I sat in the pediatrician’s waiting room with a sick child browsing a dog-eared parenting magazine. It was a glossy holiday issue full of colorful pictures of luscious goodies, glittering decorations, and happy families.
The magazine contained an article by an expert in things child-related who wrote the typical-for-that-venue column about the holidays (carefully avoid the word “Christmas”). She noted how, for too many children, the reality has little resemblance to the window dressing. Financial constraints can put a severe cramp on gifting, causing a child to feel let down. Broken families can create turmoil, leading to feelings of abandonment or rootlessness. Health issues can put a damper on the joy of the season. The pin of reality can burst inflated expectations and leave the head ringing with depression.
I don’t recall much about the article, but the gist of one statement sticks in my mind. Concerning the importance of maintaining family traditions, she said that, whether we teach our children about Santa, “or the nativity, or any of the usual holiday myths,” we should give the child something stable to hold onto.
Parenthetical note: Looking for images to illustrate this post, I used the keyword “myth” to search the Morguefile site. The photo at the beginning of this post was one of the results.
I once had a discussion with a co-worker about this nativity myth. “I don’t understand why we’re supposed to believe in something as ridiculous as the virgin birth,” she said. “Childbirth is such a beautiful miracle anyway, what’s the point of making up something so impossible?”
For one thing, though childbirth is a wondrous event to be sure, there’s nothing miraculous about it. But this was no ordinary childbirth. The Holy Spirit implanting himself in a young girl’s womb to grow into a full-term baby? That’s a miracle. A wholly unique situation. “Unique,” however, is not synonymous with “impossible.”
There’s also the matter of fulfilled prophecy. Historians of every religious and non-religious ilk agree that the prophecies in question were made long before Jesus was born, so it’s not an issue of after-the-fact revisionism.
Moreover, Mary and Joseph couldn’t have contrived to fulfill every aspect of what was foretold even if it had occurred to them to do so. (“I know it looks like I cheated on you, Joe, but I’m still a virgin. Really. Just like Isaiah said. And to be sure everyone thinks that’s what this is, let’s go to Bethlehem to have the baby. The question is how can we get Herod to kill all the little boys in town afterward? I suppose we’ll have to hide out in Egypt for a while, but we’ll come back here to Nazareth eventually.” “Sure, I’ll cover for you, Mary. Why shouldn’t I? But do you think we can time the birth to coincide with that new star that’s supposed to appear in the sky?”)
No matter what the evidence, not everyone’s going to believe Mary’s story. They scoffed at her then, and murky shame followed her the rest of her life. Nowadays, much of the world either puts virgin birth in quotes, suggesting it never happened, or capitalizes it, adding fantastic details to the story and elevating Mary to godlike status. Making the whole thing a myth, in other words. ‘Cause, you know, we all love a good myth.
It’s a shame that one of the most pivotal events in human history has been bedecked with enough embellishment to break a camel’s back. The simple, breathtaking truth becomes the fairytale while the fictional version is the real Christmas, as far as most of the world is concerned.
Yeah, I know, you’ve heard all this before, year after year, forever and ever and ever, amen. I’ll spare you the re-runs today.
However, though the subject is old and gray, it’s still relevant. If we could make Christmas go away by wishing it—or at least, change it into something more to our liking—Santa would have been grounded ages ago. But we can’t, and the question remains: what’s a Christ-follower supposed to do with Christmas?
Here’s a thought: why not celebrate it?
Traditional festivities involve eating and drinking, of course, which should always be done with some sense of moderation. But we can revel with wild abandon in the Christmas spirit of selflessness and generosity, kindness, forgiveness, and hospitality. How about strewing peace and goodwill all over the place like confetti? Adorning our conversations with encouragement and cheer? Making someone else’s holiday enjoyable instead of moping about how someone has ruined ours?
I kinda think the Birthday Boy might like that.
So what if Jesus wasn’t born on December 25? He was born, wasn’t he? What’s more, he’s still alive. Would anyone believe that from listening to you talk?
We grinchy Christians have more to celebrate than anyone else. So let’s get off our high horses—and off your computer, you nerd! What are you doing staring at a screen on Christmas?—and act like God coming to dwell among us is a good thing.
Unrelated postscript: Though it’s the season to be jolly, it’s also time to bid you all adieu. It’s been a challenge and a pleasure to contribute every second Wednesday to the Speculative Faith blog over the past 14 months or so, but the time has come for me to invest my time in other endeavors.
I may pop in for a visit here and there, but for now, hear me exclaim as I drive out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.