Once upon a time there was a little girl named Emma who loved Christmas. She was infatuated with Santa Clause. Every year she would watch every Santa cartoon that came on. She would watch the news as the weatherman reported where in the world Santa was at this very moment, and of course, she would leave freshly baked homemade cookies and a big glass of milk out for Santa. The idea of Santa inspired wonder and awe in her mind.
One day, in the week leading up to Christmas, she was at the neighborhood playground with some friends. One of her friends had just made an astonishing discovery and decided it was imperative to share her discoveries with her fellow nine year old scholars. Her presentation went something like this, “To my fellow prestigious members of the sand box, on this day I have made a discovery that will forever change the world in which we live. I walked into the dwelling place of my parental units to perform my normal search. I discovered several presents, wrapped in the paper that only Santa uses. The name tag said, ‘to Jill, from Santa.’ You can imagine my shock to find presents from Santa in my parent’s room several days before the great day of Santa deliveries. After this I went to my room and pondered my discoveries. I remember several other things happening and they were all red flags. I formed a hypothesis and brought it to the all-knowing parentals. They confirmed what I had expected to be true. Ladies and gentlemen, Santa…is…not…real.”
Shock and awe fell over the other children. Everyone was stunned by Jill’s well-articulated and seemingly factual find. No one was more stunned, however, than Emma. Emma was flat out angry. “How DARE you slander the name of Santa! You must have misunderstood your parents! There is no way Santa is not real! You are a Christmas Grinch! No, worse, you’re a Christmas heretic!”
Jill tried to reason with Emma, but Emma retreated into the corner of the playground, crouched down, stuck her fingers in her ears and boldly proclaimed, “La La La La La! I’m not listening! I can’t hear you!”
I would like to submit to you that Emma represents much of Christendom today.
Are you ready to label me a heretic yet? Ok, ok, so the story is a bit over the top. But this is what we have done. We have refused to recognize certain things that are true because we, like Emma, are afraid acknowledging these things will strip us of the beauty and the magic that we so enjoy.
However, the truth of the matter is, once we recognize the myths, the truth is much more magical and beautiful than anything made up could ever be! You see the truth to Emma’s story is that she has amazing parents who will do whatever necessary to create a magical season for Emma. The absence of Santa Clause would only make her parents more creative in how they bring joy to their daughter’s heart in the Christmas season, and it would deepen Emma’s respect for her parents as she realizes that they are the ones who bent over backwards to make sure she got that playhouse she had written 752 emails to Santa about.
We Christians, like Emma, need to acknowledge certain myths, and begin to see God as He truly is. I am going to touch on two mythologies and tell you why the truth is more beautiful than any myth could ever be, but I have one request of you before I do that. Please, don’t take this as a reason to tell your children Santa isn’t real. I claim no responsibility for the destruction of the Santa myth in my friend’s homes!
First, the myths of the resurrected son of the gods. Uh-oh! I could really be in trouble for even typing that! But here is the truth my friends. There are MANY myths of a son of a god, being murdered by humans and then rising from the dead. Am I saying the resurrection of Jesus is a myth? Absolutely not. Phew, perhaps I just avoided my heretic label! What I am saying is that in Jesus’ death and resurrection, He flipped the traditional understanding of the resurrected son of the gods on its head. I will not pinpoint any specific myths here but a quick google search would show you how common this myth has been through time.
Here is the difference, traditionally, when the son of a god is murdered, first of all, he sort of deserves it. He is the guilty party, and people need to kill him. This alone would not be enough to set Jesus apart but we can see this in the words of the high priest Caiaphas in the eleventh chapter of John when he says, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” It’s a traditional understanding that the sacrificing of an important person will keep the community from perishing. However, first of all, Jesus was not guilty. He had done nothing but preach a love of enemy which has the power to transform the world. However, the world does not want that, but we will get to that in a minute. The point is, according to traditional mythology, Jesus should have been murdered, and as the son of God, risen from the dead to take divine vengeance on His enemies–you know, like something out of a left behind movie or something.
There is the myth, but Jesus is not like this. Jesus rises from the dead with forgiveness on His mind and mercy on His lips. God could have chosen to rescue us any way He pleased. But He chose to do it in a way Jesus’ contemporaries would recognize the mythological enormity of the situation, while also recognizing how monumentally different Jesus’ Abba was from the gods of human myth. You see, the beauty in the truth far exceeds that of the myth. Recognizing the myths of the resurrected sons of god does not nullify the truth of Jesus–in fact, it should enrich it. From Abraham and Isaac all the way down to the cross and to present day, God is trying to show us how different He is from the gods we create with our own minds. The gods we create are vengeful while Jesus and His Abba are merciful, loving, and compassionate. The gods of our creation cry out, “I WILL have my revenge!” Jesus cries out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”
Here is the second myth: The myth of redemptive violence. Jesus lived His life preaching forgiveness and love of the enemy, the other, the alien, the outcast. Since the beginning of time we have believed that violence could redeem us. We’ve believed killing the bad guy can make this world a better place for us to live in. Jesus repeatedly showed us during His lifetime that forgiving the enemy was the way to make this world a better place.
We have a hard time seeing the beauty outside of our myth of redemptive violence. “The bad guy must die!” we exclaim. Or “what about Hitler?” we ask. Yes, what about Hitler? Before we shout for Hitler’s death we must recognize that it was Christians accepting violence as a plausible solution who aided Hitler’s rise to power. Perhaps if we choose the path of love and mercy and forgiveness as our core belief, we can recognize and stop a Hitler before they come to power.
Another story cited by advocates of redemptive violence would be the story where Jesus runs into the temple, guns blazing, taking out all the evil people there once and for all. Wait…that wasn’t how it went was it?
There is a popular meme going around which says, “When people say that we should be nonviolent like Jesus, remind them that turning over tables and driving people out with whips is always an option.” It’s clever and catchy, but it misses the beautiful prophetic imagery Jesus was displaying in the temple that day.
You see, if you go look at the Greek of that story, it was not people Jesus was driving out with whips–it was the sacrificial animals. Jesus was destroying the entire sacrificial process. God had long spoken against the institution of sacrifice through his prophets (Isaiah, Hosea, David etc.), but now here He was in the flesh, and He wanted to emphatically drive home His point. Unfortunately bad translation has left us with flimsy representations of this beautifully prophetic act of the creator of the universe standing in the midst of the house meant to honor Him, proclaiming (through this act) that He was never, nor will He ever be, bloodthirsty.
Everything about Jesus’ life shattered the myth of redemptive violence, so why do we cling to it? We cling to it because we are insecure. What if someone attacks my family? What if Hitler takes over? What if someone breaks into my house? What if someone tries to rape my child? What if? What if? What if?!
My friends, I leave you with a quote from the great Thomas Merton, and hopefully, with a glimpse into the beauty which lies in the truths buried underneath the myths of humanity, “A Christian is committed to the belief that love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.” Until next time, may the peace of Christ be with you, in you, and over you.