Archive for category Christmas/Advent
The gentleman who drew this is Joe Castillo. He went to Asbury Theological Seminary.He did this during a chapel service. It was fascinating – he told the Gospel story – each part of Jesus’ life – and he was drawing the story as he told it.The longer you look at this picture, the more you see. Look closely.
“The traditional date for the birth of Christ from as early as Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 165-235) has been December 25th. In the Eastern Church January 6th was the date for not only Christ’s birth, but also the arrival of the Magi on Christ’s second birthday, His baptism in His twenty-ninth year, and the sign at Cana in His thirtieth year. However Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) in 386 stated that December 25th is the correct date and hence it became the official date for Christ’s birth in the Eastern Church (January 6th was still considered the day for the manifestations of the coming of the Magi, the baptism, and the sign at Cana.
Although the exact date may not be pinpointed it seems that there is a relatively old tradition of a midwinter birth, therefore a date in December or January is not in itself unlikely.
The one objection raised for the winter date is the fact of the shepherds attending their flock in the night (Luke 2:8). Usually, it is noted, the sheep were taken into enclosures from November until March and were not in the fields at night. However, this is not conclusive evidence against December being the time of Christ’s birth for the following reasons. First, it could have been a mild winter and hence the shepherds would have been outside with their sheep. Second, it is not at all certain that sheep were brought under cover during the winter months. Third, it is true that during the winter months the sheep were brought in the from the wilderness. The Lukan narrative states that the shepherds were around Bethlehem (rather than the wilderness), thus indicating that the nativity was in the winter months. Finally, the Mishnah (Shekalim 7:4) implies that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside all year, and those that were worthy for the Passover offerings were in the fields thirty days before the feast, which would be as early as February, one of the coldest and rainiest months of the year. Therefore, a December date for the nativity is acceptable.
In conclusion, the exact date of the birth of Christ is difficult to know with finality. However, a midwinter date is most likely. It is clear that Christ was born before Herod the Great’s death and after the census. In looking at the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke one would need to conclude that Christ was born of Mary within a year or two of Herod’s death. In looking to some of the other chronological notations in the Gospels, the evidence led to the conclusion that Christ was born in the winter of 5/4 B.C. Although the exact date of Christ’s birth cannot be known, either December of 5 B.C., or January of 4 B.C. is most reasonable.”
Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1981) pp. 25-27
It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.
These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.
The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?
Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.
Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.
Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.
This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.
Warning: If you don’t want your traditional understanding of the first Christmas challenged then do not read any further. If you are a historically minded person who loves getting the real story behind the many popular myths, then Dr. Ben Witherington, a very reputable New Testament scholar and ancient historian, corrects some of our misconceptions often found in our Christmas hymns and children’s pageants regarding the wise men, snobby inn-keepers, barns and animals and more. Enjoy.
You can read his full article entitled “Star-Studded Wise Men: Rethinking the Christmas Story” HERE. Here is an excerpt to give you a taste:
Getting to the bottom of the historical well when it comes to Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke proves difficult at times. It is rather like what happened to the Sistine Chapel ceiling when it was finally cleaned and all the lacquer and dirt of the centuries was removed. The end result was startling, much more colorful…. and more beautiful too. Well, the real Christmas story is also more interesting and compelling than the usual stuff that passes for preaching at Christmas. Lets take those famous wise men of Matthew 2.1-12 First a little ground clearing exercise.
1) We do not know how many persons were involved. We are simply told that more than one showed up — Magoi is the plural of the Greek word Magos, from which we get the English word magic/magician. A Magos was an oriental priest of sorts, learned in various sorts of esoteric arts, including astrology (studying the sky for clues about the present or future), the interpretation of dreams, the reading of animal’s entrails, necromancy, etc.
2) These men were definitely not kings — so enough with the “We Three Kings…” Christmas carol. These are the kinds of persons who were counselors and advisors to kings, which is precisely how Herod in the story treats them. They were consultants. We could discuss why the Christmas mythology is more appealing than the Christmas history to some folks. Read the rest of this entry »
I miss the iMonk, Michael Spencer, whose cancer diagnosis came around Christmas in 2009. He now celebrates Christmas with the saints above and One who came down to earth to save us that first scandalous Christmas two thousand years ago. Here’s an excerpt from a classic Advent sermon by the iMonk called “The Unlikely Outreach of the Gospel of Light.” Read full post here.
“There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend an eternity in hell…. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse–and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists.” (Sam Harris, Letters To A Christian Nation)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:9-18)
Harris . . . has a better grasp of the Gospel than most Christians. Evangelicals have almost totally lost the outrage that lies at the heart of the Gospel. We believe that everyone ought to believe what we believe because it’s obvious that its the truth. We have big churches, media stars and books explaining everything so persuasively that it shows just how stubborn and hostile unbelievers really are. If they would just listen to our pastor answer all the questions, it would make sense. Read the rest of this entry »
Martin Luff, the Deliberate Disciple (a great blog I recommend!), pointed out this great article by David Fitch about finding space in our busy lives to meet with God. This is especially timely for this season of Advent:
Recently, I was meeting in the corner booth (of the local McDonald’s) with the men in my triad (spiritual formation group) and we were talking about our Sunday morning gathering. I said “one of the best things our gathering can do for people is bore the hell out of em.” Sorry if this seems counter intuitive but I nonetheless believe it is true – literally true. Let me explain……
It is stunning to me how many many people I encounter in a month who cannot even acquire even a modicum of mind space cleared of societal clutter to meet God. We live in a society where God is being organized out of our life experience (and this is most certainly true of our young people). If we don’t have the means to discipline our lives from societal noise, real living with God, listening and responding to his voice is lost from our horizon. God becomes an item to believe, an obligation to take care alongside the many others. And then, and I am dead serious here, other demons take over our lives. Our loneliness/our emptiness becomes filled by multivarious forms of fake pornogaphic substitutes. Demons take over. I see it everywhere.
In the midst of this, sometimes the best place (the only place) I can point people to is the gathering on Sunday morning. Read the rest of this entry »
What do we make of the story of the wise men following a magical star from the East to the newborn king in Bethlehem? Sound a bit far-fetched and fairytale-ish? I used to think so as well.
Many deny the possibility of a supernatural explanation to begin with. This is unnecessary. If God can bring the universe into being with divine decree and raise the dead at will, then I see no reason why he could not have also sent a bright star that first Christmas.
However, must we rule out all naturalistic explanations? A little historical and cultural background of this story also reveals some very plausible scientific theories as to what this astronomical/astrological phenomenon might have been. Perhaps under God’s wise sovereignty and foresight, that “star” that led the magi to Bethlehem was a combination of natural astral activity in concert with God’s supernatural sending of his son “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4). Let’s take a look.
First, these were not “three kings” as the song goes. They were “magi” from the East — most likely superstitious astrologists perhaps from the royal court of the Babylonian empire. It does not specify how many. The ancients assigned great significance to the art of reading and interpreting the movements of the skies. They kept careful records of the notable celestial activity, and with computer technology today we can calculate exactly where each star and planets were in the sky accurately all the way back 2,000 years and beyond.
Second, the scientific records indicate some pretty interesting astral activity occurring around the time of Jesus’ birth. Read the rest of this entry »
Another shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut this morning. While it wasn’t their school, I shudder at the thought of my daughter-in-law and 5 year old grandson having to deal with the aftermath of something that horrific.
One of my best friend’s 17 year old step son took his own life on Wednesday. There are no words to convey the hurt and pain or bring solace and comfort to such a situation.
The vulnerability of my friends in house church last night was a blessing as we talked about fear and anger and frustration that confronts us and our friends and how the good news of Jesus ministers in the midst of that.
On my way home I thought about the words of this hymn written in the 4th century. It ministered to me then, and it ministers to me now. I would encourage you to let this be your Advent prayer today, and take some time to meditate on the words and meaning of what the author is saying. The powerful words for me today are in the third verse, “that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away” because of the Light of Christ. God bless you richly today. Read the rest of this entry »
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”Isaiah 40:28-31
As I read the newspaper and listen to the nightly news and keep track of status updates one common theme seems to be weariness. People are tired.
Tired of political ineptitude and fiscal cliffs.
Tired of busy-ness.
Tired of working without time off.
Tired of being unemployed and too much time off.
Tired of gossip.
Tired of bullying.
Tired of the expense of everything.
Tired of others making them tired.
In some cases, tired of life itself.
We are a weary people.
Followers of Jesus however, know the truth of the Isaiah passage. In the midst of weariness…God is God. And he is the One to renew our strength. In him alone is our hope.
May the hope of Life in Jesus today and forever be yours!