First Christmas

The First Christmas

Light in the darkness
The fulfillment of our hope
A different kind of world

The Story

The first Christmas story took place in Palestine, Judea and Galilee, ruled by the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor claimed to be the ``son of God'', the ``saviour of the world'', the ``Lord'', and the ``way to peace on earth''.

The Christmas story proclaims

The Main Two Stories

The main two stories are written in Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
Yet, there is one more ``Christmas story'' in the book of Revelation 12.
Let us first look at the two main stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Matt 1-2 - outline of the story

  1. Jesus' genealogy;
  2. Conception of Jesus and Joseph's dilemma;
  3. Star, Magi, and Herod
  4. Adoration of the Magi
  5. Flight into Egypt to Escape Herod's plot
  6. Herod slaughters the Infants
  7. Return from Egypt and move to Nazareth.

The Focus of the Narrative

The focus of the narrative is on Joseph and Herod.
Joseph is tasked with saving the child and with God's help succeeds.
Herod tries to kill the child but fails.

Luke 1-2 - outline of the story

  1. Conception of John the Baptist
  2. Conception of Jesus (Annunciation)
  3. Mary's visit to Elizabeth and her song (the Magnificat)
  4. Birth of John the baptist and the second song (the Benedictus)
  5. Journey to Bethlehem and birth of Jesus in a stable
  6. Announcement of Jesus' birth by angels
  7. Circumcision of Jesus
  8. Presentation of Jesus in the temple and the third song (the Nunc Dimittis)
  9. Jesus at age twelve in the Temple

The main futures of Luke's story

Jesus' life in miniature

What type of stories are these two Christmas stories? They can be called a brief summary or synthesis of Jesus' whole life.

Matthew's Main theme -Jesus as the New Moses

Both of them plot to kill the newly born Jewish males thus putting the life of the saviour child in danger. God's intervention is needed.

Matthew's Number Five - Dreams

In Matt 1-2, we have five dreams and five scriptural fulfillments.
The dreams are:

Matthew's Number Five - Fulfillments

The fulfillments are:

  1. On Mary's virginal conception - Matt 1:22-23 - Is 7:14;
  2. On the birth place of the Messiah - Matt 2:5-6 - Micah 5:2; and 2 Samuel 5:2;
  3. On the departure of the Holy Family from Egypt - Matt 2:15 - Hosea 11:1;
  4. When Herod killed the infants at Bethlehem - Matt 2:17-18 - Jer 31:15;
  5. On Nazareth - Matt 2:13 - the citation is unknown (but see Is 11:1).

Why Five? - I

Moses gave the people the law on Mount Sinai. There are five books of Moses, known as Torah or the law of Moses.
In Matt 5-7, Jesus goes up the mountain, the ``New Sinai'' and gives the people the New Law.

Why Five? - II

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are also five long speeches of Jesus:

  1. Matt 5-7 - the New law
  2. Matt 10-11 - the Missionary Discourse
  3. Matt 13 - The Parables Discourse
  4. Matt 18-19 - The Community Discourse
  5. Matt 24-25 - The Eschatological Discourse

Why Five? - III

Thus, this number ``five'' in Matthew's Christmas story makes the point that Jesus is indeed the New Moses and the fulfillment of Moses' own prophecy:
``The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen'' (Deut 18:15).

Luke's Synthesis

Luke has three main themes:


In Luke 1:6, Zachariah and Elizabeth, both are ``righteous before God''.
Gabriel is sent to Mary, but he also mentioned Elizabeth in his conversation with Mary (Lk 1:36).
Both Mary (Lk 1:46-55) and Elizabeth (Lk 1:42-45) prophecy.
It is Elizabeth who gives the name to her son (Lk 1:60-63).
When Jesus is presented in the Temple, a saintly man, Simeon (Lk 2:25) and a saintly woman, Anna (Lk 2:36) welcomed Him.
In the story of Jesus getting lost, both parents are mentioned.

