Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"No Crying He Makes" and Other Christmas Myths

One of my dad's favorite holiday pastimes is demythologizing Christmas songs. His sermons are regularly sprinkled with anecdotes about the "little drummer boy" not existing and "the three wise men" not being present on the night of Jesus' birth. One year he even picked on the fact that the Bible does not say whether Mary rode on a donkey, a camel, or a cart...or maybe had to walk on her way to Bethlehem. 

Consequently, I now have this hobby as well, much to my wife's chagrin (sorry honey). She feels like I'm always trying to rain on everyone's parade. As we listen to Christmas songs, I like to think through the lyrics and see if they gel with reality. What can I say? Many of them are full of myths about Christ's birth, and those myths can damage of the message of Christmas.

For instance, our songs and paintings would have us believe that the baby Jesus never cried. The song Away In a Manger puts it right out there: "the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes." He was the most inhuman baby you ever saw with a halo around his head and group of people standing around at a fair distance gazing on the new born Son of God. This is the baby of a religion--not history. Notice the Gnostic tendencies that have crept into this picture (Gnosticism views the spiritual/non-material world over the physical one). Is crying a sin? I don't think so. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, so why would he not cry as a baby? One of the important reasons for the birth narratives is to show us that Jesus was human. He can identify with the lowest of the low.

Our songs have a way of sticking with us--especially since they play the same twenty-five in various iterations from October through December. They have a way of influencing the way we imagine the birth narratives. So do Christmas cards. They deliver this portrait that seems so ideal, so air brushed, so fake. I, for one, can't identify with a calm and sanitized birth and viewing session in a barn. 

The version that I read in scripture is a lot more complicated. This Christmas I would encourage you to reread Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 with fresh eyes. What does the text say? What does it not say? What is emphasized in each? We always need to go back to the Bible. I think that when we immerse ourselves in the story as the gospels present it we will find that we can connect with it in richer ways.