Between the dramatic stories of how the angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah and then to Mary, Luke mentions that Mary paid a three month long visit to Elizabeth, one of her blood relatives and Zechariah’s wife. Although artists have painted or otherwise portrayed The Visitation for centuries, it is all too easy to read right past it. So let’s give Elizabeth her due.
Luke says she and her husband were blameless, but they may not have looked blameless to the rest of the people in their community. After all, the old priest Zechariah had never been chosen to light the incense in the temple.… Read the rest
The season of Advent looks forward to the human birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem only because of human sin. The early church leaders who devised the Christian calendar recognized that it would be inappropriate to celebrate his birth without a season of penitence to prepare for it.
We have forgotten that in our society. Today, we prepare for the birth of Jesus (or maybe just Xmas) by spending money we don’t have for things perhaps no one needs, and in some cases, to give them to people we don’t much like. If we’re not careful, the only times Jesus will intrude on our thoughts will be when we come to church on Sundays or if we happen to notice the Christmas carols piped into the mall.… Read the rest
All we know about the birth and lineage of Jesus comes from accounts (including genealogies) in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But they seem so different! That’s because they have different emphases and different perspectives. Before exploring the differences, it is important to emphasize what Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-3 have in common:
- Jesus was born in Bethlehem
- Jesus was raised in Nazareth
- He was a direct descendant of King David
- His parents were named Joseph and Mary
- Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born
- An angel told both parents (separately) to name him Jesus.
- Herod reigned as king in Jerusalem
Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ legal lineage from Abraham and David in order to establish his royal credentials.… Read the rest
Illustration to Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity / William Blake, 1809
I just heard a speaker say she had searched the web for contemporary Christmas songs about Joseph and found only three.
I know of a few more than that from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of them are secular pieces that mock him for being a cuckold. Poor Joseph deserves so much better than that.
We can learn a lot about him by juxtaposing Matthew’s account and Luke’s account of Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary told the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” the Holy Spirit probably came upon her immediately.… Read the rest
A retired preacher friend of mine shared this with me, from an old Christmas card he found. It’s good enough to share some more.
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shining balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.… Read the rest
Scripture means so much on so many different levels. As one example of a scripture with multiple meanings, Isaiah’s rebuke to a weak and fearful king turned out to foreshadow the coming of a new King who would have the power to defeat the devil himself.
Ahaz, King of Judah, was frighted when the kings of Syria and Israel invaded his territory. God sent Isaiah to him with a message of hope. Isaiah told Ahaz to remain calm and have faith in God. Instead, he asked the King of Assyria to help him out.
And so in a second confrontation, Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign.… Read the rest