Christmas: Promise and Purpose

By Daniel Downs

Christmas is a multifaceted story about real events wrapped in two narratives. The two narratives are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Like a new train and its track, these two narratives are part of one colorfully packaged gift given to humanity by God. Together they show the meaning of Christmas.

Some scholars and teachers rightly say the reason for the season is God’s love, peace, and forgiveness of sin.

The first gospel begins with teen pregnancy. Yes, it’s true the Hebrew word translated virgin actually means young woman or teen girl. It’s equally true that in ancient Jewish culture teenage girls were expected to marry and then bear children. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were as unlawful as immoral. The social stigmatism would have been as illiberal as Scarlet Letter puritanism. Just as a barren wife, a young unwed mother would have experienced the discriminating scorn of a religious society. Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret the transliterated Hebrew word almah as virgin (Mt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14).

Rabbinical literature originating in Babylonia portrays young Mary as mistress of a Roman soldier. Whether because of sinful consent, seduction or rape, Mary’s pregnancy was conceived by rabbis opposed to the gospel message as adulterated sin. The Palestinian view, as scholars call it, is considerably different. It lacked any negative diatribes against Mary or her son. Just as the Palestinian Talmud reflects its local context, the two gospel narratives were rooted in local events and daily life in Judea and Samaria.

We also will find the meaning of Christmas grounded in the same geographical, cultural, ideological, and historical situation of then current events.

While reading our two narrative gifts, two bright themes twinkle like lights reflecting off shinny wrappings. Those themes are promise and purpose. As if sitting prominently under a Christmas tree, the two themes are wrapped with bright colorful interpretations of unfolding events. Those events appear to be fulfillment of promises made by God through even more ancient prophets. As such, they reveal as well as affirm the purpose of God.

For example, the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus’ birth with marriage. Mary has been betrothed to Joseph…her husband (1:18, 19). In ancient Jewish culture, engagement was regarded as the beginning of a marriage. While Joseph was thinking about divorcing her, an angel told him to keep his wife because her pregnancy was God’s doing (1:19-20). Why would God do such a thing? The angel continued telling Joseph that Mary’s son would save his people. At that time, most Israelis were expecting a Messiah that would deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire and puppet kings like Herod. That was not God’s purpose. Jesus was adopted and formed in the womb of Joseph’s virgin wife to save his people from their sins (1:20-21). This was seen by ancient writers like Matthew as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah (1:20-21; Isa. 7:14). As evident in writings like Psalms of Solomon 17-18, 1 Enoch, and Dead Sea Scrolls1 the Messiah of David would represent the holy presence of God and lead all Jews into sinless living. In fact some believed the law would pass away when the true Messiah began to reign. For the law not to be needed meant all had to live holy lives at all times. Being capable of doing so meant the Messiah had to be as holy and sinless as those he would make holy or sinless. That is what the name “Immanuel” or “God with us” meant to those same ancient people.

If we trace the biblical history of God’s redemption, God chooses marriage and family as part of the means to its end.

The purpose of marriage is narrated in Genesis (2:18-25). After their moral crime, Adam and Eve were given a promised future in which God’s purpose would continue. Adam and Eve would create a society of families who would make God’s creation productive and who would overcome temptation and immorality (Gen. 3). It was for married society that God offered the first animal sacrifice in order to cover the naked guilt and shame of the first traditionally married couple. The clothing also served to minimize temptation (Gen. 3:21-23). Nevertheless, sibling rivalry and sexual perversion motivated by jealousy and lust followed (Gen. 4:1-24). One result was the rise of the first walled urban city, according to archaeology. Beginning with Adam’s grandson, the descendants of Adam began seeking God’s redemption (Gen. 4:25-26). Why? Because human decadence also continued until it dominated society. This was followed with the family of Noah being saved from the flood as well as the continuation the covenant of redemption that began with Adam (Gen. 6-8 & 9-10). The fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose was given greater specificity with the family of Abraham. Through this family, God promised to bless the entire world (Gen. 12-17). At the same time, the sterile couple, Abraham and Sarah, was promised a son, Isaac, through whom the promise would be fulfilled in history (Gen. 15, 18). The same could be said about the family of David and the promised Messiah (2 Sa. 7:12-16; Rom. 1:1-4). Not only through a specific descendant of David would Israel’s redemption be realized but all people across the globe would have access to it as well. With the virgin birth of Jesus, the promised redemption began to be fulfilled.

