Confessions of a Questioning Christian

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

Matthew 2

Posted on: January 31, 2012

Ok, let’s continue! Matthew 2 continues to show how events in Jesus’ life fulfilled numerous prophesies – all before he was making any decisions about his young life.

Matt 2:6 makes another reference to Jesus coming to save his people. I just want to know what the bible scholars say about this. I understand that the apostles spread the news of Jesus to the Gentiles… but it does make me wonder how much Jesus really cared about saving the whole world? Was he thinking about the rest uf us – about me? Or am I just an afterthought?

My next note comes from Matt 2:9, describing the star that the magi followed to get to Jesus.

The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word magi is the plural of Latinmagus, borrowed from Greekμάγος magos,[5] as used in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew. Greek magos itself is derived from Old Persianmaguŝ from the Avestanmagâunô, i.e. the religious caste into which Zoroaster was born, (see Yasna 33.7: “ýâ sruyê parêmagâunô ” = ” so I can be heard beyond Magi “). The term refers to the priestly caste of Zoroastrianism.[6] As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. (wikipedia)

It’s pretty funny to me that the guys we love to include in the Christmas nativity (although they were not there on Jesus’ birthday) were basically in love with horoscopes (the things that my church said I should not even look at in the newspaper because it was a sin). Somehow, their magic and astrology-loving ways helped lead them to Jesus, which some believe fulfills more prophesies about who Jesus is. Interesting.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi found Jesus by ‘following’ a star,[20] which thus traditionally became known as the Star of Bethlehem. Various theories have been presented as to what this phenomenon refers to, since stars do not visibly move and therefore cannot be followed. Some believe that they followed a planet, which without a telescope could be mistaken as a star, as it slowly moved across the sky. (wikipedia)

Great – I’m glad that the star is a bit of a mystery to bible scholars, too. Seems a bit sketch, but then again, these guys were into magic, so who knows, huh…?

So the magi of unknown number and unsure origin show up and provide Jesus with some fab gifts – perhaps Mary and Joseph used these to help pay for all the moving they were about to do. One of those gifts was myrrh, which I think I used to know about but can’t remember. I looked it up on wikipedia, and it’s a gummy substance used for medicinal healing (in the west it is used in healing salves and ointments, and also can be found in mouth washes and gargles). Wikipedia talks about how each gift has a special meaning –

The three gifts had a spiritual meaning : gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. (wikipedia)

I also noticed that people (namely Joseph, but also the magi) get divine communication from dreams. Is that why we always feel like sharing our dreams with people? I know that I have often wondered if there is extra meaning in some dreams I’ve had.

Okay, Jesus’ family moves to Egypt! Cool! When I was a child, my church always put on Christmas pageants with the children. Usually it was always a variation of the nativity, with up-beat and exciting songs, reminding the congregation of how awesome and important Jesus’ birth was (even though, apparently, the story we perpetuate every year doesn’t even come close to pointing out all the prophesies that were fulfilled, and we always have the “kings” showing up at the wrong moment). But when I was in sixth grade, my church acquired a Christmas pageant that talked about when Jesus was living in Egypt as a toddler. Sixth grade was the oldest you could be to be in the pageant, so naturally I got to be the star, and I was Cleopatra. That’s right, even though it was a fun, new twist on the Jesus-as-a-baby story, it still wasn’t very historically accurate. I digress.

So they stayed in Egypt until Herod died. How long was that? First I had to figure out which Herod this one was. I think it was Herod the Great (remember that there are two more King Herods that appear in Jesus’ life – Herod Archelaus who Joseph fears later in this chapter, and Herod Antipas who kills John the Baptist). Actually, I’m giving up on trying to figure out how long they were in Egypt, since it’s not clear what year they went there or exactly when Herod died.

So this whole thing is called the “Massacre of the Innocents.” Apparently Herod was known for killing kids a lot, and did similarly terrible things on a much grander scale throughout his kingship to insure that he remained king. The historian Josephus wrote about Herod killing his own children to protect his position. However, there is doubt among many historians that this particular massacre even took place, as there is no other record of it. On the other hand, many scholars believe that the number of boys this massacre accounted for was probably less than 50, far fewer than other massacres of children Herod did throughout his life, and thus wouldn’t probably register as even a blip in the grand scheme of murders under Herod’s rule. So who knows.

(For the record, I have a hard time believing that everything that took place in the Bible literally happened, but that the way things happened and the way things were written about is a cultural issue. Perhaps part oral history and part myth and part truth, nonetheless, the Bible paints a story of love and hope and redemption, so it doesn’t bother me all the time when things don’t feel real. However, I also have faith that everything that the Bible said could have of did happen, and that time may reveal the truth… and maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter to me at this stage in my life.)

Moving on.

So Joseph gets a few more dreams that help save Jesus’ life. Hello, Joseph gets no credit in the church these days. Everyone talks about Mary – but Joseph is the one who was always getting the phone calls from God. Joseph is the one that is told to stay with and protect Mary, then move the family to Egypt, and then back, and then to avoid Herod Archelaus. In all of this, apparently, Jesus ends up in numerous places that had been prophesied that the Messiah would have been. That, my friends, is pretty cool (or, to the cynic, a well written story).

Lingering Questions

  • Does anyone know how long Jesus was in Egypt?
  • How do I get my dreams to mean something, too? I want God to talk to me in my sleep – or does he already? Or is this whole thing preposterous?
  • Did Jesus have any interest in the Gentiles? Or was his sole purpose to make an impression on Jews? (Because, if so, it seems that the Gentiles are way more impressed.)
  • Why can’t Christmas stories and nativities and pageants be more accurate? Do Christians really not care about these issues? It bothers me that we care more about the made up version of the story than what really happened. If Christians are willing to ostracize and even support legislation that stigmatizes anyone who doesn’t follow their brand of bible interpretation, why don’t they hold themselves to the same standards when celebrating holidays that are supposed to stem from things that happened in the Bible? Sigh.