This Christmas has once again brought out the challenges to the Christian faith we have been seeing for many years.
In recent years we have had the Jesus Seminar, the wildly popular Da Vinci Code (both book and movie), The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Thomas, etc, ad nausea. Questioning the Christian faith has become a pastime for some, and for others it is their mission in life. For my part, I welcome their scrutiny. The problem with such scrutiny is that it so frequently fails the test of credibility. Instead of producing facts to attack the very nexus, the core beliefs of Christianity, they grab on to hypothetical postulation, or as in the case of the Da Vinci Code, the tantalizing world of conspiracy theories. In every case, the element of the miraculous is ruled out, quite intentionally it would seem.
The headlines this season trumpet loudly that the leader of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, has stated that the Christmas Story of Christ born in a manger is the stuff of “legend.” For example, he says there were not three magi (wise men) who came to the manger the night Jesus was born. In this he is correct. In fact, we do not know how many magi there were. The Bible says they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Another fact – the magi were not at the stable in Bethlehem. The Bible says they showed up nearly two years after the birth of Jesus! When they arrived they made a courtesy call on the King of Israel, Herod the Great. Herod became fearful that his rule might be usurped by this boy-child Jesus. After determining where this child should be based upon Biblical prophecy concerning the Christ, the magi went on their way to Nazareth where they found the child (no longer a baby) at home with his mother. In the mean time, Herod called out his soldiers and ordered them to kill every boy child two years of age and younger throughout Israel. This was one paranoid king! You can read this for yourself in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The truth is, we don’t know who these magi were, or even where they were from. In any event, they were late for the birth of Christ.
Other comments made by the good Archbishop: 1) “There was no evidence that there were any oxen or asses in the stable.” This too is correct. The Bible doesn’t say or even suggest that there were such critters present. The likelihood that Joseph and Mary would have been squeezed into a stall with a cow or some other domestic creature is not plausible. It is more reasonable to believe that the stable was available because there were now critters inside. You will find this in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. 2) “The chances of any snow falling around the stable in Bethlehem were very unlikely.” Once again, true. The Bible doesn’t say or suggest that there was snow. The elevation of Bethlehem is 2510 feet above sea level. The temperatures from November to March average 33-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Though this would be cold enough for snow on certain occasions, the Bible makes no mention of snow on the night Christ was born. 3) As for the star rising and standing still: the Archbishop pointed out that “stars just don’t behave like that.” Also true. But this was no ordinary star. God may well have created this star for this singular purpose. Just as I believe God created the large fish that swallowed and then latter vomited Jonah. There is no mention in the Bible of this having been a whale. A whale doesn’t have a large enough esophagus to swallow a grown man anyway. So it probably is with the star over Bethlehem. There’s another story that has a similar skepticism attached to it. In the Book of Joshua, chapter ten, the Israelites are battling the Amorites. Joshua calls out to the Lord in the presence of the Israelites, “‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon . . .’ So the sun stood still . . . till the nation avenged itself on its enemies.” Joshua then writes, “There has never been a day like it before or since.” Even he knew this was clearly out of the ordinary, and said so.
Another issue raised by the Archbishop had to do with whether Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus. This is a no brainer. The words of prophecy regarding the virgin birth are found in Isaiah 7:14. In this passage God challenges King Ahaz to test him with something so outrageously impossible that all men would know God had done it. The King refused. So God made his own improbable, impossible challenge. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy regarding the birth of the Christ occurred about 700 years before Jesus was born. Matthew and Luke make a point of mentioning Mary’s virginity in their gospel accounts. Must have been important, don’t you think?
The Hallmark Card Company has made a fortune on Christmas cards depicting many incorrect images about the birth of Christ. Song and hymn writers have taken license to write their tunes portraying a scene that was most likely inaccurate. I really don’t have a problem with that.
Here’s what we do know based upon the Bible, God’s Word: Jesus was born sometime two thousand years ago, in a stable, in Bethlehem. He grew to be a man who would then die on a Roman cross for our sins, rising again on the third day, conquering both sin and death. Millions upon millions of Christian believers have embraced this truth, and many of those have died a martyr’s death, refusing to recant their beliefs.
Until someone can disprove this cornerstone of the Christian faith, I’ll go right on celebrating the greatest story ever told.