Category Archives: Christmas

Myth and history in the Epiphany of Matthew 2 | Psephizo

Am I a fundamentalist for accepting that some wise guys came to Bethlehem following something in the sky, and then gave the baby some valuable gifts?

Myth and history in the Epiphany of Matthew 2 | Psephizo

Here Ian Paul et al look at the visit of the wise men from Matthew chap 2 and conclude there was a visit. But they weren’t kings and there weren’t three!

Is the account better history than Shakespeare’s play Anthony and Cleopatra, who put the lovely King Herod in charge of Judea in the first place?

It is fascinating how the Lord , Saviour and son of god Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus is tied up with another Lord, Saviour and Son of God, who dynasty has lasted a bit longer.

According to the Roman Imperial Who’s Who, Herod put down his hobbies as  – killing family members and sometimes little children.

Source: Myth and history in the Epiphany of Matthew 2 | Psephizo

Was Jesus born into a ‘poor’ family? | Psephizo

Just how poor was Jesus and his family?

So often we are told his family was desperately poor, but here Ian Paul stresses that simply ain’t true. Ian quotes this

Homelessness awaited them…Off to the stinking stable, the dank cave. Poverty does stink,

By today’s standards, including the poorer parts of Africa Jesus’ family were poor, but were of average wealth for the time.

(A little aside, we forget how much the so-called Industrial Revolution and the use of fossil fuels has enabled most people to live linger and with greater wealth and comfort. But don’t tell anyone!!)

Above all the popular myth that Jesus was poor and came for the poor is wrong. By our standards Jesus and his family were poor, but Jesus’ mission, ministry and message were for all people, whether rich or poor. His message in challenging for all.

We are all poor before God, whether we are rich or poor

P.S. I reblog Ian’s work because I find it helpful and deals with topics I’ve only dabbled in!!

Source: Was Jesus born into a ‘poor’ family? | Psephizo

Why do Matthew and Luke offer different birth narratives? | Psephizo

This is to shepherd your thoughts on the wise men of Christmas!!

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A blog (not mine) comparing Luke and Matthews’s accounts of the Birth of Jesus, one has wise men and the other has shepherds. Neither have a stable!!

Source: Why do Matthew and Luke offer different birth narratives? | Psephizo

Joy to the World, a great carol with a cursed verse!

One of my favourite Christmas Carols or hymns is Joy to the World, with words by Isaac Watts and a tune by the heavyweight composer G F Handel.
In fact it is hardly a Christmas Carol and is based on Psalm 98. Edit. My American friends insist it is not a Christmas Carol but a more general hymn! Maybe they are right, but my comments on the third verse still hold!!

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

When you compare the hymn with the psalm, it is clear that Watts dealt with the words very freely, but has made the psalm into a superb creation hymn with an implicit, but no more than implicit, reference to Jesus Christ. I wonder whether it is more suitable for the Creation Season than Christmas, but I will still use it for Christmas!!

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Verse 2
Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Recently I read an interesting blog by Albert Mohler on the hymn. Mohler is a Southern Baptist who has shoved the Southern Baptists in a more reactionary direction in the last decade. I am no fan of his, but follow him as he is significant in the USA. He is also a young earther, which does not draw me to him. His recent blog on 8/12/17 caught my attention as he discusses the much-omitted third verse of this hymn. Here it is;

Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Image

This painting by   Sr Grace Remington brings out the common symbolism of Gen 3. 15 with the pregnant Mary putting her heal on the serpent. There is no curse in this picture.

I winced as I read this, with its way of reading Genesis 3 with a CURSE afflicting the whole of Creation. I’ve written on this before and especially the influence of John Milton from Paradise Lost; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

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Mohler is very much in the tradition of Milton! His blog is found here and included at the end https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Mohler takes the typical 6-day creationist view of the Fall as historical, with Adam’s fruit-eating resulting in god cursing the whole of creation, causing thistles and predation! He then stresses that Jesus’s death on the cross not only gives redemption to humans but also reverses the effects of the curse. (not that I can see that when the local cats eat our birds or I struggle with thistles.) Many YECs use their belief in a CURSE as why they must reject all science which demonstrates an ancient earth and evolution. After all, there can be no curse if T Rex munched other dinosaurs.


