The Birth of The Messiah

I really like reading the Bible.  I find my faith grows as I read devotionally, as I read in community with others in a study, and as I read while exploring great scholarship so that I can grasp the context and meaning at deeper levels.  During Advent this year I am working with both adults and youth thinking through the Christmas stories according to both Matthew and Luke.

Did you catch that?  I said stories.

Matthew’s community and Luke’s community remembered the story of Jesus’s birth in unique ways.  By contrast both Mark’s community and John’s did not emphasize the beginning in the same way.  Mark starts with an adult Jesus proclaiming that the Kingdom is very close.  John starts at the actual beginning echoing Genesis.  But for Matthew and Luke, the birth of Jesus was a significant story in their faith community and so it was included in their respective Gospels.

Really the 2 stories while different in content tend to be merged together in our minds probably due to all the wonderful children’s Christmas pageants.  So it seems like just one story to the average church person.  I for one think there is nothing wrong with that nor do I think it would damage anybody’s spiritual journey.

But I have also found that while reading the Bible with Youth and Adults, to focus in on what each story says independently of the other can really give some ah-ha faith moments as we consider what the Bible actual says and what each Gospel writer emphasizes from a story that surely was much more comprehensive than even the two Gospel versions that we do have.  Try this with your youth: read the birth account in Matthew 1 and try to envision the Bethelehem home (not a manger) Jesus was born in.

This year I am re-reading the wonderful tome by Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I first read this in 1999.  It is nice to revisit important works that have helped shape my ministry and thinking.

One of the things that I try to creatively imagine is how say Luke’s community understood the Jesus story as a whole.  That original community maybe had access to Mark’s Gospel but they did not have Scripture in the form we have it for a couple hundred years.  So what if they never heard the things that Matthew’s story includes?  How does that change faith-shaping?

So, how have you dealt with this Gospel comparison?  Do you avoid it?  Do you try to make it all jell together?  What works when you are reading the Bible with Youth?  How does it effect your own faith journey?  Does any of this make you uncomfortable?  Does it solidify your faith?

I would love to know about your journey!  Let’s have a conversation here.  And maybe, if you love to read, I can encourage you to read Brown’s great book as well.

Peace and Grace,


Charles W. Harrison

 Charles Harrison's goofy side

One comment

  1. One of the most important spiritual disciplines is the reading of scripture. So I agree the reading of scripture is very important and I am always amazed at the lack of Biblical knowledge in our UM churches. I am also not one to try to read everything in the Bible literally. However, Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ clearly deals with a different time frame than does Luke’s account. As Matthew 2:1 states, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem.” Matthew’s Gospel does not say that Jesus was born in a house, it deals with the visit of the Magi, which happened at least several months after his birth, while Luke’s account deals with the night of his birth. That is one of the reasons we celebrate Epiphany. The traditions of the Church have always taught that the magi arrived later, the 12 days of Christmas just being a proxy for the months that past before the Magi arrived.

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