I’m not an ordained pastor or priest. I’m an English teacher. Yes, I ‘m currently a seminary student, and perhaps I’ll be a pastor some day, but at this moment I’ve been an English teacher for 13 years and a seminary student for only a little over a single year.
From an English teacher’s point of view, the Bible is a fascinating piece of literature. It’s a collection of individual documents covering a span of about 2,000 years accumulated into one volume. These individual documents come in many forms of literature, including poetry, proverbs, letters, and historical narratives, the most recent being written a little less than 2,000 years ago. Not only all that, but it is arguably the most influential and widely-read book in the history of the world. Whether Christian or not, any literature teacher (or history teacher, for that matter) should be drawn to the Bible.
Speaking strictly from a literary standpoint, whether someone believes the stories in the Bible to be literal or symbolic is not imperative to understanding its message. A person’s belief that the Bible is historically untrue has no bearing on its message, just as disbelieving talking pigs does not destroy the message of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Many skeptical, non-Christian biblical scholars understand the message of the Bible just fine.
In college, I was trained to examine the smallest parts of literature (even to the point of debating the connotation of a single word), but also to look at the work as a whole. Despite the Bible being a collection of works written by many authors under differing circumstances over a 2,000-year time span, when we step back and look at it, interestingly, there is a clear storyline running throughout and a central message.
The Bible can be split into two major sections: Before Christmas (Old Testament) and after Christmas (New Testament). The four books that start the New Testament, which record four independent accounts of Jesus’ ministry, are called the Gospel. It’s in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we get the story of Christmas.
But before Christmas, we have the Old Testament. The Old Testament does a thorough job of showing that God has every reason to clean his hands of us. The first stories of the Bible tell of selfishness, betrayal, and violence. The infamous stories of Adam and Eve’s fall, Cain’s murder of Adel, and God’s destruction of the wicked except for those on Noah’s Ark are just the beginning of a long history of humankind betraying God’s vision of Earth. Much later, Paul writes in one of his letters that we all “fall short of the glory of God.”
Despite what some think, the Bible is not a book filled with holy, flawless people. Even the heroes of the faith such as Moses, David, and Solomon, committed great sins. If these men couldn’t get it right, what hope is there for the rest of us? Indeed, at times, some in the Bible believed God had abandoned us altogether — and rightfully so. In a collection of 150 prayers and praises, one of the Psalms laments, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
Eventually, God allows even his own chosen people of Israel to be taken into captivity and Jerusalem and the Temple of God to be destroyed because they have strayed so far from him. Despite this, God still preserved his people and allowed them to return from exile and rebuild their Temple and city. Though this was a reason for celebration, the glory days of Israel were no more. The Temple rebuilt didn’t live up to the former splendor of the Temple built by King Solomon; Israel lamented, understanding this clearly.
Malachi the prophet closes the Old Testament with a message of coming justice and judgment. Though within the troubling words of Malachi and the other prophets there are hints of a future hope, one can’t help but feel the Old Testament ends on a down note.
Then, for four hundred years, God is silent.
Nothing written during this time becomes part of the Bible, the Holy Scripture.
Those centuries, history tells us, were a time of war and oppression for Israel. After the Persian Empire’s rule, the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered them. Then came the Roman Empire.
But during the rule of the Romans — and after four hundred years of silence from God: Christmas.
The Gospels tell us that about 2,000 years ago God Himself entered time and space, to be born as a child, and to live and suffer like us. The angel who brings the news to Mary tells her to name the child Jesus. Jesus means “the Lord saves.”
If we only look at the Old Testament, many would say the message of the Bible is bleak and depressing. But here’s the thing: when Jesus was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
In the New Testament, Jesus’ message is referred to as the good news. He tells his disciples to go out and spread it. In fact, “gospel” means “good news” and “evangelize” comes from the Greek word literally meaning to spread good news.
So, what do we do when we receive good news? We gather and celebrate. We sing and dance. We hug, laugh, even cry. We sing and eat together and dance.
Any sin (even the sin of godly men like Moses, David, and Solomon) separates us from God, a being whose very nature is eternal goodness. So, God did the only thing that could be done about this. He became a man, lived a perfect life, and took the punishment that he didn’t deserve but we did. Anyone can read the Bible and understand this message, but one must believe it to benefit from it. God has given this free gift, but a gift must also be accepted.
I’m not an ordained pastor or priest. I’m an English teacher, trained to analyze literature to a point that would make most people nauseous. And the core of what the Bible says about Christmas is this:
A child named The Lord Saves has been born. God has not abandoned us. Celebrate the good news.