How do you tell truth from fiction?
How do you tell truth from fiction? Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes…it’s complicated. Truth can be fictionalized like we see in the movies and on television. “Based on a true story” simply means that some aspect of what you are about to see happened in some way. On the other hand, fiction can be peppered with truth. The Big Bang Theory is a television show based on completely fictional characters, but the science they talk about is real. When you see equations on the white board in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment, someone has actually gone over those equations to make sure they check out. Our concepts of truth and fiction are constantly being challenged and not just in movies and television but in real life. As our knowledge expands, so does our understanding of the world and sometimes that means shattering long-held beliefs. We once thought that the sun was the center of the universe. We once thought that the Earth was flat. We once thought that the atom was the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Now it’s like the size of 3X t-shirt covering up something underneath. In a world where truth and fiction are more thinly separated than we like to believe, what can we believe? What is the truth?
Growing up, I wanted to be a Knight of the Round Table!
Chivalry, honor, daring deeds, fighting the good fight. These are the stuff legends are made from. And indeed King Arthur is often considered just that – a legend, a story regarded as historical but unauthenticated or at least disputed. A legend is a story regarded as historical but unauthenticated. While there are references to a King Arthur in legitimate records of history, they are few and far between and most historians question whether he really existed, let alone believe the fantastic tales that are told about him. But it’s those fantastic tales that make Arthur worth believing in! It is said that in the hour of Britain’s greatest need, Arthur will return. Sounds a little bit like our belief in the return of Jesus Christ. And it’s those commonalities with other legends that cast doubt for some on our belief in Jesus as the messiah. There are so many messiah stories and they all have elements in common with the story of Jesus that why can’t Jesus simply be one more legend?
We can understand why some people might not believe in Jesus because of this.
Some of the stories of Jesus are so fantastic as to defy belief, one of which we are going to share this morning. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Luke 1:26-38. Luke 1:26-38. Now what we are about to hear is the story of how Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But before that happens, we find out that her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant. What’s remarkable about this is that like Isaac’s wife Sarah in the Old Testament, Elizabeth is quite advanced in age and despite their best efforts she and Zechariah have been unable to conceive until the angel, Gabriel, comes to deliver a message of hope to the couple. They will have a child, and this child will be the herald of the Lord, and he will be called John. We know him as John the Baptist. Six months into the pregnancy, the same angel goes to visit Mary and that’s where we pick up the Bible reading this morning.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
The story of the virgin birth has got to be one of the most unbelievable stories about Jesus.
Next to the resurrection itself it is the one most divorced from the reality we live in. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons some people have a hard time accepting Christ as real. The idea of the virgin birth is just biologically impossible! But what do we know about the impossible? Would anyone have thought in vitro fertilization was possible until it happened? Today, Louise Brown, the first known IVF baby is 36 years old, married, and living in England with her husband and naturally born son. Would anyone have thought that a woman of Sarah’s age in the Bible could possibly conceive a child? Yet in 2006 a 67-year old woman gave birth to twin boys. Will it be much longer before someone of an even more advanced age has a baby? What do we know of the impossible? In a world where the impossible seems to happen every day, we should be able to admit that we don’t know the boundaries of the impossible. In a world where the impossible seems to happen every day, we should be able to admit that we don’t know the boundaries of the impossible.
Some reject the story of Christ because it seems too much like other Messiah stories.
We know that other religions have stories about miraculous births just as ours does. The concept of the divine or holy entering the world is not new by any means. It’s a theme used in stories old and new. George Lucas used it in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones to describe Anakin’s birth, to anchor him as the eventual savior of the galaxy. When questioned by Anakin’s mentor about the identity of Anakin’s father, his mother simply said, “There was no father…I carried him, I gave him birth…I cannot explain what happened.” The power of divine intervention in the birth of a child gives strength to the idea has a divine edict or divine mission to accomplish. But this theme is found not just in fictitious stories, but in other religions as well. Both Krishna and Buddha are said to have orchestrated their own births. The deity of Vishnu from Hinduism is said to have descended into his mother’s womb and the “Great Being” from Buddhism was said to have imparted itself into a human woman to be born as the first Buddha. Neither one was necessarily a virgin birth but still considered divine. Many stories that today we consider myths do however talk about virgin births. Perseus in Greek mythology was born to Danae who was locked in a tower all her life specifically so she could not have children was impregnated by Zeus, the head of the Greek Gods by means of a golden shower that penetrated the tower walls. Even in Japan, the legendary story of Kintaro, the boy warrior, says that his mother Yama-uba was impregnated with a clap of thunder from a red dragon in Mount Ashigara. Even other historical figures are said to have been born my supernatural means – Pythagoras, Alexander the Great, even Plato. With so many stories of supernatural births out there, it would be easy for the skeptic to dismiss the story of Jesus as just another fanciful tale.
For us, it’s more than just a story.
For us, it’s not just a story but historical fact. Yes, the story of Jesus shares elements with other supernatural birth narratives, but does that mean it isn’t true? Unlike most other myths whose only verification is the story itself, there are multiple records of the virgin birth of Jesus. Not only do we have the written records of the story in the Bible by different authors, we also have evidence from the writings of the Qur’an and from the historian Josephus who attest to the birth, death and existence of Christ. The Qur’an even goes so far as to acknowledge the virgin birth and the miraculous deeds of Jesus. And unlike other myths and legends which change and shift over time, the story of Christ has remained told virtually the same exact way for nearly 2000 years. Those are some of the reasons why we believe that the story of Jesus is more than fiction but fact, because there is so much evidence in favor of the story being real.
People often look for reasons not to believe.
Even when the evidence is presented before them, they find reasons to poke holes in our faith to bolster their lack of it. They find reasons to poke holes in our faith to bolster their lack of it. But we need to remain strong not in our arguments, but in the way we live our lives. Ravi Zacharias told a wonderful story about a painting he saw in a pastor’s office one day. The painting was of a little girl holding hands with Jesus and the girl asked Christ, “What happened to your hands?” And in that moment he realized that no matter how many answers we have for the skeptic, they will always find fault with our responses. He wrote, “The longer I have lived the more I come to believe that it is not evidence of which we are short, nor the knowledge of discipleship of which we are deprived. For most, what we lack is the courage and contentment to go to the cross and to die to ourselves, prompting the world to ask, ‘What happened to your hands?’” It is only when we are willing to live the sacrificial life that Christ asks us to live that people who are skeptical will respond. When they see in us the way God has changed our lives in such a powerful way, they will ask us “What happened to your hands?” Or instead, “What happened in your life that you have been marked in such a powerful way?” The truth of Christ can be separated from the fiction of fanciful storytelling when the evidence of Christ is made plain in our lives. It is when God becomes real in our own lives that the doubt and questions fade and we can embrace the truth of Jesus for ourselves. Let us commit this Christmas season to live life more closely to where Christ is leading us. Let us be the candle in the darkness for those around us. And let the transformation of our lives by the presence of Jesus be the strongest proof of his existence. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.