Standing apart from all the forced cheeriness of Christmas, the sentimentality, the dreams of family warmth and togetherness, there is this austere and somewhat disturbing tale of a strange baby of uncertain parentage, born in refugee conditions, hailed as King by spirit messengers. Compared to what we tend to think of as Christmas, the actual Christmas story is kind of like reading an original Grimm's Fairy Tale after only knowing the Disney versions. True, the story is so familiar that we tend to view it through a soft-focus lens.
Nevertheless if you read it carefully, considering what those familiar words are actually describing, it can be a little disturbing.
This is even more true when you consider how the church has interpreted these events (and the events to follow) even from the very beginning. The child was born of a woman who had never had intercourse with a man. What? The man grew up and began walking around the countryside healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead. Whoa! He so disturbed the ruling authorities that they conspired to have him arrested, tried, and executed in the most brutal fashion. That part is harsh, but people are executed brutally all the time -- nothing really strange in that. But then the story has him rising from the dead. And the reason for all this, says the church, is that he is God in the Flesh, come to sacrifice himself for humanity, to save us from our fundamental tendency to mess everything up, and to set right all that is wrong with the world.
We shouldn't be surprised that there are people who object to that story, and the meaning it has been given, on multiple points.
And yet...this is what Christians believe, and we believe it so firmly that we stake our lives on it.
But as wild a tale as it is, is it unreasonable? I don't think so. For instance, there are many things about the universe that science proclaims as true, that are also pretty wild: Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the dual nature of light as particle and wave, black holes, dark matter. Most of us don't understand all the evidence for these things either, yet we say we believe them. Although, I don't think if a gun were pressed to your head, very many would be willing to die for the higgs boson. I'm not saying these things aren't true -- what I'm saying is that at the most basic level we live most of our lives by faith, even if we call ourselves atheists.
In a recent interview in the NY Times, Rev. Tim Keller expressed this in his usual articulate way:
"...no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith."
The heart of the Christmas story is the Christ story. The lights, and the evergreens, and the presents (and the food; let's not forget the food) are all very nice. But at the core of the thing is something much harder and brighter and sharper. To many people it will be offensively hard, and offensively jagged. But let's not be apologizing for that. Let's share the greater meaning and purpose and invite everyone to see the ultimate beauty and glory that suffuses all of it. Christmas is not a trap to accuse people, nor is it a weapon for us to bludgeon people. It is a story into which we may invite everyone, so that they also may trust in it.
It is through this story that God is making us into the kind of humans he originally meant us to be. That's why at it's heart, Christmas is good news for all people.
United Baptist Church
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