What he stands for is the real object of our celebration – love of family and friends; love of enemies, too. He stands for peace, for fair consideration of everyone we deal with, for a world in which we work not only for our own good but for the good of others too.
Sherlock Holmes had a language problem. He described his investigation method as deduction when it was really induction. Build up your experience; get the facts; and, then, ask how it came about – interpret it.
Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year. But we would never have had Christmas except that a group of Jesus’s followers stayed welded to him after his death. They liked what he said; the way he lived; and his insight into a God of love, mercy and forgiveness who would improve life for everyone.
Their admiration grew rapidly. Their numbers grew. Being Jews, they formed the view that he was the messiah they awaited. They came to believe that he had the best insight into God they had ever heard. Jesus knew God so intimately that he must have been sent by God. The distinction was blurred. You could even say he was God’s offspring.
This interpretation of Jesus became mainstream amongst that band of followers. They worshipped their unseen God – and eventually worshipped Jesus as God’s visible image – God’s incarnation. And all this was interpretation of their vivid, personal experience. Very inductive.
The first followers had known him for only three years. Had he always been like this? He must have been destined for this from the outset – from his birth. And so, decades after his death, they started to tell stories of his birth in order to underscore their belief that this had all been part of a plan from the mind of God. They were further interpreting their experience. He was wondrous; so his birth was wondrous. They could dramatize saying that he is Son of God by associating wondrous events with his birth – angels singing his arrival, a virginal mother.
Having low-class shepherds as the first to be told fits well in a story told by fairly nondescript people wondering why they have this exciting, new insight while society’s high and mighty dismiss it. A fast-growing community that is already breaking social bounds by opening its membership to gentiles tells of foreigners – Wise Men from the East- coming to pay homage while their own High Priests and king will have none of it. And something bigger than them all is at work. Dramatically, a new star in the astrological heavens appears. Because there is so much more here than meets the eye, the myth is the best way to express it. Simply induction, my dear Watson; a type of induction we call faith.
If you look with the eyes of a sociologist it is the interpretation of that band of early followers which gave rise to Jesus’s birth – not the other way round. So is it all a myth? If you understand how myths work it is one of the grandest myths of all time. Firstly, the myth is what we make of the facts we see with the eyes of faith. Secondly, Stories often expose reality more effectively than argumentation. As Pope Francis says: the reality is more important than the idea. Be careful when you say “it’s just a story”.
We celebrate his birth with holidays from work, with feasting, with presents. What he stands for is the real object of our celebration – love of family and friends; love of enemies, too. He stands for peace, for fair consideration of everyone we deal with, for a world in which we work not only for our own good but for the good of others too.
And for those who scent an even deeper explanation it is the work of God. That scent is faith.