It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… Not because of the snow or the lights, but because of the emergence of critics clamoring to cast doubt on Christ and His birth. In this piece on CNN’s belief blog, Professor Parini placards some of the usual canards about the Nativity. He claims that it’s just a co-opting of Sol Invictus (it’s not). He implies that the real historical Jesus is lost amidst a sea of speculation surrounding a few ambiguous facts (He’s not). He indicates that Jesus’ teachings came from a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies (Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to think his teachings came from God). He suggests that Jesus would be rather surprised that 2 billion people would be celebrating his birth (Jesus seemed pretty confident that a woman who poured perfume on his head would be remembered throughout the world, so I don’t think this would have come as much of a shock to him.) In short, the professor acts as though Christ’s nature is really up to us to decide on–as though the historical facts of what Jesus actually said about himself have no bearing on the matter because they’re just too unclear.
But this post isn’t primarily about Professor Parini–his take on the matter is old hat for postmodern academics. What I find most tragic and worthy of comment is the response of his father (and pastor) when, as a child, he asked about how the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke might be reconciled. “It’s probably better not to ask difficult questions. God will, in time, provide the answers. But not now. Not in this life.” As Prof. Parini points out, “That didn’t satisfy me, of course. Why should it?” Why indeed?
His father taught the inscrutability of the Gospel, and so the professor learned his father’s lesson well. Is it any wonder that he now treats Jesus as a quasi-mythical figure whose true nature cannot possibly be discerned? While it’s true enough that there are some difficult questions God hasn’t told us the answer to, reconciling Matthew and Luke shouldn’t be counted among them. Neither is it difficult to point out other references to Christ’s birth or to explain the significance of celebrating the Incarnation of God among us. If we are to accept the answers God has given us as the real answers, then we must treat them accordingly. When it comes to revealed historical facts, we must treat them as history as well as theology. This means examining evidence, understanding how the different details given by the Gospel writers are compatible, and answering critical questions. Because the New Testament holds up to precisely this kind of inquiry, we have no reason to fear it or avoid it. To shrug off critical questions in this way is nothing more than laying down faith as a moral imperative that will be quickly abandoned by those placed under it.
However else we might treat Christmas, it must first and foremost be treated as a celebration of the Incarnation as a real historical event. For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons. The law is real. My sin is real. I do not need inspiring stories or ideas about “moving away from my ego-drenched understanding of reality.” I instead need a Savior who is just as real as my failings. Praise be to God for providing precisely that 2000 years ago in Palestine. There is no better reason to have a merry Christmas.