The gospels tell the truth of a birth that really matters.
Jeffrey L. Samelson
“Hey, Sally, you know this stuff. We got a kids’ Christmas book donated—all about baby Jesus and the manger. Should I put that with the fiction or non-fiction?”
Sally stopped what she was doing at the thrift store and gave her coworker Joe a puzzled look. “Huh? Non-fiction, of course!”
“But aren’t fairy tales fiction?” Joe asked.
Sally collected herself before answering. “Yes, but the Christmas story isn’t a fairy tale.”
Joe smiled condescendingly. “Okay, sorry, but c’mon. It’s got stars, angels, cute animals, and strange men bowing down to a baby. What else should I call it?”
“No, you don’t understand. It’s true,” Sally said. “It really happened—and it really matters.”
If you’ve been a Christian a long time, chances are you haven’t thought much about whether the Christmas story is true or not. But you likely have people in your life, or whom you will encounter, who don’t see it the same way. They see it as just a fairy tale. Those are the very same people who most need to know the truth of it, because it’s all about Jesus, the One they need to know to be saved.
So it’s important to be ready to tell the real story of Christmas so that the gospel is heard. You should expect skepticism. To be fair, if you didn’t already believe it, you would find a lot of the events in and around Nazareth and Bethlehem rather fantastic and hard to accept. This makes it doubly important that when we tell the story we separate truth from tradition.
Matthew and Luke tell us what really happened, and their gospels have been shown by objective standards of inquiry to be reliable historical documents. In spite of all the questions about their gospels, no skeptic has ever disproved anything in them. We learn from them about the miraculous conception of Jesus, about Joseph and Mary and their trip to Bethlehem, about the virgin birth, and about the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. Most of all we learn who that child in a manger really was and why he came.
No matter how closely you read the gospels, you will not find a mention of a hard-hearted innkeeper, talking animals, a little drummer boy, or three kings crowding into a stable with the exhausted mother of a newborn. No candy canes or decorated trees, no lords-a-leaping or maids-a-milking, and certainly no Santa Claus. Not even a clear indication that Dec. 25 is the actual birthday of Jesus.
But we don’t need any of those things.
Christmas represents the end of God’s promising to save us and the evidence of his doing it. The birth of Jesus is tangible, historical proof that God loved the world—so much that he was willing to give it his only Son. Despite us being rebels and sinners, God’s undeserved love led the Son to leave his home in heaven and to humble himself to be born of a woman, with one great purpose: To rescue us all from hell and to open heaven for forgiven sinners.
Christmas has no need for things like magic or the unnatural praise of adoring animals. What needs to be believed is wonderful enough without the embellishments and extras that can end up obscuring what’s important.
So, we want to separate the fiction from the facts and tell everyone, all around, the true story of Christmas. We want the uninformed, unbelieving, and skeptics to understand that it all happened.
Myths don’t matter, but Christmas does. Really.
Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.
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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019
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