The Ninth Lesson:
St John unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)
“O Come, All Ye Faithful”
The Eighth Lesson:
The wise men are led by the star to Jesus.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-12)
The Seventh Lesson:
The shepherds go to the manger.
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-16, NLT)
“Go Tell It on the Mountain”
I hereby express my concurrence with James McGrath’s Articles of Christmas, and this blog post serves as official notice of my intent to offer appropriate seasonal greetings according the stipulations thereof. This post should not be understood as a blanket endorsement of the contents of James’s blog, nor a repudiation of other blogs on which Christmas greetings have been offered in the past or will be in the future.
Doug Chaplin is pondering a few commonalities, including “a clear verbal parallel at the core,” between Matthew and Luke’s versions of the story of Jesus’ birth. What if Matthew didn’t “invent” his story of Mary’s virginal conception in order to fit his messianic interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 but rather appealed to Isaiah 7:14 to explain a detail he already knew from his Jesus tradition?
Matthew is certainly keen on demonstrating Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, and capable of moving backwards and forwards between prophecy and the Jesus story. We must therefore weigh each instance to see whether it is more likely that Matthew has come up with a detail which (absent any real knowledge) must have happened in this way because of what the prophet said, or whether he has decided this or that verse is a prophecy because it fits with the Jesus tradition as he has received it.
It is certainly plausible, for example, to think that either Matthew or his tradition come up with the birthplace in Bethlehem because of Micah’s prophecy (though I’m not fully persuaded). It seems to me a good deal less plausible that a virgin birth should be invented on the basis of a verse no-one else ever seems to have taken as Messianic. I would be more inclined to think that this is Matthew “scripturizing” (a term I owe to Mark Goodacre) the tradition he has received, and justifying the rather odd new Christian belief about Messiah for his somewhat beleaguered Judeo-Christian community.
If I’m right, that Matthew is innovative in offering this rather odd reading of Isaiah 7:14 because of a prior belief about Jesus, perhaps it may also be a further reason for thinking he is working with a pre-existing tradition about the birth of Jesus, and indeed, one he shares with Luke.
The Sixth Lesson:
St Luke tells of the birth of Jesus.
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. (Luke 2:1, 3-7, NLT)
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
The Fifth Lesson:
The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.”
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
The angel answered,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
And Mary Said,
“Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.”
Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-35, 38, The Message)
“Ave María Guaraní”
The Fourth Lesson:
The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-3a, 4a, 6-9)
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
Michael Bird on the true meaning of Christmas according to John the Seer:
What if we could do the nativity story directed by Quentin Tarantino? … What would the nativity look like if Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed it? I think the answer is Revelation 12? A woman in child birth is crying out in pain while a dragon is waiting to devour whatever is ejected from her birth canal. This is the nativity of John the Seer! No mangers, no shining stars over Bethlehem, a dragon waiting to kill and consume the Christ child. You see for John the Seer, Christmas (the birth of Jesus) is not simply a positive message of hope, good will, and joy to all people. Christmas is about God’s plan to destroy evil, vanquish the devil, and the triumph of God’s people against their chief adversary. Christmas is not consumer Christianity for the masses. It is an apocalyptic drama of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself through the seed of Eve, the child of a Galilean maiden, the fruit of Israel’s own womb. It’s the Woman vs. the Dragon. It is the Church vs. Satan – that is why Jesus was born. That is Christmas according to the book of Revelation.
The Third Lesson:
The prophet foretells the coming of the Savior.
The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there shall be no end,
upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom,
to order it, and to establish it
with judgment and with justice
from henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, KJV)
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”