Mystic Mondays December 19, 2016
I will admit that my first attempt at a post this week was titled Dear Donny as you-know-who got under my skin again. But I just couldn’t go there. For the moment I am tired of being angry. My soul needs a break.
With Christmas just around the corner I decided to pull out the very first newspaper article I ever wrote back on December 17, 1993. This article really became the catalyst for much of my life–it ignited a great conversation and a six-month long controversy in a northern California community. Eventually a new church was formed from the energy and interest that this article and others later produced. And my eventual interest in religious mysticism has its basis in my early introduction to mythology.
This is my Christmas gift to you!
THE CHRISTMAS MYTH
Fiction or non-fiction? Truth or lie? Historical fact or just a myth?
Here we are at Christmas time where much of the community, church folk and non-church folk alike, will celebrate the birth of Jesus. And more importantly, we celebrate “the incarnation of God,” which is just a fancy way of saying “God became flesh.”
In recent years I have heard numerous discussions around the historical accuracy of the Bible including the Christmas story. The discussions often revolve around the events which we might consider supernatural.
“Was Mary really a virgin when she conceived Jesus?” “Did an angel really appear to the shepherds to tell them of Jesus’ birth?” “Was Jesus really both a person and God, both human and divine?”
Historical fact or just a myth? To the modern mind this question seems pressing. To a society which measures truth by scientific instruments this question begs for a straight answer. We want to know, “Is it fiction or non-fiction, truth or lie, historical fact or just a myth?”
Those who can’t swallow that the events surrounding Jesus’ birth are historically accurate sometimes say, “Oh, the whole Christmas story is just a myth.” This is a statement to which I must agree. However, I would say, “It is not JUST a myth. Rather, it is NO LESS than a myth.”
Myths are one of those powerful and profound realities that help shape and give meaning to the experiences of life. Much of the Bible is myth. Which means that it may not be true in an historical or scientific sense. But its truth lies in deeper places, more sacred than instruments can touch.
Joseph Campbell, considered the world’s leading mythologist, says this: “Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images…Mythology pitches the mind…to what can be known but not told. So this is the penultimate truth.” (The Power of Myth, 1988)
In other words, myths point us to the ultimate truth–a truth which lies beyond any story or historical event. We don’t believe the Christmas story is true because someone found evidence that Mary really was a virgin, or because it was proven that God really did descend and become human in Jesus. We believe the Christmas story is true because it points to the ultimate truth–a truth we feel and know, but can only express through mythic stories.
We believe the Christmas myth because it unveils the beautiful dance between the human and her partner, the divine, in each of our lives. We believe the Christmas myth because it reveals the spiritual nature of all births and new beginnings. We believe the Christmas myth because it teaches us about the nature of our lives. It teaches us that God and flesh are not separate and, in fact, are tightly intertwined in such a way that we are “fully human, fully divine.”
It doesn’t matter whether the events surrounding Jesus’ birth happened exactly as they are portrayed. All that matters is whether you feel more alive and compassionate when you read it. All that matters is whether it puts you in touch with the human/divine dance playing within you. If it does that then this myth holds more truth than any historical event will ever hold.
The Christmas story is not JUST a myth. It is NO LESS than a myth.