It can be a bit confusing. The birth of Jesus
A couple of observations – the wise men that we just read about are basically astrologers/ scientists.
What’s the deal with the wise men? Astrologers/scientists? Seems secular to me and if we think a bit, seems almost voodoo, kind of. Why are these guys part of the narrative, why does God use them?
Herod is an evil man, who has murdered family members as well as citizens when he felt threatened. And as we just heard – Herod was “frightened”. What was Herod frightened about? He was the biggest guy in town.
And – why would he want to pay homage to a Jewish king, who would be a threat to him., and then he asks the Jewish leaders about him? Wasn’t Herod over seeing the Jews – weren’t they his subjects?
Well, maybe next year when this reading comes up again FR. Harvey will have the answers, rather than forcing me to deal with these questions!
Let me point out a couple of other things that seem a bit confusing about the birth of Jesus.
When we read Mathew, as we just did, Wise men came to Jerusalem asking about the birth of the king. They saw a star. Upon hearing this, Herod, the king gets nervous and sends the “wise men” out to find this newborn king so he can pay him homage. (Ya, “ok”).
When we read Mark’s gospel, there is no mention of the birth of Jesus. Mark’s gospel starts with the John the Baptist story and moves right into the baptism of Jesus.
When we read Luke the narrative begins with Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to a son, laying him in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. The narrative goes on to talk about the Shepherds visiting Mary, Joseph and the new born baby, lying in a manger. As an angel told them of the good news
When we read John’s gospel there is no mention of the birth of Jesus. It begins telling us about how God was in the begiging and moves on to the John the Baptist story.
Epiphany – means – appearance/manifestation. The manifestation of Jesus Christ to the world. It is also known as “Three Kings Day” – celebrating the three wise men’s (astrologers, scientists) visit to the baby Jesus. – Well, that’s if you only subscribe to Mathew’s account.
Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th each year, twelve days after Christmas because it is believed that it took those wise men, those scientists/astrologers twelve days to reach Bethlehem to visit the baby.
One more note of confussion, the Shepherds in Luke ran to the village indicating they may have found the baby faster than in 12 days.
Now I want to switch scenes here for a minute – put your Easter hat on.
In Mathew 25, Mark 15, Luke 23 and in John 19 – each gospel writer gives detailed descriptions of Jesus’ death.
In two of the four gospels, the birth of Jesus is not even mentioned, and the two that do mention the birth are a bit different. So when we tell our kids and grandkids about the birth of Jesus, what do we tell them? He was born in a manger, he was born in a house, there were shepherds that visited him with angles or was it the wise men – the scientists/astrologers as they saw a star?
Our book of common prayer gives us a little help.
On page 853 it says “scripture is the word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible”.
The prayer book then poses another question: “How do we understand the meaning of the Bible”?
It answers it like this. “We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the church in the true interpretation of the scriptures”.
Understanding scripture is sort of like the old story of two people who witnessed a robbery.
“I saw the whole thing, this guy came in, waved a knife and demanded the money from the clerk, when the clerk gave them the cash, the robber waved the knife, cutting the clerk’s arm, the robber then ran out the door”.
“I saw the whole thing, this guy came in, he had a machete, swung it at the clerk, almost slicing the clerk’s arm off, he reached into the cash register, taking the cash and walked out the door”.
People see things through their own lenses and each person’s lenses are a bit different, just like the authors of our scriptures.
So how do we discern what is the truth?
In our society, we have a jury system, of which people listen to the arguments and discern the truth. But when it comes to the Bible/scripture, what argument do we believe, how do we discern?
We are so fortunate because we actually have a reliable source, the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit of God is an on the scene reporter.
What are you talking about? We have four gospels, two of which don’t mention the birth of Jesus and the other two that do mention the birth are different. Where is this factual reporter? I still don’t know which account to believe.
It’s important to remember that scripture was written by different people at different times in different situations to different people.
And we, like them are all different, with different circumstances, learnings and understandings.
The key is that we are just like the people of old. Different.
And that’s the beauty of scripture – it can be different, yet the same. How we each interpret these readings and celebrations speak to each of us individually with the help of the on the scene reporting of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is actually better than Fox news, CNN, CBS, ABC or NBC.
The Holy Spirit that was there when each of these authors wrote of the birth, is still alive and well here and now. It is this same spirit that causes us some confusion that causes us peace and understanding.
God used the Shepherds, who were amongst the lowest class in society to announce the coming and he used the wise men – the astrologers/scientists to announce the coming of a king. He used Herod, an evil man as a way to play an important role in this announcement. God uses everyone – like us – to announce the Good News of Christ to others. God didn’t use the Parisises, the Sadducees, the Jewish leaders to announce the coming of the new born king; he used some of the lowest people on the totem pole to do that.
We like the wise men, the shepherds and yes, like Herod can be used to spread the good news of the king.
Society seems to place a great deal more emphasis on the birth of Jesus that it does on the death and resurrection of Jesus. I wonder why?
Is it because it’s a more wholesome and pleasant conversation?
Is it because it is more marketable? Providing an ability to sell more stuff?
As we move out of the Christmas season this year, maybe we should consider putting the excitement of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection into a different view.
What if we put all the Christmas excitement into the upcoming resurrection excitement?
In 7 short weeks, we will begin Lent. A time of cleansing, a time for reflection, a time for understanding the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Let’s get excited about that. I know it sounds weird, but based on scripture, we should in fact be more focused on that that the birth.
Remember, the Gospels all talk about the death and resurrection, and only two the Gospels talk about the birth. There must be a reason.
How do we do that, because Christmas and the Christmas season is so fun.
We Christians celebrate the weeks leading up to Easter, but society seems to have moved on from the feel good Christmas time and in many cases simply attend church on Easter Sunday, then go to grama’s house for Easter dinner?
We know that God used people from all walks of life to tell his story, and we believe he still does, so let’s be part of that.
The Lenten season and the Easter seasons are longer than the Advent and the Christmas seasons, again, there must be a reason.
Let’s each of us individually and collectively discern, pray and think about how we can each be as much a part of the spreading the good news of Easter as we did for Christmas.
Let’s think and do something different during the Epiphany and Lenten season than normal.
Let’s be the shepherds, the wise men, who run to the king, who shout with joy of the king.
Just like the four Gospel writers, who wrote somewhat different accounts, we to tell different accounts of Jesus in each of our lives, it’s no different. The Holy Spirit is working in and through us, just as he/she did with them. We each have different lenses that we look through.
It doesn’t matter what Gospel version we use, it doesn’t matter how we tell the story because the Holy Spirit will use us, just as he has with those four Gospel writers.
When we read the different accounts of the life of Jesus, it simply doesn’t matter because the Holy Spirit will guide each of us to the understanding that is right for each of us.
The road to understanding the importance of Epithany is not who wrote what, or which version to believe - it is that Jesus has been revealed to the world and it is our responsibility to tell the world.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan