The Legend of Christmas

Dr Mike Fleischmann, Vice President of Personnel

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7)

In Luke’s Gospel, this is the essence of The Christmas Legend, carefully inscribed so many years ago and handed down to us today.

If you’re like me, maybe that last sentence made you a little bit uncomfortable.  I don’t typically use the word legend to describe the story of Christmas because I hear in it the modern connotation of a great story in which fact and fiction are freely mixed…and if we believe anything at all, we believe that every single word of the Bible is perfectly true.

That’s not, however, what the word legend originally meant.  The Latin root it comes from originally had to do with things that were written down.  For instance, our words legible and legend were once very closely related.  Legible originally meant “things that can be read” and legend originally meant “things that are to be read.”  The underlying idea wasn’t about fact or fiction, but the incredible importance of something– so much so, that it must be written down.

It’s hard for us to grasp in our modern world what a powerful distinction that was – that something was so incredibly important that it must be written down.  In our day it’s not just that we have an endless supply of paper, pens, copy machines, and computers – but we are now constantly writing on these ever-present mobile devices.  We can hardly get ourselves to STOP writing.  I look down the pew in church, even during moments of worship, and I see people still typing away on their electronic devices.  And let’s be honest about it: A lot of what we write today isn’t worth writing down at all.  Surely the world would be a better place if a few of our late night tweets and hastily sent email responses went un-written.

But in the ancient world, very little was written down.  Writing materials were scarce, the process was elaborate, and the percentage of people who could read was small.  Therefore because of the exorbitant cost and painstaking effort only those things that were most critically important were written down.

In the ancient world there were a million stories told every single day, but only a precious few were so important that they were written down to be precisely read and remembered.  These stories were legend.

The biblical Christmas Story – in the truest, original sense – is the most completely true and essential legend that the world has ever known: That the one, true God of the universe so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son, to be born of flesh and blood to demonstrate perfect love, teach perfect truth, and die a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have the free gift of eternal life.

Luke explains at the beginning of his Gospel why he has gone to such painstaking detail to historically document and write the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning with the baby born in Bethlehem.

“…it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4)

Because of your help, Missions Door is able to proclaim this timeless story of Jesus all around the globe.  On college campuses, city centers, hospital wards, and prison cells – Central American villages and European war zones, we tell people this good news story of Jesus that is so timeless and true.

This is what it means to take the help and the hope of the Gospel to the least and the lost – precisely when they need it the most.

Thank you for your support, and Merry Christmas.