The Birth of Jesus Christ
The Event : The Gospel is 2,000 years old
07. Christmas now
THE EVENT :
THE GOSPEL IS 2,000 YEARS OLD
- In the beginning was the Word,
- and the Word was with God,
- and the Word was God.
- THAT was the true light,
- Which lighteth every man
- That cometh into the world.
- He came unto his own
- And his own received him not.
- For the law was given by Moses,
- but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
- ( John chap. 1)
The word and the truth came to his own people, but even those in his own land refused to believe his word and message. The symbolic feast of Christmas must remind us that on this blessed day the light starts to increase on the Earth, bringing heat and fertility with its benevolent rays.
The child Jesus, the source of light, is the GIFT from our father in the sky, but he is also the guide that brings us peace and love, without which a happy life is not possible on Earth.
It is solely in this spirit that Christmas (the favorite Festival of children) keeps its significance and symbolism.
1. THE VISION OF ZACHARIAS IN THE TEMPLE
Let us carefully examine the first two characters chosen by The Eternal One to receive the message transmitted by the archangel Gabriel.
Elisabeth's spouse - Righteous before God - He was the priest in a small Judean village near Jerusalem - (its name is not mentioned in the Bible). He and his wife Elisabeth were well past middle age when suddenly we could say divine destiny came upon them, as he was chosen to burn incense at the altar of the Great Temple in Jerusalem .
One day while he was doing this duty, there appeared near the altar an Archangel of the Most High. He was very surprised by the apparition, but even more so by the news that was given to him :
- " Your wife Elisabeth will give birth to a son, you will call him John. He will have the power of Elias and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. "
But noticing the old man's sceptiscism, and especially thoughts of denial that were flooding his mind, the angel rendered him dumb until those things were accomplished.
How many times have we refused to answer God's calling when the Eternal asks us to do something for HIM, to help our neighbour in need, to give of ourselves ?
Elisabeth - Cousin of Mary :
She was also well on in age, and barren. The latter was viewed as a curse among Jewish women of that era, because they were called to be fruitful and multiply for the sake of their husbands and Israel!
Elisabeth suffered for a long time because of this, and the neighbours of this small Judean village were quick to gossip about it. But now that her menses had ceased, she had a reason to be peaceful.
But when she suddenly realized that she was pregnant, she experienced great joy and strength once more. She was still worried about what her family and neighbours would think . Also she did not want to appear ridiculous, so she hid her pregnancy for as long as possible.
Elisabeth was not only the wife of a priest, but also a very devout woman, who served God with all of her heart. She knew many verses of scripture that she recited to the Lord as a continual prayer. This was what she wanted to do, and it occupied her simple life in this mountainous village which no evangelist even mentioned by name.
2. One day, an ANGEL appeared at NAZARETH
During this time in Galilee, in a small town called Nazareth beside a hill near Mount Tabor, (588 m.high), the archangel Gabriel came to announce to Mary, an innocent virgin girl, that she would conceive a son who would be called "the son of the Highest".
- " The Lord will give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever..."
For one instant can we measure the impact the apparition must have had on that troubled girl who had never known a man? After a moment of stupor, Mary, reassured by the angel, asked him a common sense question:
- " How can that be, I'm a virgin ? " (Luke1:34); and the angel answered her :
- " The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Power of the most High will overshadow you, that is why the Holy Child who will be born of you will be called : The Son of God."
And the angel told her:
- "Your cousin, Elizabeth has also conceived a son. She was considered barren, but she is now in her sixth month ! " Nothing is impossible with God "
Mary could not have a better example than her cousin, who had been considered barren by everyone! And the girl finally accepted her destiny.
- "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be according to your word!"
But who was that beautiful girl, Mary ?
We know very little about her family, but according to James' gospel, we know the first-names of her parents : Joachim, the father was a priest, and belonged to the tribe of Levi, who were servants of the Lord. ANNE, the mother was a devout and educated woman. For a very long time, Joachim served God at the temple in Jerusalem. In all probability Mary was born and raised in this big city. From her pious mother, she must have received the first texts of her religious education, which was the foundation of her life. Discreetly, one day, the small family returned to Galilee to settled in Nazareth, precisely at the place where the angel visited her.
