In high school back in the 1970s, I remember two good friends who were terrific performers. She soloed “Silent Night” in the annual high school Christmas program. He played Jesus in “Godspell.” They both loved the Christmas story and happy to join in on the celebration, even though they are both atheists.
I suppose their reasoning is the same as Professor Bart Ehrman gives for loving the Christmas/Jesus story, even though he is now an agnostic.
One of the things I haven’t lost, oddly enough, is my love of Christmas. I no longer believe the Christmas story told every year. I now know that the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew is very different from the story in the Gospel of Luke, that their accounts are not simply differently nuanced, but factually at odds. And I know that we don’t have their original accounts, but only the accounts as handed down by scribes who often changed the accounts, making it sometimes impossible to know what the originals said. In one sense, I’ve lost something of the wonder of Jesus coming into the world, for I now realize that the biblical narratives are not history, but are in fact, stories.
But they are beautiful stories. Angelic visitors, heavenly inspired dreams, miraculous works: a virgin conceives and bears a son! There are shepherds and wise men and wicked kings and murdering soldiers and near escapes; tragedy and salvation.
The stories live on, with or without my faith in them as history. And the meaning of the stories continues to touch me.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if more non-believers would join in on the joy and magic of the season?