The Deadly Christmas Vaccine
By Dr. Brad Cole
Sometimes a vaccine can be dangerous. Of course, vaccinations are a hot topic this year since there is one available for both the seasonal and swine flu. These vaccines are highly recommended! In this article, however, I’d like to consider a different type of vaccine.
How do vaccine’s work? A vaccine contains a small amount of an agent that resembles a live microorganism – typically a microorganism that has been killed by chemicals or heat. This dead or sometimes partially dead microorganism then tricks the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and then to “remember” it should it show up again.
Vaccines are very effective because the immune system is now primed to easily recognize and destroy the “real” microorganism if it is later encountered. As an example of just how powerful a vaccine can be, in 1958 there were over 763,000 cases of measles in this country and with over 500 deaths. Last year, there were 64 reported cases – 54 of those were individuals from other countries and not vaccinated.
When our daughter, Christina, was 4 or 5, she would often pretend to cook. My wife Dorothee would allow her to use all kinds of spices and other ingredients in the kitchen to create some masterpiece – and then, of course, as good parents we had to pretend that it was delicious. One day Christina had a friend over and they decided to make a “chocolate cake” and somehow they managed to make this mass of buckwheat flour, paprika, nutmeg, poppy seeds, mud, leaves, and yes even a few chocolate chips and chocolate syrup to actually resemble a chocolate cake. It looked edible (with the lights dimmed).
But now, imagine that you had never tasted chocolate cake in your life and someone says to you, “You’ve never had chocolate cake? You’ve got to try it! Come on, Dr. Cole’s daughter even made it.” And so, you mosey over to the desert table…maybe again the lights are dimmed real low and so you can’t make it out very well, but someone cuts a piece of this “chocolate cake” for you and you dig in. You take your first bite and mixed in with the chocolate chips is the crunch of leaves, the spice of some paprika, and some other strange ingredients that have a very unusual texture that you can’t quite put your finger on.
Isn’t it true that the experience of eating a fake chocolate cake would serve as a very effective vaccine (in a sense) that would prevent you from ever trying it again? Wouldn’t this settle into your mind a fixed opinion that “I can’t stand chocolate cake!”
This time of year, we are literally inundated with a constant background noise of spiritual messages. Standing in the check-out line at K-Mart recently, I stood and listened not to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, but rather to “O Holy Night” a beautiful song that tells of the birth of Jesus. Just a few days ago I was in Starbucks and heard a wonderful version of “Silent Night”, another song that describes Jesus’ birth. 2 nights ago, we went for a walk in the evening and one of our neighbors has an incredible Christmas display – the entire front lawn must have at least 30 brightly lit scenes and right in between large images of Santa Claus and Winnie the Pooh, there was a manger scene with baby Jesus in the center.
I’m not saying that it is bad to have sacred songs in Starbucks or that we should outlaw Santa – not at all – but my question is this: Is it possible that as people’s visual and auditory senses are flooded with the manger scene this time of year that this could actually have the effect of vaccinating some against the real Christmas message?
The Bible is full of examples of people who really believe that they were doing God’s will when in reality they were spreading a deadly vaccine that actually prevented people from appreciating the true message. For example, listen to God’s words about the priests in the book of Hosea:
“The LORD says, ‘Let no one accuse the people or reprimand them [the people] – my complaint is against you priests. Night and day you blunder on, and the prophets do no better than you… My people are destroyed because they don’t know me…” (Hosea 4:4-6).
And why don’t they know God? The priests were spreading a vaccine of lies that inoculated the people from seeing the truth about God.
A very similar passage in Malachi:
“It is the duty of the priests to teach the true knowledge of God. People should go to them to learn my will, because they are the messengers of the LORD Almighty. But now you priests have turned away from the right path. Your teaching has led many to do wrong” (Malachi 2:7,8).
The manifestation of this deadly vaccine doesn’t necessarily create atheists. It sometimes can result in a religious people, yet their experience with God is empty and consists of nothing more than lifeless rituals. A good example of this is found in Isaiah chapter 1, and notice that these people are going to church, observing the sacrificial system and keeping the Sabbath. But yet God’s diagnosis of them is very clear:
“Why this frenzy of sacrifices?’…‘Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that– all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings– meetings, meetings, meetings–I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.” (Isaiah 1:11-15 MSG)
Here is a key point that we will come back to. These people are religious outwardly, but yet at the same time they are, in God’s words, “tearing people to pieces.” What would be the experience of a person who is perhaps considering taking God seriously for the first time in their life, but then they enter a church like this? The songs might be beautiful, but if the actions of the people are vicious and backstabbing, how long would you last in a church like that? Wouldn’t your spiritual immune system become so primed against the message of Christ based on such an experience?
