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 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, 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 the sun was the center of the universe. We once thought the Earth was flat. We once thought the atom was the smallest unit of matter in the universe. Now it’s like the size of a 3X t-shirt covering up something underneath. In a world where truth and fiction are more thinly separated than we are sometimes aware, 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 bit like our belief in the return of Jesus Christ. So, is Jesus real or is he just a legend, too?
We can understand why people have doubts about the reality of Jesus.
Some of the stories of Jesus are so fantastic as to defy belief, one of which we are going to share this morning. 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 her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant. What makes Elizabeth’s pregnancy even more remarkable is her advanced age. Yet, out of nowhere, 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. – Luke 1:26-38
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 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 43 years old, married, and living in England with her husband and naturally born son. Sarah, Isaac’s mom in the book of Genesis, was 90 years old when she conceived her 1st child. Seems impossible, but we get closer to making that a possibility even today. A woman in India recently gave birth at the age of 74 breaking a record that was only set 3 years earlier. Is it ethically the right thing to do? That’s a question we as a society need to wrestle with as technology continues to advance, but the limits of what is and isn’t possible grows thinner every day. We don’t know the boundaries of the impossible.
Some believe the story of Christ is just another myth.
Other religions have stories about having a miraculous birth like the one about Jesus. The concept of the divine entering the world is not new by any means. George Lucas used it in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to describe Anakin Skywalker’s birth, the boy who would become Darth Vader. When questioned about the identity of Anakin’s father, his mother Shmi simply said, “There was no father…I carried him, I gave him birth…I cannot explain what happened.” Divine intervention in the birth of a child is a powerful symbol for divine purpose, and this theme is found not just in fictition, 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 much like God made flesh in Christ, 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 considered divine. Many stories 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 and 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 by supernatural means – Pythagoras, Alexander the Great, even Plato. With so many stories of supernatural birth 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 births, 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. We forget that the stories in the Bible were not written by one person, but by a number of people who themselves were witnesses to one of the most amazing events in history and the birth of Christ is recorded in multiple accounts. But apart from that, 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 Jesus. The Qur’an even goes so far as to acknowledge the virgin birth and the miraculous deeds of Christ. 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 just some of the reasons why we believe the story of Jesus is more than fiction but fact, because of the evidence in favor of the story being real.
But no amount of evidence will ever convince some people.
Just look at how resistant people are to vaccines today and you can see first-hand how much that is still a reality even today. To ask people to believe in someone as extraordinary as Jesus when they can’t even believe what they can see and experience with their own eyes is a hill too steep for some. But that does not mean we cannot reach these people. As it is written in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Or in Matthew 19:26 where Jesus tells the disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” For most of us, Christ comes alive not in the pages of a book, but in our lives through the love of God. Maybe it’s our parents or grandparents who reflected God’s love in their love for us. Maybe a pastor or a teacher who was there in our time of need. Maybe just a neighbor or friend who reached out in a meaningful way. But it’s not the words that make Christ come alive for us but how we love one another. As it says in 1 John 3:18, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” That is when Christ moves away from just being another story to the living Gospel. 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.