Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
I’m a sucker for book recommendations. Whether it’s a passing comment in a conversation, or a deliberate “you should read this book,” I’m very quick to add titles to my Amazon shopping cart. Perhaps it’s because there are just so many books out there, that I’d rather read those recommended titles than choose something on my own. And, here at the end of the calendar year, there are all sorts of lists of “books of the year” that people are encouraged to purchase.
And my Amazon cart gets fuller and fuller.
Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show, was recently asked in an interview to make a book recommendation. I think the interviewer assumed he would offer The Lord of the Rings because Colbert is an avid fan of Tolkien. But instead this is what Colbert said: “The Bible. But I’m not saying it for religious purposes. In a Western context, there is almost nothing from about the 4th century on that isn’t influenced by that book. Regardless of whether or not the book means anything to you, you should read it to know what all the other writers were talking about.”
In other words, the Bible is where (most) literature comes from.
That’s an interesting claim, and one that is well founded. For instance, the parable of the prodigal son has shown up time and time again in various coming-of-age narratives. The Messianic hero is another recurring theme in western literature. On and on the connections go.
Which means, sometimes we are reading “biblical stories” without realizing they are biblical stories.
And it’s not just literature that the Bible has impacted, our sense of time is fundamentally biblical.
Here’s how Karl Barth put it:
“The other day I came across a nearly 600-year-old parchment document, with seal affixed. It was the contract for the conveyance of a house, and it was written in the solemn language that was required in such matters even in those days. The date read as follows: ‘Given at Basle on the first Monday after Pope St Urban’s day in the 1371st year counting from the birth of God… Whether or not we know about it or think about it, Christmas reminds us of the secret of our age, our history, and our life. Christmas is where we come from; that is where everything ‘counts’ from.”
The world we inhabit, whether we know it or not (whether we believe it or not) is a product of the Gospel proclaimed every Sunday in the church. From the books we read, to the shows we enjoy, to the watches on our wrists, the One from whom all blessings flow continues to make blessings flow.
Therefore, the Bible is not just some collection of religious texts from long ago. Instead, in lives and breathes and gives meaning to the lives we live in ways seen and unseen. Similarly, Christmas is not just some religious holiday with various rituals that get us from one season to the next. Instead, Christmas makes intelligible the time we are given in our lives.
Or, as Barth put it, “Christmas is where we come from; that is where everything ‘counts’ from.”