As I prepared to enter into an open-ended series on the birth stories of Messiah Yeshua at congregation, I asked myself a question. What difference does it make learning the story of Messiah’s birth? And what difference does it make seeing it from a Jewish perspective?
In answer to my own question, and maybe you would ask the same thing, I consider how full of meaning the story is. It is a story about salvation, Messiah, God becoming what we are so we can become what he is. And all that is wrapped up in a story. It is really a story at the heart of all that matters.
What if no angels ever appeared to an Israelite named Joseph or to a maiden named Mary or to a bunch of shepherds in a field? What if Yeshua was really born in the sleepy town of Nazareth and not, as the prophecies foretold, in Bethlehem? What if Yeshua was not really a son of David? What if Mary’s pregnancy was just another young woman’s scandal? What if no magi ever came and what if no king like Herod ever felt threatened enough to try and kill Yeshua?
The story of Messiah’s birth is not dead history. It’s alive and gets down to our hopes and dreams and longings for a World to Come.
I mean no disrespect at all when I say that if Yeshua’s birth story is a myth, if he is just an ordinary, though gifted or exceptionally good, person, that the best we can believe in is something like traditional Judaism. The best hope we can have is that Messiah is coming but he has not been here and we do not know him.
I really think the “Messianic” in Messianic Judaism makes a remarkable difference. It’s why I desire so greatly for people to inquire, discover, and comprehend what the first half of the term Messianic Judaism really means. God has become one of us and he did so in order to make us like him. Take away the birth story of Messiah, and that is one of the casualties.
You will find in traditional Judaism a much broader range of beliefs about several important things, especially the three I would consider most important: God, Messiah, and the afterlife.
In the various Judaisms other than Messianic Judaism, views of God vary immensely. In some Jewish texts God is so transcendent that any language about God can be nothing more than an accommodation to our finite minds. God is so unknowable, in this line of thinking, and so unreachable, that we are only speculating and will spend eternity in philosophical contemplation of the infinite absolute. In other Jewish texts, God is so immanent, he is like the primordial man and in this line of thinking he can also be weak and defeat-able. Of course, in some Jewish texts, the balance is just right and we see God truly and clearly.
Views on Messiah in Judaisms other than Messianic Judaism are even more diverse. Messiah could be the rebbe of your clan on the one hand or Messiah could be a a mere concept urging people to scientific discovery, peace, and evolution toward a future age when we human beings will conquer disease and war. But it is also true that in some texts of Jewish tradition you can see Messiah so clearly, that the name Yeshua whispers from within.
Afterlife in Judaisms can be a traditional view of the Messianic Age followed by the World to Come, so close to what I believe I can only read in wonder and anticipation. Or afterlife can be getting our soul recycled over and over again, generation after generation in the bleak and nihilistic horror of reincarnation. Or afterlife can be the fading memory of you that lives on in your children and grandchildren.
But in Messianic Judaism and Christianity (also a Judaism, though history has blurred this reality beyond recognition), there is more agreement about God, Messiah, and afterlife. Why?
Because God became one of us. God has spoken through his Son. He has been here and we have seen his glory. God made his essence known in the most tangible way of all. And that is the “Messianic” in Messianic Judaism.
And the birth of Messiah is the under-appreciated story where divinity intersected with humanity as never before. The cross and the resurrection get all the attention. The birth made it all possible. It is a story worth learning. It is a story worth learning well.