It was also in this village that she would meet Joseph, a carpenter born in Bethlehem. Before the Jewish community, to quiet the rumours that the baby's father's identity was unknown, he accepted her as his fiancee.
Mary was most likely about 17 years old when Gabriel appeared to her. She was indeed very pretty with an angelic face, full of youthfulness, with innocent eyes clear as water from a spring.
Her look was so pure and so full of freshness that it drew respect and admiration;
her smile so soft showed a glimpse of teeth with the whiteness of mother-of-pearl or fresh fallen snow;
She had a faint crystal clear voice, and long silken hair, half-covered by a light veil tossed by the wind, which took pleasure in caressing it with its invisible breath.
With a pitcher on her shoulder, it was in this manner that she went to fetch water at the village fountain where she met the women & girls of the village.
Sometimes when she tended the sheep, one could notice her profile full of youth as she was running among the tall grass of the mountain to gather her flock under the shade of hundred years'old olive trees. In the evening, before nightfall, she would remember to carry in her arms a big bouquet of wild flowers to adorn her parent's home with a touch of freshness and delicate aroma.
In an other word God had sculptured His image, and the perfection of this workmanship full of beauty, drew admiration, even from its Creator.
According to Luke1:39 : " Immediately, Marie arose and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah. She entered into the house of Zecharias. She saluted Elisabeth. "
However as soon as Elisabeth heard Mary's greeting, she spontaneously began to prophesy, as Mary had not announced the visit of God's archangel:
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1:42)
- "How is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Because as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy."
Spontaneously, Mary echoed this most beautiful hymn to the glory of God, that entire generations have recited for 2000 years.
3. M A G N I F I C A T
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden,
from henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is His name.
His mercy is on them who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered
the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their throne, and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things.
The rich he has send away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of
his mercy as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed forever
(Luke 1:46 - 56)
This is a Thanksgiving prayer that Mary spontaneously retrieved from her memory. It proves how well she memorised the Old Testament Psalms. From the heart she thanked the Eternal One who had chosen her above all the other young women of the earth.
Mary offered genuine praise to the Eternal One for His deeds, His goodness, and His mercy...
When reading the Old Testaments Psalms, one can reconstruct Mary's prayer in its entirety with the help of the verses:
Mary is unaware of the trials and sufferings awaiting her but she completely trusts the One who has chosen her.
So speaks the ETERNAL ONE in the KORAN
Koran Ch 21: Remember Zacharias, we granted unto him that his wife who was aged and barren should give birth. We breathed our spirit on Mary whose virginity was intact. She and her son were allowed to be a universal sign.
Koran Ch 3: Angels told Mary: God chose you and exempts you from sin. He elected you among all the women of the earth.
- God announces that this son of Mary will be called Jesus the Messiah. This will be known in this world and in the other. He will speak to the human race, man and child alike.
- He will be numbered among the just. He will heal the lepers and those who were born blind. God permitting, the dead will be resurrected.
4. The birth of JOHN the BAPTIST
According to Luke's Gospel, Mary stayed three months with her cousin Elisabeth and her husband Zacharias, until the baby John was born. It was a difficult task for Elisabeth to carry a child at her age. The body tires more easily, as the muscles don't have the same suppleness as in youth. Love and faith enlivened Joachim, Elisabeth and Mary. They felt recompense for their pain and sufferings.
Elisabeth delivered the child as predicted by the angel. Neighbours in the village and friends of the family were astonished when they learned of the incredible and happy event that occurred to Zacharias' family.
This woman had been considered barren! This middle-aged couple had just received a heavenly gift: an unexpected baby who was going to upset the plans of their quiet life.
On the eight day, conforming to Jewish law, the child was circumcised, and like all firstborn children, (according to custom) was presented at the temple. He was presented to the Lord with a small animal offered as a sacrifice. As was the tradition, everyone already called the child by his father's name, Zacharias, but Elisabeth answered:
- No, he will be called John.
Zacharias was mute for nine months. His friends brought him a writing tablet so he could write down the name of the child. He wrote down "John." Immediately his tongue loosened and he started praising the Lord.
