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Sunday, April 10, 2011

on Matthew 1 and 2

Last Sunday, at church, our participatory discussion (which is in lieu of a sermon, and we would defend is closer to the original way the early believers worshipped) was on Matthew 1.  This chapter deals with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ birth, and a rash of miraculous incidents—an angel coming to Mary,  Mary becoming supernaturally pregnant with the Messiah, who we would come to know as Jesus, God in human form, the angel coming to Joseph, the birth of Jesus in the manger—animal stall.  In the course of this discussion, the person leading the discussion, in mentioning a fact from the next chapter, noted that the Magi showed up possibly as much as two years later.  As much as I have read the Bible, I never noticed that.  If one grows up going to church, and one sees and participates in those Christmas programs the Sunday evening before Christmas, the norm is that they do the manger scene, the shepherds come in, and then the wise men come in.  The large gap in time never clicked in my head before.  The irony that God allowed to happen never struck me until studying Matthew 2 this week.  God forbade b’nai yesrael to participate in astrology in Deuteronomy 18:11, Is. 2:6, and Is. 47:11-15, and they were to instead seek true prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15.  Among Roman pagans, Magi were respected, and were particularly adept at dream interpretation.  Therefore, when they arrived in Jerusalem, it was a big deal.  Since they were told that a “king was born,” they figured to go to the king.  This was news, and not good news, to Herod.  They said that they followed a star.  A falling star was considered a sign of a king being deposed. 
            Now, as much as they could have followed a star from wherever east of Israel they came, something totally miraculous had to happen to be able to follow it to Joseph and Mary’s home in a village—stars are normally way too high in the sky to point out a specific house.  The scribes (Sadducees) could tell them that the prophecy of Micah 5:2, but they weren’t sufficiently interested to go follow the Magi.  Ironically, these scribes’ next generation would be the religious leaders so interested in Jesus as to push for his crucifixion.
            In the last verse of Matthew 2, Matthew writes something that twists at our western sensibilities.  He says that Jesus’ parents settling in Nazareth fulfills a prophecy, but that prophecy cannot be found in the Old Testament.  Confoundingly, Nazareth is spelled similarly for the Hebrew word for branch, and that word is used as a prophetic name for the Messiah in Jeremiah 23:5, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12, and Isaiah 11:1.
            What I would note is how easily we who were sent to Sunday School were young, and were taught the various Bible stories in a manner that was simple for small children to understand, in a form sanitized from some of the sex and violence, which is age appropriate, can have distorted ideas of these teachings as adults.

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