Reading from the Bible..Matthew Chapter one..verses 15 – 25
Reading Genesis Chapter 36 verse 40 to Chapter 37 verse 11.
In the Jewish calendar we are in the month of Kislev and this particular period is about being in the midst of Winter. It is sometimes known as the month of dreams. The name of the month could have several meanings, but all of them are reflective of hope positive ness and expectation. At the end of this period comes the festival of Chanukah as it is known today, but go back in time to the time of Jesus and this was known as a festival of Dedication. It celebrated the rededicating of the Temple in the period of around 200 BCE.
At the time when the synoptic gospels were written Matthew Mark & Luke that Temple had been completely destroyed by the Romans in CE70, It is from Mathew and Luke that we get what has become known as the Christmas Story. These were not written as historical accounts, and in a recent book by Bishop John Spong I have been reading fresh insight is gained. He points to the fact that at the time of their writing Christianity was a sect in Judaism. At the time in Synagogues these so called gospels were commentaries on the Jewish readings of the time of the year. But synagogues like Churches had different views and associations; hence we have different accounts in the Gospels.
The much later Gospel of John, has none of the Christmas Story, this is because this gospel is written after the Christians were expelled from the synagogues as heretics.
Come back to the gospel of Mark and we have no Virgin birth, Shepherds, wise men and so on. Mark is clearly the oldest of the three Gospels here and some 90% of it is included in Matthew and some 50% in Luke. What is interesting is that both more or less follow the same narrative but add embellishments along the way. These Gospels are also written in Greek, something alien to the synagogues who used spoken Aramaic or Hebrew texts.
The synoptic Gospels as they are known actually reflect the Jewish year celebrations and are probably the way early Christians reflected on the then Torah read to the people. Once the selected passages of the law prophets and so on had been read to people in synagogues, people were asked to give reflection on those passages. The Synoptic’s are these reflections. In order to understand why we have different accounts we need to look at the Jewish calendar and try to see what these commentaries were trying to say in relation to the readings of the Torah at the time.
Look at the original Hebrew words for “Behold a virgin shall bear a child” that we have as the Greek synoptic’s have things, and you’ll find a different meaning in the Torah these Greek gentile writers try to reflect from the commentaries they record. It is in the Old Testament.. Behold a woman, not behold a virgin. I could go on and detail every misconception made by these Gentile readers: But to what point?
We know there were no camels, no wise men, the dates for Herod and so on and so forth do not tally. Look with fresh eyes at these synoptic gospels however and we do find parallels between the life of Jesus and things known to the Jewish people. Trips to Egypt, first son killed and so on and so forth. The year of Jesus Ministry reflects the year of festival readings of the Torah in the synagogues. Not the history of the times.
Go back to the season and the time of the year and we have stories and dreams in the wise men, the shepherds the angels. The synoptics are giving us Hope in Jesus, hence we have stories that reflect this. They continued to be stated in synagogues for a few more years, they were trying to show that this person Jesus was now the meeting place of God with his people. Until CE 70 the Jews believed for the most part that this was what the Temple in Jerusalem represented. Here the shekinah glory of God radiated to his chosen people Israel. Now that very temple was destroyed forever and Israel was no more, wiped from every map. Those who were “followers of the way” as they were known, who in CE 88 were excluded from the synagogues were saying that the shekinah glory was found in the life of a man who had been the messenger of the way.
The festival of dedication of the temple (now Chanukah) was reflective of hope positive ness and expectation. It was an annual celebration one that featured how central to Judaism was that God had chosen this people to be a light to the nations. Just about everything in the synoptics is a story reflecting the background understanding of the Jewish people. Think in particular abut our two readings, one the end of the genealogy written by Matthew culminating in the earthly father of Joseph, who was a son of a Jacob.. What did he do? He had dreams.. Then look at our other reading from the time of the patriacs, we have another son of Jacob, following and genealogy in Geneses and what do we find, another dreamer called Joseph, son of another Jacob.. Interestingly these are huge similarities, but this is because what Matthew is trying to do is give continuity to a line of thinking ..Jewish thinking… The living Talmund. Tradition passes from generation of how God revealed himself to his people.
Quotes and miss quotes from books such as the psalms and Isaiah and the minor prophets all end up these synoptics according to the times of the Jewish calendar when they would be read for consideration in synagogues.
This month is a time for hope and a time to be looking for our dreams to be good and a time to be looking forwards. But in terms of this congregation what are our expectations for the year to come? Would like to say we are hopeful of continuing to build something here for the generations to come. Are we looking to the stars for signs? Interestingly the Orion constellation shines more brightly this time of the year and may have had a bearing on the reasons for the original seasons that are reflected in the Jewish calendar.
Looking to the stars is all well and good, but understanding them is not something I excel at, but looking at scripture I can claim a bit more knowledge. As we look forward to 2012 we agreed to consider becoming a more progressive Christian community. I think this is looking forward with hope and a positive ness that reflects this season. While we may never look to scripture as some do, we do look to it to inspire our thoughts, to guide us as we glean more from its messages.
Each one of us will have slightly different hopes and expectations, that is a good thing and exactly what the Synoptic Gospels were written for. To say as we are saying, this is not the end. I suspect many found in the humanity of Jesus things that continued the story of the Children of Israel in a new way. That is what Johns gospel is about, a joyful retaliatory claim to the Jews from whom exile had taken place for Christians.. This is the story now, Jesus is the new covenant he is the Logos, the word, he is the Spirit, the manifestation of God on earth.. We have Gods shekinah glory now that the Temple is no more.
In our lives we all reflect Gods glory, we all reflect that love told in stories about a man who lived called Jesus. Our expectation is to promote that and do those things that speak of love, to find for ourselves a little bit of knowing God that heartens our consciousness and lifts our spirits. Following the seasons, recalling the old stories and making each gathering a time to share in fellowship. Fellowship that is about being the Christ light, not preaching him at people, sharing hope positive ness and expectation for all humanity, and to all the earth that we may term creation. Many need that message at this time, in a world still full of uncertainty, greed and wrong doing to one another, our little bits of trying to get it right for all humanity count.. That’s the star we must follow this Christmas time. This is the reason for ancient ways of viewing the season.. Stories that bring hope and expectation for the year still to come to birth..
Let it be so…