There are many problems with the so-called CURSE. Why would a loving god inflict all this “suffering” on animals who had never met humans, like Smilodon or even canivorous dinosaurs and trilobites?

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis would totally agree over the CURSE

Of course, Mohler would collapse 4,560,000, 000 years into Ussher’s 6021 years  (4004BC + 2017AD when he wrote it), with creation in a mere 144 hours. More than that, however “literally” we read Genesis 3 it does not actually teach a CURSE as the language of Genesis 3 vs 14-18 is to elusive and poetical to conclude such a firm and harsh conclusion. I also reckon that it is a totally unsuitable reading for the first lesson of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. I would replace it with Ecclesiastes 4 vs 1-6.
Mohler then writes,

“Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.”

I am trying to visualise how all chemical reactions are CURSED and wonder how the CURSE afflicts the outermost reaches of the universe.
All in all, by emphasising a CURSE Mohler makes everything about Jesus Christ more incredible and rather bizarre, where Jesus seems to have been born in Bethlehem to correct the naughtiness of a pair of prehistoric scrumpers, rather than sorting out the folly and moral stupidity of the human race giving both a new and living hope and a guide for life, far better than any other way. Thus we think of Jesus Christ when we sing;

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

But I couldn’t possibly sing verse 3.

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Here’s Mohler on the third verse. i simply don’t believe a word of what he wrote!! But then I don’t think god was so miserable to inflict a curse on the whole of Creation. Thorns were there millions of years before Adam!

https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Think with me about verse three of the hymn, in which we read,
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
The reversal of the curse is promised in the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his atoning work. Implicit in this third verse is the promise of the new creation. We live in light of that promise, even as we look back to Bethlehem and as we celebrate Christmas.
But look carefully at the reference to the curse. Christ’s victory over sin is declared to extend “far as the curse is found.” What curse? How far does it extend? Where is it found?
We find the curse in Genesis, chapter 3. After Eve has eaten of the forbidden tree, and then Adam also ate, and after they found themselves facing God in the reality of their sin, God first cursed the serpent:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Then, God cursed the woman:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
Then came to curse to Adam, and through Adam to all humanity:
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
By Adam, our federal head, the curse of sin came upon all humanity. We are dust, who must return to the dust, for the wages of sin is death. All creation is under the effects of the curse. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” Adam is told.
The curse is God’s righteous judgment of sin, and the effect of the curse is death. The curse has fallen upon all human beings, first because of Adam’s sin and then because of our own. In Adam, we all sinned. In Adam, we all died.
Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.
Most importantly, every single human being is found under this curse. “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So, how can we sing about joy to the world?
Look with me to Galatians 3:10-14:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here is the gospel of Christ, the good news. But first, the bad news. All who rely on works of the law are under a curse. All humanity is born under this curse, and under the law. The congregation that originally received Paul’s letter would have understood immediately where Paul grounded his argument, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. At the end of the series of curses God delivered from Mount Nebo, we find the most comprehensive of all: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [Paul in Galatians 3:10, citing Deuteronomy 27:26]
We are born under the curse, we are cursed by the curse, and the law offers no escape. We cannot work our way from under the curse.
So where is the good news? Where is joy to the world? Look at verses 13 and 14.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. What we sinners could not and cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. He removes the curse and the power of the law to condemn us.
How? He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us. The sinless Son of God became incarnate as the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. That sinless Son of God became sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became a curse for us, by hanging on a tree, in fulfillment of Scripture.

Were Joseph and Mary ‘poor’? no, they were comfortable!! | Psephizo

So often we are told that Jesus was born into a poverty-stricken family.

There’s only one snag.

They weren’t.

By the standards of their day Joseph and Mary were moderately well off but no more. But by our standards they were poor and Jesus should have had a 50-50 chance of living until he was five.

Here Ian Paul challenges the romanticising of the Holy family as poor

They possibly lived in a house like this

Jesus' House? 1st-Century Structure May Be Where He Grew Up | Live Science

It’s a good read.

Source: Were Joseph and Mary ‘poor’? | Psephizo

You can postpone Christmas until September!

Christmas 2020 is somewhat truncated  – at least in all the trappings like parties and sale shopping.

