The Nativity: a True Christian Myth
A few weeks ago, with pomp and circumstance, the present pope showed himself again as a theologian by publishing a book about the infancy of Jesus. He offers there the classic and traditional version that sees in those idyllic stories a historic narrative. The book was a surprise to theologians, because, for about 50 years, the biblical exegesis on these texts show that they are not historical, but a high and refined theology elaborated by the gospel writers Matthew and Luke (Mark and John do not say anything about Jesus’s infancy), in order to prove that Jesus really was the Messiah, the son of David and the Son of God.
To this end, they resorted to literary genres, that sound like history but in reality are literary devices, such as, for example, the Magi from the East (who represent the pagans), the shepherd (the most poor, considered to be sinners for dealing with animals), the Star and the angels (to show the divine character of Jesus), Bethlehem, not as a geographic reference, but to have a theological meaning, the place whence the Messiah would come, different from Nazareth, totally unknown, where Jesus probably was actually born. And similarly, other topics, as I analyze in detail in my book, Jesus Christ the Liberator, (Jesucristo el Liberador), chapter VIII.
With these moving stories of the Nativity we see a grandiose myth, understood positively, as anthropologists do: the myth that transmits a profound truth that only the mythic, figurative and symbolic language can adequately express. That is what the myth does. A myth is true when the meaning it transmits is true and illuminates the whole community. Thus, the Nativity of Jesus is a Christian myth, filled with truth.
We now use other myths to show the relevance of Jesus. To me there is great significance in an old myth the Church used in the liturgy of the Nativity to reveal the cosmic commotion caused by the birth of Christ.
It is said there:
«A profound silence fell at midnight. Then, the talkative leaves went silent, as if dead. The whispering wind stayed quiet in the air. The rooster that was crowing stopped in the middle of his song. Then, the running waters of the creek were paralyzed. The sheep that grazed turned immobile. The shepherd who raised his staff became petrified. In that moment everything stopped, everything was suspended, all was silence: Jesus, the savior of humanity and of the universe, was being born».
The Nativity tries to communicate to us that God is not a severe figure, with penetrating eyes to scrutinize our lives. God appears as a child. Not judgmental, but wanting only to be loved and to play.
And as it happens, from the Manger came a voice that whispered to me:
«Oh, human creature, why are you so afraid of God? Don’t you see that His mother wrapped His fragile little body? Don’t you see that He threatens no one? That He condemns no-one? Don’t you hear how He softly cries? More than to help, He needs to be helped and showered with love. Don’t you know that He is God-with-us like us?» And we no longer think, we open the way to the heart that feels, that is compassionate and loves. What else could we do before a Child who we know is God become human?
Perhaps no one has written of the Nativity better than the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, who says: «He is the eternal child, the God who was missing. He is the divine one who laughs and plays. He is a child so human that He is divine».
Later on, they transformed the Child Jesus into Saint Nicholas, into Santa Claus and, finally, into Papa Noel. It is not important, because, deep down, the spirit of goodness, of proximity and of the Divine Gift is there. The editorialist Francis Church of theThe New York Sun was correct, when in 1897 he replied to Virginia, an 8 year old girl who wrote to him: «Dear Editor: please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?»
And he wisely replied:
«Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.».
In this holiday, lets try to see with the eyes of the heart. All of us have been educated to see with the eyes of reason, that’s why we are cold. Today we will recover the rights of the heart: we will let ourselves be moved by our children, let them dream and be filled with tender affection before the Divine Child who felt pleasure and happiness when He said He was one of us.