Women inside the Gospel

Marginalized - I

In Matt 2, we have Magi from the East coming to worship Jesus, but in Luke 2, we have shepherds to see the infant Jesus (Lk 2:8). Shepherds are among those ``lowly and hungry'' (Lk 1:52-53), who hope for a better world. John the Baptist in his sermon asks the rich to share with the poor (Lk 3:11); Matt 5:3 speaks about ``poor in spirit'', but Luke 6:20,24 speaks about the ``poor''.

Marginalized - I

The Holy Spirit - I

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, both written by Luke, can be called the ``Gospel of the Holy Spirit'' that gives testimony to Jesus' earthly life and His presence among the believers after the resurrection. Gospel of Luke and Acts is one book in two volumes.
Both, Matt 1:18-20 and Luke 1:35 connect the conception of Jesus with the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit - II

But, Luke keeps mentioning the Holy Spirit in other places:

The Holy Spirit - III

The Holy Spirit in the Gospel

The Holy Spirit - IV

The guiding presence of the Holy Spirit in Acts

Matt 1-2 and Luke 1-2 contain the entire Gospel message.

Context - I

The Jewish people and the Bible know five kingdoms:

  1. the Assyrians,
  2. Medes (Babylonians),
  3. the Persians,
  4. the Macedonians,
  5. and finally the Romans.

Context - II

Daniel 7:2-3,17 had a vision of four great kingdoms:
Assyrians 7:4;
Medes 7:5;
Persia 7:6,
and Macedonians 7:7.
Those empires were cruel as animals, described as beasts.

Context - III

Daniel 7:1-12 has the fifth kingdom coming after destroying the previous ones, a truly human kingdom, given by God to someone like a son of man and the people of God (Dn 7:13-14; 7:22).
The story of the Gospel is a battle between the kingdom of God and another cruel kingdom, the Roman Empire.

Context - IV

When Jesus enters the stage of history, the Romans rule the ``world''. Around 4 BCE, just before the death of Herod, Jesus was born. When Herod died there was an revolution in Palestine. The Romans needed 18.000 elite troops, 2000 cavalry; 1500 infantry, all in all three legions.
When they came to Jesus' land, there was killing, destruction, pillage, and death.
``The day when the Romans came'' was the theme of many stories Jesus heard during his childhood.

Context - V

The Emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus is the ``son of God, the god sebastos''. It was written and discovered on one of temple in Turkey.
Augustus - in Latin means ``one who is divine'';
Sebastos - in Greek - means ``one who is to be worshipped''; the root word is ``sebomai - ``to worship''.
Thus, the Emperor of Rome was divine and was to be worshipped.

Context - VI

The Roman Empire has four powers:
Economic - the control of labor; production;
military - the control of force, violence;
political - the control of organizations and institutions;
ideological - the control of meaning and interpretation - we call it today ``propaganda''.
Against those four powers, Christians could only present their own belief and theology: Jesus, born in poverty, living like an ordinary man, and crucified like a criminal, is the Son of God.

The Roman Program

Notice, however, that it is peace through violence, peace through war.

Jesus' Genealogy - I

Both, Matt 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 include Jesus' genealogy.
Yet, there is a difference. Matt has it at the beginning of Jesus' life, but Luke has it at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

Jesus' Genealogy - II

Direction: In Matt from Abraham to Jesus; In Luke from Jesus to Adam.
Number: Matt has 14+14+14=42 generations (actually is 13/14+14+13=40/41), but Luke has 77 generations.
The line in Matt is from David through Salomon (the kingly line), but in Luke it goes from David through Nathan (the prophetic line).

Jesus' Genealogy - III

Luke does not include any single woman, but Matt has five of them: Tamar Matt 1:3; Rahab and Ruth Matt 1:5; the wife of Uriah Matt 1:6; and Mary 1:16.
According to Luke, Jesus would be of priestly lineage through Mary (Luke 1:5 Elizabeth is ``a wife from the daughters of Aaron'' and Luke 1:36 Mary's relative) and of royal linage through Joseph (Lk 2:5).

