The Table Podcast

Experiencing the Christmas Story

Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell Bock, David Lowery, and Terri Moore discuss the Christmas story, focusing on the experience of New Testament characters as well as believers today.

Timecodes
00:45
What does it mean to experience the Christmas story?
1:34
What do we miss by only approaching the Christmas story historically?
2:30
Why is John the Baptist’s birth part of the Christmas story?
4:30
Mary’s experience and example of faith
10:00
John the Baptist’s experience and an example of God keeping his promises
12:52
Joseph’s experience and example of faith
18:34
Why is Jesus called Emmanuel?
23:17
The uniqueness of the Christmas story
26:50
What’s the core message of Christmas?
29:48
What was Mary’s understanding of Jesus’ mission?
36:00
Did first century Jews celebrate birthdays?
38:10
The importance of Jesus’ humanity
Transcript
Darrell Bock
This is going to be a little different cultural engagement podcast. Mikel Del Rosario, who works in the Hendricks Center with me, is going to do the interview and I’m on the other side of the table with two other experts. I’m handing it off to him, so Mikel, the floor is yours.
Mikel Del Rosario
All right, thanks so much, Darrell. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Assistant at the Hendricks Center, and I want to introduce our three guests today. The first, the man who’s normally driving this conversation, is Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament at DTS. And I also want to welcome Terri Moore, who teaches New Testament as an adjunct at the Houston campus, and Dr. David Lowery, who’s joining us, also teaches New Testament here at the seminary.

And our discussion today is going to be on experiencing the Christmas story. When we say experiencing the Christmas story, what we’re talking about is – before this discussion, we were talking about the different ways that we tend to see people talk about the Christmas story on the internet, on blogs, Christian blogs, even from the pulpit, where we either talk about how Jesus came to earth. And we talk about the Christmas story in light of what we know, the end of the story, or we’ve read the first chapter of John. Or we talk about apologetic kinds of things and showing the historicity of the gospel accounts. And Darrell, what do we miss by exclusively approaching the Christmas story just from these two angles?

Darrell Bock
Often times, we miss some of the themes in the Christmas narrative itself and so our thought had – was to discuss some of the themes actually emerging from within the narrative of the Christmas story itself and to get, on the one hand, beyond the baby Jesus coming to earth and get beyond the apologetic concerns. With that in mind, we’ve got Matthew and Luke, and –
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. We’re going to take a look at Matthew. Actually we’ll start with Luke first and we’re going to take a look at this Christmas story, experiencing it through two women and two men, Zachariah and Joseph, the two guys, and then Elizabeth and Mary, the two women. I want to start out with Luke. Luke is giving us the story mostly through Mary’s eyes and we see this theme of joy that’s running through the story. But when we think about the Christmas story, we think about well, it’s the birth of Jesus. When we start, it’s John is all over this thing. And so Terri, why is John and Zachariah – why is he even a part of this story?
Terri Moore
I think that there’s probably two different things. First of all, you see a comparison between the birth of John and the birth of Jesus, where John is better, Jesus is best. And so you’re already setting up that comparison between those two figures, but you also see John as the last Old Testament prophet, so preparing the way for the one who’s coming in Jesus. And so I think it’s very important to begin the story of Jesus with the birth of John.
Mikel Del Rosario
And so John is preparing the way. His dad, initially very skeptical. He’s like, “I’m really old. My wife’s really old, too. How is this going to happen?” What are we supposed to take away from his initial response to the enunciation of David?
David Lowery
I think the challenge for Zachariah was his prayer was answered and he was very surprised.
Darrell Bock
That’s not unusual in the early church.
David Lowery
You recall Peter standing, knocking at the door, and they didn’t recognize him. That’s the challenge early on, that the grace of God comes to people who still struggle with issues of faith, and Zachariah’s a good example of that.
Mikel Del Rosario
There’s an unusual enunciation right at the beginning of this. There’s all this unusual stuff going on. You mentioned this John/Jesus parallel. Do you see a kind of Elizabeth/Mary parallel going on, too?
Terri Moore
I think you see a little bit of that. If you look at Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and it’s certainly miraculous because she was barren and she was very old, and then you have the even bigger miracle of Mary’s pregnancy as a virgin, and the Holy Spirit involved in both of those. So yes, I do think there’s – there are some parallels there between the two of them.
Mikel Del Rosario
And there’s also the contrast of Luke says Elizabeth was really old and then we know Mary was really, really young. How young do you think Mary must have been?
Darrell Bock
If this is a standard situation in the first century, Mary is probably in the seventh grade. You’re probably around 13 or so. When I talk about this in Sunday school classes and mention this, the jaws literally drop in class. To think about someone that young processing this experience in the way this young girl has processed this experience and is able to deal with it, it is pretty amazing.
Mikel Del Rosario
And so when we put ourselves in Mary’s shoes, not knowing the end of the story, not knowing the beginning was the word and that Jesus and the whole incarnation thing is going on here, what is Mary thinking when she hears her baby’s going to be called holy, her baby’s going to reign forever? He’ll be called the son of God. We want to jump to incarnation right away typically, but what is Mary thinking, David?
David Lowery
Mary’s probably thinking in light of the promise of a coming messiah in some respects, but Mary is such a great model of faith, in that she hears what is said to her and her response, “May it be to me according to your word.” She is a great model for all of us in terms of a right response to the word of God and remarkable in that respect. There is some comparison between Zachariah and Mary as well, where Zachariah is skeptical and Mary is a person of faith.
Mikel Del Rosario
How does Mary’s being a virgin, how does that, Terri, tie in with Elizabeth’s pregnancy? She’s barren, but Mary’s a virgin. There’s a contrast there as well.
Terri Moore
I think it goes back to what I was talking about, the wonderful miracle with Elizabeth and then the – even taking it one step further with Mary being a virgin. And I think that’s a great point you made about Mary. Her question to the angel is, “But how?”
Darrell Bock
They’ve all taken Biology 101.
Terri Moore
She knows that this is impossible. There’s a little bit maybe of – a little bit of wavering, but it’s not a hmm, this is impossible. It’s wait, how are you going to do this? She believes and then she says how. And I know in the back of her mind, she is thinking of the ramifications. She’s thinking of how people are going to respond when she says this, but she still, in light of that, says, “Here I am.”
Darrell Bock
There’s a wonderful scene in a movie done about the birth years ago, in which Mary and Joseph together are announcing to Mary’s parents what’s happening. And the skepticism that the parents have about the way this birth, this impending birth is being explained. Now none of that obviously is in the bible, but it’s in the background and it’s just interesting to watch someone reflect on what this actually required of her at her age to go forward in faith and trust this. And I love the contrast between Mary’s response and what happens to Zachariah, ‘cause Zachariah of course asks this question with skepticism. And he gets to experience what I call an extended quite time.

