In recent days, people around the world celebrated once again a special birth that occurred two thousand years ago. Some nations held their festivities on December 25th; others had theirs on January 6th or 7th. But the reason for the excitement, family gatherings, feasts, decorations, exchange of gifts, visiting with family and friends, commemorative plays, and joyous church services was the same – the birth of Jesus Christ. Why these annual festivities? What was unique about the birth of Jesus?
As Christians, Armenians have commemorated Jesus’ birth for over seventeen hundred years. Their title for the annual festival on January 6th has been The Feast of the Theophany. The Armenians of ancient times named it correctly – God’s appearance to human kind. They remember the pronouncement of the angel Gabriel to a certain Jewish virgin named Mary, telling her she would have God’s son Jesus. Armenians also remember the arrival of the Magi, three from a distant land, and the adoration of these men for the infant Jesus.
Of course, if one reads from the books of Luke and Matthew in the Bible, there is much more to this ancient account of Jesus’ birth and life.
But suffice it to say, Armenians and other Christians around the world celebrate the arrival of Jesus because they believe in his virgin birth. No other child in history came the same way.
Visions, dreams, and angels are also part of the Muslim belief system. But they have no commemorations centered around the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. And for all my search through the history of Ottoman Turkey, I discovered not even an acknowledgement of the importance of Christ’s birth.
During my years as an ESL teacher, I have made every effort to learn from my students. In discussions with the Muslims in my class, I heard all about their five pillars of faith, Mohammed, Abraham, and Ramadan, but never about Jesus.
In a conversation with a student I’ll call Halima, I mentioned that the Koran encourages Muslims to read the Injil, the four Gospels in the New Testament, because those books talk about Jesus. I asked her if she’d ever read them.
“No,” she responded, “but we believe Jesus was born of a virgin. But he wasn’t God’s son.”
Hmm, I thought, now that’s a puzzle.
In later discussions with other Muslim students during class breaks, I discovered why they accepted some parts of the miraculous birth, but rejected other parts. Their rejection of Jesus being God’s Son came from their objection to the idea of God having sex with a woman.
So I said, ” You believe the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced she would be pregnant?”
“Oh, yes. But God having sex with a human? That’s horrible.”
“Why would God need to have sex with Mary?” I asked. “You believe God made the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth, its oceans, rivers, plants, animals, and the first man Adam, don’t you?”
“How did He do it? What did God do to create the world?”
The students stood in front of me in silence as if stunned by the question.
“In Genesis the first book of the Bible,” I continued, “it says God spoke and it was so. Couldn’t God do the same thing with Mary? God spoke and she was with child, just like that. No sex required.”
Stumbling over the Sonship of Jesus, the Christ, is nothing new. In fact, Muslims aren’t the only ones who have and do. Jesus’ own people the Jews do, too, and have been stumbling on the very same issue for over two thousand years, even longer than the Muslims.
With their centuries of denial of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, the Turks of the Ottoman Empire viewed the world with very different eyes. Redemption from sin and access to paradise wasn’t possible through Jesus’ sacrifice. According to their belief system, the possibility of redemption for a Muslim comes only to those who sacrifice themselves continuously and even then only to men. Their women have no hope of paradise.
A people who believed and taught otherwise had to be forced to change their belief system. If they refused, the Muslim Turks convinced themselves that such infidels (non-Muslims) must be done away with. The majority of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire refused to convert. So their Muslim neighbors oppressed, persecuted, tortured, starved, and killed them. The spring and summer of 1915 weren’t the only periods in which the Turks did so, either.
Behind the multiple methods to erase the hope and joy that Christians celebrate at Christmas, or the Feast of Theophany, is the Muslim denial that Jesus was and is God’s Son. It’s as if they are saying, “I don’t have a certain hope of redemption from my sins. Therefore, what I don’t have, you can’t have, either.”
Ironically, the Turks’ efforts to stamp out the Armenian people does not rid the earth of God’s promise to redeem human kind through His Son Jesus. God’s promise still stands. His view of Jesus’ birth is written in God’s Word and anyone can read it for him or herself.