Mary was then in her fourth month and she returned to her parents in Nazareth.
In the gospel there is no more mention of the parents Zacharias and Elizabeth of the child John, except for a brief account in Luke 1:80 :
" The child grew and became strong in spirit. John stayed in the desert until the day of his introduction to Israel."
5. The MONKS of the DEAD SEA
How long have men or women felt the need to "withdraw" from the world, individually (as a hermit), or in small communities? These people who lived apart from ordinary mortals were trying to find God by prayer, selflessness, silence and solitude.
Precisely at the time when John (the future Baptist) grew up, there was in Palestine a religious Jewish Order, which accepted layman followers and supporters from all the Roman Empire. Their Mother House was located in QUMRAN (a village beside the Dead Sea). Pliny, Philon and Flavius Joseph, historians of the time, called them : "the Monks of the Dead Sea" or "the Assenians".
This third Jewish religious sect must not be confused with the Pharisees or the Saducees (who were representatives of rich and noble families in Israel). This third sect rigorously observed God's law and even put spiritual matters before all temporal needs.
During the reign of Alexander Jannée (103-76 BC), a civil war erupted between this Jewish king the and the Pharisees. The Pharisees considered the king immoral for holding the religious office of High Priest. Alexander had 800 leaders, members and supporters of the Pharisees' sect crucified, after having watched their women and children slaughtered!
The Assenians reproached him for these odious acts, but he continued to execute many monks and their Superiors. Fleeing for their lives, the survivors of the massacre fled to Damascus in Syria.
They didn't returned to Qumran until the year 63BC, when the Pompeii Legions imposed their Protection Act. The monks remained there until 69AD, when the Roman Legions of Titus slaughtered all that would not flee. Then the monastery was transformed into a garrison.
However we estimated that at 69AD the Order had about 4,000 members in Palestine! Fortunately, before the Romans' arrival, the monks had hidden, in underground caves around the Dead Sea many manuscripts recording the Exodus and the Laws of Israel. These remained hidden there until 1948! It was quite by chance that a shepherd in pursuit of a stray sheep discovered some of these precious documents in a very critical state.
Even though most Assenians living at the Monastery made chastity vows, there were in the cities couples who lived in harmony with the Assenians' ideas. They always gave them free lodging and assistance when they travelled. Even though no one was born at the Assenians monastery, female skeletons were discovered buried in the Jewish tradition next to the ruins of Qumrân . We can assume that nearby was a female community abiding by a set of rules as rigorously strict as that of the male monks.
Assenian monastic life
After a three-year probation period the novice was accepted into religious life. In the meantime, they had to respect the communal rules and learn to live in truth, justice, charity, poverty and absolute obedience to all superiors. Their purpose was to defend the sacred LAW and keep away from men of sin.
He then became then a true monk: "A Son of light". We need to mention that the Assenians never made blood sacrifices, but instead offered cereal, fresh or dried fruit, vegetables and incense to the Lord.
The Assenians and the Christian mind
In the year 30BC, Herod the Great installed Rabbi HILLEL (born in Babylon) as President of the Sanhedrin. He maintained that office until his death in 10BC. This man considered Herod an unavoidable hardship. In spite of it he endeavoured to teach neighbourly love, based on three fundamental principles :
- Love mankind
- Live in peace and
- Learn the sacred Law (divine will).
Rabbi Hillel taught gentleness, patience and modesty. He summarised all the Law in these two sentences : Judge not your neighbour until you have been where he is. Do not do unto others what you would not want them to do unto you.
Like the Assenians he was pacifist and gentle. Surprisingly enough this priest had a mind similar to the Christian : 25 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Even though the four Evangelists don't mention the Assenians, note that neither John the Baptist nor Jesus condemned the Assenians, whereas they angrily rebuked the Pharisees, scribes and the Doctors of the law.
Assenians exercised open door hospitality to whoever respected their rule. Most likely John, who often baptised at the ford of the river at Bethabara, a few kilometres from Qumran , maintained good relations with this Order.
Strangely enough, Christian doctrines fit well with the Assenians' ideas :
- (John the Baptist) : "I am the voice that cries in the wilderness."
- (Jesus) : "I am the light of the world. Believe in the light, so that you may become children of light."
History completely lost all trace of them from the beginning of the great Jewish revolt of the year 68AD. We also wonder what happened to the survivors of the Roman Legions' massacre.
Did they become Jews in exile, or followers of the first Christian community ? It is a total mystery !
6. THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
Matthiew 1:18 -
Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, having been betrothed to Joseph, was pregnant by the intervention of the Holy spirit. Her fiancee Joseph, although he was a just man and did not want to make her a public disgrace, was thinking of secretly breaking off the engagement. While he thought on these things, an angel appeared to him in a dream, saying :
- "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child that is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."
When Joseph woke up he did as the angel had ordered him. He took Mary as his wife, but did not know her until after she had given birth to a son, who was named Jesus.
Luke 2:1 -
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So with Mary , his wife, Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea, because he belonged to the house and lineage of David.
This was in the year 6AD. In Jerusalem reigned king Herod the Great, who had been for the previous 18 months King of Palestine and Governor of the Roman guardianship.
One day knights who went about from city to village stopped in Nazareth: a small provincial town among the hills. They sounded the trumpet. When the inhabitants were all gathered around them, they declared with a loud voice:
- "By order of Caesar Augustus, all inhabitants with their families should register for the census at their birth place."
Marie who was in her eighth month of pregnancy knew that the date of the census coincided with the date she was to deliver the baby.
Every year, on the 25th of Kislev, in Galilee children celebrated the festival of lights. Dressed in white robes, they lit torches and marched through the streets of Nazareth with lights in their hands.
Beeswax candles and small oil lamps were lit at nightfall. In the year 150AD , in the temple a similar lamp was found lit even though no one had replenished it with oil. This was eight days after it had been robbed and desecrated by the Greco-Syrians.
The great day finally arrived for the Bethleem departure. Early in the morning Joseph the carpenter and Mary started on their journey, taking with them Joseph's small gray donkey carrying on its back water, food, blankets and clothing supplies.
In spite of the winter, there were many travellers on the road because of the census. First they went through the small neighboring township of Naïm before going down the Jordan Valley from Salem. Mary and Joseph knew this route by heart, as they took it at least two or three times a year, accompagnied by neighbours and friends, to visit the large temple in Jerusalem to celebrate traditional Jewish Holidays.
Since light snow was falling on the mountains of Samaria, it was wiser to choose the highway along the Jordan, even though the route to Jerusalem via Shichem was the shortest. This highway had been built by Herod the Great to facilitate the Roman army's movements. It was more practicable, more travelled and warmer at this the beginning of winter than the route which joined Galilee to Judea passing the mountains of Samaria, a country hostile to the Jews of Jerusalem.
At nighttime , they stopped at an inn halfway between Salem and Jericho. At daybreak they continued their long trek, even though Mary was very tired. The most difficult part of the journey was going uphill from Jericho to Jerusalem. (This steep and winding road was where the ambush took place in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.)
Mary began to suffer. She had shortness of breath and dizziness. She hung on to Joseph's arm who supported her with all his might. She prayed and maintained her faith in the Eternal One for renewed vigor. Early in the afternoon, they finally arrived at the foot of the enormous ramparts protecting the center of Jerusalem. The sun was high in the sky, and slowly warmed the earth which was numbed from the cold weather.
Mary felt her heart beat faster when she saw again Jerusalem, the old "HOLY CITY", where she had been born. So much remained engraved in her memory: these old streets, the white houses, and the shops where she had grown up in the arms of Anne and Joachim.
As if on fire, the temple doors sparkled on their hinges. The massive ochre stones which overhung the precipices had reddish reflections, as if embers were burning inside them and never going out.
They didn't stop for too long, because they needed to be in Bethlehem before nightfall to avoid danger on the way. They were relieved when they caught sight of the small town of Bethlehem on the hillside where Joseph was born.
As the sun was disappearing on the horizon, they entered the hamlet. While Mary sat down beside of the village fountain, Joseph went to look for a room to rent at the inns and homes of the area.