But help is at hand Dr Ian Paul emphasises that Jesus was not born on 25th December, so perhaps the best thing to do is to postpone Christmas until September.

Ian has written a good article and especially so for those who think we Christians nicked Christmas from Saturnalia

Happy Christmas.

And above all, whenever you read this consider that baby born in Bethlehem and who he is

Source: When was Jesus really born? (spoiler: not in December!) | Psephizo

More nativity debunking ; Three surprises for Christmas | Psephizo

The way the nativity as presented is so often cloying and almost reduced to a fairy story.

Here this blog by Dr Ian Paul does his usual stuff, by wrenching us away from Christian slush and making us consider what actually happened and why it is important today.

The three things are;

The shepherds who were unpoor

The swaddling clothes – a first century babygro

The women – Mary was not alone as there were several women (probably relatives), so Joseph could get some sleep!!

Yes Jesus was real, born in areal time in a real place and is important for us today

Source: Three surprises for Christmas | Psephizo

Jesus wasn’t born in a stable—and that makes all the difference | Psephizo

Jesus wasn’t born in a stable—and that makes all the difference | Psephizo

That’s true, Jesus was not born in a stable, there no three kings on scooters.

May be an image of coffee cup and text that says "THERE WAS NO FLIPPIN STABLE MEN DONKEY INN KEEPERS WISE OR FLAPPY ANGELS WINGS! WITH OK?!"

This 2020 cartoon is as accurate as most popular renditions

No photo description available.

In previous years I’ve given my own version, partially cribbed from Ian’s previous articles.

May be art of 3 people

However as Ian Paul knows and understands the New Testament far better than I , I simply re-blog his 2020 version of “Jesus was not born in a stable”.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/away-with-the-manger/

This is not scepticism nor deconstruction, but simply trying to sort out where Jesus was born and in what type of building from the best historical evidence. This has been known for years but ignored.

It may even disturb the sensitive!!

Anyway, read Ian and see there was no stable!!

Source: Jesus wasn’t born in a stable—and that makes all the difference | Psephizo

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Source: Jesus wasn’t born in a stable—and that makes all the difference | Psephizo

Is Creation God? Can God be incarnate in Creation?

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Is Creation God?

One of the great moves by the churches in the 30 years has been a concern for the environment. That was after decades of not being bothered.

One diocese in the forefront is Oxford Diocese and they are releasing as series of four videos on Creation and our care on the environment in which the Bishop of Reading gives four short addresses on different aspects.

The first dealt with a general view of creation which needs to underpin all care of the environment. Much was standard Christian teaching but somehow she brought in the idea of God as incarnate in Creation;

“If God is incarnate in the whole of creation, can there be any separation between sacred and profane?”  

We ought to welcome her concern for creation and environment, but may question her support of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action, but this raises more than a few eyebrows.

However there are severe questions about what she said.

How can one say that God is incarnate in creation?

From 2.30 she deals with Incarnation and says the Incarnation becomes vaster with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago.

and 2.50 God poured his godself into Creation

From 3.40 uses Colossians 1 and John ! to support this

and then in 4.30f that Evolution is God incarnate

The word “Incarnate” means is enfleshed  and is used of God becoming human in Jesus, just think of the Prologue of John’s gospel read as the culmination of every Christmas Carol Service and usually the main reading at Christmas services;

And the Word became flesh and lived among us John 1 vs 14

i.e God – the Word – became “flesh” – a human.

Hence Christian theology has always spoken of the Incarnation to sum up this central belief which is expressed in the apsotles and Nicene Creeds and by theologians down the centuries – except those in the 1970s who went for “The Myth of God Incarnate”!

You could say that this video is not quite Nicene orthodoxy!

To say that God is incarnate in Creation is first a bad use of the word “incarnate” as that means “enfleshed”. I presume what she meant is that God is in the whole creation, but that would make God “enmattered”.

edit 13/10/20 I should have checked – it’s straight out of Richard Rohr Creation as the body of God. and in The Universal Christ. page13

https://cac.org/creation-body-god-2016-11-09/

To say that God is in the whole of creation is NOT the theistic understanding of God and Creation but Pantheism, where God is in all of creation. It is fair to say that the Biblical texts on creation and theologians during the last 2000 years have stressed that God is apart from his Creation.

Here we speak of god being immanent and transcendent. If He was just the latter he’d be a deistic god, who leaves the world alone – or as one atheistic wag once put it £God made the world and retired hurt.” But God is involved and present and that is immanence.

This is expressed neatly by some quasi-mathematical equations by William Tmple in Nature Man and God (p435)  

World – God = Zero

God – World = God

Ideas from Process Theology of Panentheism are attempts to express this in another way, but not all theists are convinced.

Ultimately Christianity and Judaism and Islam as THEISTIC faiths see God is separate from Creation and not “incarnate” in any sense. Islam also questions whether God can be incarnate in Jesus, but that is another question.

Christian teaching must have a very high view of creation and the Bishop is trying to express that, but falters on the use of “incarnate”, which van only mean Pantheism and not Theism. Too often creation and its value has been ignored and sidelined, so that creation is only the stage where we “work out our salvation” or lack of it. Who cares what happens to it as it will only be burnt up at the end of time!!

As Christians we need to show awe and wonder with Creation, not worship as God being incarnate in Creation would require. We should worship the creator not the creation.

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It is also absolutely vital to care and nurture God’s creation, but to spell that out would need another score or so blogs!!

But here is a brief and simple (simplistic) summary

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/gods-creation-and-the-environment/

I also think the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has something to teach us too.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/gods-grandeur-gerard-manley-hopkins/

And a chapter in a book published by the Geological society on creation in reference to geology

Genesis one for geologists

Finally Colossians chap1 vs13-22

13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—

Oxford Diocese and the bishop have responded on the diocese website

A helpful clarification…

 

What’s happened?

A number of commentators on social media have said that the core message of this film by the Bishop of Reading is pantheistic or panentheistic. Pantheism is defined as a doctrine which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God.

What does that mean, and why does it matter?

Incarnate means “taking flesh”, “becoming human”. Christians believe this happens in a unique and unrepeatable way in Christ, lifting up humanity to a unique place within the creation. Applying the same analogy to the whole of creation can be seen as blurring the distinction between Christ and Creation; that God is in everything to the same degree. In turn, people believe that if God is in everything to the same degree, then this erodes the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ.

Is that what you meant to say?

Of course, this isn’t the intended message of the film, as Bishop Olivia responds:

In the first of the videos I made on how we might understand our care for the environment, I used the word ‘incarnation’ in a very broad sense which some have found unhelpful, so here is a clarification.

The event of the Incarnation of Christ, at a moment in time and in a place on Earth was unique, unrepeatable and salvic. Through this event, as Colossians 1 puts it, we see in Christ, not only the image of the invisible God, but the fulness of God, and the whole of the created world has access to ultimate reconciliation with God.

Reading John 1 and Colossians 1 gives us a profound sense that all things are formed through God and Christ the Logos. And since the beginning, God makes Godself known in creation for the purpose of reconciliation. More than this, as we read in Laudato Si’, God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things; his divine presence ensures the subsistence and growth of each being.

I can see that the words I used had a pantheistic ring to them, which I did not intend (God and creation are not the same thing). But I think that it is helpful, in considering our relationship to our world to think about the notion that the Divine pervades every part of the universe, while clearly being above, beyond and greater than the universe.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”
– Psalm 19

 Michael responds; the cause of the confusion is using the word “incarnate”. It would be better to say God is immanent and creation is his handiwork, not his incarnation.

I would suggest withdrawing the video and re-do it avoind “incarnate” to avoid confusion otherwise the charge of being pantheistic will stick.

To say evolution is god incarnate is an odd expression and has no biblical support. I say that as a geologist with a total acceptance of evolution

It’s good to encourage debate

It’s good that there has been some vigorous debate. Done well, it shows that we care. Let’s remember too that, as Christians, we also have an essential part to play in the shape of online society. How we model good disagreement and how we interact with one another is important. Let’s make social media kinder.

 
 
 

https://www.oxford.anglican.org/care-for-creation-film-a-clarification/?fbclid=IwAR275wOa7TyzfU13h2UeL3KMxL6napkoIxk2vpe1-rgO9OPUBjuZ32l1vWU