and "Evolving in Monkey Town." Evans blogs at rachelheldevans.com, and the views expressed in this column belong to her.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Christmas • Faith • Holidays • Opinion

soundoff (2,872 Responses)
  1. elliott carlin

    So much bad theology in this article...where to begin? Christ isn't like God, He is God. Why is there so much violence and why do people suffer awful things? Perhaps the columnist could remember "He spared not His own Son"...One who was perfect in EVERY way and certainly undeserving-yet He did. How can we expect not to suffer on this earth? Sheesh. It's not about your feelings, dear.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Fred

      "Perfect" in every way, yet he lost his temper with the money changers, yes?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Justice

      Jesus is not God. Everything he did was, by his own admission, to glorify his Father... not by his own initiative.

      Blessed be the Son of God!

      December 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
      • Justice

        ... not some 'incarnation'.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  2. AndyMx71

    Rachel Held Evans attempts to portray Chist as weak and spineless, willing to accept anything anyone choose to do. I bet her reading of John 2:15 makes her head spin as it clearly shows the opposite what the image she wants to project upon a Christ that stands up for what is right and rejects those who want everyone to tolerate sin.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Fred

      That's still three Gospels, the first three to be written, vs just John. So, it would appear that you are favouring the minority Gospel view, correct?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  3. stillwaiting aka Basho1644

    The days of the Christian myth, as anything other than a myth, are more severely numbered than its believers think.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • tony

      Just a few more iPhones and prayer will be retired in favor of checking facebook pages of real people.

      Just like electric lighting pretty much eradicated ghosts.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  4. capt nemo

    And remember these two very important facts:

    1) Jesus was not Caucasian (white); he looked a lot more like the Lubavitcher Rebbe* than Willem Dafoe or Jim Caviezel.

    2) Jesus was Jewish.

    Merry Christmas!

    * go look it up.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • jonathanL

      You should stop feeling guilty. Your beliefs may seem odd and unnecessary to me but really, I have no problem with you having a Merry Christmas. It is not illegal and it is not very important in the grand scheme of things. I enjoy the truth daily wherever I am. We all have things to celebrate and we should celebrate them (without shooting guns into the air or hurting each other or forcing others to believe what we do).

      December 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Susan StoHelit

    THANK YOU!!!!

    Finally, someone who really gets it!

    I know other Christians get it too – but we so rarely hear it, with the loud voices from the "persecuted minority" (of 75% of americans) crew.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  6. Katie

    As a fellow Christian, I say thank you, Rachel, for being so... Christian. So many others have strayed from the path and only use their religion to justify their bigotry, oppression, and lack of civility.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • tony

      for thinking morals rather than biblical magic.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • janelle

      Unfortunately, we can find justification for just about anything we want to believe, even self righteousness.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • kdlitid

      There is nothing "Christian" about self-hate and loathing. You people REALLY need to stop this...it is a time to celebrate the birth of our Lord...not to encourage others to chastise themselves for being who they are. I'm a white, God-fearing, Christ-loving, tax-paying, hard-working, flag-waving combat veteran...and I know there is a God and that Christ was his son...but nobody....and I mean NOBODY is going to tell me how I'm supposed to worship Him or that his message at any time during his life was to hate yourself for who you are. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! HAPPY HANNUKAH!!! And GOD BLESS THE USA.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        You're so not getting it. She's not talking about others telling you how to celebrate – she's talking about those masses of vocal Christians who think they can tell others how to celebrate.

        The ones who reply to a cheerful "Happy Holidays" with a spiteful hissed "Merry Christmas" used as an attack. The ones who talk hate over people of other religions celebrating this holiday. The ones who post on facebook how they want non-Christians to have to pay extra for their Christmas trees. That's what this article is about.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
      • Bill Sargent

        stop pasting the same crap over and over. we get it. nobody cares what you think.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Fred

      The self-hate and loathing is necessary for Christians in order for them to become dependant upon the faith. It creates the emotional void that only Jesus can fulfill. It creates the dependency, like any really dangerous drug, ensuring that you only ever feel "good", or even "normal" while under it's influence.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

        Exactly. Christians teach their children there is a whole in them that needs to be filled.

        December 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • AE

      Amen. I appreciate her honesty about having doubts at times. "I struggle to make sense of the violence in the world, the violence in the Bible, the violence in my own heart. I don’t have all the answers." Yes. Most Christians I have met struggle with these things.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  7. Kate

    Is there anything as irritating as liberal white guilt?

    December 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Fred

      Why would you call this "liberal" guilt?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • Maddy

        Or white guilt?