As we have seen, God chose a young married couple to bring His adopted son into the world. The fact that an angel visibly announced God’s adoptive purpose for Jesus’ life before his conception gave them a solemn mission of parenting. Their purpose was to raise God’s son to fulfill his life purpose—the salvation of Israel as well as rule of the kingdom (Lk. 1: 32-33). All of this was affirmed first by the priestly shepherds who were told by a host of angels that the salvation this new born King would bring was for all people (Lk. 2:10-14). Further affirmation came at Jesus’ dedication by the temple priest Simeon (Lk. 2:21-32). Simeon again affirmed that Jesus was salvation for both Jews and gentiles according to Isaiah 49:5-6. Finally, the ambassadors of Parthia, the Magi, came escorted by a military regiment to pay homage to the newly born Messiah (Mt. 2:1-6). Consequently, Mary and Joseph were parents charged with a holy mission to deliver God’s gift of salvation holy and sinless for both Israel and the world. Fortunately, they had godly relatives and friends as well as a culture defined by God’s word (however tainted by sin and the influence of Rome’s presence) to assist them.

This is God’s Christmas gift to all people for all times. Jesus’ parents wrapped him in a Hanukkah candle wick because God wanted all people to see that His son is the true light of the world (Lk. 2:12-14). While his destiny was to suffer the shame and judgment for all sins of all people on the cross and in hell, God saw the fulfillment of his redemptive purpose advance toward final fulfillment (Isa. 53). Having fully satisfied divine justice, God raised His son from hell, from death’s tomb, and from the rejection of ignorant men. And, by lifting His son up to His side in heaven, the light of His peace, grace, and holy life forever shines for all to behold and embrace. God’s just forgiveness, His presence and empowerment, and His acceptance are continually held out by our gentle risen Shepherd and Lord Jesus. The gift only has to be received and lived. When all parents and their children do, society will finally realize the common good of God’s will. Then peace will reign on earth.

* This is from the Isaiah Scroll (53).

Congressional Budget Office Predicts End of Social Security by 2031

Social Security is the federal government’s largest single program. Of the 58 million people who currently receive Social Security benefits, about 70 percent are retired workers or their spouses and children, and another 11 percent are survivors of deceased workers; all of those beneficiaries receive payments through Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI). The other 19 percent of beneficiaries are disabled workers or their spouses and children; they receive Disability Insurance (DI) benefits.

In fiscal year 2013, Social Security’s outlays totaled $808 billion, almost one-quarter of federal spending; OASI payments accounted for about 83 percent of those outlays, and DI payments made up about 17 percent. Each year, CBO prepares long-term projections of revenues and outlays for the program. The most recent set of 75-year projections was published in September 2013. This publication (shown below) presents additional information about those projections.

Social Security has two primary sources of tax revenues: payroll taxes and income taxes on benefits. Roughly 96 percent of those revenues derive from a payroll tax—generally, 12.4 percent of earnings—that is split evenly between workers and their employers; self-employed people pay the entire tax. The payroll tax applies only to taxable earnings—earnings up to a maximum annual amount ($113,700 in 2013). The remaining share of tax revenues—4 percent—is collected from income taxes that higher-income beneficiaries pay on their benefits. Revenues credited to the program totaled $745 billion in fiscal year 2013.

