Around this time of the year, I often see pieces of prose written by various Christians claiming to explain what it would be like if Jesus was born today. They tell stories of fully booked hotels, a pregnant teenager, and the like. While I understand the reason for writing such adaptations, I believe that we should avoid them and try to understand the significance of Christ’s coming in its historical setting (somewhere between 6 B.C. and A.D. 2).
As I have been reading Alister McGrath’s biography on C. S. Lewis, this has become firmly planted in my mind. Lewis, a scholar of English literature especially that of the Medieval period, believed that we must read writings in their original setting. McGrath says that “Rather than trying to get rid of the medieval knight’s suit of armour so that he becomes just like us, we should try to find out what it is like to wear that armour.” I take the position that when we “update” the Christmas story, we strip it of its medieval suit of armour—we strip it of its cultural and historical significance. When we do this, we do not allow the story to interrogate us and expand our own experiences.
I do not believe any person has sinister intentions when painting the Christmas story in a new light—a modern one, but it seems that Paul saw the timing of Christ’s coming as having great significance. He wrote: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV). The timing of Jesus’s coming—at the fullness of time! —was not trivial, and quite frankly, it could not happen today. Jesus’s advent is as tied to the 1st century as the advent of the internet is to the 20th century.
My goal is not to take the greatness of the Christmas story and shape it to fit my life and circumstances, but to take my life and circumstances and let them be shaped by the Christmas story. Instead of sharing on social media modernizations written by human beings, I would encourage us all to take the time to read the telling of Jesus’s birth that is inspired by God allowing it to inform and form us.