Matthew Genealogy - I

  1. Abraham to David (around 750 years) - 13 generations with 14 male names and three female names;
  2. David to the Babylonian exile ( around 400years) - 14 generations with 14 male names and one female name;
  3. The Babylonian exile to Jesus' birth (around 575 years) - 13 generations with 13 male names and one female name.

Matthew Genealogy - II

Matt 1:16 and Luke 3:21-22 make sure that we know Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus.
Matt ends with Jesus's title as the ``Messiah'' and Luke as the ``Son of God''.
In Matt 1:16, the Greek form ``whom'' is in the feminine, referring to Mary, not to Joseph: ``From whom (Mary) Jesus was begotten'' [meaning by God]. The previous statements were always referring to the fathers.

Matthew Genealogy - III

The four women mentioned before Mary had rather problematic life and all of them apparently are foreigners. Their stories are told in the Old Testament:
Tamar - Gen 38 - probably a Canaanite woman;
Rahab - Jos 2 - a Canaanite woman from Jericho;
Ruth - the Book of Ruth - a Moabite;
and Bathsheba - 2 Sam 11 - probably a Hittite woman, since she was married to Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11:3).

Matthew Genealogy - IV

See what Deut 23:3-4 has to say about marrying a Moabite woman: “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you''. And yet, Ruth is the grand-grandmother of David.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus' commission to go to all nations and teach them the New law of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20).

Matthew Genealogy - IV

Many among the kings mentioned in Mathew’s genealogy were terrible sinners. The worst among them was Manasseh (Mt 1:10) whose sins were so horrible that they sealed the tragic fate of Israel (see 2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chronicles 33:9).

And yet, the book of Chronicles contains the story of his repentance (2 Chronicles 33:10-20) and the Septuagint (the Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) contains the Prayer of Manasseh.

In that prayer the king acknowledged his sins “beyond the number of sand of the sea” and his unworthiness to lift up his head and “see the hight of the sky”.

But his plea for God’s kindness and forgiveness is answered by God. Jesus, the Messiah, came “to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

Luke's Genealogy - I

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the ``Son of God'' (Lk 1:35; 3:21-22, 3:38).
Gen 1:1-2 has the Spirit of God hovering over the primordial waters. In Luke 3:22, the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters of baptism. Thus, we have the waters of creation and the waters of baptism, the son of Adam and the son of God (Lk 3:22).

Luke's Genealogy - II

Jesus is the new Adam and he begins a new creation, which means transformation of life and earth. Let us read Paul:
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life- giving spirit'' (1 Cor 15:45);
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).
See also Phil 2:5-11.

Luke's Genealogy - II

Luke 3:23 uses the phrase, ``Jesus, beginning his work, . . .'' The word ``beginning'' in Greek is an adjective, ``archomeuos''. The same word is used in Lk 23:5, ``beginning in Galilee'' and in the Acts (Acts 1:1; 1:22; 10:37).
The book of Genesis (Gen 1:1) and the Gospel of John (John 1:1) begin in the same way: ``at the beginning'' - Greek ``en arche''.

That is Jesus' destiny or life-task. God transforms everything in Jesus. It is anew beginning. He is the new creation and He begins a new creation.

This is also our destiny: to continue transforming life and earth, the way Jesus has begun it.

Annunciation - I

In Matt 1:18-25, we have Matthew annunciation story directed to Joseph.
The pattern of the story is: divorce (Matt 1:18-19) - revelation (Matt 1:20-23) - remarriage (Matt 1:24-25).
We know that in Matt Jesus is the new Moses. Thus, the pattern of the story has something to do with the story of Moses in Exodus 1-2 (Ex 1:22, 2:1-2).