Revenues from taxes, along with intra-governmental interest payments, are credited to Social Security’s two trust funds—one for OASI and one for DI—and the program’s benefits and administrative costs are paid from those funds. Although legally separate, the funds often are described collectively as the OASDI trust funds. In a given year, the sum of receipts to a fund along with the interest that is credited on balances, minus spending for benefits and administrative costs, constitutes that fund’s surplus or deficit.

cboIn calendar year 2010, for the first time since the enactment of the Social Security Amendments of 1983, annual outlays for the program exceeded annual tax revenues (that is, outlays exceeded total revenues excluding interest credited to the trust funds). In 2012, outlays exceeded noninterest income by about 7 percent, and CBO projects that the gap will average about 12 percent of tax revenues over the next decade. As more members of the baby-boom generation retire, outlays will increase relative to the size of the economy, whereas tax revenues will remain at an almost constant share of the economy. As a result, the gap will grow larger in the 2020s and will exceed 30 percent of revenues by 2030.

CBO projects that under current law, the DI trust fund will be exhausted in fiscal year 2017, and the OASI trust fund will be exhausted in 2033. If a trust fund’s balance fell to zero and current revenues were insufficient to cover the benefits specified in law, the Social Security Administration would no longer have legal authority to pay full benefits when they were due. In 1994, legislation redirected revenues from the OASI trust fund to prevent the imminent exhaustion of the DI trust fund. In part because of that experience, it is a common analytical convention to consider the DI and OASI trust funds as combined. Thus, CBO projects, if some future legislation shifted resources from the OASI trust fund to the DI trust fund, the combined OASDI trust funds would be exhausted in 2031.

The End of Childhood in the Era of the Emerging American Police State

By John W. Whitehead
December 16, 2013

It wouldn’t be a week in America without another slew of children being punished for childish behavior under the regime of zero tolerance which plagues our nation’s schools. Here are some of the latest incidents.

In Pennsylvania, a ten-year-old boy was suspended for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination. Johnny Jones, a fifth grader at South Eastern Middle School, was suspended for a day and threatened with expulsion under the school’s weapons policy after playfully using his hands to draw the bowstrings on a pretend “bow” and “shoot” an arrow at a classmate who had held his folder like an imaginary gun and “shot” at Johnny. Principal John Horton characterized Johnny’s transgression as “making a threat” to another student using a “replica or representation of a firearm” through the use of an imaginary bow and arrow.

In Utah, a seven-year-old boy was arrested and berated by police because he ran away from school. The boy showed up at his mother’s house late in the afternoon, at which point he explained that he had left the school of his own accord. The mother called the school and explained what happened, at which point the principal decided to call the police, despite knowing the boy was in the protection of his mother. An officer arrived at the house, told the boy to “straighten up,” took him outside, handcuffed him, and yelled at him saying, “Is this the life you want?”

In Colorado, a six-year-old boy was suspended and accused of sexual harassment for kissing the hand of a girl in his class whom he had a crush on. After a good deal of negative publicity, Canon City Schools Superintendent Robin Gooldy decided to alter the offense from “sexual harassment” to “misconduct.”

In New York, three students were arrested while waiting for a bus to arrive and take them to a basketball scrimmage. The three were part of a group of a dozen basketball players who were waiting on a downtown sidewalk as per their coach’s instructions, when they were approached by a police officer who demanded they disperse. They explained that they were waiting for a bus, but the officer decided to arrest them anyway.

Add to the execution of zero tolerance policies the phenomenon of “lockdowns” of public schools, which are sometimes prompted by legitimate threats, but more often by nearby domestic disturbances and false alarms, in which students are corralled into closets and hallways, met with police officers armed to the hilt, searched by drug-sniffing dogs, and generally made to feel as if they are living in a war zone. This trend of acclimating children to a mindset in which they should always be fearful, on edge, and deferential to authority is compounded by so-called “drills” in which police officers pretend they are spree shooters. Dahlia Lithwick, writing for Slate, notes that these bizarre attempts to prepare kids for an active shooter situation do not really prepare students for emergency situations, but rather simply frighten them.

In fact, their true purpose, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, seems to be simply to acclimate children to the mindset of paranoia and absolute deference to authority which has taken hold of the American populace at large. Children are being conditioned to accept any and all orders from on high, even those which they inherently know are wrong.

