Is Our Concept of God Big Enough to Believe the Christmas Narrative Is Literally True and Historically Accurate?
By Bob Russell
Several years ago, my granddaughter Corrie started asking probing questions about Santa Claus. Since she was 8 years old, her parents decided it was time to come clean about fairy tales and make believe. My son Phil went into her room, sat down by her bed, and tenderly explained, “The story of Jesus is real but Santa is just pretend.” He told her how the legend started from a generous man named St. Nicholas and then explained that there is no real Santa who comes down the chimney on Christmas night. The gifts really come from Mom and Dad.
Phil’s wife, Lisa, listened from around the corner, concerned about how Corrie would handle this harsh reality; Lisa was pleased Corrie accepted the news with little emotion. So, when Phil was finished, Lisa went in, sat down on the edge of the bed, and assured Corrie, “We’re so proud of how maturely you’re handling this! You can continue to pretend about Santa if you want so your little brother can have fun with it too. But remember, Santa is kind of like the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy—he’s just pretend.”
Corrie immediately welled up and sobbed, “Oh, no! Not the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy too!” She could take the news about Santa Claus, but surely not the Easter bunny! We can only handle so much reality in one session.
There are two parallel narratives at Christmas. Both involve the miraculous. The secular world has fairy tales of Santa Claus, flying reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and the elf on the shelf. The spiritual narrative contains accounts of a virgin birth, visits from angels, a moving star, and God taking on human flesh. The big difference is that as Christians, we believe the spiritual narrative is literally true and historically accurate. In fact, a belief in the reality of the biblical story of the first Christmas is considered an essential for salvation.
A Solid Basis for Belief
The writers of the Bible claim the Christmas events are historically true. Luke began his Gospel, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). Simon Peter insisted, “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). The apostle John wrote, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3).
However, some skeptics challenge the accuracy of the biblical account of Christ’s birth. And, frankly, some Christians frequently wrestle with doubts. After all, they’ve never met a virgin who gave birth. They’ve never been visited by an angel. They’ve never witnessed a star guide someone to a destination. Why should they believe? What if it’s just a fairy tale for adults?
It’s interesting that the first one to doubt the Christmas story was Mary herself, the main hero of the story. When an angel told her she was going to give birth to a baby, Mary’s initial reaction was not, “That’s wonderful! Thank you, God, for honoring me. I’m so excited!” No, she questioned, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).
The angel Gabriel did not chastise Mary for doubting. Instead he gave her a clear explanation of what would transpire and also a solid basis for belief. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (v. 35). Then he added, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37, King James Version).
Nothing Impossible with God
Think of that phrase, “With God nothing shall be impossible.” Years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book with the memorable title Your God Is Too Small. If you have trouble believing in the supernatural, you probably don’t have an intellectual problem, you most likely have a conceptual problem. Your concept of God is too small. The real God who created this universe is capable of anything. He says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
I’ve often said that if you can believe the first verse in the Bible you won’t have any trouble with the rest of it. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If God is so omniscient that he can design the intricacies of a DNA molecule and so omnipotent that he can set the stars in space, then nothing is impossible with that God. A universal flood? The Red Sea parting? A special fish keeping a man alive for three days? A terminal disease disappearing? A loaf of bread multiplying? A dead person restored to life? “Nothing is impossible with God!”
Immeasurably More Than We Can Imagine
Back in the early 1980s, David Miller, the architect of our new church building, told me about a new technology for cars that would inform us of our precise location and provide details of how to get to our destination. “No way!” I responded. “Yes,” he insisted. “A satellite signal from outer space will instruct you, ‘Turn right in one half mile, then your destination will be on your right.’”
“That’s impossible!” I exclaimed. It just seemed too fanciful for me. Now Global Positioning Systems are a normal part of our daily lives. In fact, we get upset if we are ever given wrong directions. Our recent advances in technology have been incredible. When I doubted a GPS could become a reality, it was simply because my understanding of technology was very limited.
Do you think it’s too difficult for the God who created man from the dust of the ground to be able to implant a tiny embryo in a virgin’s womb? Is it too much to believe that God, an eternal Spirit, created unseen angels? Do you doubt a supernatural God can design a special star to guide wise men to their destination? If so, your skepticism really isn’t intellectually based. Your concept of God is just pitifully small.
Isaiah asked, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” (Isaiah 40:12). The God we worship has power and wisdom beyond our wildest dreams, according to the Bible. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
Swallow your pride this Christmas season. Be humble enough to admit the source of your doubts isn’t with the impossibility of miracles, but with the limits of your imagination. “Nothing is impossible with God!” As the resurrected Jesus commanded the unconvinced Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.”
That’s so important because this miracle-working God has the power to save you from your sins, raise you from the dead, and grant you eternal life. So, humble yourself as a little child and believe, because, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Adapted from “Christmas—Miracle or Fairy Tale?” at www.bobrussell.org. Used by permission.
Bob Russell serves as pastor emeritus at Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. He continues to preach, provide guidance for church leaders, mentor other ministers, and write through Bob Russell Ministries.