I had planned to put together a commentary on the meaning of the Christmas holiday, but I just read something that nearly threw me into a full-blown Donald Duck conniption: “Archbishop of Canterbury Dismisses Nativity Scene as Nothing but ‘Legend’“. So I felt not only the need for a commentary, but a Sunday school lesson to all those out there who think they know all about Christmas.
What I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is trying to say is that most of what people “know” about Christmas is basically a squashed-together recollection of the accounts of the arrival of the Christ child…what he called “conflation” (hey, that “Dr.” in front of his name should imply depth of vocabulary). However, what draws my ire and boundless indignation is his assertion that the star is a myth and the virgin birth isn’t important to the gospel.
As a preface, the reader should understand that I have an exceedingly low opinion of the Archbishop…not much higher than my regard for his particular church, I might add. The man may have the academic credentials to hold the “doctor” title and have the political standing to ascend to the “archbishop” office, but it seems that his personal faith disqualifies him as what we know of as a “Christian”.
To illustrate my point, this is the same person who wrote an opinion article in the UK Telegraph citing the Southeast Asia tsunami of December 2004 as a reason to doubt God exists. This is the same person who supports the generic referencing of God because the church of England feels that referring to God as “He” or “Lord” could encourage spousal abuse. However, he’s supported female and homosexual clergy in the past, so why not change gods while he’s at it? It’s not as if he looks to the Bible as the plumb line for Christian faith.
Not to mention that he’s also a druid, but that might be overkill at this point. Anyway, on to the show.
I will start by explaining that I have to side with the Archbishop on a few points, as the traditional nativity scene is fundamentally flawed in most of the ways he mentioned. The stable in which Jesus was born was not a nice little wooden barn with stables and assorted animals respectfully giving the holy family their space. The little Lord was not lain down in a nice little wood trough that served well as a cradle, and none of this happened on a wintry, snow-flecked night. In reality, the stable they were forced to occupy was most likely a cave hewn in the earth near a busy inn. This cave was a make-shift first century parking garage, filled with as many road-weary, filthy animals as there were lodgers in the no-vacancy inn. What feed trough there was, more than likely, was similarly hewn from a chilly, frigid stone…hardly a comfy bed for the infant Christ. The romantic scene of the nativity is more fairy tale than anything.
While shepherds were there for the scene at Bethlehem, due to the angelic enunciation they saw while minding their sheep in a nearby field, there were no visiting wise men at that time. By comparison, they are not mentioned in the birth narrative of Luke’s second chapter…rather in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. They arrived at some point later on, after Mary and Joseph had found more suitable lodgings, as the famous star of Bethlehem settled over a house. Concerning the star, these men were most likely looking for a sign based on the writings of Daniel, who prophesied concerning the time of the Messiah’s coming (Daniel 9:24-26, the famous seventy weeks prophecy), and the star (a light of some miraculous kind) prompted their pursuit. Williams is correct when he notes that there is no record of the number of Magi who paid the visit. The only thing we know of them was that they brought three gifts of particular significance. However, to discount this as mere legend is to assume it was a throw-away reference, of which there are exceeding few in the Bible.
Also, given how the shepherds were in the fields, weather conditions weren’t severe, or else the shepherds would have found a cave for a sheep pen for their protection. The actual time of the birth of Jesus is disputed, but while there’s no conclusive evidence that discounts December 25, I would imagine saturnalia and other winter festivals surely factor more significantly than a trustworthy traditional date. I personally believe that He was born at the same time as the sheep were lambing, since the paschal lambs for ritual Passover sacrifice were bred in Bethlehem, and Jesus was declared by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God (John 1:29; xf. Genesis 22:8). But that’s personal.
But the hesitance to emphasize belief in the virgin birth and asserting Joseph as the father of Jesus is, respectively, unbiblical and blasphemous. Take Joseph for starters…the Bible says he was not yet married (actually betrothed) to Mary, yet both were esteemed as godly people. This means they weren’t “fooling around” before at the time Jesus was conceived, so Joseph was not His father and Mary wasn’t promiscuous. If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe what the Bible says about the subject, and therefore you can’t be sure of the rest of it, either.
But this doesn’t even cover the larger point of the virgin birth: the miraculous keeping of a divine promise. The Savior had to be God, because God Himself claimed that exclusive role for Himself (Isaiah 43:11), so the only one who could come was a Person of the Godhead. It fulfilled prophecy relating to the coming of Messiah (Isaiah 7:14). Just as important, it allowed Christ to acquire a human nature without compromising His sinless divine nature (Philippians 2:5-7, Luke 1:35, Hebrews 10:5). Additionally, it side-stepped a prohibition on the descendants of Jeconiah from ascending the throne of David (Jeremiah 22:30, Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
Why was all this important? Jesus saves by virtue of His death on the cross, whereupon the wrath of God against every sin ever committed was taken by the Man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6). He had to be sinless, or else He would not meet the requirement of a spotless sacrificial Lamb. He had to be human, else He would not qualify as a Man who could take the punishment owed to every man. He had to be divine, else He would not be capable of bearing the eternal and infinite penalty for every man. The virgin birth accounts for all these requirements…take it away, and you’re left with a sinful bastard tacked on a stake who died a fool, disciples with no hope, and a faith built on a lie.
Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury: you may deny the importance of the virgin birth of Christ if you dare, but to lead even the most apostate Christian church (a condition which may well be met in at least the western branch of the Anglican church) without grasping that most basic of truths is inexcusable. Any “Jesus” who wasn’t virgin-born is not the Jesus of the Bible Who inspired the faith that was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). Because of this egregious error, I publically call for your resignation of office. In light of this latest offense against the faith as a whole, I see that as a reasonable demand.
Merry Christmas, dunce.