Annunciation - II

We have our ``lives of saints'', stories or tales about great saints of Christianity, so the Jewish people, aside from Bible, had additional stories and tales about their own saints, including Moses and the prophets. We cannot verified those tales and legends, but during that time people knew them and talked about them, the same way we know the stories of St. Francis or St. Anthony.

Annunciation - III

The popular story says that Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, decided to ``divorce'', when they heard about the decree of Pharaoh to kill all newly born male Jews (Ex 1:15-16). They would rather separate then give birth to children doomed, if male, to death.
However, instructed by a divine revelation - in one version of the story, Miriam, the older sister of Moses, had a dream about her to-be-born younger brother as the liberator of the Jews - they came together in remarriage and bore a son that was to be the liberator of the nation.
Matthew knew that story and used it to built his own story.

Mary as Virgin - Matt 1:18 and Luke 1:26 - I

Matt 1:25 connects Jesus' birth with the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Is 7:14. It is Jesus, not the son of Achaz, who signifies the presence of God among us, ``Emmanuel''.
During the time of Matthew, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as Septuagint (LXX), was very popular among the Jews who could only read Greek, but not Hebrew. In that Greek version of Is 7:14, the word describing the mother of the soon-to-be-born child is ``παρθένος''-``parthenos'' - virgin. Mary, the virgin, that mother and Jesus is that son. The prophecy is fulfilled.

Mary as Virgin - Matt 1:18 and Luke 1:26 - II

On the other hand, in Luke, we see a difference between John (Lk 1:13) and Jesus (Lk 1:31). The parents of John are old and the mother of Jesus is young. The old age signifies life coming to an end, the young age points to life's beginning.
John, conceived in aged and barren mother points to the end of the Old Testament, Jesus born of a young, virgin mother, points to the beginning of the New Testament. John closes the old; Jesus begins the new.

Mary as a Model - I

Mary as a Model - II

Jesus is the “Son of God” and God is called the “Most High” twice, which means God of the Jewish and biblical tradition, and not any other God.
Mary, here, the prefect Christian, “favored / graced one”. She has found grace with God. Mary’s answer to God’s grace / favor is obedience - Fiat. Mary accepted Christ. How about us?

Mary as a Model - III

When we see Lk 8:19-21, we read: “Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” and connect it with Lk 1:38, “And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”, we see how Mary is the model for us. Mary heard the word of God and accepted it.

Divine Conception in the Old Testament - I

In Gen 17-18, we have the story of “divine conception” of Issac.

Jahwist tradition - Gen 18 is an earlier story and comes from around 900 BCE.
Priestly tradition - Gen 17 comes from around 500 BCE

Four elements can be seen in the story:

Divine Conception in the Old Testament - II

This thing can only happen by God’s miracle.
The story of Lk 1:6-7 is based on this pattern. On the other hand, the story of Lk 1:26-38, has additional aspect, namely Mary's “Acceptance” - "Let it be as you say" (Lk 1:38).

Divine Conception in Gospel of Luke

John’s conception is God’s miracle done in the life of an old couple. John the Baptist stands at the end of the Old Testament.
Jesus is the beginning of the New Testament, born of virginal Mary (Lk 1:27, 34), who accepted the Word of God.

The child soon to-be-born is unique one and its destiny is also unique. He is the holy one, the king and His kingdom shall have no end (Lk 1:32-33, 35). Will you commit your life to this child?

In David’s city of Bethlehem

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and Joseph was a descendent of David (Matt 2:1-1:20-1:1 and Lk 2:4-6). Thus, Jesus is not just the new Moses but also the new David. Paul and John state the same (Rom 1:3 and John 7:41-42).

In David’s city of Bethlehem

According to the Old Testament, David was the best king, just and faithful to God (1 Kings 15:5).

The Psalm and the prophets were pointing to a new David coming to save and rule the people. Those passages are referred to as messianic passages.

