Jesus and the Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

Several years ago when I was involved with the Faculty Association the administration decided to fire one of our colleagues. This person’s department colleague was on leave in Israel and so, in an attempt to get information that would help him in his struggle, I sent an international telegram to this person.

It read “Administration trying to fire X. Letter from you might help.”

What came back was an argument in favour of firing him!

Lesson: ambiguity abounds. Attached here is an attempt to read the biblical story of Jesus.

Bob Lane’s “Jesus and the Christmas Story“.

 

A Christmas Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6 thoughts on “Jesus and the Christmas Story

  1. Feliz Navidad 🙂 The story is captivating but the idea of an “immaculate” birth…born of a virgin makes me angry!: why is that so special? Why were the writers of the gosspels so against human conception? I didn’ t know there was such a claim about Plato.

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  2. Dear Laura,
    Feliz Navidad🙂!

    Thanks for your comment; I think of the virgin birth, the immaculate conception, and the miracles as literary devices. These devices are used to signal a very special person has entered the story. The gospel writers are primarily story tellers and so they reach for the contemporary means of telling their audience that Jesus is a special hero.

    I trust that you are well and happy and that 2017 will prove interesting and full of joy!

    Bob

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  3. I see… Jesus had to be special in a way that would make him special at the time.

    The story of the fig tree shows an irrational Jesus. Why would Mark want to tell this story?

    Thank you for your kind words. Best wishes for 2017!!

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  4. Consider the fig tree from a literary point of view. Jesus teaches his disciples about Endtime: “`Learn a lesson from the fig-tree. When its tender shoots appear and are breaking into leaf, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all this [a set of eschatological signs] happening, you may know that the end is near, at the very door.'” Just as leaves signal spring and summer, so do the signs of darkened sun and moon, falling stars and celestial explosions signal Endtime, when the mighty Son of Man will arrive in “great power and glory” and “gather his chosen.” Jesus goes on to say, “I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all. (Mark 13.30) Because Endtime is imminent he warns his disciples to `Keep Awake.’ The specific signs that Jesus says will be present right before Endtime also include these:

    When you hear the noise of battle near at hand and the news of

    battles far away, do not be alarmed. Such things are bound to

    happen; but the end is still to come. For nation will make war upon

    nation, kingdom upon kingdom; there will be earthquakes in many

    places; there will be famines. With these things the birth-pangs of

    the new age begin. (Mark 13.7-9)

    Some of these warnings seem to relate to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century of the common era, while some sound as if they warn of the end of history. Mark, of course, writes after the Second Temple destruction and would be in a position to know what was going to happen after the time period covered in the narrative. Prophesying after the fact is as good a “prediction” as one can get. In terms of valuable predictors these signs just will not do. They are too vague to pick out any particular time just because they pick out almost any time. What generation goes by without experiencing widespread wars, natural disasters, and famines? Taken as a literal prediction these words are just useless. But from a narrative point of view they function to warn us as readers of the impending doom of the final conflict in the life of the hero, Jesus. Such ominous signs are often found in works of art signalling a dramatic change in the fortunes of the hero. Shakespeare has celestial storms in Julius Caesar which work to heighten the tension in the play. Modern movies use thunder storms or lightening flashes whenever the bad guy is about to show up.

    “Keep Awake.” Be prepared. Endtime is approaching. Learn from the fig-tree – not only that you can tell what season it is by the growth of the tree, but also learn from that specific fig-tree, that one which one day in leaf, was the next day dead. One day it was alive; the next day it was dead. The moment of death for each one of us also is unknown. We know that we will die but we know not the hour or the day.

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  5. Again, quoting from my book:

    What is unique about this hero’s story? He shares much with earlier heroes. He performs healing miracles, but so did Elisha. He can control natural forces, but so did Moses. He can change water to wine, but Elisha could change putrid water to potable water. Jesus feeds multitudes, but others have done that also. He comes back from the dead, but Samuel was called up from the dead earlier. He teaches in parables, but Nathan did that too. Jesus walks on water; Elisha made an iron axe float on water. The miracles performed by Jesus are of a kind with those performed by other prophets. He is the word incarnate, but so was Ezekiel. He will be raised to heaven, but so was Elijah. He is thought to be out of his mind, but Samuel was often in a state of rapture. What then is unique about Jesus? Mark tells us nothing of his birth, does not mention anything about a supernatural birth at all; and though Matthew and Luke do provide birth narratives, these too are familiar to us from the birth of Isaac to the birth of Samuel. Two of the most dramatic healing miracles in Mark are found in the giving of sight to the blind man from Bethsaida and later to blind Bartimaeus. In both cases these stories come at a time when Jesus has been trying to explain something to his obtuse disciples. He asks them to recognize the truth in a story he tells them, to read his sayings as he intends them, and they fail miserably as readers. But how does one read the intention of the gods? That is the story of these stories. Jesus asks his disciples to recognize truth in his stories and they fail. After each failure a blind man is suddenly given sight and can see. “Do you still not understand? Are your minds closed? You have eyes; can you not see?” are questions Jesus asks his disciples in frustration when they are unable to understand what his mission is, what knowledge he has that they cannot recognize. One’s sympathy is with the students here. The lesson is not all that clear.

    Is the “lesson” not clear because Jesus is not a good teacher? No, he is usually patient and repetitive, only rarely chastising his students with the lash of rhetorical questions: `Are your minds closed?’ `Can you not see?’ What teacher has not used these very questions of frustration? Shortly after restoring the sight of the blind man at Bethsaida Jesus asks his disciples “Who do men say that I am?” and after getting several answers – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets – he asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies: “You are the Messiah.” Peter’s eyes are opened. He can see. The narrative reveals in its form a “truth” that it wants to proclaim: the true identity of the hero, who in most hero narratives is of humble birth, a king hidden as a commoner. All of the ocular imagery in the story functions to serve the idea of seeing the “truth” which is hidden behind or under some appearance or other and must be pierced by sight or in-sight in order to be understood. The hero must be recognized. Secrecy, one of Mark’s main themes, must be pierced at some point in the story and the hero recognized for who he really is – the recognition scene announced by Peter is consummated in the transfiguration where Jesus appears on a mountain top with the spirits of Moses and Elijah. The voice, private at the river, is now public, “This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him.” Peter, James, and John, we are told, are witnesses to this scene of the confirmation of the hero by the divine. Those who might think that Jesus is Moses are shown to be wrong for there he is with Moses. Those who might think he is Elijah are shown to be wrong for there he is with Elijah. In typical Markan strategy the truth, hidden in secrecy, is revealed to a small audience, and in the telling of that story, revealed to us as readers. This literary strategy reveals also a perception about the nature of truth. It says truth is hidden behind appearances, sometimes revealed, objective, god-given, magical, and beyond unaided humans. Jesus, who like Ezekiel, embodies the Word or Logos, is the messenger of God’s word, bringing glimpses of another level of reality to his disciples. There is a tension in Mark between this supernatural messenger and the developing man-character called Jesus. The interesting side of Mark’s Jesus is his human side: changing, frustrated, seeking, loving, talking, teaching, human Jesus. It is here that we find his uniqueness; it is here that we “see” his lesson.

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