Think about it for a while. You’re not going to speak or hear until this is all taken place and that’s exactly what happens to him. And what he learns in that process is God is going to perform his word no matter how amazing that word actually is. And that’s actually one of the narrative points, is that God is actually in the business of he’s revealed what he’s going to do and as amazing as it sounds, it’s going to happen.

Mikel Del Rosario
No matter how unusual, no matter how impossible it seems, God’s going to get his will done through miraculous means. And so as we’re thinking about Mary and Elizabeth, now we’re moving into this meeting that they have. What’s unfolding in this meeting as John leaps in her womb and then she blesses Mary? What do we see unfolding here?
Terri Moore
I think the text shows us Elizabeth filled with the spirit and obviously John recognizing what’s happening when Mary comes to here. And so you see Elizabeth blessing Mary and calling her immediately the mother of my lord. And that seems to be Holy Spirit revelation on her. And then you have Mary responding with her song and we’re talking about God is going to accomplish what he said he’s going to accomplish. The angel tells her your son will be Messiah. Your son will reign forever and she immediately sings this song and declares that to be a fact basically, even though the baby is still in her womb. Her faith is so strong that she knows what is coming and proclaims it as fact.
Mikel Del Rosario
It really is an awesome example of faith for us that we see Mary risk being marginalized. She risks being thought of with suspicion and yet she says let it be, just like you said. Let the Lord’s will be done in my life. As we now think about John the Baptist’s birth, I want to read this passage from Luke 1 ‘cause Zachariah can finally talk again. He and Elizabeth call him John, and people are like, “Hey, that’s not a normal thing to do ‘cause nobody’s named John.” Everybody hears about it and they go something unusual is going on here, and then he prophesized. And so I just want to read a portion of that prophecy. He says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago.” Now David, I’m going to pitch this one to you ‘cause there’s David all over the place here. And what does Zachariah get, at least at this point, what’s he get now that he’s in a different place from when he started?
David Lowery
I think he’s responding now to his reflection maybe on what the scripture has promised and looking at the fulfillment of some of the promises which have been given, and the experience then of seeing God at work through him and through his family, and the anticipation of what God is going to do for the people of Israel through a person like John the Baptist, who comes and preaches to them.
Mikel Del Rosario
God’s keeping his promises. This is a running theme through this whole thing.
Darrell Bock
Sometimes the English translations obscure what’s going on here. There is the interesting idea of the visit that’s running through the language of this passage. There is the visit of God that redeems his people at the beginning of the passage and the coming to help idea, and then there is the visit at the end of this hymn, in which there’s a morning dawn coming that’s a light coming out of the midst of darkness. Which is interesting actually, parallels also what Matthew ends up saying about the birth of Jesus, said in very different ways. The scripture in Luke is in the language of the characters. The scripture in Matthew is in these notations, narrative notations by the writer, as certain events are happening. They’re both appealing the scripture, but in slightly different ways and – but both of them are woven with the idea of this is something God has planned to do. This is something he has spoken about and revealed to us, and now it is happening.
Terri Moore
And that’s the source of Mary’s faith, too, is what she knows about scripture and what she knows about God from scripture. It’s not just a sudden revelation she has. It comes from what she’s been taught and what she’s read about what God is going to do at 13.
Mikel Del Rosario
There’s a pattern here. God fulfills his promises all along and it’s just going to keep going no matter how unusual things have to end up being for him to accomplish his purposes. Let’s turn to Joseph now and his experience with the Christmas story. We looked at Zachariah. We looked at Elizabeth and Mary. Now through the eyes of Joseph, Luke says that Caesar Augustus ordered this sentence and that’s why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem. And Joseph went there ‘cause he was from the house and the family of David. Now what does it mean in terms of David or in terms of Jesus’ family roots that, again, David would have this messianic thing all over the place here? I’m going to pitch that to David again.
David Lowery
This is a theme, too, in Matthew’s gospel. As he begins, he highlights the fact that he – Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham. And Joseph then is portrayed as a fellow who is a righteous person and he finds that Mary is pregnant. And so he does what he thinks a righteous person should do, and that is follow what the scripture says with regard to separating himself from a woman he believes to be unfaithful basically in this betrothal period. But God in his grace, again, sends an angel to Joseph and Joseph is a model, too, of obedience and faith because he accepts what the angel says with regard to Mary and takes her as his wife. The human characters all struggle in some sense with believing that this is really how God is doing what he’s doing, and yet are shown to be submissive to his will and obedient to fulfill what they’re called to do.
Darrell Bock
I think about this and I think about if you’re in the PR meeting in which the marketing firm is designing how should we introduce the one who’s going to be the savior of the world into the world and what kind of campaign should we put around it, what we get in the gospels is not exactly probably what a PR firm would design. We’re tucked away in a far corner of the Roman world on the very edge of life. We’re tucked away in a situation in which the birth is very, very modest. It’s not in a castle or in a fortress or something like that and you see all – born to very normal looking people, if I can say it that way. They do have this regal lineage, but there’s – but they’re very normal people. And so there’s a commonness to all this that’s pretty amazing when you reflect on it.
Mikel Del Rosario
If we think about him going back to this ancestral home and there’s relatives, there’s all kinds of people there, the place is probably packed out, where do you think – Terri, where do you think Jesus was actually born in this setup?
Terri Moore
I think we could sometimes have this picture and I have the nativity scene my children play with and it’s a nice barn. And some people think a cave, but we also know that sometimes houses had an upstairs where people lived and maybe a downstairs open area where the animals were. And that’s maybe a likely place where Jesus was born. Maybe because there wasn’t room upstairs and because it was busy, but also maybe a little bit of privacy when Mary realized what was happening. But still a place where animals ate and slept and did other things.

