…to all who celebrate or observe the holiday, even if only to have a day off to be with yourself, your friends, your families.
Recalling the atheist slogan that appeared on billboards a few years ago (you know the one) showing a traditional Nativity-creche scene with the caption, “You know it’s a myth!”. I would only comment, as I have before, that the Gospels’ (Luke, Matthew) Infancy Narratives are not myths in the sense connoted by the modern non-believing critics – first because they are not primordial traditions, or survivals of such, as the critics imply; and second, because their proper literary category is not myth to begin with.
As certain scholars have pointed out, the Infancy Narratives are a type of literature that forms a prologue to the main body of the Gospel to follow; and as a parable that delineates the main theological and christological themes of the following Gospel. These stories are, therefore, not “myth” in the “ancient pagan religions” connotation – they are not legends handed down from times in the primordial past – but rather preambles, overtures, and parables. They are ways of explaining that what Jesus was at his Ascension, Resurrection, Crucifixion, during his career/mission, his Spirit-receiving baptism by John in the Jordan … he was also all those things at his birth. Each Infancy Narrative echoes all these spiritual themes in its own way.
Luke emphasises the Pax Romana, a time of order and peace, into which Jesus is peacefully born; Matthew, on the other hand, depicts the Savior’s birth against a backdrop of political antagonism, with the holy family needing to escape the “pogrom” of Herod the Great against Jewish infants of Bethlehemic birth. And the two Evangelists (Gospel authors) weave into their Infancy stories themes that will fully blossom later in the main text of their respective Gospels. The birth stories are in one sense condensed or miniaturized “mini-Gospels” in themselves, by way of their revelation of Jesus as God’s pre-selected Christ and Son of God, a selection, as Luke tells it, that was made even before his earthly birth.
So the ancient myth connotation that the modern “Mythicist” critics falsely project on the Infancy Narratives is a simple misconstrual of the type of literature in which the birth stories actually consist. The late scholar Raymond E. Brown identifies the Narratives’ profound, complex connection with Jewish – not Pagan – theology, traditions, allegory, and mysticism. The Infancy Narratives are rooted in remembered stories about Jesus’ Jewish ministry to Jewish people in Jewish Galilee and Judea, as well as in “midrash” and interpretation/re-interpretation of Jesus associated with extant Jewish themes.
Finally, I would remark that Matthew’s and Luke’s Overtures/Preambles and Parabolic disclosures are “mythic” only in the sense that they didn’t occur in mundane, historical, material space-time. They may not be historical/scientific, quantifiable facts, but what they express is nonetheless truth – truth allegorically expressed, because allegory – as scholars such as C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell have shown us – is the only way in which certain sacred and ineffable realities can be expressed on the human level. And, because it taps into and expresses deep archetypal material from “the eternal verities” of the soul, it is not dependent upon modern notions about science and history as defined in our post-Enlightenment culture.
Our God-experience, our God-conceptualization – must be refracted through the prism of human language for it to be understandable. And the Infancy Narratives – the Gospels’ Christmas story – continue to succeed on that level. Their language fits the truths they convey. They refer the reader outward – not into pagan myth – but into Jewish, biblical history, and to the memory of the humbly-born Nazarene whom they claim as Messiah and Lord.
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Two excellent books on this subject immediately come to mind, and to which I refer the interested reader:
… and …