When we take on the name of God, but yet spread a deadly vaccine against His message, nothing can do greater harm. This is the story of the Old Testament. As the Jews were being carted off in the Babylonian captivity, God said this about His people to the prophet Ezekiel:
“Wherever they went, they gave me a bad name. People said, ‘These are God’s people, but they got kicked off his land. I suffered much pain over my holy reputation, which the people of Israel blackened in every country they entered. ‘Therefore, tell Israel…I’m not doing this for you, Israel. I’m doing it for me, to save my character, my holy name, which you’ve blackened in every dountry where you’ve gone. I’m going to put my great and holy name on display, the name that has been ruined in so many countries, the name that you blackened wherever you went.” (Ezekiel 36:20-23 MSG)
The people who God had raised up to be a great light to reveal His character had instead given his holy name a black eye – once again, an example of a deadly vaccine against the truth.
Last Christmas I was giving a Bible study on the book of Matthew and we were discussing the birth of Jesus. A young man who I found out later was of Islamic faith attended for the first time. It was obvious from his body language that he was very interested and paying attention, but I couldn’t tell whether this was positive or negative – I just knew that whatever he was experiencing during that hour was very intense as he leaned forward in his chair, his eyes reacting to every word.
After it was over, he came up to me and essentially repeated the words that I had used, but yet he strongly disagreed with my conclusions: He said, “There is no way that God Almighty would spend 9 months in the womb. There is no way that God Almighty would spend his first night in a feeding trough. There is no way that God Almighty would grow up as a humble carpenter. There is no way that God Almighty would hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes. There is no way that God Almighty would wash the feet of Judas. There is no way that God Almighty would allow his own creatures to torture him to death. God is holy and pure. He could never do any of those things!”
It was fascinating for me to hear him repeat back the words that to me are the essence of the Good News, but yet he was completely immune to hearing about a God who was not only powerful, but also humble. To him, this was a repulsive message of nonsense.
Now that I have “picked on” the Jews and those of Islamic faith, let’s turn to Christians. David Kinnaman’s book “Un-Christian” reveals extensive survey results of attitudes that the younger generation in this country have toward Christians. This book revealed that people in the 16-29 age group felt that “Christians” usually don’t resemble Christ very much. Of the 440 young people who were “outsiders” (i.e. – not church goers) they perceived Christians to be “hypocritical,” (85%); “insensitive to others,” (70%); “judgmental” (87%); “too involved in politics” (75%) and finally “anti-homosexual” (91%).
I saw someone write a blog on this book and they criticized the report saying, “Well, Christ wasn’t very popular so why should we expect to be popular in the world today?” In response, I would just like to say, was Christ criticized for being “hypocritical”, “insensitive”, “too involved in politics” or “judgmental”?
It seems that we may need to agree with Gandhi who said, “You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
But now, having said all of that about the deadly vaccine, let’s try to understand, what is the appearance of the live “virus” of the Christian message? What does the real thing look like? What is the message we should be bringing to people this Christmas season?
I think that 1 John 1 very well captures the message. I’ve chosen The Message Bible here because it is less familiar and perhaps gives us the chance to hear it as if for the first time:
“From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in–we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.” (1 John 1:1-5 MSG)
The Christmas message to me is essentially this: the all-powerful God (the One who created the entire Universe) in His extravagant love for you and me, spent 9 months inside the womb of one of His sinful creatures – and the Creator of all living things was Himself created, cell by cell. The message of Christmas to me is that we serve a God who spent His first night on earth not in a palace but in a feeding trough, for that’s what a manger is. The message of Christmas is that God, though He has unlimited power, was willing to relinquish that power and become dependent on Mary for food and diaper change.
The message of Christmas to me is that there is more to God than power and lights and sounds. The “Silent Night” in a manger reveals to us that in the heart of God there is also an immense humility and a willingness to stoop to an infinite degree to reach you and me.
