Christmas, at least in America, is a time of great imagination. From flying reindeer to a fat man down a chimney to the magic of mistletoe…it’s a season of make believe. Movies like The Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street all highlight this obvious seasonal tendency (which, by the way, is a tendency I like and those are all delightful movies I enjoy.) All that to say this—Christmas is rampant with many items not rooted in reality.
This is why I find some elements in Luke’s account of Christ’s birth—the time we know as Christmas—very intriguing, for they are elements rooted in the reality of that time. Look at Luke 2, and notice, for instance,
• Caesar Augustus (sounds like a dressing and a calendar had a crash)
• Quirinius (quite a quirky name)
• Syria (no, not the satellite radio, but the country)
• Bethlehem (yeah, the little town known for it’s unhospitality)
The real question is ‘Why?’ Why did Luke feel the need to incorporate so many historical markers – “tags” if you will – into this inspired account of Jesus’ birth? In my opinion, it was to bring credibility to what no doubt could easily have been turned into urban legend. It was so that the mysterious wouldn’t become fictitious. After all, as a doctor, Luke wasn’t about to lend his name to superstition. So he wrote, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, with certain first-century “tags” that credentialed the people and places of this incredible story. Think of how we “tag” people in Facebook. It’s one way of “proving” that you were either there, know the person, and/or saw it happen. You know, supporting evidence. And these ancient “tags” were Luke’s unique way of saying, “This really happened in actual time and space. It’s verifiable. True. And here’s some ‘tags’ to prove it.”
These tags are not to say that the supernatural didn’t occur. Not at all! No doubt some supernatural items accompany Christ’s birth. His virgin birth, the incarnation, the dreams, the angelic appearances, and the star in the east are all miraculous things. But the supernatural isn’t unreal, just more than real. And it happened—and happens—in the reality of their normal life. Ah, the supernatural intersecting with the natural! Now that’s Christmas.
Though I choose not to take the time to “add up” all these tags in this blog, my opinion is that they all lead to the real time and space date of about 6 or 7 BC as the timeframe for Christ’s birth. That’s right—the natural environment that hosted the supernatural event we have come to know as Christmas.
Personally, thee kinds of tags add a dimension of concreteness to my faith. They “shore up” my beliefs. They don’t comprise the core, but neither do they compromise the core. In fact, I find that that the historical reality surrounding the coming of Jesus always serves to support the spiritual redemption that is the crowning significance of Jesus. Truly, the natural and the supernatural work together to showcase the eternal (Ps. 19, Rom. 1). The result? My hope grows and faith deepens.
It’s not just me, though. This is what happened in the account Luke relays to us as well. Remember the shepherds? Yes, their hope swelled. They weren’t left with disappointment, but rather anticipation. Recall their response? “Let’s go see!” (Luke 2:15, Stiles paraphrase)
In current nomenclature, they were saying, “So this is what happens when God shows up! Let’s check it out!” And check it out they did when they went to real animal stable in a real town to see a real baby in a real feeding trough. Sounds unreal, doesn’t it? But it’s not, no, not in the least; too many tags scream this must be true. Real. Historical. Believable.
Make no mistake about what we’re believing occurred on this real date while a real man named Quirinius was really governing: God became a man. As a baby, of course, to start; but God nonetheless. This was the ultimate merging of the natural and the supernatural, the human with the holy. Theologically, it’s known as the Hypostatic Union – two natures in one body. All of God and all of man in one human, Jesus. Practically, however, it’s known as salvation. For when God came to man – when the supernatural chose to invade the natural – when the ‘more than real’ took on the flesh of ‘real,’ one thing was sure—he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Almost impossible, eh? But its not. It’s real. Believable. True. Possible. Frankly, this is what all the “tags of evidence” are pointing to—the reality of what really happened on that first Christmas: God came to man, and he has a name—Jesus—and Jesus saves.
This means a lot to me personally, for there are times when, perhaps in weeks when I am dealing with my own escalating stress, a family’s severe illness, or heightened conversations with a wayward sheep, I quietly question, What if all this is false? Is everything I’m teaching and preaching really true? It’s in those times I come right back to this very passage and truth—the reality of Jesus. For it is his historical reality as attested to by inspired Scripture that emboldens my faith and gives it the footing it needs. Frankly, when the whole of the evidence is seen, it is nonsense to place Jesus anywhere else but squarely on the throne. History, archeology, science, and literature, to name a few, actually pour fuel on the fire of my faith and I see, more than ever that my belief in this God-man isn’t misplaced at all, but rather focused perfectly on the only One who has ever brought the supernatural to the natural in a prefect, holy manner.
What about you? Faith dwindling a bit this season? See Jesus “tagged” by many people and places in Scripture and let your confidence grow again.
Still holding out that it’s really not true at all? Well, are you willing to deny the existence of Bethlehem? Syria? Caesar Augustus? Yeah, even the quirky governor, Quirinius? There are too many “tags” to take time off from reason. Believe, and watch faith ignite in your life.
May we all consider, in this season of advent, not only the scriptural truth of Jesus, but the historical evidence for Jesus. Both are seen and woven in the Bible for this purpose—that in hearing the real message of Christ, our faith in him would really grow (Romans 10:17).