Monday, December 19, 2011

What if?

OK this is a 'What if ?' post. If you don't know what one of those is then go away until you do.

See, the thing is, every Christmas someone goes to a lot of trouble to debunk a bit of Christmas. This year an excellent, and scholarly work by Anthony Billington points out that the word we translate as 'inn' in Luke 2 is probably wrong. It is more likely to mean no guest room. Read it here.

Most exaggerations and additons to the Christmas story (number and arrival time of wise men, presence of animals, requests to Christian children to behave nicely) have been dealt with at some point over the years. They are largely the fault of Victorian carol-writers.

My 'What if' is this. What if it's all bunk? No, not rubbish, but simply not history. John and Mark wrote perfectly acceptable gospels without birth narratives. Paul never refers to it and manages possibly the high point of early church Christology in Philippians 2 without talking about it, or apparently needing to. Jesus himself never refers to it; only to his human family. Joseph disappears from view before Jesus is an adult.

What if, aware of the nature of Jesus the healer/teacher and his ability, it was felt appropriate to give him the sort of exceptional birth or call that heroes of the faith traditionally had? Think Isaac's miraculous arrival, Moses escape, Samuel's childhood temple ministry and you'll get the idea. What if tales grew up as a mark of respect? Needing to treat him as divine someone invented his beginning. Luke adds shepherds (Jesus for the poor and stoopid); Matthew wise men (Jesus for the rich and educated).

Given the unique nature of his birth it is amazing that only one story from age 2-30 survives, Jesus at 12 in the temple. Didn't anyone think to chronicle the life of this amazing and special child? Why on earth not? What if that was because at that time he was not yet special, hadn't yet heard God's call and was busy learning not to cut the ends of his fingers off with carpentry tools?

Does that make his eventual sacrifice any less? Here, finally is a son of God (as we are all called) whose obedience is exemplary. 'This is my son', says a voice from the heavens. What if that is what we all could be, if we just went the way he pointed rather than wondering where he came from.

What if?


Marcella said...

Good points, well made. Will think on't.

Rich Burley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Burley said...

I think the story holds up beautifully without the need for the "history" tag - I think for lots of people it comes across as a sort of Aesop's fable anyway. Though it's hard to say that without peeing on a lot of people's Christmas fires, which is why I don't tend to bring it up much.

For me the real majesty of Christmas is in John 1.

St said...

Oops I peed on your fire

Anonymous said...

Children are the original proletariat. The lack of childhood chronicles just shows how fully God experienced our lives.

But yes, what if? Still an astonishing, liberating phenomenon and manifestation even without virgin birth. But if you *were* the result of nifty work by the Holy Spirit and yo' mama, but were also a human boy, would *you* go on about it in your childhood/teens/20s? Nah.

(Vinaigrette Girl)