Messianic Passages

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed - means Messiah , saying Ps 2:2
“As for me, I have set my King - (David and any other king) on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. Ps 2:6-8.
I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him; Ps 89:20

Messianic Passages

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Is 9:6-7; see also Is 16:5; Jer 23:5; 33:15).

What kind of Messiah?

During the time of Jesus, people thought about a David-like messiah as a warrior king. He would destroy the enemies of Israel, bring unending peace, and restore the kingdom of Israel.

However, Jesus does not fit this image. There is something unique about Jesus, namely, he was nonviolent.
David shed blood, so he could not be the Temple (1 Chron 28:3). Jesus is the new David, nonviolent David, he builds a spiritual temple made of people who believe in Him.

The Story of Magi - I

During the time of Jesus, only the Emperor could appoint someone to be the king of Jews. Both Herod and Pilate, who ruled over the Jews of that time, were appointed by the Emperor. So, it is a shocking statement to ask Herod: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2).

The next time Matt uses this title is during the Passion of Jesus (Matt 27:11, 29, 37).

The Story of Magi - II

It is interesting to notice that when Herod passes on this question to his advisers, he changes the “king of the Jews” to the “messiah” (Matt 2:4). The answer is: Bethlehem.

Matthew makes the connection clear: from the king of the Jews to messiah to Bethlehem. The message is: the newly born child is the awaited David-like Messiah. No wonder that there is fear around (Matt 2:3).

The Story of Magi - III

The star also is related to David.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. (Num 24:17)

The Story of Magi - IV

The old Jewish legend says that once Pharaoh had a dream. He saw the whole Egypt being placed in one scale of a balance, and a lamb, in the other scale. The scale with the lamb in it overweighted the scale with the whole Egypt in it.

He woke up with fear and called his magicians and diviners to interpret the dream. The answer was: a child will be born to the Israelites who will become the king and overcome the Egyptians.

The Story of Magi - V

Dream - Fear - Interpretation.

Dreams are salvific messages from God to good people. Matthew 1-2 has five such messages, four to Joseph and one to Magi (Matt 1:20; 2:12,13,19,22).

Matthew has a bit different pattern in the Herod’s story (Matt 2:1-6):
News - Fear - Interpretation.

The Story of Magi - VI

What shocks in this story is the fact that the news come from the Gentiles, the magicians, and those who are afraid are Herod and Jerusalem.

Magi were the magicians and enchanters and diviners famous in Babylon and Egypt.

In Exodus, Moses clashes with the magicians (see Ex 7:9-12) and in the book of Daniel, Daniel clashes with them as well (Dn 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7).

The Story of Magi - VII

Here, the Magi bring the news. Jesus’ message is not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. They also need to be saved from their sins (Matt 1:21).

There is one more shocking surprise. Moses fled from Egypt to save his life (Ex 2:11-15), but Jesus fled to Egypt to save his life. Jewish land became the new Egypt in need of the new Moses.

Let us go now to Bethlehem - I

Luke begins his famous Christmas story with a statement that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Lk 2:1). Only someone who considered himself the Lord and Saviour could claim such a power and demand that “the whole world” must obey him.

Let us go now to Bethlehem - II

“But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor (Imperial Majesty - Sebaston in Greek) , I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord (to kyrio in Greek) about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write” (Acts 25:25-26).

Let us go now to Bethlehem - III

In this passage (Acts 25:25-26), the new Procurator of Judea, Festus, holding the same position like Pilate before, writes to the new king of the Jews, Herod Agrippa, probably referring to the Emperor Nero as Sebastos and Kyrios - the one to be worshipped and the Lord.
Who is, then, the Lord and Savior of the world?

The Title - Lord

The title “lord” was used by slaves speaking to their masters and students addressing their teachers. The ‘lord’ was also used by the Roman Emperor and many other leaders in the history of the world.

In the Gospel of Luke, the title “Lord” is used for God and for Jesus.
Lk 1:38; 2:9 - for God;
Luke 1:43; 2:11 - for Jesus
The title Lord for Jesus is also used in 1 Cor 8:5-6; 12:3; Phil 2:11; Rom 10:9.

