Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent: A Fisher Price Nativity

Several years ago I somehow decided that each year I would do something different in studying the story of the nativity during that advent season. I've been doing this practice for 6 years now, and each year I find something new and amazing about the story/stories that I didn't notice in years prior. It is always an amazing study of discipline to try and find 4 weeks of new things to learn and teach in a story that everyone is so familiar with. What I've found is that there is a lot to these stories that they never taught me growing up. Things that I never hear churches say about the nativity, and interesting tidbits that get lost in our modern day representations of the Christmas pageant. So I will try to do at least 4 advent entries between now and Christmas to allow everyone to see what I am being taught anew this year as I'm preparing for the Christ-child to be born again (metaphorically) in my life as he should be each day!

One thing that was pointed out recently startled me, and after talking with others, I'm not the only one who has skimmed over this interesting detail in the birth narrative.

From Luke's gospel:

Luke 2
The Birth of Jesus
"1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Luke 2 (cont...)
"39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."


Matt. 2
v. 13-18- after being born in Bethlehem (no journey TO Bethlehem in the Matt. Version), they are told to flee to Egypt because of Herod's wrath and infanticide.

The Return to Nazareth
"19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."
21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

(both NIV)

Did you catch it? I hadn't. The story we're all familiar with has Mary traveling to Bethlehem because of the royal census. In Luke Joseph and Mary LIVED in Nazareth and had to make this very inconvenient journey to "O' Little Town of Bethlehem."

Now look at Matt.'s version again. No traveling to Bethlehem, it's like they already were there! Interestingly enough, also no mention of a manger, stable, inn, anything. They are there and Jesus is born. (I had seen that before). But even more interesting to me this year is that last part after returning from Egypt. They were returning home(?) to Bethlehem when they get this strange message that its still not safe to go there, so they must now go some place new! Go to Galilee, to Nazareth so that Christ can be called a "Nazarene" in fulfillment of a prophecy.

So where were Mary and Joseph from? I don't point these things out in order to show inconsistencies in the 2 narratives for the purpose of discrediting the Christmas story (although they are inconsistent with each other), but rather to make a point about how we APPROACH the pageant of Christ! We approach it much like we do the rest of Christmas. We want it nice, pretty, and wrapped up neatly! Just think of how 99% of children's (and most adult books) illustrate the birth narrative!!! No animal poo on the ground, baby is sleeping nicely, Mary still has on all of her make-up to accent her Swedish complexion, and so on...


But the stories aren't tidy. Most of the time the way the Church has approached the Christmas story is 1) to pick one of the accounts over the other, or 2) (and more often) to cram both stories together and "make them harmonize". This is why the birth narrative we know is based less on scripture and more on tradition. 3 wise men? No mention of only 3! Chalk that one up to tradition...they've even been named outside of the Bible!" Wise men (they're magi...big difference in the 1st century BTW) in the stable??? Yep, tradition...they came and saw Jesus in a house. Lyrics to many traditional Christmas songs about the shepherds following a star... nope, Shepherds were told by the angels, Magi followed the star. And we could go on and on.

When we "harmonize" the 2 stories we are doing ourselves a disservice; we are robbing ourselves of what these two very distinct narratives have to offer. Maybe it's time to reread and re-experience these two beautiful and distinct stories through fresh lenses. Maybe we need to reread what we've become all too familiar with. Perhaps it is time to separate these stories, and stop forcing the two to become one!

I pray that this Christmas you will experience the birth of the Christ-child anew as I do every year, and am doing now! Here's to thinking outside of the box, and seeing a whole new nativity!

Feel free to leave your thoughts and/or Christmas ideas...things that you have sen or are meaningful to you in this beautiful narrative!

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