        December 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • bradhamilton1955

      Yes – people who complain about it...

      December 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  8. SciGuy

    She gets at least one thing dreadfully wrong. It wasn't God's love for humanity that caused him to pour out his wrath on his Son. It was rather his deep and unending love for his people, all those whose hope and faith is centered on Jesus alone for their salvation.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • tony

      Good Grief. Is there any meaning in that post?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Fred

      So, does that mean that God simply hates everyone else? It would explain why he sends them to hell for not adoring him. Bit of a narcissist, eh?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Oh for heaven's sake, keep your liberal, white guilt to yourself. You have to be blind, ignorant, or have been living with your head buried in the sand if you can't see the daily assault on Christianity, both in and outside of the U.S.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Do provide examples in the USA.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Howard

      Well, so much for "turning the other cheek." Jesus would be so proud of you, Jeff.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      I'll pray for you.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • JAMES OLIVER

      Can you give some examples and then I could figure out if Christianity is being attacked in Canada as well or is it just a American thing. Our churches are free to do pretty much as they please, they still have tax free status and if you assault a Christian, the police will come and put you in a cage.
      Perhaps because fewer people believe you are confusing that with getting attacked. I really would be curious as to what you believe is evidence that Christianity is being attack.

      December 24, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  10. theoriginaljames

    I will accept no apology for this hideous event unless it is forever cancelled in all its secular and religious obnoxiousness.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • janelle

      If you don't like Christmas, don't celebrate it. It really is that simple. I will not apologize for celebrating what to me is a holy day. I will not be offended if don't celebrate it, nor do I expect an apology from anyone who celebrates for different reasons than I do.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      What hideous event?

      This is a traditional American holiday – a perfect and wonderful melting pot of an assortment of different religions and cultures throughout time, Roman, German, Pagan, Druid, Wiccan, Christian, and Commercial. It's a great holiday. Not a thing wrong with it except when some people try to claim that it can only be celebrated as their religion.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  11. kdlitid

    Lady, I don't care if you hate yourself for being who you are, but you have no right encouraging others to do the same. Please shut up.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      How do you make the leap from a Christian actually following the teaching of Christ to her hating herself?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
  12. Jeff B

    Rachel,

    Thank you for your post. It has to be tough to read some of the many unkind things people can say after you put your articles out there. I was once a fire breathing fundamentalist evangelical Christian but now at best I am a recovering evangelical that is just trying to follow Jesus by loving God, loving my neighbor and treating other people the way I want to be treated. Believe it or not it has been costly for me in the evangelical community to follow these three core teachings of Jesus instead of being creedal. I am more concerned about what it means to actually follow Jesus instead of what should be the right belief about Jesus. When Jesus said for us to treat other people the way we wanted to be treated that changed my entire life. He went on to say that all the Law and the prophets is summarized in that one statement. It is a funny thing that I did not hear that part talked about much in church. Even when I was the pastor:( Who is my neighbor? Everyone. Muslims, Jews, atheist, gays, lesbians and everyone else. Thanks for reminding me that in the incarnation we see that God is like Jesus. Maybe we Christians should focus on being like Him and less about being right and in privilege and power. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

    December 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • tony

      Sounds like you gone from religion with just fervor and piety to good moralit . A little more rational thought and you will find morality is the only part worth following.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • Linda

      Well put.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  13. JTX

    There are no "lifelong Christians", as Rachel proclaims. Everyone who has genuinely come to Christ, must do so with repentance and faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross (Acts 20:21). Also, the birth of Christ wasn't the "the most radical act of humility of all time". The most radical act of humility was Jesus Christ (perfect in all ways, and fully God in the flesh), bearing our sins and thus the just died for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18). Rachel also seems to hint at universalism, which is a damnable heresy and will send many to hell. Perhaps she's never read Luke 13:5, which states, "but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish".

    December 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • tony

      Its' ther same for believers in Zeus, Mitras, etc.

      I worship Athene myself, although I do like Aphrodite a lot too.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
      • CharlesP

        Athene is both smart and beautiful, while Aphrodite is stuck up and sleeps around.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • CharlesP

      Still, why would God need to sacrifice himself to himself in order to forgive people for having free will that he supposedly made them with in the first place?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Lifelong may be technically incorrect, but once indoctrinated a child could be a christian for the rest of its life – which is effectively lifelong.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • GeorgeH

        Same goes for most Muslims and Hindus, so there's nothing remarkable about just sticking with the faith of your indoctrination.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          I agree. JTX said 'There are no "lifelong Christians", as Rachel proclaims.'

