Think about it for a moment, and that title isn’t as odd as it seems. The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah. He was going to be a great King from the line of David, he would restore the greatness of the Kingdom, his enemies would pay tribute to him, and the covenant with God would be fulfilled. How would you feel if someone told you that that Messiah had been born in a one-horse town to a builder/carpenter and his young wife, and, after a career as an itinerant preacher and miracle-worker had been crucified by the Romans? Wouldn’t you have thought that an odd story – and that even before you were told that this man had then risen from the dead, but wasn’t available for you to see because he had gone to heaven? When you put it like that, isn’t it the oddest thing?
Most myths have their gods and goddesses in fairly heroic mode, they don’t live ordinary lives for years where nothing much happens. They certainly don’t suffer for the likes of you and me – it is usually the other way round. Nor do you hear much about them being an actual human baby. It’s interesting that some of the non-canonical early Christian stories about Jesus include him, as a child, doing miracles – that speaks to a need for him to fit into what people expected. But then the whole New Testament narrative is not what you’d expect.
For one thing, who, if they were making stuff up, would portray themselves as the kind of lunkheads the Apostles appear to be in Matthew and Mark? They seem to understand very little of what Jesus said, then, when the going got tough, they got going. The head Apostle denied he knew Jesus, and when the crucifixion happened, most of them were nowhere to be seen. What’s more, this Jesus fellow, he hung out with tax collectors and loose women, and he told off holy priests for being too rigid. No, not the stuff of which Messiahs were made, you might think.
But that’s where this is the oddest story ever told. It is all so improbable that it is either the worst and most transparent lie ever told, or it is true – and the problem with those who think the former, is that good scholars who investigate the story come up with the conclusion it is true, and that some of the things others think are discrepancies are nothing of the sort.
And, as Betjeman asked:
And is it true? and is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.
Yes, it is true, and what the poet says follows – nothing is as important as what we celebrate at midnight Mass. He came upon that midnight clear – and so, here’s one of my favourite carols to share the joy of the Incarnation with you all.