The Baby and the Bathwater…
He claims that much of the traditional Christian story is myth rather than history. Lots of what he says is true. In fact, the letter column of yesterday’s Times (20th December 2007) includes one by Revd Dr Anthony Carr with which I pretty much agree:
I understood and accepted much of what Dr Rowan Williams said about the Christmas story. I would, however, take issue with him on belief in the virginal conception. I use this word deliberately rather than the Virgin Birth because they are two different things.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church hold the teaching that the virginal conception is central to their teaching about the nature of Christ and of humankind. Belief in the fall of man means that all people are born with that fallen nature. If Jesus was born of natural parents he could not become the perfect sacrifice for humankind because he, God, would be also tainted with sin, which would be impossible. Rather he took on himself human nature by going through the process of a supernatural conception and a natural birth through the womb of Mary. The whole nature of Christ is changed if belief in the supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit is rejected, and it also makes mockery of the Creeds.
In my adult life I have developed a huge dislike for Father Christmas, which I guess may be why he no longer puts satsumas in the stocking at the end of my bed! My main problem is that, as a child, he and God the Father got completely scrambled together in my thinking. They both appeared at Christmas time. They both had long flowing beards and had apparently lived for ever. They both rewarded the good with pressies.
The corruption of grace, however, was that, however bad I had been I never got a lump of coal in my stocking and he always came up with the goods, thanking me for his mince pie and sherry, mysteriously in my father’s handwriting!
Separating myth from fact is important. But at the same time, let’s not lose the historic facts which are absolutely intergral to the Christian faith. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, lived as a sinless man, died on the cross to atone for our sins and rose again on the third day victorious, we are, as the Apostle Paul aptly said in a hopeless situation. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:12-22)
The main thing that is at stake here is whether the Bible is to be trusted as a reliable record of Jesus’ life and mission.
Anglican mainstream reports the Bishop of Rochester saying at a Cathedral Carol service yesterday “Down the ages of faith lots of stories have grown up around Christmas. This can be good because it helps people to celebrate the festival. This is true of the music at Christmas, and the great art about the nativity. But Christmas is not just a story. It is solemn and serious. It is about God being with us, God speaking to us and God saving us. The reason that Christmas remains popular even in secular society, is that for a while we see the benign heart of the universe.” (http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/)
So, what is the moral of this story? By all means, let’s unwrap the Christmas myths which have overlain the Christmas story. But in doing so, let’s not lose the real Christmas presence, He who came in history to be our salvation. Wouldn’t it be good if people read the eyewitness accounts of that first Christmas in the four Gospels? We need to dispel many popular myths about Christmas without losing the Chist. To fail to do so would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater!