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The Birth of Jesus: Two Gospel Narratives

The Birth of Jesus Today

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A key principle of Catholic biblical interpretation is that once scriptural texts have been encountered in their own historical and literary contexts, they must be actualized or brought to life in the Christian community of today.  Here are a few ideas for further reflection on ways to actualize the infancy narratives today.

The Infancy Narratives and Christmas

Every year the problem of the commercialization of Christmas recurs. While Christians appropriately celebrate the coming of the “Light of the world” (to use Johannine imagery) with lights and decorations, the full meaning of Jesus’ birth can too easily be overwhelmed by snowmen, reindeer, and an avalanche of advertisements. The study of the distinctive infancy narratives can help refocus our priorities.

As the opening chapters of two Gospels, each infancy narrative in its own way is an introduction to the significance of Jesus and an invitation to faith in him. How, then, can Christmas be celebrated so as to foster (re)commitment to discipleship?

The Hope of Deliverance

Both infancy narratives declare that with the birth of Jesus the long-awaited hopes for God’s deliverance of Israel have begun to be realized. Such hopes resonate most powerfully in communities that are oppressed, but these texts challenge more fortunate communities to consider how they might be contributing to the suffering of others, either through action or inaction. The hopes that the world has for the Christ-child must be taken up by his disciples today.

In Lucan terms, do Christians today recognize “the manger of the Lord”? Do we appreciate how fully God identifies with the travails of the ordinary and the weak? In Matthean terms, do we see that the child who is Emmanuel, “God with us,” is the same who instructs his followers to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and aid the sick (Mt. 26:31 ff)?

The Jewishness of Jesus

In many ways, both infancy narratives stress the Jewishness of Jesus. Matthew’s portrait of Jesus as embodying Israel’s story suggests that God’s covenantal life with Israel achieved an even deeper intimacy in Jesus. For Christians, he is the embodiment of living covenant with God perfectly. How might Christmas be a time for Christians to seek to draw closer to Jesus in his Jewish humanity?

Luke’s Zechariah sings that the birth of Jesus would free Israel from fear of Gentile assaults. Tragically, the growth of Gentile Christianity has not enabled Jews to serve God without fear. How might Christmas become be an occasion for Christians to recommit ourselves to respect and amity for the Jewish people and tradition?