Sunday, December 25, 2011

What Muslims Can Teach Us About Christmas

What do Muslims believe about the Nativity of Christ? Muslims believe that Jesus was a messenger of God; they even accept  his virginal conception. What they do not accept is the larger idea of the Incarnation. According to Muslims, Jesus was simply one significant prophet in a line of prophets, culminating with Mohammad; the final prophet of God. They also reject the idea that Jesus was crucified, claiming that Allah would never allow such an indignity to befall one of his chosen ones. They equally deny the resurrection, arguing that Jesus was taken up into heaven before his enemies could lay hands on him. Oddly enough, they do believe in the rest of Jesus' miracles- just not the ones that actually change anything. Indeed, they have gone to such great lengths to edit the story of Christianity, that by comparison the Jeffersonian Bible must seem down right mystical and other-wordly. They have, if you will, re-administered the burqa of inscrutability to the face of God.
What is most interesting about this revisionism (I think) is the reason that Muslims feel compelled to do so. It certainly has something to do with their desire to prove that their message is the superior one, but I would suggest that there is another reason for it, a reason which is even more sympathetic than the former: the Gospel is too good to be true.

Indeed, it is at once too wonderful and too terrible an idea to be believed. The suggestion that an Omnipotent God came as an impotent child- only to be brutalized by the very same people that he came to save- should strike us as more than a little preposterous. What is even more preposterous is the suggestion that not only did He not condemn humanity for this, but instead used it as an occasion to offer him eternal life.

Consequently, I understand why Muslims cannot accept the Incarnation. I understand why they feel it necessary to edit out some of the more provocative details of our Faith. Their creed is as solid and substantial as saying that 1=1 (or in their terminology that God is God). And there is a lot to be said for that. But Christ didn't come simply to re-establish the Old Law, he came to establish something new. He didn't come merely to give the world a truth that it already had; he came to reveal something that it couldn't have imagined in a million years (like 1=3). Christianity is the religion of surprises, and it is for this reason, I think, that we go to such great lengths to wrap our presents during the Advent season.

The very reason that Muslims call the Incarnation a blasphemy is the very reason we should all jump for joy when we hear it. Much like the religions of antiquity (including Judaism), Islam has naturally imagined a God who is transcendent and completely inscrutable in his ways. What no one could have guessed were the extraordinary events that transpired at Bethlehem. If it is accurate to say that God is all-powerful and ever-living, then how is it possible that he should be born under such mean conditions? And if it is true that the Lord of lords was tortured beyond all recognition, then how is it possible that he would not punt the human race into utter oblivion rather than endure such an indignity?

In this sense, then, our Faith is a laundry list of blasphemies... but for one minor detail. It all happens to be true. Is it beneath God to share in the same wicked fate as humanity? You bet. Is it unacceptable that the maker of heaven and earth should be born under such miserable conditions? Without a doubt. Is the idea of an incorruptible God taking on corruptible flesh a little bit far-fetched? It is quite reasonable to say so. Does it sound like a punch line to declare that the Almighty has humbled Himself to the point of washing our feet?  In the immortal words of St. Peter; "Lord, you will never wash my feet!"

In the end, it is God's "blasphemous" love for us that makes all of this divine bombast possible. It is his willingness to submit to any manner of trials that should leave us completely dumbstruck. Who are we indeed that the King of kings should come to us with such a remarkable offer? Who are we to declare the inevitability of an event that leaves every other religion in a state of disbelief? Let all of humanity tremble before this terrible trough; let her approach her Savior with the deepest sense of gratitude and reverence- bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, and the still more precious gift of holy incredulity.


  1. "The Gospel is too good to be true."

    One might back up a step and also say that the Christian God is too good to be true.

  2. Of course anybody may say anything about the Gospel. The intention of this particular blog was not to convince people who do not believe, but for people who believe but perhaps could use a little different perspective on the event.

    SLC (aka Man in the Woods)

  3. I mean Islam probably thinks that the Christian God is too good to be true from the get-go and proceeds from there.