In the face of this madness, some schools have begun scaling back the zero tolerance regime. For example, schools in Broward County, Florida, which saw over 1,000 student arrests in 2011, have begun a policy that de-emphasizes arrests, expulsions, and suspensions in favor of counseling and keeping kids that run into trouble in school.

Since implementing the new policies, “school-based arrests have dropped by 41 percent, and suspensions, which in 2011 added up to 87,000 out of 258,000 students, are down 66 percent from the same period in 2012.” Still, most school districts across the country maintain a strict adherence to zero tolerance policy.

Alongside the zero tolerance mess is the general censorship of student viewpoints when discussing topics which are not approved by school administrators. For example, when a Pennsylvania student newspaper decided to run an editorial explaining why they found the term “Redskin,” the nickname of the school’s athletic teams, insensitive, and why they would no longer use the name in the school newspaper, the school administration reprimanded the students and demanded they continue to use the term. In another case, a student journalist in Virginia was reprimanded for writing a column on sexuality-based bullying, also known as “slut-shaming,” because the article contained words and phrases such as “sexual” and “breast-feeding.”

Considering students in high school are on the cusp of adulthood, legally and otherwise, the attempts to censor them when they engage in debates that are occurring on a daily basis on television and in the newspapers isn’t simply obnoxious, but threatens the integrity of society as well. If students are being taught to self-censor, they will be ineffective citizens. They will internalize ideas contrary to basic American principles, namely that all people should be allowed to speak their minds as they see fit.

In fact, according to the Knight Foundation, students who are taught on the value of the First Amendment are more likely to agree with statements such as “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions” or “newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval.” However, for those who’ve not received such instruction, they seem more doubtful of the value of free speech.

Thus, one can easily see how the zero tolerance/censorship regime which dominates American public education can easily translate into a disaster for civil society at large in the coming years. Call it the end of childhood, call it the end of innocence, call it the end of imagination. What it will eventually amount to is the termination of freedom in the United States.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about the Institute is available at http://www.rutherford.org.

Trulia’s Housing Predictions for 2014

The latest Trulia real estate market research indicates the housing market will continue a slow recovery in 2014. They see housing prices continuing to increase but at a slower rate than in 2013. This will likely result in fewer first time buyers and fewer investors. Repeat buyers or home equity borrowers will likely dominate the mortgage market. Trulia already sees a growth trend in urban apartment rentals. They expect to see even more people renting in 2014.

The top three reason would-be buyers have difficulty buying a new home are (1) lack of sufficient savings, (2) no stable job, and (2) a poor credit history. As we learned from the recent economic crisis, those three reasons contributed to the housing bubble that produced the recession and resulted in a glut of housing foreclosures. In addition to new lending regulations taking affect in 2014, Trulia believes mortgage lending will be less frenzied and maybe less risky for lenders.

Other financial experts see another housing bubble growing.

To read the entire Trulia’s report, go to Trulia Trends.

Defense Secretary Hagel Asked to Review Military’s Connections to the Southern Poverty Law Center

The Thomas More Law Center with the Family Research Council (FRC) and 14 other organizations submitted a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting that the Department of Defense (DOD) ensure that future training materials do not rely on information from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) or any other organization that engages in groundless and highly pejorative mischaracterizations of long-standing Christian organizations for their own political purposes.

The request comes after several training incidents in which Army instructors may have relied on anti-Christian materials produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that was linked to domestic terrorism in federal court in February, 2013.

Lt. General Jerry Boykin (retired), Family Research Council’s executive vice president, made the following comments:

“In recent months, Army instructors have begun relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-Christian group linked to domestic terrorism, as a source for its briefings. While we are encouraged that the Army Secretary has issued an order ceasing such briefings, we remain concerned that individual installation briefings may continue to draw upon SPLC materials.

“We are asking Secretary Hagel to issue clear guidance to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute and instructing installations to stop relying on SPLC and other non-governmental sources as approved resources for equal opportunity training or other purposes.

“We will continue to monitor this situation and remain in contact with the Department of Defense to ensure that instructors carry out their role to train our troops to defend our freedom, and not push the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-Christian agenda,” concluded Boykin.