Post-postscript
2007-12-25 by Alan Meyers

Thank you for your kind words, Mr. von Schlichten! I have enjoyed being guest blogger.   -- Alan



Important postscript!
2007-12-24 by Alan Meyers

To all who read these posts, and especially to you who administer this blog:

I wish you a blessed Christmas, and a joyful 2008!

Sincerely,

Alan Meyers 

 





Christmas Presents This Week
2007-12-24 by David Howell

Do your last minute shopping in the Sermon Feedback Cafe. The Sermon Santa dropped off sacks of fresh Columbian coffee beans.

Seriously, there is some fine sermon reading in the Cafe. Dave von Schlichten and Stephen Schuette have posted their Christmas Eve sermons. And Brother Biddle has made his holiday appearance.

Thanks to Alan Meyers for his posts this week and watch the Cafe for his sermon on Matthew 2:13-23.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

 

 

 





Alan Meyers and Matthew 2
2007-12-23 by David von Schlichten

IN HONOR OF CHRIST'S BIRTH, I WILL BE TAKING A BIT OF TIME OFF THIS WEEK. I HOPE YOU CAN, TOO. BASK IN THE HOLINESS.

Alan Meyers, our guest blogger this week, provides astute thoughts about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, as well as about the murder of the Holy Innocents and the innocent children we humans slaughter every day through war.

Especially compelling is Meyers' understanding of the relationship between Christ's birth-place and his identity as Messiah. Be sure to scroll down to read his blog entries.

I don't have a clue where I will go on December 30. Perhaps I will preach about the Holy Innocents, but it is too early to say. For now I will ruminate on the readings, including by studying this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics and the entries here in the hot tub.

Also ruminating on chocolate covered almonds and wrapping gifts for my wife while she is at work, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Bethlehem? Why? How?
2007-12-23 by Alan Meyers

            Taking a somewhat different (and very prickly, for the Sunday after Christmas) approach from the one in my other posts:

 

            Those who read carefully Matthew 2:13-23, and the whole Nativity story in Matthew, and compare the story to the one in Luke, should be perplexed, maybe. Both Matthew and Luke agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but that he then grew up in Nazareth, a town a long way from his birthplace. However, they offer two conflicting explanations of how this came to be.

 

            The story we all think of is the one in Luke, which says that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, but had to make the long trip south to Bethlehem because of the census decreed by Augustus Caesar, and that it happened that Mary had her baby while they were there (Luke 2:1-7). They of course presumably returned home to Nazareth afterward.

 

            But the Gospel of Matthew says something entirely different. It makes no mention of a census. It simply reports that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, leaving us to assume (if we have not read Luke!) that he was born there because that is where Mary his mother and her husband Joseph lived. Later, according to Matthew, when the threat from Herod comes, Joseph flees with his little family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). When it comes time to return from Egypt to "the land of Israel," Joseph decides not to go back to Judea, because Judea is now being ruled by Herod's son Archelaus, a worse tyrant even than his father was (Matthew 2:22).  Judea?? Why would Joseph even consider going to Judea upon returning home from Egypt, if he and Mary hail from Nazareth? Nazareth is in Galilee, not Judea. The answer, of course, is that Judea is where Bethlehem is, and, in Matthew's version of the story, Joseph and Mary's home was in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth. According to Matthew, they MOVE TO Nazareth only because it is in Galilee and therefore not in the terrible Archelaus's jurisdiction, although, we are told, this settling in Nazareth also fulfills a prophecy (Matthew 2:22-23). (Check the map if you doubt me on any of this. J)

 

            What is going on here? What is going on is that the writers of both Gospels, Matthew and Luke, believe (along with all Christians) that Jesus is the Messiah. And according to a popular interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, appropriately, since Bethlehem was the hometown of King David, whose descendent Messiah was expected to be (Matthew 2:4-6). To tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is for the Gospel writers above all a way of telling us that Jesus is Messiah. Of course he grew up in Nazareth; everyone knows he is not "Jesus of Bethlehem" but "Jesus of Nazareth."  But some sort of story is needed to account for why he was born in Bethlehem (he MUST have been born there, the Gospel writers thought, being Messiah). So, each of them comes up with a story. The problem is, they are different stories. (I told you this would be prickly.)

 

            I am not trying simply to attack the historical reliability of the Gospels, though I do think that on this point it is questionable. The point I wish to make is that we often get it backwards: we think that SINCE Jesus was born in Bethlehem and has all these other marvelous signs and wonders attending his birth (angels! shepherds! the Star! wise men!), he just MUST be Messiah, right? How could he not be?

 

            We think that Jesus's Messiahship is an inference from all these signs in the Nativity stories. But this, as I say, is backwards. Jesus was found to be Messiah FIRST, by people who experienced his saving power in their lives long AFTER his birth, people whom he healed and forgave during his ministry, people who knew personally the salvation accomplished in his cross and resurrection. These people probably had never even heard the stories about the manger and the shepherds and the Star and all that. They simply knew by personal experience that Jesus was their Savior. A Jewish expectation was that this Savior would be called "Messiah," and, thus, Jesus was, for them, without any doubt the Messiah. NOW THEN: since Jesus IS Messiah, whatever things go along with being Messiah must be his. If one of these things is being born in Bethlehem, then he must have been born in Bethlehem. But, see: he is not said to be Messiah because he was known to have been born in Bethlehem; he is said to have been born in Bethlehem because he is known to be Messiah. There is a BIG difference!!!

 

            Have the people we preach to experienced Jesus as Messiah in their own lives? Has he been born IN THEM, truly? If so, it does not matter much who gets it right, Matthew or Luke, as to how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, or even whether he actually was, historically, born in Bethlehem.

 

            I would love to know if anybody (besides me) will use any of this in their December 30 sermons or teaching!

   



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