The Nativity

Christmas can provide a perfect opportunity to revisit the story of the Nativity. It’s also a great opportunity to look at the scripture linked to the Incarnation.

Andy Lewis wrote an article in 2014 about different ways to teach the Nativity story. Read it <here> and <here>

You can download his lesson PowerPoint <here>

Read a guest blog post entitled “The Greatest Story Ever Told?” which features the following questions (can you answer them all?):

  1. How did Mary travel to Bethlehem?
  2. How long before Jesus’ birth did Mary arrive in Bethlehem?
  3. Which animals were present at Jesus’ birth?
  4. How many innkeepers did Mary and Joseph speak with?
  5. What kind of building was Jesus born in?
  6. When did the angels appear above the stable?
  7. How many wise men visited Jesus?
  8. What did the angels sing?

Read it <here>

This video also provides a good summation of the actual Nativity story:

Philip Robinson contemplates the teaching of the Nativity:

If we only took Matthew’s Gospel, it looks like Mary and Joseph are form Bethlehem and they only move to Nazareth to avoid the threat of Herod after they have fled to Egypt falling the Magi’s warning.

If we only had Luke, they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census and then return to Nazareth afterwards. And of course, there is no flight into Egypt, nor Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.

You can harmonize these traditions or argue, (or let the kids argue) that the material here is a bit contradictory as the great Catholic scholar Raymond Brown does in his An Adult Christ at Christmas.

If the class works well, it could be that your group might identify the six key facts about which Matthew and Luke agree:

  • Jesus birth is announced by an angel (announced to Mary in Luke, to Joseph in Matthew)
  • Jesus is born of a virgin
  • He is conceived by the Holy Spirit
  • He is born in Bethlehem
  • His parent’s names are Mary and Joseph
  • Even though he is born in Bethlehem, he grows up in Nazareth

I would say that it’s not self-evident that there is one single story in the tradition from which Luke and Matthew write. Instead it seems clear that either Luke and Matthew had different sources or maybe more significantly had different audiences that they were writing for. At this distance we simply can’t referee which of them might have more timeline accuracy etc., but what we can notice is what kind of interpretation they put on these six core agreed facts. For example, when Matthew does his family tree, he takes it back to Abraham whereas Luke takes it all the way back to Adam. Traditionally this is explained by the idea that Matthew is writing for Jews who recognize Abraham as the father of their race and their faith – notice how many times he quotes the Scriptures to explain what is happening in his account. Notice that he has Joseph, a male, as the central character – a dreamer, like the ancient Joseph who helped to save Israel to survive when they were under the power of the Egyptians. Luke on the other hand is writing for non-Jews and emphasizes that all humanity is descended from Adam, made in the image of God. The central character in his drama is a female, Mary, whom he will have as the one who gives birth to Jesus in the flesh by the Holy Spirit, but who will be present at the birth of the Church in Acts 1-2, whereby Jesus remains present among believers who together form the Body of Christ.


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