Friday, December 28, 2012

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Four Collybirds - blackbirds. These make quite a noise in the spring. The jet black male has a bright golden beak and golden rings around its eye. Their plumage makes quite a statement and its call is certainly persistent. Not surprisingly then, the number four is associated with the Four Evangelists whose call still persists as they hold unique places among the prophecies, histories and epistles that make up Holy Scripture.

The cry of the blackbird can be quite irritating, especially the famous alarm call which is usually accompanied by the fluttering wings as the startled bird burst forth from the bushes. In the same way, many find the gospels an irritant. They do appear to be inconsistent; they do appear to have incorrect details; they do appear to be odd in their insistence at attributing too much to the miraculous. These irritations occur because we approach them with a different mind. These gospels were written to tell us good news and we are faced with a choice, to believe or to reject their testimony.

Since there is a great diversity of belief among scholars as to the reliability of the Gospels, one has to set up the criteria we require in order to believe the testimony. The trouble is that no-one is able to travel back and know the truth - we have no choice but to rely on testimonies. However, if we see the impact that the person of Jesus has had on Western Society, it becomes very difficult to see how one itinerant preacher's teaching overrides those of other contemporary itinerant preachers without some special circumstances that assisted its publication on so great a scale. There was no military might, nor influential approval, nor goodwill for the first three hundred years, so how an upopular sect spread and grew in the face of horrible tortures and executions is certainly remarkable.

There is clearly something contained in these gospels that give us a clue as to why. Their evidence cannot be ruled out just because they have been afforded a religious significance. However one regards the content, whether fact or fiction, these Gospels have shaped our society. Our Christmas is influenced by the great infancy narratives and we cannot celebrate Christmas without Angels and Kings and Mangers and Stars making their presence felt.

We have been given the gift of four remarkable texts which set up the context of the belief in the Triune God within the two covenants that God has made with us, unified and ratified in the Blood of Christ Crucified. This is a gift for which every Christian should thank the One Who Truly Loves.

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