(In addition, that is, to the BIG ONES – concerning the Deity of Christ, and the birth of the Messiah, to Mary, a young Jewish virgin.)
(This post originally appeared on the Patheos Faith&Chelsen blog and is reprinted with permission.)
The American Atheists are baaack! With yet another attack on Christmas.
This year’s Angry Atheist Attack comes in the form of telling people to skip church and calling the birth of Christ “fake news.” These two messages appear on a billboard with a deceptively sweet drawing of a Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and the Baby.
Also in the scene are the wise men/kings. Three, natch. I have written previously about the anti-God tirades, but in this post, I’m limiting myself to just correcting some of the most glaring errors made by the American Atheists’ Christmas-bashing ad.
Number One: Just Skip Church. This is what the billboard advises.
What do they think? That telling people to “skip church” is going to punish the “churches” and the religious leaders? Punish President Trump?
They don’t understand that even if believers were to “skip church” on Christmas, it would not affect their perception. As Augustine declared, We are an Easter People, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song! But we are also a Christmas People, and Gloria in Excelsis Deo is our song!
We are people of the Incarnation. GOD became man, Emmanuel – God with us. We celebrate Christmas and Easter all year, or as the band Relient K sings, I celebrate the Day, when You were born to die, so some day I could pray for You to save my life.
They don’t understand that you can’t “skip” church if you are the Church! The church is not the building; the church is not the event. The Church is the people. The Church is the Body of Christ.
Number Two: It’s All Fake News
We Three . . . or Four . . . or >=Five Kings
They take the literary devices in Christmas carols way too literally. Just because a song says, “We Three Kings” doesn’t mean that it was actually three kings that came to pay homage to Jesus as the American Atheists portray in their meant-to-be-mocked billboard illustration.
The Bible does not say how many “wise men” (not kings) came from the East (astronomers, mystics, or other such wise men “magi” from Persia, most probably). It says that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which has tripped up many what the American Atheists would call “simple, uneducated Christians.” But it looks as if it tripped up the atheists, too.
A Shepherd and a Wise Man Walked Into a Bar (Not!) or: Better Late Than Never
The wise men did not come the night that Jesus was born. It was a long trip, and the Bible (again, if you read.the.Bible you see that the supposed inaccuracies are from over-zealous hymn writers, not the inspired Word of God) refers to Jesus no longer as the “babe” that had been lying in the manger a while back, but as the “young child” staying in a house.
God knew better than to try to mix Persian Zoroastrians (or something like that) and Jewish shepherds in the same little stable! They each needed to experience the Glory of God in the Incarnate One themselves, and in a way that was meaningful to them. (You will see what the shepherds’ gig was below.)
The Jewish shepherds would themselves become an icon for Christ, the Good Shepherd. Today we don’t understand the critical role they played to Jewish life in Biblical Israel. By necessity (of sheep watching) they were so on the outskirts of society, but they were chosen by God to be the first to meet the King of the Jews, the Messiah, in His infant disguise.
I doubt that the American Atheists know that these shepherds were responsible for raising the lambs for the worship at the Temple. (Shhh! Don’t tell PETA!) These lambs were set aside to be sacrificed to make atonement for the sins of the people. They were Passover lambs. The shepherds had to certify that they were completely unblemished, “without spot,” like a certain figure described by the Prophets. And they were swaddled! They were wrapped in strips of cloth like. . . Hey! Like a certain baby described in The Gospel of Luke!
When the angels said to the shepherds, this will be a sign unto you, they were actually saying, THIS will be a SIGN unto YOU.
In other words, to find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was a sign specifically for the shepherds. Not just because He was swaddled, like their lambs, but they understood from this that HE was the Sacrifice Lamb that would take the place of the Temple sacrifices. Whoa! Some fake news!
Number Three: Where Did You Say We’d Find Him?
I know the American Atheists are more concerned with mocking Christians and Christianity than trying to get an accurate picture of the Nativity. Hence, the illustration that looks as if it was made with Precious Moments figurines.
But there’s another problem: the location of the stable/manger. The place where Mary went into labor with the King of Universe was not the bucolic hillside depicted in their cutesy billboard. Luke reports:
- They were in the City of David (Bethlehem)
- The city was packed with people for the census and Tax Day
- There was not a room in an inn available
- Maybe not even a stable, as we think of it? More like a cavern.
- After the multitudes of the heavenly choir finished their serenade, and the shepherds picked themselves up off the ground (and possibly needed to change their robes – angelic beings can be pretty terrifying – that’s why they always start out, Fear Not!) they said, Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass!
Christmas, the holiday that dare not speak its name, alienates the American Atheists. But unlike the angry atheists there are hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who are not Christians. They may or may not have their own exclusive holidays to celebrate, but somehow they manage to slog through the Christmas season with their feelings unscathed and even enjoying Christmas festivities along with their Christian neighbors. Many enjoy hearing the Christmas story — which is glad tidings, great joy, good news, but definitely not fake news.
And some even come to believe it, as the irresistible wind of the Spirit blows gently through December.