The Nativity Story is often referred to as “The Christian Myth”. I do it too sometimes, though I know it to be historical fact.
Yet it’s easy for well-meaning Christians to try to make their beliefs more palatable by undermining the authority of the Bible by calling it all “mythological, magical… not necessarily to be taken seriously.” That we rational beings know that Mary probably had an affair or fornicated with Joseph to produce the Christ child, and because of that we should be extra-forgiving of other young mothers who’ve committed the same sins.
But that’s simply not how it’s presented in the Bible. It’s not a recitation of mythology, as with ancient Greeks and Romans. Compare and contrast:
Zeus impregnates Metis, and immediately fears she would bear an heir to challenge his authority, so he swallows her. Alas for Zeus she had already conceived, and Zeus got a splitting headache. Hephaestus splits his head open to reveal a fully formed, fully armed Athena. Her miraculous birth is accompanied by the clarion cry of war.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria). Everyone went to his hometown to register. There Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Joseph had had no union with her until she gave birth to her son, and he gave him the name Jesus.
One is fantastic and incredible, the clash and pull of immortal gods. The other is a humble story, anchored to ancient Roman history. In this unassuming family is this incredible experience of being intimate witness to a personal God, a rarity in any mythology. In no way is the Bible presenting anything but hard reality. You can reject it as incredible and ludicrous if you want, but never take the risk of removing from the Bible the authority of its own words… and still claim that you’re a Christian. Let it never cross your lips: “What a pretty story. What does it mean?” Call it the truth or a damnable lie, but flee the mushy middle.
Make no mistake: the Bible did not present a myth, but a historical account. You can reject that account as false, but don’t think that you’re maintaining respect for the Bible by calling it a “beautiful and moving myth.” The Word has not left that option open to you. You will decide whether Nativity story is a fact or a falsehood, but it is no myth.
“I’d rather you were hot or cold.”
This is a repost from December, 2010.