Oh no; my faith is shattered: Rowan Williams tells us that the whole Nativity scene is bogus. That Jesus likely wasn’t born in December; that there really likely weren’t any wise kings three from the Orient. And don’t even get the good Archbishop of Canterbury going on the star of Bethlehem. For the details, see this Telegraph story.
This is the kind of story that certain literalists will jump all over: proof that the Anglicans are nothing but heathens. All of which engenders in me…a big fat yawn. Scripture gives us what I would call Truths, with a capital “T.” Are those truths literal truths, in the same fashion that the statement “today is Thursday, December 20th, 2007” is true?
No. The Gospels are not a newspaper account of certain events in First Century Palestine; there’ll be no film at 11pm. The Gospel tells us of the birth of the Messiah; of God’s choosing to become a man in order to demonstrate His love for us. That it happened, and for the purpose of God’s incarnation, is what is essential. The details are much, much, less important.
Those whose faith depends on a literal reading of the Gospels are going to find themselves in perpetual crisis. What the good Archbishop is reminding us of is what atheists have known for a long, long time: faith that depends on a legalistic proof invites despair. Faith depends on a different kind of knowledge.
For instance, an atheist might scoff at miraculous claims made in Scripture, because it is not possible to prove that any particular event actually took place precisely as described therein. For example, Joshua getting the sun and moon stand still (Joshua 10:12-13). This event defies the laws of physics that God had presumably had a hand in creating.
What the literalist is left with is the not-terribly-informative “with God all things are possible.” Yes, of course. But God is, among many things, a logical Creator. His very incarnation tells us that He is not going to have a separate set of rules for our planet that just apply when He’s involved.
The particulars of the birth of our Lord must not be a linchpin for our faith. They may be important for those who wish to stage lavish nativity scenes with monies that could be better used to help the poor and fund actual mission work, as against entertainment. But they are not important to those whose faith is fixed on the eternal message of the Gospel, not on ephemeral things like the three wise men or the star of Bethlehem or the precise date of Jesus’ birth.
Rather, faith is fixed by the knowledge that our Savior was born among us, died for our sins, was resurrected and lives to this day.