For Christians, Jesus is the Lord who incarnates - represents in a visible form - God as the Lord. All other lords are rejected.

The Title - Saviour - I

Acts 27:5 mentioned that when Paul was sailing to meet the Emperor in Rome he passed through a city Myra in Lycia. During those days that city had an inscription (public writing):

Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of land and sea, the benefactor and savior of the whole world”.

The Title - Saviour - II

Is 45:15 refers to God as the Savior;
Acts 5:31 and 13:23 to Jesus as savior.
Jesus incarnates - represents in a visible form - God as savior.
All other saviors are rejected.
Shepherds are going to Bethlehem to see the Lord and Savior. The are the marginalized who are chosen to be the first to hear the Good News (see Lk 7:22: “the poor have good news preached to them”).

Let us go now to Bethlehem - IV

The format of the story follows the Luke’s pattern of annunciation stories:

Zachariah Mary Shepherds
Angel1:11 1:26-28 2:9a
Fear 1:12 1:29 2:9b
Reassurance1:13a 1:30a 2:10a
Message 1:13b-171:30b-35 2:10b-11

The Peace of God Lk 2:14

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” - the correct translation
glory - in heaven - to God
peace - on earth - to people of (God’s favor)
Yet, according to Luke 2:10 and Lk 2:30-32 - all people are mentioned. Gospel is for all the people. Yet, will all accept it?

Gospel and Peace

When we put together Lk 2:10 and Lk 2:14, we have Gospel and peace together. That is very important.
Apostle Paul spent two years working and preaching the Gospel in Ephesus. Near Ephesus, there was a smaller city Priene. There was during the time of Paul the following inscription:

“The good news about the birthday of a divine child who will save the world from destruction by establishing permanent peace”.
It was not dedicated to Jesus, but to the emperor of Rome, Augustus.

The Gospel of Peace

Euaggelion - eu - good; aggelion - news or message. Angel is a messenger.
Luke and Acts use twice euaggelion as a noun (always as singular) and 25 times as a verb, “to gospel; to proclaim the good news” (see Lk 3:18; 4:43, Acts 13:32; 14:15).

The Content of the Gospel - I

Lk 1:19 - the conception of Jesus;
Lk 2:10 - Jesus’ birth;
Lk 4:43; 8:1; 16:16 - the kingdom of God;
Acts 5:42 - Jesus as the Messiah;
Acts 8:12 - the kingdom of God;
Acts 8:35 - Jesus;

The Content of the Gospel - II

Acts 10:36 - peace by Jesus Christ - he is the Lord of all;
Acts 11:20 - the Lord Jesus;
Acts 13:32 - what God promised to our ancestors;
Acts 15:35 - the word of the Lord;
Acts 17:18 - Jesus and the resurrection;
Acts 20:24 - here euaggelion as noun - God’s grace’

Gospel and Peace together twice: Acts 10:36; Lk 2:10 and 2:14 - peace comes not from earth, but from heaven to earth.

The Content of the Gospel - III

The Romans claimed that they bring peace but the price of that peace was violence, and death, and destruction.

Jesus’ peace is different. It happens through nonviolence, it liberates from fear, and opens new possibilities.

Peace in the Gospel - I

Gospel brings peace to those who accept it: Lk 2:29; 10:5-6.

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). Jesus is journeying towards Jerusalem. In this passage Lk speaks about peace in heaven and this peace should come on earth (Lk 2:14). Yet, it did not come to Jerusalem. Jesus says: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42).

Peace in the Gospel - II

Jerusalem, the city of peace, did not experience peace. The Romans did not bring it to the city (see Acts 24:2). Their rebellion against the Romans in (66-74 CE) also did not bring it.

It is a lesson for all of us. Peace comes from heaven to earth through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to experience peace.

