Dignity Canada Dignité: <font color="#000080"><em>Christmas Message 2011</em></font>

Dignity Canada Dignité

My Christmas message this year is more my thoughts on the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and to remind you of what is included, or not, in each.


I’d like to start with the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Advent, December 18th. Below is the text, in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is the translation used in the Canadian lectionary:


Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."


All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

(Matthew 1:18-24)


Chapter 1 of the Gospel according to Matthew has 25 verses and I wondered why verse 25 was missing from the lectionary.  It reads as follows:


…but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


Wondering whether there was something mistaken with the NRSV translation, I checked out six other English translations and they all said essentially the same thing.   For example, two of them used the following words:


…and knew her not till she had brought forth a son: and he called his name Jesus.

[American Standard Version]


“To know” in the Hebrew bible means the same as “to have sex with”. 

For example, a part of the NRSV translation in the Sodom story is:


..and they [all the men in Sodom, (presumably 90% heterosexual)] called to Lot, “Where are the men who came with you tonight?  Bring them out to us, so that we may know them… Look, I [Lot] have two daughters who have not known a man, let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof”

(Genesis 19: 5, 8, NRSV)


I leave it to you to decide whether verse 25 affects in any way your view of Mary, the mother of Jesus. A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a scripture scholar about verse 25. He suggested that the early Church fathers simply could not imagine Mary having sex and other children after giving birth to what they considered to be literally the only Son of God. I know that some Catholics have a special devotion to Mary, and it appears that the majority of clergy do. I see the Divine dwelling in Mary and her consciousness of that Presence. Christmas is also a great opportunity for each of us to be aware of the Divine indwelling in each of us (our true selves) and in all of Creation. We are all members of a single Oneness of Love.  Only through the lens of our egoic (false) self do we see each other as separate and unrelated. 


Secondly, in bullet form below are my notes on the key aspects of the birth story as related by the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke (based mainly on the NRSV):


Matthew (Ch. 2)

·         Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, when Herod was king.

·         Some time afterwards, wise men (or, men who studied the stars) came from the East to Jerusalem and asked “Where is the baby born the king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star and we’ve come to worship him.”

·         King Herod and everyone else in Jerusalem were very upset.  He consulted with the chief priests and teachers and asked where the Messiah was to be born.  In Bethlehem of Judea.

·         King Herod met secretly with the travellers, learned when the star had appeared, and asked them to report back where the child is so that he too could worship him.

·         After they left Jerusalem, they picked up the guiding star again and it brought them to the place where the child was.

·         They went into the house where they saw Mary and Jesus, worshipped him and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

·         The visitors returned to their country by another route after God told them in a dream not to go back to Herod.

·         An angel then appeared to Joseph in a dream and directed him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape from King Herod who wanted to kill Jesus.

·         Joseph, Mary and Jesus left during the night for Egypt where they stayed until King Herod died.

·         When Herod found out that the travellers had tricked him, he was furious and ordered the slaying of all boys (children?) two years’ old and younger in Bethlehem and the neighbouring area.

·         After King Herod died, an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and instructed him to take the child and his mother back to Israel because the child would no longer be in danger.

·         When Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father as king of Judea, he was afraid. In a dream, he was instructed to go to Galilee and he made his new home in Nazareth.

Luke (Ch. 2)

·         Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone was ordered to register themselves in their own hometown.

·         Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David, as Joseph was a descendent of David.

·         Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant and, when in Bethlehem, started to go into labour.  There was no room for them to stay in the inn.

·         Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger.

·         There were some shepherds who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. A dazzling angel appeared to them, frightening them, announcing the birth of the saviour and then was joined by other angels singing praises to God.

·         When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds decided to search for the infant in Bethlehem.

·         The shepherds found Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and told them about the angelic announcement and choir. They spread the word about the child and all were amazed.

·         Mary remembered all of this and thought deeply about them.

·         The shepherds went back (to their fields?), singing praises to God.

·         A week later the child was circumcised and named Jesus.

·         When it came time to perform the ceremony of purification, required for the firstborn male, they took the child to the Temple in Jerusalem.  They offered as sacrifices a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by Jewish Law.

·         {Stories of Simeon and Anna in the Temple acknowledging the baby.}

·         When the ritual in the Temple was finished, Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee.


Timeline of Scriptural Texts

·         Life of Jesus of Nazareth ca. 4 BCE-30 CE

·         Writings of Paul ca. 50-65 CE (pseudo-Pauline epistles continued for some time)

·         Destruction of the Temple 70 CE

·         Gospel of Mark ca. 70 CE

·         Gospel of Matthew ca. 80 CE

·         Christian Jews banned from the synagogue 88 CE

·         Gospel of Luke ca. 90+ CE

·         Gospel of John ca. 100 CE

Christmas Message from Frank Testin, President of Dignity Canada Dignité

Frank Testin
Dignity Canada Dignité

Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.