24 December 2019

A Savior Is Born

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God was born in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea. Christian tradition tells us He was born on December 25, the day we know as Christmas.

December 25 Is The Wrong Date

A moment's scrutiny of the Gospels is all that is needed to know that Christian tradition is unquestionably wrong. Jesus was not born in December.

The Gospel itself does not give a date, nor even a season. Little clues such as the presence of shepherds nearby spending the night in the field with their flocks tell us the season was possibly in the spring. Judean winters tend towards the cold and rainy, so it is unlikely shepherds would be in the fields at night during that time, but would instead seek shelter. Other Biblical scholarship suggests that, based on the time references for the birth of Jesus' earthly cousin John the Baptist, He was born during the early fall.

All scholarship agrees the December 25th date is almost certainly not accurate.

How the celebration of Jesus' birth comes to be on December 25th is, as best as anyone can determine, something of a compromise with the pagan Romans among whom the early Christian communities coexisted (not always peaceably). The first Christmas celebration in December appears to have been some time during the 4th century. Given the proximity of December 25th to the Winter Solstice, and it falling in the middle of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, the possibility early Christians co-opted pagan celebrations, either to "fit in" or to build connections among pagan communities in order to encourage conversion to Christianity, cannot be discounted.

Suffice it to say, December 25th is not Jesus' birthday.

Does It Matter?

A good deal of Biblical scholarship is frustrating because, in so many instances, specific proofs are missing, such as easy linkages to the known histories of Rome and of the Middle East at the time.  The Bible places Jesus' birth during the time of the Emperor Augustus, makes reference to the Roman governor of Syria, but beyond these sparse historical references dates are simply not part of the narrative structure of the Gospels.

Why did the chroniclers of Jesus' ministry not include such basic information? The authors of the Gospels took pains to record Jesus words, yet they ignored such obvious personal details as His height and His appearance. These are rather basic bits of information that any biographer would quite normally include, yet they are absent from the Gospels.

What are we to make of such omissions? 

Perhaps the simplest answer is the most obvious one: the Gospels are not a biography. The Gospels are not an history of Jesus' life, or even His ministry. Rather, the Gospels are a compendium of Jesus' teachings. 

Details about the physical man have no bearing on those teachings. Whether by accident or design, we are not told whether Jesus was short or tall. We are not told if Jesus was skinny or heavyset. We are not told the date of Jesus' birth.

Such details simply do not matter.

The Gospels: Myths of Jesus

It follows that to search after the historicity of the Gospels is to miss their point entirely. The Gospels are not history, nor should the Bible be read as history. Rather, the Bible is mythology, and the Gospels are, properly apprehended, myths of Jesus.

While modern usage of the term suggests fiction and fallacy, the origins of the term "myth" describe narratives whose purpose was to teach vital moral and ethical truths. The original meaning of the term myth, and the original meaning of its Greek antecedent, referred to a religious story containing a particular religious truth.

The great epic sagas of ancient literature, such as the Iliad and Beowulf, were the stories used in ancient societies to transmit important cultural and ethical values from one generation to the next. Each of these ancient myths were, to borrow from the Bard, a "story the good man shall teach his son."

The Gospels are the stories--the myths--good men use to teach their sons the vital ethical and moral truths of Christianity.

Christmas Is The Beginning

Every man's story begins when he enters into this world. The story of Jesus is no different. The Nativity is the beginning of Jesus' story, and so it is also the beginning of the promise and hope that is the Good News of Jesus Christ. He who was born a poor traveler on the road brings a message of new life--and eternal life--for all men, regardless of their past or their present. Beginning with the Nativity, redemption replaces atonement. With Jesus, forgiveness replaces expiation. In Jesus, fear of the past gives way to hope for the future.

That hope is worth celebrating on any day--even on December 25.

That hope should be celebrated on every day--not just on December 25.

My prayer is that, while we celebrate the rituals of Christmas this December 25, we will continue to celebrate the message of Christmas on every day thereafter.

Merry Christmas to all.

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