Light against darkness - I

Central to the Christmas celebration is the idea of Light shining the Darkness.

Jesus is born in the deepest darkness - in the middle of the night at the winter solstice. It is sacred time, symbolic time.

Light against darkness - II

Actually, we do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. Dec 25 was only decided in the middle of 300s CE. Dec 25 in the Roman calendar during the Roman Empire was the “birthday of the unconquered Sun”. Dec 25 is the shortest day on the northern hemisphere. Beginning from then on, the days are getting longer. It signifies the victory of the sun over the night. Around 350, pope Julius in Rome, while reworking the Roman calendar, decided that Dec 25 will the “birth of the unconquered Son”.

Light as symbol

But light changes all of it. We see, we find the way, all the spirits are gone, and fear is gone as well.

Light in the Old Testament - I

Gen 1:3-5 - God created light. This light is different from the sun, moon, and stars. They were all created on the fourth day (Gen 1:14-19).

Gen 15:12,17 - Abraham. Sun had gone down and a dreadful fear came upon him.

Ex 13:21 - And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.

Light in the Old Testament - II

Ps 119:105 - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Ps 130:5-6 - I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

Light in the Old Testament - I

Is 9:2 - The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (It refers to the birth of the ideal king, see Is 9:6-7)

Is 60:1-2 - For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Light in the New Testament - I

The story of Paul’s conversion focuses on light from heaven (Acts 9:3,18; 22:6; 26:12-18). Then, we have 2 Cor 4:4,6.
"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God". (2 Cor 4:4) - the gospel about Jesus is about light and it is light.
"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". (2 Cor 4:6).

Light in the New Testament - II

At the beginning of creation, God dispelled the darkness covering the world by creating light. Now, he dispels the darkness covering our lives by making light shine in us. The glory of God is radiant, shining, illuminating presence of God.

Light in the New Testament - III - John

Light in the New Testament - IV - Revelation

The Book of Revelation speaks about the “new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:1-22:5) coming from heaven to earth. The city is described as follows:
"And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there". (Rev 21:23-25)

Light in the New Testament - V - Revelation

"And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever". (Rev 22:5).

It is the city of unconquered light. Its light is God and Jesus, the shining presence of the Father and the Son.

Light in the New Testament - VI

In Matthew 2:1-12, the star leads the way to the Light - Jesus. The darkness in symbolized by Herod. In Luke Zachariah sings:
"because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace". (Lk 1:78-79)

This sun or sunrise refers to the birth of Jesus. The gospel about him will give light to all who live in darkness and will guide us to peace.

Light in the New Testament - VII

Simeon is his song also sings about light: "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel". (Lk 2:29-32)
light to the nations - the nations are in darkness, they need to see the light - the gospel about true and only God and His Son Jesus, the Christ.
glory to Israel - Israel knows the light, but they need this light to shine in their midst. “God’s glory” means “God’s shining, illuminating presence”.

Light in the New Testament - VIII

In Luke 2:8-14 about the shepherds seeing the angels, we have: night, an angel - a being of light, and the glory of God shines around them. The firmament ablaze with God’s glory.

What brings this glory? It is the good news about the Savior, the Lord, the Messiah. It is the good news about Jesus.
This good news comes to the shepherds, the lowly (Lk 1:52-53) and it points to Luke’s preference for the poor to whom the Gospel is preached first (Lk 4:18).

One more Christmas story (Rev 12) - I

Here, we have a woman who gives birth to a child and a dragon, the beast who wants to destroy the child.

The woman is the Church preaching the Gospel and Mary; the child is Jesus; the dragon refers to Rome, a city built on seven hills (Rev 17:9, 18).

One more Christmas story (Rev 12) - II

Rev 13:18 has a symbolic number for the beast - 666. The number refers to the Emperor Nero (reigning from 54 - 69 CE) and who persecuted Christians.

Symbolism of this story is clear. The empire wants to kill the child. It kills the believers and tries to prevent the spread of the Gospel. It fights with those who belong to the woman, the Church (Rev 12:17).

