By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 24 December, 2017
St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
It is SS Luke and Matthew who record the story of the birth of Christ that we recall in the crib scene which St Francis created in a cave in Umbria, Italy as part of his mission to rebuild the Church. We take the crib scene for granted but I have been wondering what a religious Jew of the first century would make of it.
St Luke says the birth occurred in the reign of Caesar Augustus who was imposing a poll tax on the Jewish people requiring each family to return to their family village. Joseph was of the household of King David whose was born in Bethlehem, while Mary was of the household of Aaron, the first High priest appointed by Moses.
Mary was unmarried when she conceived Jesus and according cording to Jewish understanding, an extra-marital pregnancy could only be as a result of rape, fornication or adultery. A pretty logical conclusion, so either Joseph was responsible, had been paid off by Mary’s family to accept responsibility or was covering something up. Something didn’t add up.
There are shepherds, or rather hired sheep keepers in the stable who claimed to have seen and heard angels singing about a birth and peace on earth to men of goodwill. Sheep watchers were known to be heavy drinkers to protect themselves from the cold. They were wheelers and dealers and petty criminals. They were unreliable and on the margins of society. Together with women, they were not allowed to give evidence in a court of law as witnesses. So is their story about angelic choirs credible?
Foreign wise men turned up as visitors. Jews didn’t trust gentiles at all, so is their story of a wandering star credible, especially when this explanation to King Herod triggered the slaughter of innocent babies?
From a Jewish perspective, the birth scene described in the gospels edited by St Francis, is something of a joke.
So what are Luke & Matthew trying to tell us? Change your Jewish spectacles for Christian ones. Caesar Augustus was the human Roman Emperor who declared himself to be divine and the High Priest. The gospels tell us that the child Jesus is in fact divine and humbled himself to share our humanity. He is king and priest through David and Aaron and offered himself as a sacrifice for our salvation. Jesus makes God available, accessible and approachable for us.
Mary and Joseph are not refugees from a sexual scandal in Nazareth. Both of them submitted their will to that of God, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary to bring new life out of a virgin womb, just as he breathed on the chaos in the creation story in Genesis and created life. Mary is not just the mother of the incarnate Son of God and the archetypal disciple, but the spiritual mother of us all, keeping us close to Jesus.
Unreliable witnesses may have announced Jesus’ birth and resurrection, but truth does not depend on who speaks it.
The Wise Men appear and some artists have portrayed them as kings who brought kingly gifts. These men represent the worldly power of intellect and wealth, yet St Matthew tells us that they fall down and worship the Christ child before they offer their gifts. They make it clear that the world is subject to its Lord and our gifts must be offered to him, no matter what illusions worldly men may entertain.
The prophet Isaiah chastised God’s people when he said, “The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s crib, but Israel does not know and its people do not understand” (Isaiah 1v3). These animals are in the crib to remind us that the Church of Jesus is the new people of God. Jews & Gentiles, clean and unclean, male and female, rich and poor who come together through baptism in Christ who will proclaim the Kingdom because they know that in Christ ‘God is with us.’
Look again at the crib scene, read God’s sign and recognise the truth it reveals. Live that truth and God’s favour will be yours, together with the peace it brings.
Have a Happy and Blessed Christmas
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.