Jesus and the Christ, Part 3
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”. Matthew 1:23, quoting from Isaiah 7:14
If Jesus attempted to lead us to the realization that we can and should follow him by becoming like him, what then are we to make of the amazing stories surrounding his unusual birth or the unfathomable miracles and healings he is credited with performing? Surely those demonstrate that Jesus, though in human form, is not made of the same stuff as us. After all, he was proclaimed the Messiah, the Savior, the Anointed of God. It may seem heretical or at least arrogant to think otherwise.
The unusual birth narratives of Jesus, complete with a virgin birth, impregnation by the Spirit, angels and shepherds announcing and attending the birth, Eastern kings bearing royal gifts, and no room at the Inn are only told in the books of Matthew and Luke, with a different telling in each. It is interesting that those sorts of narratives, while unusual today, were commonly attributed, retrospectively, to political and military leaders at the time to imply that they were superior since birth to the commoners. They were not us (except that they were). We see remnants of that sort of showmanship today in royal families where special positions and privileges are bestowed by circumstances of birth, as if God is somehow more present in one bloodline than another.
While I concede that the virgin birth and its various accompaniments might be possible for an all-powerful God to pull off, I would also point out that God does not appear to normally operate in that manner, at least not literally. Such occurrences are inconsistent with what most of us experience in our everyday encounters with God. I would also state that just because something is not factual does not mean it is not true. Facts are limited truths at best, limited to specific spaces, times, cultures, social norms, and beliefs. Truth, however, is an evolving process that requires our on-going participation and attention. Truth is an ever-evolving journey, not a destination. So the truths in the Bible and other sacred texts are not found in the written words but in the living impact of those words on us throughout our lives.
Surely the recorded stories of the birth, life, work, and death of Jesus illustrate the perils of interpreting the Bible literally. Either we must accept fantastical stories with no contemporary counterparts, or we must deny God as an active force in our lives and deny Jesus as our roadmap. I believe this false choice drives many away from Christianity – not that Christian foundations are not sound and meaningful but that its practice is often impractical and irrational. What if the unusual stories of Jesus’ birth hint at truths that are not unusual at all? What if all births have similar stories? What if the biblical authors used poetic language and descriptions to demonstrate that all life is impregnated by the Spirit? That all births require a challenging and inconvenient journey through the pregnancy and labor by the mother? What if hosts of angels sing and rejoice at every birth, including ours? What if the birth narrative for Jesus of Nazareth is less about his specific birth and more about illuminating the miraculous, divine, and celebratory nature of all births?
When we force the Bible’s poetic and allegorical illustrations of events like the birth of Jesus into factual accounts, we force seekers to choose between descriptions that do not fit with the rest of reality. Churchianity, at least where it insists on literal understandings of the Bible, forces those types of disagreeable decisions and leaves no room at the Inn for those who refuse to make them. So we hunker down outside of the Inn. No wonder so many churches are failing.
Jesus’ was a humble, earthly birth with vast implications that drew divine attention. We simply fail to accept that ours is, too. When we focus only on the telling of his physical healings, we forget that healing has social and emotional components, too, which all of us can provide. It is not simply a matter of recognizing and claiming our divine nature, however. That is a first step, but it must be followed by taking our position beside Jesus in serving the needs of others. That is the responsibility we are reluctant to accept. That requires more than writing a check or attending worship. The needs are all around us. We are asked to do what we can, even and especially when the needs are greater than our resources. Our responsibility is to be Christ in our world in whatever ways we can, just as Jesus was in his.
This is the 19th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.