am currently playing French horn in the orchestra at
a local Baptist church. The show is a musical called
"Two From Galilee," based on a novel by Marjorie
Holmes about the love affair between Mary and Joseph.
Last night was the opening and we have seven more shows
over the next two weekends. The music is glorious, the
acting quite professional, each performance will be
in front of a full house and the enthusiasm is high.
front of the church is one long platform from wall to
wall, and the entire space is filled with an elaborate
set. Beautifully constructed, it is a multi-level representation
of Nazareth/Bethlehem with doors and windows and stairs,
a carpenter shop, an inn, etc. Quite impressive.
tickets are free so, of course, there has to be a commercial.
A man stands up at the end of the show and preaches
a ten-minute sermon. At one point he says something
like, "We believe that the story you just watched
actually happened to real people in real time many years
ago. And unless you believe in the man into whom that
baby grew, you will never get to heaven."
occurred to me that it was just as true for people to
go home and tell their friends, "I just saw the
real Bethlehem, and the people from 2000 years ago were
there dressed in their original costumes, and I actually
saw Jesus as he looked when he was baby." Anyone
who said this would be regarded as ridiculously naive
not make the show anything more than it is - drama,
pretend, metaphor. As art it has a powerful message
about constant rebirth and the renewal of hope. As history,
it is as flimsy as the cardboard out of which the set
was constructed. It looks substantial, but it's all
Christmas story is drama, pretend, metaphor. It is myth.
It never happened in history. It is a beautiful story
made up of pieces of previous religious traditions.
It has a message which is valuable for the human race.
But when that message is distorted into a demand that
we swallow it all as literal history, then we do violence
to the concept of a loving God.
DaVinci Code hints at the idea that there is a smoking
gun to be discovered, one fact or artifact which will
prove that the entire Christian tradition is based on
myth, on a religious lie. But I realized that the smoking
gun is not really a single thing; it is a puzzle consisting
of many things. God has revealed the truth to us, but
it is up to us to put the pieces together. They include
resistance to the idea that 3/4 of God's people are
going to hell because they belong to the wrong religion;
2. Jesus' statement in John 16:12 that he has much more
to tell us;
3. an examination of all the religions prior to Christianity
which speak about God being born of a virgin, dying
and coming back to life;
4. an acknowledgement that, even in religion, things
like virgin births, walking on water, changing water
into wine, and raising dead bodies to life just don't
5. an understanding that all religions are different
spiritual languages, and all are authentic within their
own context, yet incomplete;
6. a vision of the divine love, grace and unlimited
forgiveness which truly characterize God, freeing him
from the angry and judgmental image which Christianity
has created for him.
and many other pieces of the puzzle will finally help
us to see that, while the Christian story does not work
as history, it does speak to us as divine drama. And
when we get its metaphorical message, we will finally
be able to give up this childish claim that "our
religion" is the final truth. Only then can we
comprehend that there is still much more yet to learn
about the nature and the plan of God.
this puzzle your gift to your friends this Christmas.
It may be the most challenging puzzle they have tried
John W. Sloat 2006