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Pope Debunks Christmas?

Pope Benedict recently prompted blazing headlines across the front pages of America's news outlets by making what some pundants seem to imagine are shocking assertions: Jesus was not born in the year 0, he may not have been born on December 25, and there is no mention of "cattle lowing" in the Biblical narratives of the birth of Jesus.  No mention of livestock at all.  It doesn't even say that the little Lord Jesus did not cry.  Some go so far as to suggest there was no little boy playing his drum for Jesus.

Stay tuned next week for another shocking papal announcement: it has been discovered that Jesus was a Jew, we don't actually know the number or names of the Magi, and,, yes, it has also been proven that the Pope really is a Catholic.

Of course, headlines suggested something sinister. One news media topped their article with the headline: Pope Denies Angels in Christmas Story. That, of course, would be surprising. But, all the Pope pointed out was that the text does not actually say that the angels sang to the shepherds. Luke simply writes that the angels said "Glory to God in the highest."

The long sought separation of church and state has surely been largely successful. We are now surrounded by a seemingly educated citizenry among whom even the most basic level of actual Bible knowledge is all but missing. Anyone, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, with even a remedial level of biblical education finds the Pope's statements about what we know and do not know about the birth of Jesus nothing more than long established common knowledge.  For example, Herod the Great died in the year 4 BC.  This means, if the biblical narratives are to be accepted, Jesus must have been born in 4 BC or earlier.  Again, not a shocking piece of information to most people. 

While there is still a wide chasm in several important doctrinal areas between Roman Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals, Pope Benedict's now completed three short volumes focusing on the life of Jesus is neither startling nor particularly Roman Catholic (as opposed to just generally Christian). The third volume and last to be published, as the news headlines suggest, is rooted in the birth and infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The second volume begins with the baptism of Jesus and goes through his transfiguration. The third focuses on the last week and his resurrection.

It is remarkable that, when the conversation begins with the simple question, "Tell me the story of Jesus," it makes little difference if the story teller is the Bishop of Rome or the Pastor at First Baptist or Christian parents at home. Of all the things that divide the world's Christians, it is the story of Jesus that unites us. Because we all know this to be true, it may not seem that remarkable. But, after 2000 years of time, and countless theological tensions and divides, I think it is more than just remarkable. It is also, as Thomas Campbell pointed out more than two centuries ago, the foundation on which the long lost unity of the worldwide church might begin to be rebuilt.

I'll let the urgent voices of the media pundants, peddling the latest outrages or tragedies, continue to eagerly search for the controversial headline to keep us tuned in. They never have to look far. Heartache and anger are not in short supply this year. The world is, as it was in the days of Herod the King, filled with far more walls and swords than bridges and plows. But, for now, I find it a great encouragement that, for a few weeks of out every year, something like two billion people on this planet will hear the same story and sing the same song.

Gloria a Dios en las alturas
Gloire à Dieu dans les lieux très hauts
在 至 高 之 处 荣 耀 归 与 神
Utukufu kwa Mungu juu mbinguni
Ære være Gud i det høieste
Gloris in Excelsis Deo
Glory to God in the Highest

PS: However, those of us who are committed to biblical authority should think long and hard before we go along with giving up the little drummer boy.

1 comment:

gcctyler said...

Drummer boy...I like!