Christmas Blessings to All!
As I have been contemplating this message and the messages I have written in Christmases past, the idea that keeps popping into my head is that we are all missing the point in a big way. You see, we confuse Christian faith with the study of history. We are worried about what really happened. How many wise me were there? Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Was there snow? Was Mary really a virgin? The odd thing is that it doesn’t matter where you fall along the conservative – progressive continuum, you are probably preoccupied by all of this. Progressives say that it’s important to know about the historical Jesus, about what really happened, about how Jesus could possibly have performed miracles. Conservatives say that all of the things in the Bible had to happen just the way the Bible says they did, that the Bible has to have the real truth or everything falls apart and anything goes.
Really? Are you sure about that?
Think about this. There is nothing about your understanding and perspective – conservative, progressive, or anywhere in between – that could possible change one single thing about Christian history or the deposit of faith. The things that have happened have happened completely independent of whether there were three wise men or three hundred. In the end, most of the stuff that contemporary theologians are arguing about matters very little beyond securing them tenure and publishing books. Why? It matters very little because faith goes way beyond historical data.
In the end, faith is very much about an encounter with the holy. Everything else arises out of an attempt to explain that encounter, and words will never be adequate to that task. At some point in our lives God steps in and we are forever changed – and whether or not John the Baptist really ate locusts or wore a hair shirt is completely irrelevant. Once a person has had an encounter with the Divine, no perspective on the historicity of scripture is ever going to convince them that they have not had such an encounter. What does matter in the interpretation of such events is the entire deposit of the Christian faith and how the encounter is understood in light of that deposit.
And so Christmas is upon us. God comes near in the person of Jesus Christ, born to poor parents in a manger in Bethlehem. His life would forever change the world. His teachings have survived for two thousand years. In them we find a tremendous call to address injustice and oppression wherever we find them. In them we find nothing of heaven or hell of popular understanding (in fact, Jesus never used either term, despite what poor biblical translations might like us to believe). What we do find is a call to include the marginalized, end oppression and poverty, and care for the disadvantaged. That is a challenging mission, yet it is the one we are given and the one we celebrate every Christmas.
Perhaps those who are spending all their time wrapped up in what really happened are really just trying to avoid carrying out the mission….