Alas, there were no more beds available. Rooms were being rented for the high prices in gold because of the huge gathering. Where was the spirit of hospitality? Everybody had refused him, even his former friends, with whom he attended synagogue and school. He had been away too long!
Besides who would be interested in a woman in labor, moaning in pain, and ready to deliver a baby? Completely discouraged, Joseph returned to Mary.
He seemed so sad that in spite of her pain Mary tried to comfort him. They refilled their water supply water at the only village fountain. Joseph knew the region perfectly well. As a youth tending sheep, he remembered seeing a cave in the rock at the entrance of the village.
Leading the way with lantern in hand , Joseph entered the small stable where the smell of fresh straw was in the air. After so many years, nothing much had changed in this stall that served as trough and shelter for animals during the winter.
In front of a wooden trough, an motionless ox stopped ruminating for an instant to look at these strange nocturnal visitors accompanied by a small donkey.
Joseph prepared a bed of straw for Mary, then he unloaded goatskins of water, blankets and clean towels that they brought with them for the impending childbirth.
Mary, stricken with pain, went to bed. While clenching her teeth with every contraction, the child came into the world. Joseph took the newborn and wiped him delicately with his thick craftsman fingers. As he lightly tapped him on the back, the child gave his first cry.
After Joseph wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes, he lean over toward Mary and gave her the child so she could take him in her arms and hold him close to her heart. Such intense joy came upon Mary that she forgot all about sufferng she had just endured!
Half a mile away, shepherds were assembled around a camp fire. Protectors of nature, draped in their large woolen coats, they warmed themselves over the flames, while gazing at the stars. Howerever this night it seemed as if the stars shone brighter than usual.
To their complete surprise an angel suddenly appeared to them saying: (Luke 2:10-16)
- "Do not be afraid, I bring you good news. Today in the city of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
Suddenly the sky became illuminated as if it were daylight, and a multitude of angels and heavenly hosts appeared singing :
- "Glory to God in the Highest. Peace on Earth and good will to all men."
The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph with the small child lying in the manger. Touched by it all they glorified God.
- God exalts the humble! They were simple good hearted people without education, but with good common sense; people who loved nature, God's handywork; kind people who day and night shared their lives with their animals; beasts that were symbols of gentleness.
- They were poor people working hard constantly for very low wages. They were the ones whom The Father chose to show his newborn Son!
Thirty three years later, about twelve miles from Bethlehem an innocent man and a prophet were crucified. The prophet had healed the sick and accomplished miracles. While this crucifixion was taking place a shepherd remembered from his youth that unforgettable night, a night where things happened as in a dream. It was a strange night filled with exceeding joy.
It came to pass as it was prophesied in Isaiah: Ch 7:14
...The Lord himself will give you "A SIGN" :
A virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will call him Emmanuel - "God with us."
- Ch. 9:6
- For unto us a child is born , unto us a son is given
- The government will rest on his shoulder
- He will be called Wonderful Counsellor,
- Mighty God - Everlasting Father - Prince of the Peace.
- Ch. 11:1
- A shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse
- The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him-
- The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
- The Spirit of counsel and of power,
- The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Eternal One-
- He will stand as a banner for the peoples,
- and the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.
Our small Christmas crèche...
7. CHRISTMAS NOW
- Christmas, the FESTIVAL of LOVE.
- We prepare family rituals as well as prepare ourselves spiritually for it...
- Christmas memories! Christmases from our childhood,
- with memories of past joy,
- which is no longer and will never return.
- Christmas, with its delicious-smelling fir tree, colourfully decorated,
- with gifts at its foot and branches full of lights.
- Christmas of intense joy, when we sang
- good old time carols that we knew by heart.
- A child is born ...
- O Christmas tree...
- Angels we have heard...
- Silent night...
- Christmas for all small children,
- with mouths wide-open and sparkling eyes.
- Christmas is old cathedrals with finely sculptured stones
- and resounding organs.
- Christmas is modest chapels, isolated by snow
- and filled with devotion.
- Christmas is in all the mangers in the world, none of which is alike,
- but all are marvellous...
- Christmas, when we remember that neighbours are near,
- even if we don't get along well!
- Christmas for those who will be born and
- those who will leave this earth for the Eternal Garden...
- Christmas for those who work and have no choice
- in the matter because they must be there!
- Christmas for those who are alone
- for everyone is frightened of them!
- Christmas for the poor who are unable to buy anything
- for themselves because they are unemployed or aged!
- Christmas for those who are slowly dying of hunger and
- know tomorrow will be the same...
- Christmas in the rice paddies of Mekong, in the African jungle,
- in the desert sand, in the tundra of Siberia, in the summer of
- Australia and on the mountain top of Cordillera in the Andes...
- Christmas for prisoners who no longer want war,
- who dream of escaping, to return home...
- Christmas is for soldiers who put away their weapons.
- Christmas is a time of prayer. One night
- to remember the brotherhood of all men -- but how quickly we forget!
8. HEROD the Great and the legend of the 3 WISE MEN
His father ANTIPATER I was leader of a province located in the steppes to the south of Judaea, called IDUMAEA.
Wary of the rising Hasmonaean power over Israel, he quickly chose to convert to Judaism in order to preserve his ancestral land and possessions.
Antipater I (the father of Herod the Great) had five children, four of whom would make history in Palestine:
- ANTIPATER II, also called "Herod the Great"
- PHASAEL (the firstborn)
- PHERORAS (the last born)
- and a daughter, SALOME I, (not to be confused with the daughter of Herodias - the dancer)
General POMPEY, who restored the throne of Judaea to Hyrcan II in 63 B.C., valued the military assistance, the diplomacy and the devotion of Antipater I. He also valued his two sons (Phasael and Herod), who were skilled at commanding troops and were respected among the Jewish people at a time of incessant turmoil.
In recompense for their "high loyalty" to the cause of ROME, Pompey appointed the father to the court of Jewish king Hyrcan II as a sort of deputy governor and entrusted his two sons with military command.
Find more from the same author :
" FIRST CENTURY B.C.
A summary of the narratives of Historian FLAVIUS JOSEPH
Direct link to the Flavius Site (in french)
HEROD : a "Merciless" KING
It was because he knew himself to be "loathed" by the Jewish people that he ruthlessly crushed any signs of mutiny, living in a constant fear of imprisonment and assassination.
He executed his favorite wife and three of his own children!
He had ten wives, nine of them at the same time. Consequently, an atmosphere of hate, rivalry and intrigue filled the apartments of his royal palace at Jericho, a climate meticulously maintained by none other than his mother, and by Salome, his sister.
The two were very jealous of MARIAMNE, a Jewish Hasmonaean princess of royal blood, a direct descendant from a line of Hasmonaean princes and ancient kings who ruled over Israel before the first Roman invasion.
And there, one day Herod's sister accused the innocent Mariamne of infidelity while he was away. Herod ordered to have her executed but forever doubted her guilt.
At night, his conscience would be tormented by the ghosts and memories of the people he viciously tortured to extract confessions.
In the year 7 B.C., he executed his sons Alexander and Aristobulus IV, the two children he had with princess Mariamne, his second wife.
In the year 6 B.C., he judged his firstborn son, ANTIPATER III, by Varus, who found him guilty and delivered him to his father. Thrown into jail, he would also be executed, just five days before the death of the King, his father.
- At Sebaste in Samaria, he had three hundred officers of his guard, (whom he suspected of plotting), flogged and then stoned to death by the mob.
- He hanged several hundred Pharisees who had widely criticized his atrocities and loose morals.
- He burned alive forty young Jews who attempted to remove the Roman eagle he had placed at the entrance to the Temple because they had presumed him already dead!
- To prevent people from rejoicing in his death, a few days before his demise he ordered a raid on the major nobles and heads of families in Jerusalem. According to Flavius Joseph, thousands were jailed in the great amphitheater of Jericho. Orders were given to have them pierced by arrows as soon as his death would be official. Fortunately, his sister Salome, who was to carry out the deadly order, announced that Herod had repented at the last moment and ordered the prisoners to be released. Jerusalem had narrowly escaped a terrible genocide!
Concerning : the massacre of the "Innocents"
After Jesus' birth in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of King Herod, astrologers from the east arrived one day in Jerusalem ...
