Does it matter that the Christmas stories really happened or not?
First of all I want to point our that there is no textual evidence in the gospels that they are unreliable., The stories are as authentic as the rest of the new Testament. Of course there are lot of scholars who think that those stories just could not have happened because there are so many marvellous and unusual events recorded. But it is the same scholars who do not believe that Jesus walked on the water and also have doubts about resurrection.
It seems to me that the stories are not just pretty fairy stories which may or may not actually have occurred, but that they are essential events which have a deep and often eternal meaning.
The fact that they do not occur in each gospel is surely due to the fact that most of the information was known only to Mary. It was necessary for the gospel writer to have the chance to talk with her to get it all straight.
But why do I say that the stories are important?
For example, there is the story about the angel’s visit to Mary: God could have become Man using an ordinary human birth with Joseph as the father, but it was a very helpful acted parable for us, to show that Jesus was the union of the human and the divine.
Again the Epiphany story was important as showing who Jesus was through the gifts, and in showing that that he had come not for the Jews only, but for the Gentiles.
The story of the shepherds was important because it shows that the Lord came to ordinary people and that they were the first to see Him and worship Him.
The story of the angels was important because it showed that he is in fact the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and is worshipped by angels and archangels and all the hosts of heaven.
My view is therefore that the stories are not made up and are not recorded by chance, but are part of God’s self-revelation, and an important part of it. For, if God really became Man, surely it is natural that great and amazing things should happen!
John Pearce is Rector of Limehouse in the diocese of London.