Here is our dilemma: if people have become burned out with manger scenes, Christmas carols, and Christians who do not represent Christ, how do we convey the live-changing impact that this story should have on the world? How can we persuade people to stop and listen to this radical story about God?
I think that the commission of Jesus in Matthew 24:14 is the key. He said, “…this Good News will be preached as a witness to all people, and then the end will come.”
In other words, the gospel is spread not so much with words preached from a pulpit, but it is lived out in our lives (“as a witness”) as we treat people as Jesus treated people. As St. Francis once said, “Preach always. Use words if necessary.”
When the Good News is spread it should look like Jesus. To illustrate this, let’s return to some of the criticisms that young people today have toward Christians:
1). 87% of Christians are judgmental. Was Christ judgmental?
It’s interesting to contrast that Christians today are most likely to judge and condemn those whose behavior they believe is morally wrong. But compare that to Christ. Who did he have hard words for? It was for the religious leaders, the people who were going to church, paying tithe, keeping the Sabbath, reading their Bibles and doing a whole lot of things right externally. Notice though that toward the outsiders, the outcasts of society, Jesus did not appear as judgmental or condemnatory – and he was hated for this.
“When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company [prostitutes, tax collectors, and fisherman], they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers, ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?’” (Matthew 9:11 MSG)
What does this mean to us? It means that we need to go outside our comfort zones and to associate with and show compassion for outsiders and outcasts, just as Jesus did, rather to judge and condemn them from a distance. Only then will people have any interest in hearing about the God who slept in a manger.
2). 70% of Christians in this survey were perceived as being insensitive to others. Was Jesus insensitive to others?
We could list dozens of examples here, but one that I like is the story of Jairus’ daughter. Recall that when Jesus arrived at his home the little girl who was about 12, was dead. Jesus was ridiculed when he said, “She is only sleeping” but then he went in and said to her, “Little girl, I tell you to get up” (Mark 5:41) and of course when she did pandemonium broke loose in the room. Have you noticed though a remarkable little detail at the end of the story? The last sentence of the story has Jesus saying this, “Give her something to eat.” (Mark 5:43). You would think that after raising her from death, His job is done, but yet amidst the rejoicing family, Jesus is the one who is concerned that this little girl is hungry.
That suggests to me that even if you are a surgeon who has perhaps just completed some spectacular surgical procedure, that to “look like Christ” would also involve an eager attentiveness and sensitivity to the smaller needs of your patients. Christians in the world today should have their spiritual antennas eagerly watching to see where they can help those around them, no matter how small that help may be.
3). 91% of Christians were perceived as “anti-homosexual”.
If we use leprosy in Jesus’ day as a parallel to individuals today who are outcasts because they are HIV positive, perhaps we can glean some insights in this area.
In Mark chapter 1, we read that “A man suffering from a dreaded skin disease came to Jesus, knelt down, and begged him for help. ‘If you want to,’ he said, ‘you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) Notice carefully the words that the writer of this gospel uses and as he tries to capture the face and the emotions of Jesus in this encounter:
“Jesus was filled with pity, and reached out and touched him. ‘I do want to,’ he answered. ‘Be clean!” (Mark 1:41)
Wouldn’t you love to have a picture of Jesus’ face at that moment? Do you hear the great compassion and love that Jesus had for this man who was judged and condemned by others as an outcast? That is precisely the reputation that Christians should have in the world today. People should say of Christians, “those are the people who really care for others.”
What would be the result if this kind of Christ-like love for others was exhibited by Christians throughout the world today?
There was at least one time in human history when it would appear that the church looked like Jesus. After the resurrection, the early Christians banded together in love and service for others. The book of Acts describes the radical nature of this early movement as the people even sold their possessions and gave to all those in need. The result was spectacular and the message spread like wildfire! In Acts 2 it says that
“Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
A few chapters later in Acts, as Paul and Silas entered Thessalonica, the reputation of this radical Christian movement had preceded them and the people of that town said to each other in a panic, “The people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now.” (Acts 17:6 – NJB)
If we stick with the vaccine-virus metaphor, this is what the live virus looks like (the good virus) when it spreads! It is highly contagious when the enthusiasm and passion for God’s love as revealed by Jesus is lived out by those who call themselves Christians. If this kind of love and service were revealed by Christians today, the entire world would soon be infected with the Good News about a God who became a baby.
This lecture was given for the Christian Medical Dental Association on 12/4/09