Myth and Jesus: A Reflection for the New Year

By Nick Schollars

His disciples began questioning him as to what this parable meant. And he said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.”—Luke 8:9-11

At Solid Rock, we have just finished celebrating Advent, or the last four Sundays before Christmas Day. According to the Church Calendar, Christmas begins at sunset on Christmas Eve and last for 12 days. (So don’t feel guilty if Bublé’s Christmas album is still playing on your computer as you read this.)

This is part of a rich tradition of ritual reenactment that has been in place for centuries. We make it a time to remember Christ’s incarnation by using his story to frame our mindset as we go about our daily life in the present.

Advent, as well as the Twelve Days of Christmas, carries strong undertones of new beginnings and sense of change. Our 365-day solar calendar, which also finds its roots in the Church, also marks this time of year with a sense of beginning a la New Year’s Day.

Media and news outlets jump on this bandwagon with talk of New Year’s resolutions. Indeed, this sense of beginning permeates our culture. In a nutshell, this is an example of how story frames our lives. Yet this practice reaches far back into antiquity, and although the lingo may have changed, it remains the same. This practice is known as mythology. It is what we practice when we set a New Year’s resolution by using a new chapter in the cosmic story to begin a new chapter in our own lives. It is even what we practice when we use the story of Jesus to frame our spiritual lives during Advent, Christmas, and the rest of the Liturgical year.

Myth might bring certain characters to mind such as Zeus, Mars, or Thor; none of which fits into the reality of our Judeo-Christian worldview. But this does not mean that myth is necessarily tied to fictional stories. Therefore, the story of Jesus can be viewed as both factual and mythological.

In his book, The Search for Meaning, Dennis Ford speaks of the tie between faith and mythical living:

“Faith is a total, engaged response to and identification with myth that annihilates the critical distance between it and me. It is through the eyes of faith that one sees whatever one sees, not as a proposition that can be true or false, but as the way things are. Faith engages heart and soul. It is not enough to know about; one must directly experience and respond through the auspices of faith.”

Mythical living finds its application in the realm of experience, not in analyzing truth and falsity. Truth and falsity can be assented to without experience ever coming into play. I believe that the events of the Nativity actually occurred in history.  Beyond mere assent to the historicity of an account, however, our goal during the Christmas season is to identify with the story. Our goal is to let Christ work in our souls as He worked in the souls of the shepherds, the Magi, Mary, Joseph, and the entire Israelite people on the date of His birth.

I would even argue that this method is the method by which Christ intended to initiate his kingdom and conform the human race to His likeness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers these words on being conformed to Christ:

This is not achieved by dint of efforts ‘to become like Jesus,’ which is the way in which we usually interpret it. It is achieved only when the form of Jesus Christ itself works upon us in such a manner that it moulds our form in its own likeness (Gal. 4.19). Christ remains the only giver of forms.” Ethics

Later in the same work, Bonhoeffer writes that “everyday man dies the death of a sinner.” This is also a form of mythical reenactment that Christ commanded of us when he told us to take up our cross daily in Luke 9:23.

Myth, then, is simply the use of a story to give authoritative meaning to our own lives. It changes us on a deeper level than facts. The facts of Jesus’s life can be seen, yet we might never see his presence in our lives. The facts of Jesus’s life might be heard, but we might never hear him speaking to us now.

This relational knowledge, founded in concrete experience, forms the seed of our faith. We can only know the mysteries of the kingdom of God if we have that seed, which is the Word of God; that is, Jesus Christ himself. The kingdom of God is transmitted by our relating with the person of Christ in the here and now. His birth, death, and resurrection allow us to encounter Him in the joy of the Christmas season, the endurance of suffering in our world, and at the table of the Last Supper.  In this way, the entire world takes on new meaning, for every part of it is conformed to the image of Christ.

This is the premise which the Church Calendar is founded upon, and which we seek to replicate when we gather. It does not stop at remembrance of what Christ did in history. It goes further and seeks to enlighten us to how His story is becoming our story as He conforms us to His image. So as we begin the New Year with the Christmas season, take joy in knowing that Christ has arrived. He is here now. God is with us.

“Man is excluded from the reality of whatever he may do if his heart be not engaged”

—Wilfred Cantwell Smith