This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Church Year. In a few days we celebrate Thanksgiving (Check out next Friday’s column for that). After that comes the season of Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of our Savior. Really it’s a two-fold preparation. We prepare to witness again and celebrate his birth in that manger. And we prepare to see him when he comes back at the end of time to take us to be with him. But as we prepare, there’s the question I heard still hanging in the air for some — maybe for you, or maybe for someone you love. The question? "Isn’t the whole story of Jesus’ birth just myth? You can’t really think this is history, can you?"
Yes, I can. I do. And as you prepare to celebrate it, I invite you to notice how clearly that is true. Because really, that question questions everything we’ve talked about this entire church year that we’re getting ready to talk about again, from the birth of God’s son (Christmas) to all the proof that he truly is God (Epiphany) to his ministry, his sufferings (Lent), death and resurrection (Easter), from the sending of the Holy Spirit and the growth of his church and his believers throughout time (Pentecost). All of it, everything we’ve been talking about, would be a sham if it didn’t really happen. For those who call themselves religious and call the stories of Scripture myth — you can’t have it both ways.
Either it happened, or it didn’t. And it did. So you have a reason to thank God this week and throughout the year. God became one of us. For real… actually. I know there are scholars out there who deny it and call it fiction, say the apostles were trying to start a movement — but, as C.S. Lewis commented, those scholars give the apostles far more credit than they’d admit, creating a new genre of literature that wouldn’t be seen again for 1,800 years — "realistic historic fiction."
The simple truth is — myth reads differently. Myth glorifies the authors, whereas the disciples record all their blemishes, which makes no sense if you’re trying to build a following. Myth deals in broad-sweeping grand strokes, not giving details like the 12 baskets of crumbs that an eyewitness saw picked up after a miracle. Myths speak of gods’ heads bursting open and goddesses bringing forth world-changing humans from within. Myths speak of times and places far away and unknown.
But God’s word reads like the history it is. "In those days (specific days) Caesar Augustus (the 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.) And everyone went to his own town to register." History tells us he wanted that census to see if his program for increasing the birthrate to stem a declining empire population was having success. God’s word tells us that it was the occasion to get that pregnant peasant girl to the town God had promised her son, his son, to be born.
So simple. So true. Pick it up today and read it and tell me it doesn’t prepare you to celebrate the real gift of this upcoming holiday season. Come and find out more.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.