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The Christmas Story in Q?

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.

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Lessons and Carols 6

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)

Carol:

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Lessons and Carols 5

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:

“Good morning!
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)

Carol:

“Ave María Guaraní”

Lessons and Carols 4

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)

Carol:

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Bird: Christmas in the Apocalypse

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.

Lessons and Carols 3

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)

Carol:

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

Lessons and Carols 2

The Second Lesson:

God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Carol:

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”