Category Archives: Christmas

Jesus was NOT a refugee

Jesus was NOT a refugee

 

 

Over the last few years there have been many refugees and migrants coming to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. Some come as far as Britain. No one can fail to be touched by their plight. This year we have witnessed the Rohinga refugees from Burma or Myanmar escaping into Bangladesh, with stories of child rape as well as murder. Some girls are dressed in obviously boy’s clothes for their protection.

Image result for jesus flight to egypt pictures

Not that refugees are new, but for decades there have been vast numbers of refugees who may be stuck in camps for decades.

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Then, many in our world are gripped by poverty, both in Britain, but especially in what was called the Third World.

Most of us in the affluent and effluent West need challenging over these sufferings and there is much in the New Testament and the prophets in the Old Testament to goad us.

However one pair of arguments is very appealing to many, whether Christian or not. This is the claim that Jesus was born into poverty and was a refugee as his family was forced to go to Bethlehem and then flee to Egypt. This is the stuff of much Christian writing and sermons and is found in carols;

Mine are riches, from your poverty

It is a theme in Christian art as the Rembrandt shows

https://www.nationalgallery.ie/landscape-rest-flight-egypt-rembrandt-van-rijn

To question or challenge this is to fly in the face of so many sermons and so much Christian appeal to care for those in need, especially refugees. No one with even the weakest of morals could challenge the moral appeal of this, but is it actually true that Jesus was born in poverty and was a refugee. It is good for heart-strings and goading people into action, but is it actually true?

So what about it?

Was Jesus born in poverty?

Was Jesus a refugee?

 

If we answer “yes” to both, we can make a powerful argument for action on both fronts. But what if neither is true? Or even not quite true.

Let’s consider them with the Birth Narratives of Matthew and Luke ever present. I shall ignore questions of historicity as then would completely derail any discussion. Many use the narratives for moral arguments but hold to varying amounts of historicity or even none. I won’t consider whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem or whether the flight to Egypt took place, or Quirinius’ census. However I will consider the moral and spiritual message of the narratives and ignore historical questions.

Was Jesus born in poverty?

The Gospels are pretty lean and mean on what they say about Jesus’s home background and wealth. Joseph was a carpenter or builder, and so they asked in the synagogue at Nazareth Matt 13vs55 “Is he not the son of carpenter?” We can argue whether tekton  means builder or carpenter. It does not matter as both are artisan skills and that indicates that Jesus’s family were at least artisan and thus not in poverty. With other incidents, like going to Jerusalem at the age of twelve Luke 2 and the wedding at Cana John 2, the evidence points to being anything but in poverty. They were probably not rich, but by no means living in a state even approaching poverty. It is best to say Joseph was comfortable and probably no more than that.

The Holy Family were comfortable by the standards of their day. They did not live in a palace, but in no sense could they be called poor. Joseph and Mary would neither have clothed their family in rags or “fine raiment”.

Was Jesus a refugee?

This needs to be considered in two parts – first the journey to Bethlehem and secondly the journey to Egypt.

On the former and taking Luke’s cryptic account in Luke 2 at face value, Joseph did not flee his adopted town of Nazareth to take refuge in Bethlehem. The reason of the journey was clear. According to Luke, the governor Quirinius had ordered all to go to their home towns for the census. With the Roman authority behind it, there was no desperate flight and would have had a semblance of order. I doubt whether the journey was enjoyable, but suspect they were with others on the journey. Further the family later returned to Nazareth. The journey would not have been pleasant for Mary, but the 70 mile walk to Bethlehem would have been a Sunday School outing compared to the Rohinga fleeing from Myanmar and many other refugees in recent years, including those in the turmoil of WWII. Though that it cannot be regarded as gospel, the Proto-gospel of James written in about 150AD supports my contentions.

And so they came to Bethlehem, where undoubtedly many of Joseph’s relatives lived. It is inconceivable to go along with the traditional story and conclude they were turned away by the inn-keeper and were shunted off into an outhouse or cave. But Luke does not say that and some argue the Holy Family were given a guestroom. If Luke were right then many, but not fleeing hordes, would have made the journey

The flight to Egypt

After the magi went, they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Matthew tells us little and so the story has been embroidered by later writers. Ignoring the embroidery there was an excellent coast road through Gaza to Egypt, which would have made the journey relatively straightforward. The road was used by Roman soldiers as a main route so would have been good.

Matthew only says they “remained there until the death of Herod.” He gave no clue to where they went, but there was a large Jewish population in Alexandria. The great Jewish thinker and philosopher Philo lived there from 25BC to 50 AD. If that is where they went, there were many fellow Jews and probably kinsmen. No one would like to uproot with a tiny baby but this is nothing like the usual ghastly situation of refugees, whether we think of Ruhinga, those crossing the Med, or the many others we have read off in the last 50 years..

We may say they took refuge but were not refugees.

 

 

 

Conclusion

We can safely conclude that Jesus was not born in poverty, nor was he a refugee in the usual sense of being caught up in an enforced mass migration simply fleeing some horror.  Yes, they were forced to go to Bethlehem and then as a family had to take refuge in Egypt

If we take the New Testament picture of the holy family, we must conclude  that Jesus’s home was “mediocre” and neither rich nor poor. By virtue of being a builder or carpenter, Joseph’s family were definitely not poor, and not suffering from poverty. Joseph and Mary would not have taken Jesus to Jerusalem when he was 12  (Luke 2) if they were in poverty. Snapshots of their family life as in the miracle of Cana in Galilee (John 2) reflect an ordinary family, neither rich nor poor. Further they – and especially Jesus, were literate and knew the Scriptures. They wore neither “soft robes” nor rags.

