Christmas: Fact or Fairy Tale?
The Christmas story is familiar to so many of us, isn’t it?
A baby in a manger.
Shepherds seeing an angel on a hillside.
Wise men following a star in the sky.
And yet, when we look a bit closer, the details seem hard to believe, don’t they?
Angels speaking to humans.
A star shining for what must have been weeks, if not months, to guide the wise men.
A baby being born of a virgin.
And most of all, God becoming a helpless newborn.
So why is it then, that a story full of such fantastical details, is believed by so many people? In short, because, despite the outrageous claims, it is entirely believable! Let’s consider 3 major objections that you, or others you know, may have:
The Scientific Objection
Most people haven’t heard of David Hume, but his influence lives on today in many ways. He was a famous British philosopher in the 1700s and his thinking has echoed down the centuries. He wrote these words about miracles:
“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.”
Old-fashioned language? Yes. Old-fashioned thinking? Not at all. His fuller argument is that natural law is never overridden so there is always an explanation of an event which is more credible than the explanation that it is a miracle.
There is lots to say in response but just two questions for now: If there is a God who created natural law, surely he can override it? Why should we as humans demand that God’s hands are tied by something that he made?
The Historical Objection
Even if we allow that miracles can, in theory, happen, how can we be sure these ones did? Surely, the Bible itself is invalid as evidence because it is tarnished by bias? And its writers weren’t even there at the birth!
Again, a fuller answer could be given but here is the headline. The New Testament is by a significant distance, the most reliable document of its time, in terms of the number of copies and their proximity to the events they describe. And many of its authors were punished by death for holding to their truthfulness. Surely, if the story was made up, at least one of them would have cracked under the pressure of an impending execution and admitted it was all a lie?
In short, there is very little that could make these documents more reliable, other than the fact they describe events that we find hard to believe (back to objection 1).
The Emotional Objection
Ok, so maybe miracles can’t be dismissed on principle. And maybe the New Testament is a credible document, or at least one worth reading to find out. But there is a third issue. Even if there is a God, why would He do this?
Why would He send His only son to be born in a pigsty? Why would He allow Him to grow up in a backwater town? Why would He let Him be treated as an outcast by the establishment? Why would His first followers be a ragtag bunch of nobodies? Why would this beloved Son face one of the cruellest, most agonising deaths ever invented (so bad, in fact, that it’s where our word excruciating comes from!)?
And the answer is this: Because of God’s great love for us. For you and me. For inconsequential humans. God saw the mess we had made of His world. He saw the mess we had made of our own lives. He saw the mess of how we treat one another. And He stooped down and stepped in.
Every Christmas, we read or hear these words:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
That is the wonder of Christmas. Into our deep darkness, Jesus, the light has come. It sounds like a fairy tale. It sounds too good to be true. And those who first witnessed it knew that. So they recorded it so future generations like us can know the wonder of these events.
The Christmas Story: Fact or Fairy Tale? Why not take time this Christmas to consider this question for yourself?
*We, as a church community, would love to help you as you think this through. We would be delighted to recommend a variety of resources to help you do that, or meet up (in a socially distanced way) to discuss this is more depth. If you would like that, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org who would be delighted to help in any way they can.
- Ben Goldenberg, Church Member