Readers should not take literally this account of the visit of three Wise Men and the massacre of the Innocents, but for a proper understanding, these events in the Spirit must be placed within their historical context and seen from the point of view of the original recipients of these letters.
In those days of Roman occupation, faith was often manifested in acting and speaking one's ideas in words with double meaning.
Let us not forget that Jesus often taught in PARABLES, in a way that stripped historical characters of their identity and offended no one. In addition, listeners would better understand a narrative aided by images and symbols.
That the "vicious" king Herod could slaughter every firstborn in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas was quite like him and there was not a single Jew who would think him incapable of it! One important detail, however, is that a massacre of such proportions would have necessarily left traces in the history of Palestine or in the writings of that era...
As to the STAR of the three Wise Men, that was in effect an exceptional celestial phenomenon that was visible in the sky of Jerusalem and throughout the East:
conjunction of 4 planets :
JUPITER - SATURNE -
URANUS - MARS
Astronomers of the time were under the impression of seeing the birth of a high-magnitude star that seemed to move across the night sky.
Important note :
This celestial event reached a peak of intensity on the night of December 15 of the year 7 BC before the year 0. (However, during a COMPUTER search of sky maps for December 15 of the year 7 BC, the software automatically skips forward to December 15, year 6 BC, because computers don't understand the year 0.)
The Jupiter-Saturne conjunction
We know that Jesus was born before the death of King Herod, and this planetary conjunction in the constellation of Pisces may indeed have been related to the phenomenon described by Matthew that took place at the time of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem. Was is indeed coincidence that Jesus inaugurated the era of the Pisces and that the first Christians adopted exactly the same symbol, the fish, as their sign of recognition?
RECIPIENTS OF THE LETTERS:
During the first ten years, the first Christians consisted exclusively of Jews converted to Catholicism! They had known and seen Jesus during his public life or at least gathered their knowledge from contemporaries who were near Jesus and saw the miracles with their own eyes...
They adopted Christianity as a sort of reform or a complement to their original faith. Jesus had distinctly said: "Salvation is of the Jews, I am not come to DESTROY the law, or the prophets, but to FULFIL the law "
And these Jews expected "a Messiah, a new Elijah, viewed by some of them as a liberator, a New Moses who would guide and govern the people of Israel..."
In the spirit of Matthew, Jesus is this new Moses who conveys his people to the heavens (the new Promised Land) and out of the land (the Earth) where Christians live in exile (as under the Pharaoh).
Like Moses, Jesus symbolically escapes the massacre of the firstborn among Jews, and it was by no coincidence that the one whom John the Baptist called "the Lamb of God" would be sacrificed on the Jewish Passover. His spilled blood would save all the children of God, just as the blood of lambs on the door posts of the Jews once led the angel of death to distinguish between the firstborn of the Jews, who were spared, and the firstborn of Egypt who were to die...
To this day, across twenty centuries of Christianity, Matthew still unwittingly provides proof of the authenticity of his Gospel by the kind of dialog and spirit that animated the original Christian apostles after the departure of their Teacher.
Let's not forget that Jesus, Mary and the apostles were true Jews who observed Moses' Law, which allowed them free entrance to the Temple and participation in Jewish holidays. Any non-Jew would risk his life by entering the Temple.
AN ANALYSIS OF TEXTS QUOTED BY MATTHEW
Matthew therefore took pains to certify that the writings of prophets in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah were fully applicable to the life of Jesus:
Prophet Hosea 11:1
When Israël was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called him 'my son'. The more I called them, the farther they went from me.
The Jewish prophet Hosea clearly mentions in his prophecy a son whom God calls out of Egypt; (this son symbolizes the Jewish people, freed of their bondage by God) - Matthew chose this passage to show how the people behaved like an ungrateful son who disregards his protecting Father, in spite of the love shown by God.
Prophet Jeremiah 33:15
In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. Never shall David lack a successor on the throne of Israel.
Regarding the Jeremiah Period:
We are in 585 B.C. Jerusalem: is under siege by the Chaldeans of Nebuchadrezzar II. The temple of Solomon is about to be plundered and destroyed; the people deported to Babylon. God's people would be reduced to slavery, doing the heavy work the Babylonians themselves would shy from.
