If there ever was a story that seemed, at first sight, sheer and utter madness, it is the story of Christmas.
One doesn’t have to look very far into the details to realise that. It starts with a virgin getting pregnant, then moves on to informing us that the baby was actually God. It adds a dash of drama by claiming He came to save the world, and its grand finale is a birth set in –rather creatively – an animal stall.
Of course, there are plenty of mad stories in the world, so the details alone aren’t what makes this story seem so. It’s the fact that the story, according to the authors, is true. All of this was really meant to have happened.
That claim is what takes it from the bowels of bizarre literature to the highest places of insanity, so we feel.
That claim to be true is also is what takes us from being entertained by the story, to rather disliking it. We can enjoy strange things in stories, we can like the impossible, so long as we don’t have to believe that what we are hearing is actually true.
No indeed, if something claims to be true, then we want a story that all together conforms to what we are used to in our own lives.
That is the very reason the Christmas story matters, from what I can see.
After all, it only takes the briefest of glances at the thing we call humanity to see we are a very strange bunch indeed. We respond to some words with hugs and others by shooting each other, we use our hands to help some people get up, then we use them to knock others down. We cluster into little groups for protection, then get into fights and annoy each other.
What I am trying to get at, you see, is that mankind isn’t exactly sane himself. He looks quite mad from the outside.
And there is only one thing in the world that really scares an insane person; sanity. As the author G.K Chesterton quite rightly pointed out, insane men are quite fond of faces talking to them from paintings, and they are familiar with hearing voices inside their heads, but they certainly can’t endure a friendly smile and hello as being an innocent act. No indeed, behind each act of sanity, to the insane man, is a sinister and scary story. To make matters worse, the more a person insists that they were simply trying to be friendly, the more the insane man will doubt the truth of their statements.
Which is why the Christmas story makes sense. After all, if mankind is insane, then sanity must appear to us at least as total folly and at worst as dangerous. That is exactly how we do see the Christmas story. And the more sincerely it claims to be true, the more we doubt it.
And if that weren’t enough to prove the case, surely it is the fact that any truth which is to save us must be very different indeed. After all, if it looked just like us, if it worked by the same rules and attempts at logic, it wouldn’t be very useful at all.
Because the way mankind works at present is quite simply dysfunctional, and millennia of civilisation haven’t civilised us at all.
We need something uncivilised, something illogical, something that breaks all the rules if there is to be any hope at all.
We need Christmas.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz