Stories are a wonderful, captivating thing. You meet characters that you connect with and care for, and explore worlds you could never have envisioned on your own. You learn about life and love and loss, all through the voice of another person. Those lessons resonate with you deeply and profoundly. Truly great storytellers are a wonderful gift. Whether they are creating Tolkien-level universes or recounting a humorous encounter with the waiter during lunch, they are masters at pulling you into their world and conveying whatever message and truth they have in store for you. Whether through books or movies, written in fact or fiction, when properly told and fully understood, a story wields tremendous power.
This time of year, the same story is being told in churches and homes alike around the world; the Nativity – the story of Jesus’ birth. It is a well-known story to most people, even those outside of the Christian faith, but it is also a story that causes questions because it does not appear in all four gospels. Why wouldn’t all the authors include the birth of the Savior in their writings? It is how the whole story of Jesus begins, after all.
Guest preacher Rev. Bob Hiller kicked off the discussion addressing these questions on this week’s episode of Ringside Preachers Podcast with an important reminder; “We have to remember that the gospels are not biographies. They are accounts of Christ’s ministry from people who were there to witness it, so we’re not going to get every detail.” This should automatically realign your expectations for the story you are about to read. We are not talking about a massive textbook, recounting names and dates and places throughout Jesus’ entire life in preparation for tomorrow’s test. “I think part of our problem is we want to synthesize all these things and bring them together, rather than allowing the authors to tell it their way,” Rev. Paul Koch adds. These are four separate stories, written by four different people, with four different goals. They may feature the same characters, and include some of the same events, but each author has a unique story to tell.
Sometimes, especially with well-known stories, we tend to fill in the gaps we perceive with auxiliary knowledge, and focus in on the historical sequence of events rather than truly listening and allowing the author to speak through his work in his own voice. This is why working our way through large chunks of books in lectionary readings and Bible studies is so valuable (jump back to last week’s Ringside episode for more on this particular benefit of the readings as laid out in the three-year lectionary). Simply reading a passage here and there deprives you of not only the context of the passage and the broader themes at play throughout the book, but you miss out on the entirety of the story that particular person is trying to tell.
Regardless of where each gospel starts, they all conclude in the same way, with Christ on the cross, then raised from the dead, which is ultimately the most important story we are told. However, I still love the Nativity. I love the faith of Mary and Joseph, the witness of the shepherds, and the image of God incarnate as a helpless baby lying in a pig’s dinner bowl. I agree with Rev. Joel Hess when he says, “It’s a good story. Not as cool as being raised by wolves, to be honest, but pretty good. I’ll take the Jesus narrative. That would make a cool Christmas though if we were celebrating the birth of Rome with a wolf tree!” It’s all about the story you have to tell…
This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, Tyler the Intern, and guest Rev. Bob Hiller as they duke it out over whether the Epistle of James should be in the Bible, why the Nativity story invites skepticism, whether it is good, right, and proper to hang all white or multi-colored Christmas lights, and more on the full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Did John or Mark Believe in the Virgin Birth?”
And don’t forget to check out Rev. Bob Hiller’s book “Finding Christ in the Straw: A Forty-Day Devotion on the Epistle of James,” currently available on Amazon.
To keep up-to-date with Ringside, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform, and follow us on social media.