His life threatened by the Babylonians, prophet Jeremiah flees to Egypt to escape the wrath of Nebuchadrezzar, whose personally appointed governor was slaughtered by the Jews!
The kingdom of Judas was collapsing, but, through the lips of prophet Jeremiah, God gives new hope of freedom to His exiled people.
Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. In this section Jeremiah announces the death of Rachel's children; in other words, the Jews being deported to Babylon.
Rachel is one of the four wives of Patriarch Jacob, namely the one buried on the road of Ephratah, where they would later build the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of David - the ancestor of the future Messiah, according to Jewish writings.
And you Bethlehem-Ephrata, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from YOU shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.
Prophecy of Isaiah : ch. 60 :1-6
Rise up in splendour!
Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
Nations shall walk by your light and
Kings by your shining radiance.
Thank shall you be radiant at what you see
For the wealth of nations shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah.
All from Sheba shall come
Bearing gold, frankincense and proclaiming
The praises of the Lord.
Matthew attempts to attribute ALL these quotes to the person of Jesus whom he regards as the Messiah of the Scriptures and the person designated by prophets in their messages.
Moreover, Matthew lists the genealogical tree of Jesus, making Him a direct descendant of king David. Among the other forefathers of Jesus he names a number of Jewish kings who had ruled between the time of David and the Exile.
It is nevertheless quite difficult to interpret this Isaiah text precisely, since the Kingdom of SHEBA had completely vanished from geographical maps in the period after Solomon. Could this recognition of Arab people, one wonders, be rather a futuristic spiritual vision of prophet Isaiah, who foretells here a fusion of the nations under the one glory of God?
Contrary to Matthew, John has a more mystical spirit. For him, the childhood of Jesus is not the chief part of his message! Jesus was not made man to show His greatness and kingship but to exhort us to love one another strongly during our earthly life.
It is why his entire message essentially relied on the new commandment: Love ye one another For John this is "the essence of the message." Do this and YOU SHALL LIVE (forever)!
It must be noted that John wrote his gospel toward the year 80, when there was a small number of free Jews remaining in the Roman empire, and most of the communities in Asia Minor, where he lived in exile, were largely composed of gentiles, ie non-Jews converted to Christendom.
As the jolly figures of Provence symbolize our presence around the crib (the symbol of peace), these endearing characters make us even more a part of the mystery of Christmas.
Like no other message, this marvelous legend of the three magi of different skin color seeing one light in the sky is an appeal to the unity of men and the peace that one day may reign upon Earth.
There is no better confirmation than to open our eyes and look for an instant at the light that shines in our children's eyes as they gaze at the crib and the mysterious characters who have traveled here from the faraway country of the thousand and one nights.
Matthew described the holy Family's departure to Egypt, and the evangelist Luke indicated a second voyage of the holy Family -
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.
9. Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves.
(According to the Law of Moses, they should have presented two turtledoves, but they gave two pigeons, as they were very poor. )
At the same very time an old man "came by the Spirit" to the temple. He took Jesus up in his arms and spoke to the heavens in a loud voice:
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen the salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A light to lighten the Gentiles."
How many times has destiny or the hand of the Eternal led us to meet such a man, or such a woman, at such a moment, in such a place in an amazing convergence?
Speaking then to Mary, the old man would be enlightened by the Spirit and prophesize a message that concerned them directly:
- "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against "
But more terrible still are these words he utters to Mary:
- "A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed "
Mary would not understand this omen, but would keep those words engraved in her memory, and many years later, when she repeated them to evangelist doctor Luke of Antioch, she knew that the old man had been right, and that sword would one day indeed "pierce through the soul and break the heart! "
And so the Holy Family returned to Nazareth. It was there that the infant Jesus grew, walked his first steps, said his first prayer to the "Father which is in Heaven".
At night, when He was weary, Mary would take Him in her arms and hold Him tight against her heart, as in the image depicted in so many paintings and sculptures throughout the world.
He would then listen as Mary sang one of the sweet songs that all the mothers in the world know, before closing His eyes in the small wooden cradle his stepfather had carved with abundant love.
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