Monday, December 19, 2016

The Nativity Narratives

Dear Parish Faithful,

"The glory of this Child was, that a virgin should bring him forth into the world, and the glory of the Virgin Mother was, that she should have for a Son, a Man who was at the same time God."  — St. Augustine of Hippo

At the beginning of the Nativity Fast I sent out a "Nativity Narrative Test" that was to test your knowledge of the accounts of Christ's Nativity as found in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke. This was also meant to stimulate your personal reading of the Nativity narratives during this season - especially if you took the quiz and scored poorly! 

When we read these two Gospels we encounter quite a bit of difference in detail.  A good deal of that is accounted for by the fact that St. Matthew's Gospel clearly narrates the events around the Lord's birth from the perspective of St. Joseph; and St. Luke narrates certain events clearly from the perspective of the Virgin Mary. 

Nevertheless, these divergent traditions have provided a good deal of fodder for skeptical readers of the Gospels, who stress these differences with the goal of undermining the integrity of the Gospel accounts. This is a curious case of "reverse fundamentalism" (although coming from scholars/academics): Any discrepancies in the literal reading of these narratives mean that these narratives forfeit their truthfulness.  This is a fundamentalist approach if there ever was one!

However, my point here is not to further explore this issue. My goal, for the  sake of balance, is to simply draw up a list of the many points of  full  - and "fundamental!" -  agreement between Sts. Matthew and Luke on the major events of their respective accounts of Christ's Nativity.

To make my task all that much easier, I am relying on - and conveying to you - just such an exhaustive list compiled by one of the premier American biblical scholars of recent times. This would be Raymond Brown (+1998), who wrote a massive book entitled The Birth of the Messiah, an incredibly detailed commentary on the Nativity narratives as found in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke. 

As an introduction to his massive study of the Gospels - including their differences at certain points - Brown composed the following list of "points shared," all of which are very significant:

a)  The parents to be are Mary and Joseph who are legally engaged or married, but have not yet  come to live together or have sexual relations (MATT. 1:18; LK. 1:27,34).

b)  Joseph is of Davidic descent (MATT. 1:16,20; LK. 1:30-35)

c)  There is an angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of the child (MATT. 1:20-23; LK. 1:30-35)

d)  The conception of the child by Mary is not through intercourse with her husband (MATT. 1:20,23.25; LK. 1:34).

e)  The conception is through the Holy Spirit (MATT. 1:18,20; LK. 1:35)

f)  There is a directive from the angel that the child is to be named Jesus (MATT. 1:21; LK. 1:31)

g)  An angel states that Jesus is to be the Savior (MATT. 1:21; LK. 2:11)

h)  The birth of the child takes place after the parents have come to live together (MATT. 1:24-25; LK. 2:5-6)

i)  The birth takes place at Bethlehem (MATT. 2:1; Lk. 2:4-6)

j)  The birth is chronologically related to the reign (days) of Herod the Great (MATT. 2:1; LK. 1:5)

k)  The child is reared at Nazareth (MATT. 2:23; LK. 2:39)

From The Birth of the Messiah, by Raymond E. Brown, p. 34-35.

Ultimately, the main point for all of us is to know the Gospel narratives of Christ's Nativity as thoroughly as possible - "inside out" we could say - and marvel at the birth of the Messiah, a Savior, who is "Christ the Lord." (LK. 2:11)

By the way, if you missed that "Nativity Narrative Test" from a few weeks back, but would still like to give it a try, you will find it as an attachment.