Biblical symbolism - I

Biblical symbolism - II

We can apply these symbolic words to our personal life and to the situation of our communities, societies, and nations. Each of us is asked the question: where are you? where are we?

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - I

The main topic of the Bible is: the promise and its fulfillment

The Torah. The five books of Moses speaks about two promises and their fulfillment: an offspring(s) (Gen 15:3-5), a land (Gen 15:7).

At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we see the nation about to the enter the promise land:

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - II

"Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring". (Deut 34:1-4).

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - III

The Prophets. Those books speak about the promise of an ideal king of justice and peace (s 11:1-9). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus.

Matthew often uses this formula: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophets”.

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - IV

All those passages help Matthew to affirm his faith in Jesus.

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - V

There is a clear connection between 1 Sam 2:4-5 and Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55:
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. (1 Sam 2:4-5).
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. (1 Sam 2:7-8).

Jesus the fulfillment of the Prophecy - VI

There is a different world about to happen, a transformation that takes places through Jesus and the Gospel. What Simeon and all Israel with him has yearned for (Lk 2:28-32) has come to pass in Jesus.

Jesus reveals and incarnates (embodies) God’s passion for different kind of world:
free from Herods and Caesars;
free from domination of any empire.
It is about God who come to reign; it is about His kingdom.

Christmas and Joy - I

When one believes that Jesus is the light in the darkness; the fulfillment of God’s promises; the ideal David-like king bringing salvation, justice, and peace on earth, we cannot but rejoice.

Lk 2:10, 13-14 and his three songs reveal this joy. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk 2:10).

Christmas and Joy - II

But, as usual, this joy wants to be taken away.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35).

There will be always people trying to destroy that joy, like Herod in Matthew 2.

Christmas and Advent - I

Christmas is about the coming of Jesus today as he came long ago. Four weeks of Advent relive the longing and hope of Israel:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel - we are Israel today that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear” (An Advent song)

The purpose of Advent is to bring the past into the present.

Christmas and Advent - II

Four Sundays of Advent have texts from the prophet Isaiah. It is about longing and God’s promise of a different kind of world.

Christmas and Advent - III

In Gospels:

Christmas and Advent - III

Last Sunday focuses on Mary:
Matt 1:18-25 - Emmanuel; Lk 1:26-38 - Fiat;
Lk 1:39-55 - two women give testimony of God’s grace in their lives and Mary praises God with her song of joy.

In Mary, the hope has become pregnancy - a new life, a new world is waiting to be born.

Advent and Repentant Preparation - I

Repentance means change. It is always captured in a phrase, “return to God”. It is a return from exile to a place of God’s presence.
“The way of the Lord” is the way of return.

We are called to leave the lords of this world and turn/go to God. Leave your exile, separation, alienation, and so on.

Advent and Repentant Preparation - II

Greek word for “repent” means “go beyond the mind you have”.
Enter into a new mind-set, a new way of seeing.

Examples are:
Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 - they went back home by another road (Matt 2:12);
Shepherds in Luke 2:8-20 - they went back home rejoicing (Lk 2:20)

Christmas and us

Who are we in those stories? Magi, shepherds, Herod, the priests?
Are we the children of the woman or the followers of the dragon (Rev 12)?
Are we willing to join Mary in her “Fiat” and accept our role in God’s plan of bringing a better world?

(It is good to read or watch “A Christmas Carol”, the famous novel written by Charles Dickens).

Christmas story and the future - Conclusion

The end of wars and violence, injustice and oppression is not yet here.

We are called to participate in the transformation of this world into God’s kingdom.

Jesus us the way to a different kind of life and a different future.

Christmas story and the future - Conclusion

We are called to be Christmas Christians in a world that lives in darkness and the shadow of death.

We know that darkness and death do not have the last word. The last word belongs to light and life.

Joy to the world - the Lord is come.