Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
Not many people know that I used to be a Sunday school teacher. I loved my Sundays: morning service, then afternoon Sunday school and finally the evening service with the whole family. And then I started to question, not simply accept, and I lost it. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” There were too many improbabilities that required the suspension of reason and logic.
One of the improbabilities that set it all off was the story of the Nativity. Soon almost every store will begin to ring with wonderful, heart-warming Christmas Carols; mistletoe and even snow will appear in the tropical heat, and joy and love for each other will unite humanity the world over – well, not quite. The Christmas story, a great tale, includes the holy family, the midnight hour, a barn, farm animals, angels, shepherds, wise men and the little town of Bethlehem, simple and sweet, yet each of the Gospels approaches the story in very different ways.
The experts of Boston College believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first to be written around the year 70, and probably represents the preaching of the Apostle Peter. Supposing Mark had been a youth at the time Jesus lived, he would have been over 80 when he wrote Peter's memoirs. In a time of no CNN, no written records of daily events, mass illiteracy, and almost inexistent communication between villages, this would have been a magnificent feat of memory and a tough one to swallow. Narratives written more than half a century after the fact tend to be unreliable.
This scholarly Boston consensus holds that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were composed, independently of one another, sometime in the 80s or 90s. Amazingly, Mark's Gospel records nothing of the birth of Jesus. His story starts with John the Baptist in the wilderness. The first time we see Jesus in this Gospel is when John baptizes him. Mark wrote his gospel to the Romans of his day and emphasized the hidden service of Jesus as Lord.
Matthew begins his account with an elaborate genealogy that establishes Jesus as an ancestor of King David and Abraham. Matthew is writing to the Jews and presents Jesus as a King, better than David and a teacher greater than Moses. Matthew tells us about the wise men that came to worship, bringing gifts fit for a king; the murderous acts of King Herod; the journey of the family to and from Egypt illustrating how Jesus' life mirrors that of the people of Israel; and of the angels who in dreams direct Joseph. Matthew takes care to show how the birth of Jesus fulfils Old Testament prophecies; he presents Jesus as the ruler of Israel, and as God's Son. Jesus fulfils the prophecies and hopes of the Hebrew Scriptures, as King of the Jews who has been given all authority in Heaven and Earth.
Matthew and Luke disagree. Matthew states, “When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child” supposedly by the Holy Ghost. Joseph was vexed to find his fiancée pregnant, but was inclined to hush it all up; the angel convinced him otherwise, and he abstained from sex during the pregnancy; “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son."
Luke, who wrote his Gospel primarily for a Gentile audience and focuses on marginalized and neglected groups in First Century Mediterranean societies, seems to think they were already married: Joseph went from Galilee to Nazareth to “be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child." Luke's nativity tale is the longest. His angel confronts Mary, not Joseph. The angels appear to shepherds, not to the rich, privileged and powerful wise men as in Matthew's account.
In the Gospel of John, possibly the last of the Gospels to be produced around 100, the birth started in Heaven: Jesus, the Word was in the beginning and was God. All that is created was created through Him. John then describes the birth of Jesus with powerful language, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”. John writes to Greekspeaking Gentiles across the Roman Empire. He leaves out any mention of Mary, Joseph and all the other characters that Matthew and Luke mention in their birth narratives. And of course, Mark didn't even bother with it.
I bet just about all of you, Dear Readers, thought that the Nativity story was carried by all the gospels. Surely a virgin birth would have made the headlines even way back then! It seems sometimes you simply have to leave logic and reason behind and rely on blind faith.