They're back. They make their appearance every year at Christmas. They have become as much a part of the Christmas landscape as traffic jams at the mall and homemade jam in Grandma's kitchen. What are they? They are the so-called "scholarly" approaches to the biblical birth narratives of Jesus Christ.
Last week, national magazines Time and Newsweek both featured traditional nativity scenes on their covers. As always, the cover representations of the nativity are as close to the truth of God's Word as either magazine cared to venture. Rather than marvel over the miracle of God's divine intervention in human history the "inside story" takes the traditional birth narrative of Jesus apart making conservative, evangelical Christians look like snake oil salesmen and carnival barkers. It is assumed by every scholar consulted for both magazine's articles, that Matthew and Luke's account of the birth of Jesus was either made up to cover Jesus' illegitimate birth or manufactored to mimic the miraculous birth myths of Greek gods and Roman emperors. So it can now be said the yearly Secular Humanists' assault on Christmas is complete.
The attack of the politically correct crowd makes its case through the voice of the ACLU as they attempt to remove every symbol of Christmas from the public eye. The attack of the academic elite uses national publications like Time and Newsweek as the staging ground for their assault on the biblical veracity of Jesus' birth. By interviewing only the most liberal scholars (people from the widely panned "Jesus Seminar") Jesus is reduced to just another misguided prophet who believed He had heavenly powers.
But is this two prong attack working in its goal of turning the masses against God? the evidence suggests just the opposite. There is a backlash building in this country from decent, God-fearing, Christ honoring, devout believers against the academic elites and the politcally correct.
A recent poll conducted by Newsweek discovered their stories designed to raise doubt about Jesus of Nazareth are having little effect. "84% of American adults consider themselves to be Christians, and 82% see Jesus as God or the Son of God. 79% say they believe in the virgin birth, and 67% think the Christmas story, from the angels appearance to the Star of Bethlehem, is historically accurate"(Newsweek, December 13th, 2004).
From the time the New Testament was written until the Enlightenment period, few scholars questioned the truthfulness of Matthew and Luke's account of the birth of Jesus. Luke, the historian probably received his information from Mary through the Apostle John or the Apostle Peter. It is even possible Luke had personal contact with Mary.
Luke gives us details which are not found in Matthew but line up perfectly with Matthew's account. Luke tells us Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel who revealed to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Mary accepted this incredible revelation asking only one, logical question: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
Once she is assured by the angel "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," she says simply and yet powerfully, "May it be done to me according to Your word."
Luke goes on to record the heavenly announcement to the shepherds, Jesus presentation in the Temple, and he concludes his account by saying, "The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40).
Matthew's account of Jesus birth is very different but Matthew says nothing which contradicts Luke's more detailed information. From Matthew we learn that Mary's bethrohed husband is Joseph, "a righteous man." When he discovers Mary is pregnant, he assumes she has been unfaithful during the bethrothal period (a sin punishable by death under Jewish law at the time) but rather than endanger her life or even publically humiliate her, he decides to "put her away privately."
Joseph's plans are changed when the angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and reveals God's plan. Joseph is satisfied with the role God has called him to play in the birth of His Son and he takes Mary as his wife keeping her a virgin until after Jesus is born.
Matthew tells us the magnificent story of kings from the East who followed a star to Bethlehem where they encountered a megalomaniac ruler (Herod) and ultimately found Jesus. They presented Him with gifts of royalty and then returned to their own country. Herod's rage at the supposed betrayal of the kings leads to the murder of all the babies in Bethlehem and the surrounding area age 2 years or younger. Joseph is warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt where he stays until the death of Herod.
Why is it so hard for highly educated people to accept the simple beauty of the birth narratives of Jesus? As if woven together by the hand of God, (which is exactly what happened) Matthew and Luke's accounts fit together in perfect symmetry. They weave the greatest story ever told of how God, motivated by mercy and moved by grace, injected Himself in this sinful world to bring hope to all who believe. I pray as you sit down with your family on Christmas Day that you will follow Mary's example and "treasure all these things, pondering them" in your heart. If you do, I believe you will say with the angels, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased."