Two more days till Christmas Eve; three more until Nativity Day. On this week's Three Word Wednesday, Kristin Hill Taylor celebrates Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Western churches celebrate Happy Birthday, Jesus! on December 25, with a few holdouts waiting to give gifts until Epiphany – Three Kings Day – on January 06.
A couple weeks ago I asked my adult SS class their favorite Christmas songs. Julie loved "White Christmas," Pastor Peg "O Little Town of Bethlehem." "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is one of my extra-specials. The following week included "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen. Where the snow lay around about, deep and crisp and even." You've likely heard reasons we celebrate Jesus' Nativity a few days after winter solstice, John the Baptist six months later on 25 June. Remember John saying about his cousin Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease"? So again we have the presence of the divine and the presence of light. For the most part, scholars believe Jesus' actual birth was around the spring equinox, which would place Luke's shepherds watching their flocks during lambing season. Although the geography of Jesus' homeland isn't too much different from southern California, people love Christmas cards and Christmas carols with white glistening snow, stars shining brightly through a chilly night sky. My choice of "Do you hear what I hear" says nothing about snow, but when I hear it, play it, or sing it, I picture the little shepherd boy with the little lamb surrounded by snow. We received most of our Christmas traditions that include evergreen trees, festive oven-baked foods, yule logs, songs with texts in meters that make them especially suitable for group (congregational) singing, from western and northern Europe that receives its own share of snow in season. German immigrant The Moravian church brought us Candlelight Christmas Eve Services (and also Easter Sunrise).
On Advent 1 the church began a new year of grace and the Revised Common Lectionary started Matthew's year A again, so we have Jesus as a political refugee going to Egypt to escape Herod's decree to kill all the newborn baby boys, which also fits nicely with Matthew's presentation of Jesus as the New Moses, new liberator, who helps enact the New Exodus.
This is Matthew's lectionary year, although every year we read and hear Luke's account in church on Christmas. Luke places the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem in a colonial political taxpayer context:
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
I'm writing this partly to prepare for my adult SS mostly lectionary-based class that's taking two weeks off, so we'll make a precipitous leap from Advent 4 to Baptism of Jesus on January 08. Most everyone will have attended worship or a kids' pageant and heard Luke's Christmas narrative; even if they don't get to worship Christmas Eve or Day 2016, they already know the story well. I need to make a path from the Bethlehem stable to Bap-J, include Name of Jesus, at least mention some of the significance and meaning behind a visit from foreign religious-political muckety-mucks...
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him...
Herod's threat, Joseph(!) having another dream, a clandestine escape to geographical Egypt...
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
and I need at least to mention the January 06 feast of the epiphany as a festival of light at the darkest time of year and especially as revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all the world, not only a chosen few. Luke makes a huge deal of outcasts, foreigners, women, Matthew not nearly as much, but magi from the east and the flight into Egypt both are unique to Matthew's gospel account.
Despite Luke's concern with history, politics (outcasts, foreigners, marginalized, prayer and the HS), in some ways the gospel account we have from the community of Matthew the Jew is more spiritual, less earthbound, and at the same time immediately opens up God's birth on earth as a tiny vulnerable human infant as the
catalyst to subverting empire, threatening and destabilizing the political status quo...
Happy Birthday, Jesus!
Snowy trees and bokeh lights overlay in my header image come from "MEGA_PHOTO_COLLECTION_3_by_The_Jungle_Photo/Photos for you ;]" on Creative Market.