          December 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Third Eagle of the apocalypse.

      You’re right JTX. I wasn’t born a Christian. However like everyone born to parents of any cult I was taught that these beliefs were real and beyond question. I was told I had a choice but I didn’t really. I was told by the people I should be able to trust most that the ‘right choice” the only choice…if I didn’t want to burn in hell (pretty scary to a little kid) was that I would have to accept this Jesus person as my lord. I was taught I had free will but to use it beyond giving yourself to this lord would leave you in eternal corporal punishment and shunned by family and society isn’t a real choice.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  14. Robert

    Regardless of how you choose to celebrate this time of year or choose not to, blessings to all.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Clown

      Ho, ho, ho... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 😀

      December 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • tony

      It's not a case of celebrating or not, the winter time of another year, but why and what you believe while you are celebrating.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • GeorgeH

      And may the light of reason enter your life as well.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      A happy holiday season, whatever you choose to do with it.

      But I do find it odd when some choose to 'celebrate' by turning it into a war, where "Happy Holidays" is the enemy, and "Merry Christmas" is your weapon, a holiday of spite and bitterness. That's what makes this article, and some of the comments here, so refreshing.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  15. Ron Evans

    I have to say that the author and CNN have a good case for self-loathing.

    In the spirit of Christmas I hope we can all join them.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      It's not self loathing to see what some people do to this holiday. For some Christians, a great many very vocal ones, this is a holiday all about spite and bitterness, pushing others to conform, forcing your views down other's throats. That is a sad and a sick perversion of this holiday.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  16. Nope

    'Jesus who – while hanging on a Roman cross – said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”'

    This description blatantly ignores a piece of the story, wherein Jesus also cried out "Oh, Father, why have you abandoned me?"

    🙂

    December 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • AndyMx71

      Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean others don't understand it. Study more. Criticize less. It will be good for you.

      December 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • vacavalier

      Both utterances would have take monumental physically efforts to do... Do some research on what the act of being crucified does to the body, not to mention, being beaten prior to being hung up... Pierced side and a vinegar soaked sponge in the mouth as well? Wow, with all that going on, and able to speak, he would have simply been able to come down off the cross...

      December 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • GeorgeH

        Actually, most of the crucified took days to eventually die. Jesus died rather quickly, which lends credence to the idea that he really was a "glutton and a drunkard", as in Matthew.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • Justice

        And... he could have. But, he didn't come down from that cross. Why? He could've done a lot of things, being our co-creator. But he did as his Father directed him to do; that those exercising faith in Him may not perish but have everlasting life.

        ~Peace

        December 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  17. Jesus' Beloved

    Do not reject Wisdom –
    How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
    How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

    Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
    For the Lord gives Wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  18. snowboarder

    the story is too ridiculous to be believed.

    December 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • sybaris

      But Christianity makes so much sense!

      An omnipotent god who created the first man out of dirt and the first woman
      out of the dirt man’s rib later impregnates a man’s wife/fiance' (something about Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery comes in here) to reproduce itself. After the baby (Jesus) is born it disappears for over 30 years, reappears and sacrifices itself to itself with the aid of the Romans. Before it is killed though it walks on water, turns water into wine, heals
      lepers and makes a zombie out of a man named Lazarus (funny that there is only one source docu.ment for these spectacular events). Jesus tells us that its death is redemption (loopho.le) for having created imperfect beings (so much for omniscience) and that its crucifixion is better than the previous attempt to rid the world of evil a few thousand years earlier. That effort involved 40 days and nights of rain to drown every single living thing except good fish and that which boarded a large wooden boat and dispersed themselves on island continents thousands of miles from where the boat eventually landed. After Jesus’ death it reawakens three days later and tells its followers that if you
      telepathically promise that you accept it as your master, symbolically eat its flesh and drink its blood it will accept you and cleanse you of an evil force you inherited from the dirtman who was convinced by a talking snake to eat a fruit from a magic tree.

      How can you not believe that?

      December 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  19. Andrew

    Thank you! I appreciate, respect, and accept your apology.

    December 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  20. sybaris

    an alleged omnipotent spirit comes to earth, rents some flesh then goes back to where it came.

    right, some sacrifice

    December 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Or

      It left itself as a spirit. And changed everything.

      December 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
      • sybaris

        no, now don't make things up to make it fit, that's dishonest.

        December 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
      • G to the T

        Ahhh! The "adopted son" theology. I've always thought that this was the more "honest" approach than trying to make him pre-incarnated somehow...

        December 30, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.