Jesus was NOT born into poverty

So we have lost a powerful and emotional argument to care for the most deprived.

Then what?

 

What can we base our appeals for action on?

 

It is far easier to use an emotive argument like “Jesus was a refugee” than to give the straight (boring ) Christian teaching. I wonder if the appeal to Jesus as a refugee partly stems from a general acceptance of Liberation Theology, which though rightfully emphasises the need of the poor,  butfar too quickly pushes aside any concern for the rich or even the unpoor and unrich. It also moves the centre of gravity of the Gospel from Jesus Christ to the liberation stories of Exodus. I need to add here that I started reading Liberation Theology a few years after returning from Apartheid South Africa, where I acquired the nickname Comrade Mike! I found it wanting.

To base ones practice on many issues and not only the issue of refugees and migrants, one needs a basic grasp of Christian teaching in relation to ALL people, before moving to particular groups.

First is the Second Great Commandment “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” which is the basis of all Christian behaviour.

 

This crops up in so much of the New Testament eg I Cor 13.

Several parables eg Good Samaritan and Sheep and Goats lead on from this

Then, secondarily,  we have aspects of the Old Testament (which must always be seen in the light of the NT. No we don’t imitate Sisera or stone homosexuals etc) There are the caring aspects of Law (Exod 23 vs1 -9, & especially vs 9 You shall not oppress a resident alien .. For you were aliens in the land of Egypt)  and prophecies i.e forthright forth-telling of the prophets (e.g Isaiah 61 vs 1 – 2 which was cited by Jesus in a Nazareth synagogue – Luke 4 vs 16ff) and many of the prophets who were FORTHTELLING against wrong-doing and injustice  and were not concerned with FORE-TELLING.

 

However all that was enough for getting rid of slavery in about 1800  and many other things great and small, whether education, hospitals, orphans (Barnado) , Childrens Society and so many other things right across the denominations

We need to follow the example of Jesus and his teaching on love rather than making him out to be a refugee.

 

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Is Epiphany – the visit of the Three Kings – plausible?

We three kings or orient are

One in a scooter, one in a car.

So runs the schoolchild skit on the Carol.

Well they were not 3, they were not kings and had no names.

This blog by Ian Paul discusses these oriental gentlemen and comes to a conclusion similar to mine

 

 

Source: Is Epiphany plausible?

Cursed Christmas Carols; Mohler’s moanings

 

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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

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.

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/

paradiselost

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 2021 years, 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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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.

Sausage Rolls and Christmas

Sausage Rolls and Christmas

During the summer I went on a pleasant cycle ride to Silverdale and back.

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I had decided to buy some sandwiches in booths as I came through Carnforth but as I peddled up fro the Brief Encounter station I saw Greggs and decided to buy some sausage rolls. I then found a seat on the canal and started to eat them. I realisede there was no sausage meat but only ork slime – yuk. but I was hungry and needed for for my last 20 miles.

The high street chain, Greggs, thought they had a wonderful advert for Christmas; they took a crib scene and put a sausage roll in the crib. More sensitive Christians were offended, but others replied in a spirit of jest and mockery. Apart from the fact that their sausage rolls are filled with pork slime, they have attracted much ridicule. My favourite is that “Lord Jesus” spelt backwards becomes “susejd rol”

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. If nothing else it is a great illustration of the silly commercialisation of Christmas.
Commercialisation of Christmas is nothing new and goes back centuries at least as far back as the Victorians, who were always looking for new ways of making money – and writing Christmas Carols! The Victorians mixed religious sentimentalism and profit and that may make one cynical.
To remain cynical is futile and we need to see Christmas, despite all its shortcomings, is an opportunity to remind the world about Jesus. What’s the point of always complaining about early Christmas shopping deals and the rest. That reflects what many want, whether we like it or not.
One thing stays the same and that is the challenge of Jesus. Why should we celebrate the birth of some Gallilean builder’s son 2000 odd years after he was born? When we get beyond the tinsel, donkeys and Santas, Jesus has had a tremendous influence for 2000 years. Most faiths give him some recognition including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Usually they accept some of his moral teaching and reject the importance of his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ moral teaching is widely respected, particularly his emphasis on love. Thus the principles of the Beatitudes and several of his parables (especially the Good Samaritan) are widely acknowledged. However Jesus’ teaching was more than moral and also has a strong religious element which is often played down. This is his whole kingdom teaching which comes out in parables like the Sower, the Ten Virgins, The talents and the Sheep and the Goats. These are meaningless if you make Jesus only a moral teacher.To follow those one must move on the aspect of Jesus as the Messiah or Christ and consider the importance of his death and resurrection. However that is the emphasis of Good Friday and Easter.
But for the next month we focus on the birth of an enigmatic person, who, despite his humble beginnings, still influences the world today and it is difficult for any to deny his existence or the value of his teaching. We can moan at all the Christmas tat, but we should rejoice that Jesus is brought to the public mind in so many ways. It also reminds us that Britain is not as secular and godless as some claim. Perhaps Christians should spend less time moaning and more sharing their faith in Jesus.
Most of all we should see that there is something more than just Christmas and continually ask the question why Jesus is continues to hold our imaginations.