Week in Review: 12/20/15

Myths of the Nativity: Bethlehem vs. Nazareth

stained glass nativityUnderstanding the situation of Jesus’ early life, his family situation, his status as a child with no father, and his inconsequential hometown, we can begin to make sense of why Jesus was so committed to the worst and most forgotten of society. I think we often think of Jesus as one high and mighty, deigning to stoop down and notice these people. But in reality, Jesus was one of those people. He wasn’t crossing class lines; he was standing with his people, with the ones he grew up around, the ones he most understood. Jesus identified with the oppressed because he was one of the oppressed. The great teacher, the Messiah and inspiration for the world’s  largest religion, was no more than provincial trash, worth no more than he could produce for the empire.

Myths of the Nativity: The Adoration

To make the stories in the Bible “science” is to demythologize them, as Tillich describes, “the removal of symbols and myths altogether.” The attempt to resist the identification and interpretation of myth in favor of the myth being reality leads to command and control structures of faith, in which the goal becomes not reading to become better understand the human relationship to God, but instead reading to affirm the power structure that claims a monopoly on interpreting the Bible (even if they don’t recognize what they are doing as such.)

Reducing Scripture to nothing but the “infallible, inerrant Word of God” negates the power of it’s variability. To give full respect and deference to the Bible and it’s writers, we must grapple with the multiplicity of form and intent we find therein. To make the Bible unquestionable and infallible is to make the Bible God, is to practice that most deadly of sins according to Paul, idolatory, in the form on Biblolatory.

Myths of the Nativity: Herod’s Decree and the Flight to Egypt

The birth of a peasant boy in rural Galilee was an event of no special occasion. In a community that was largely illiterate, there would have been no time or energy wasted in remembering such details. The Nativity stories instead serve to orient Jesus as Matthew and Luke want him understood: as the Jewish messiah, as the bringer of a peaceful rule to God’s world. This was not history being written; it was myth pointing us towards Truth. As Tillich describes it,

Symbols of faith cannot be replaced by other symbols, such as artistic ones, and they cannot be removed by scientific criticism. They have a genuine standing in the human mind, just as science and art have. Their symbolic character is their truth and their power. Nothing less than symbols and myths can express our ultimate concern.

Myths of the Nativity: How Jesus’ Birthday Ended Up on December 25th

December 25Obviously, we celebrate Christmas, and thus the birth of Christ, on December 25th. But why? There is no Biblical tradition of Jesus being born on this day. In fact, to judge from the stories of the Nativity, if you just look at what is recounted, it makes no sense for the story to be taking place in deep winter. First, if shepherds were out in the field, this indicates pasturing season, March to September. Second, it is highly unlikely that if Joseph were going to take his very pregnant wife on a long journey to Bethlehem, that he would do it in the deepest, darkest part of winter. Not exactly the best weather for travel by foot or donkey.

Myths of the Nativity: Jolly Ole’ St. Nick

coke santaWe all know the bearded, jolly old man dressed in red and fur, who spends Christmas Eve delivering gifts to children all over the world, with the aid of his elves and flying reindeer. Santa as we know him evolved as an amalgam of several different figures, and really took off in popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the work of various poets and writers and storytellers.

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Week in Review: 12/13/15

Here’s what happened in the last week on the blog:

#IStandForPeace

FB_20151208_07_22_42_Saved_PictureJesus called us to transform the world, not by the sword, not through the wielding of power, not through fear or by circling the wagons. Jesus called us to transform this world by love, by turning the other cheek, by casting out fear, by opening our arms and our hearts and our borders to those in need. He showed us a way of life that accepts and respects our brothers and sisters, no matter the color of their skin or the religion they adhere or the nation they call home.

Jesus stood for peace. Above all else, he envisioned a world of peace brought about by love and mercy and assurance.

I stand for peace because more violence is not the answer to stopping violence.

Scapegoating our Muslim Brothers and Sisters: An Example from Girardian Theology

rene-girard-scapegoatThe progression of Judaistic monotheism slowly unveiled this hidden mechanism by initiating a move towards identification with the scapegoat. The death of Jesus was the final act in the revealing, showing the ultimate futility of the sacrificial mechanism by disclosing the inherent innocence of our scapegoats.

We seem to have lost this conclusion. In a rush to assuage the primal fear we feel in the world, a fear of the different and of death, we have seized upon a voiceless and minor victim, that of the small Muslim community in America, and the innocent refugees fleeing violence elsewhere, and made them our scapegoat. And as the rage and anger and hate builds to a breaking point, we get closer and closer to that moment of collective violence that relieves the great societal tension that has been building for years and years.

The death of Jesus, of the innocent scapegoat, reveals the futility of such violence.

UCC/DOC Statement on Violence and Hate Towards the Muslim Community

UCC-DOC_LogosAs people of faith, we are called to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.”  Jesus charges us to “love our neighbor as yourself,” telling us that “there is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).  We are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), and to “pursue peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).

Recognizing that all people are created in the image of God, and heeding the words of our sacred scripture, we are disturbed and concerned as we witness the divisive discourse in our country concerning our Muslim neighbors.  The rhetoric of exclusion and vilification runs absolutely counter to our understanding of God’s oikos, which is an inclusive fellowship of God’s children and creation.

As leaders of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we offer our ongoing solidarity with and support for all those who are increasingly fearful for their safety and well-being as a result of the heightened vitriol. And we commit to continuing to pursue peace, to promote better understanding among our communities, and to pursue justice in all that we do.

Myths of the Nativity

Advent and Christmas are two crucial elements of the yearly church calendar, stained glass nativitytrailing only Easter and Pentecost in ultimate significance. The birth of Christ, and the period of hope and expectation leading up to it, is a season of celebration for the church, perhaps the most beloved time of year, with the most well-known and loved hymns and traditions. At the center of it all is the Biblical story of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus Christ, in a manger, in Bethlehem.

Yet, for Christians who read the Bible critically, with historical and cultural context scrutiny, it can also be a difficult season. Studying the text alongside commentaries and analysis reveals the shaky factual foundation of such things as the Roman census, the location of Bethlehem, the appearance of the magi, the identities and attributes of Mary and Joseph, the Virgin Birth, and the date of December 25th. The question emerges, what is left of Advent and Christmas when this foundation is shaken? How can we find meaning and power in a story that largely appears to be myth and embellishment?

Myths of the Nativity: Mary, Joseph, and the Virgin Birth

stained glass nativityI believe the idea of Mary as a single teenage mother, the victim of a terrible act, raising a Messiah, imbues Mary with a extraordinarily formative role in the development of Jesus. If he is the product of adultery, then Mary was probably at best looked down upon by her family, and at worst, cast out by them. Either way, this leaves Mary as the one who chiefly raised and formed the child Jesus. This gives her much credit to his eventual ministry, credit she justly deserves. If she was the victim of rape, and thus raised the child of such a monstrous act, then she carries the awesome weight of an extraordinary woman, one who overcomes great hardship and incredible odds to raise a son of singular importance. Instead of crumbling in the face of ruthless imperial violence visited personally upon her very person, Mary made a life for herself and her unexpected son.

Mary, in this telling of the Nativity, is as central as a character can be. She moves from the passive vessel carrying the child of God, a largely silent and symbolic figure, to the prime mover in the first act of Jesus’ life. She becomes a person to be greatly admired for her strength of mind, of personality, of pure will to thrive.