We live in a world where people on both sides of politics have claimed “Fake News” at one point or another. In Christianity, there is a version of what one might call “Fake News.” It is called the Gnostic Gospels. What are those, you ask? They are scrolls discovered near the Upper Egypt town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. They are written in the Coptic language that is native to Egypt. Gnostics were a group of Jewish-Christians mainly in the Second Century. Part of their belief, that Christianity of today debunks, was that the divine spark was “housed” inside our evil human bodies. They believed all matter was evil and all spiritual thoughts were good. Another scroll that has been found is thought to be from the late second Century. Here is part of that “Fake News” scroll, called “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” Scholar Bart Ehrman says:
The narrative begins with Jesus as a five-year old boy and relates a number of incidents, most of them miraculous, that betray a streak of the mischievous in Joseph and Mary’s precocious son. Here are anecdotes of Jesus at play with his childhood companions (sometimes harming them with his divine power, sometimes healing them), in confrontation with his elders (usually bettering them), and in school with his teachers (revealing their ignorance) and in the workshop with his father (miraculously correcting his mistakes. [Lost Scriptures, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 57.]
Today’s Luke text carries us over from the Christmas Eve texts when Mary, and the man to whom she was engaged-Joseph, go to great lengths to be together at the time of Jesus’ birth: instead of leaving Mary behind in Nazareth—where her family could certainly have cared for her and may have wanted to tend to her as she gave birth—Joseph took her with him in her condition as he fulfilled the census requirement put out by decree. In fact, if I were her mother and father, I might have insisted that she stay home to give birth in Nazareth. The Daytona Beach News Journal, just this week, ran a series of 8 stories about midwives having babies die due to complicated births. We will never know if it was Mary’s understanding of the angel’s decree that made her agree to go to Bethlehem in her condition or if it was just at the urging of Joseph. The Bible doesn’t say how they got to Bethlehem; the apocryphal (some might call it “fake news”) Infancy Narrative of James claims that Mary started to deliver the child before they arrived in Bethlehem and that Joseph left her in a cave while he ran into Bethlehem for two midwives. But no matter the exact details, the birth of Jesus came at great personal sacrifice on both of the parts of his parents, like a child born today takes sacrifices of time, money, and attention. On the eighth day, according to the law set out in Leviticus 12, Joseph and Mary made all the arrangements to have Jesus circumcised (Luke 2: 21). What followed after 33 days (a law from Leviticus 12) was the trip Mary, Joseph, and Jesus took to Jerusalem for her purification (Luke 2:22). What ordeals children bring into our lives! Nothing done to that point was done because Jesus was the Son of God; it was done just because Mary had a baby boy! What a difference there is between gifts such as a dolls or stuffed animals, compared with a real child!
Children around the world, and certainly those of us near Disney World, know one story of magic when a toy marionette is changed into a real boy! It’s the story of a blue fairy that magically brought a toy maker’s favorite toy to life. The marionette that became a boy was Pinocchio, and he only came to life when he gained the virtues of bravery, loyalty, and honesty, that would be needed in a real life. The toy maker, Gepetto, loved Pinocchio like a son. In another story that we studied during Advent, “The Gift of the Nutcracker,” we also learned that in her dream, Clara saw the inanimate nutcracker become a real king. Stories about people longing to be real are all around us. Isn’t it amazing that we sometimes complain about the cost of humanness: the heartbreak, the body aches, and the disappointments, and yet God wanted to feel humanness, and stories keep describing unreal things becoming real?
In Margery Williams’ tale of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, the stuffed animal rabbit sat on the nursery floor one day and asked the Skin Horse, who looked old and wise, what it was to be REAL.
“What is real?” the rabbit asked.
“Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes” replied the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are REAL you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” replied the Skin Horse. … “It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are REAL most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joins and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are REAL you can’t be ugly. The Boy’s Uncle made me REAL” said the Skin Horse. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are REAL you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
[Doubleday, New York, 1991 Reissue, pp. 2-3]
God chose humanness to know the gamut of our emotions; to know what it was like to have skin, and to know both the joy a Zacchaeus conversion, and the sorrow of a Judas betrayal. In Jesus Christ, God chose to become human, with all of its complications. And then, as Jesus grew up, he came to a milestone year: 12. Twelve years old was a special age for a Jewish boy. He had a right of passage from a boy to a young man. But this young man had more than his share of Godly knowledge. So as his parents attended to their religious obligations in Jerusalem, Jesus wandered around the Temple Mount. It was a time to discuss his faith with someone other than his father. This was surely a time when Jesus would not just begin to learn his earthly father’s trade in Nazareth, but also go to his Heavenly Father’s house. His questions of the Temple elders foreshadowed what was to come, even though he would not begin his ministry for another 18 years.
Life’s milestones come and go. As we are on the cusp of a new year, how might you make different decisions? What might you decide to do, that you haven’t done so far? What practices do you deem good to continue? At light speed in the Bible, Jesus goes from infancy, to age 12 to age 30, (disregarding those stories of him as a boy in the Gnostic Gospels.) Life can move very fast for us too! Take time to remember your milestones, to learn from them. What milestones may occur in your life this year? God in Christ stands ready to shine a light unto your path.
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 30, 2018