This Is No Myth
Neil Barber writing in The Scotsman letters page on Tuesday of this week displays the extraordinary arrogance of today's militant atheists. He says 'The birth of Jesus myth is a lovely story...but Christianity no more owns 'the real meaning of Christmas' than Thor owns the real meaning of Thursday'. It is actually quite hard to penetrate such boxed in closed-mindedness even just to have a conversation, a dialogue, a discussion. But I will try.
You and I are not myths. We are real people. This Christmas Eve Service is a real event. It is provable and after it is over it will be historical. This Church is not a myth. It is built of solid materials and has been here for 106 years. The people who built this Church are not myths. The were real human beings with names and addresses and these are recorded in the annals of this congregation and in the Registrar of Scotland's records of births marriages and deaths. This Church was and is part of a larger organisation of many such churches called the Church of Scotland. There are other such organisations in Scotland and throughout the world. This is called 'The Body of Christ' continuing his life and work and witness in the world. The Church of Scotland is not a myth; it is a legally constituted body within the government of the United Kingdom. Its foundation in 1560 AD is not a myth. It is attested in Scottish history and in the histories of other European countries and in the history of the Roman Catholic Church archives in Rome and elsewhere. John Knox was not a mythical figure; neither was John Calvin or Martin Luther. They were real people; they were real Christians. Their faith was not mythical; it was real.
The Reformation of the Church was not a myth. The Roman Catholic Church is not a myth. It had existed through centuries before evolving from the Early Christian Church. The Greek Orthodox Church is not a myth. It has existed since the pages of the New Testament. St Francis was a real person as was St Augustine and St Jerome and in northern Europe St Martin. Another later St Augustine, St Patrick, St Ninian and St Columba were all real people who were instrumental in bringing Christianity to Britain. Adomnan was a real historian who lived from 624 – 704 AD; he was abbot of Iona from 679 AD and recorded the people and events of the early Christian centuries of these islands. St Martin of Tours in France was not a mythical invention. He lived from 307 – 397AD and provided the strongest link between the early apostolic Christian Church and later Christian centuries in Europe. Before him were many great saints and martyrs of Christianity who were no myths. Many died for their faith under the Roman Empire. Polycarp, Justin, Perpetua, Sebastian were just four of them. Real people. Real Christians. Not myths. There were the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste in Turkey. These were 40 Roman soldiers who refused to renounce their Christianity and in 320 AD were herded together, stripped of their clothes and taken out onto the local frozen over lake and kept there overnight to die of cold. The few who were still alive in the morning were burnt to death. The apostles were not myths. Peter and Paul and Andrew and the others were real people. They are attested by independent historians as well as in the New Testament. And Jesus was not a myth. Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (55 – 120AD) testified to his reality and others such as Pliny, Suetonius, Tranquillus, Celsus and Lucian did so too as did the Jewish historian Josephus and the Syrian historian Mara Bar Serapion who was a contemporary of the apostles of Jesus such as John who lived to old age.
Today in this world there are 2.3 billion Christians who are not myths. The Reverend Canon Andrew White, is vicar of St George's Church, Baghdad, the only Anglican Church in Iraq. He is not a myth. He was recently ordered to leave Baghdad by the Archbishop of Canterbury for his safety in face of the advancing Isis forces. They have vowed to execute him. Last week they beheaded four teenage Christian boys who refused to renounce Jesus Christ. Andrew White testified, saying ‘Islamic State turned up and said to the children, “you say the words that you will follow Mohammad”’, he said, his voice cracking with emotion. ‘The children, all under 15, four of them, said “no, we love Yesua; we have always loved Yesua; we have always followed Yesua; Yesua has always been with us”. These boys were not myths.
Moving on – it is a strange argument that says that Christianity does not own the meaning of Christmas. Who else does? Neil Barber thinks the real meaning of Christmas is the mid-winter solstice and any pre-Christian events that surrounded it. But Christianity must own Christmas. It does not own Winterwell Festivals and Happy Tree Gatherings. Christianity does not own Yule logs, reindeer, elves, sledges, Coca-Cola's version of Santa Claus or the accompanying myths invented in our time and age. The real meaning of Christmas is what we recognise here tonight and it originates exclusively in Christianity. It is not based on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or modern western atheism. What Christmas has become culturally and commercially is not owned by Christianity but it does have a share in it. All the spin-offs have their own generators. The central core meaning of Christian Christmas, believing Christmas, worshipping Christmas is most definitely owned for all time by Christianity. But it is not to be kept to Christianity. It is a message of truth and good will and love and peace for the whole world.
And so to the final point. A myth is a human invention, a creation of the imagination of the human mind. Harry Potter is a myth. Christianity is not a myth. Elsa is a myth. Barbie and Ben Ten are myths. Luke Skywalker and Mr Spock are myths. There are dangerous myths like Nazi racial supremacy and Marxist communist propaganda. There are myths of national superiority which are false. Christianity is not a myth. It is not a human invention. It is based on Jesus a real person who breathed and bled and died. But Christianity is not the following of a great moral leader such as Buddhism is to Buddha. Christianity is a living relationship with the living present Jesus Christ. Jesus is alive to Christians. That is the core foundation of Christianity from the Day of His Resurrection to this very evening here. The testimony of Christians throughout the last near 2000 years is that they are in personal relationship to the Risen Jesus who has made Himself known to them just as he did to his disciples. That was has inspired many to follow him spreading the Gospel and doing great works of care and humanity throughout the centuries. By its nature relating to the Risen Jesus is something greater than a material and physical and visible relationship. We receive blessing and power from outside our natural human state. From our Maker. We are lifted up. Christmas lifts us up. Christmas lifts the world up. At least for a little while. As it did all those years ago when German and British soldiers stopped killing one another for the sake of Jesus Christ, for the sake of Christmas. They knew what they were doing was wrong. They sang Silent Night together. A power greater than human enmity is no myth. And this world needs it now. Our own land needs it for there is a great falling away. Our communities need it. This Church and congregation need it. Christmas, Christianity, Christians. Will you be one of us? Will you become one of us? Will you become one of Christ's own?