Did not smell very well and not as sanitary as we would like, and a lot of my research has been on childbirth in the ancient world. And so we talk about Mary and the excitement of having a child, but it actually was also very terrifying, especially as a 13 year old. The death rate for women in childbirth, it was astronomical. And many times, especially pagan women, would ask the gods for salvation through childbirth because it was terrifying. It was exciting like it is today, but a much more scary proposition than it is today, I would think. And then those circumstances probably heightened her fear. At the beginning, when Gabriel said the Lord is with you, I’m sure she was probably repeating that in her mind as she birthed her child in a place where animals lived.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s a great, great insight. We have no space up in the _____ or the upper room, and so probably down with the animals is where they were. Again, we have this humility that’s going on, humility and royalty juxtaposed together. Let’s turn to Matthew now ‘cause Matthew gives us the story through Joseph’s eyes and in this case, we see why more – one gospel and then we have another gospel of why it’s better to have more than one gospel ‘cause you’ve got different camera angles on the same thing. And here we have this theme of tension more than joy that’s being pushed through in Matthew.

And I just want to read a section from the opening of Matthew. This is where the angel tells Joseph don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The angel even says he’ll save his people from their sins and we want to think about what is going on in Joseph’s head when he hears this, so let me read this section. This is Matthew 1:22. “All this happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled. Look, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel, which means God with us.” Matthew is explaining this Old Testament background now. Again, we right away want to go to incarnation, but what is the reader thinking? What would people in that day think?

Darrell Bock
The evocation of Isaiah obviously is the evocation of the presence of a signed child and obviously it’s designed to support the idea that a virgin birth shouldn’t catch us entirely by surprise. But here’s what I think happens at Christmastime that’s worth reflecting on. Because the virgin birth itself is so controversial to our age and time, we end up spending a lot of time defending the idea of a virgin birth. We miss the end of the passage. The end of the passage says that this child is named Emmanuel, God with us. Now the fun thing is that Jesus actually isn’t called Emmanuel anywhere else in the gospels, but the signed child is God with us. And so the end of the passage is as important to what Matthew is doing and saying as the actual miraculous sign. In fact, what is a sign for? It’s supposed to point to some kind of a message and the message is the PowerPoint, if you will, is God is with us.
Mikel Del Rosario
How do we see Matthew linking this prophecy then to Mary’s situation? Because there’s the Isaiah signed child. Then there’s Jesus as the signed child. How does Matthew link those two things together, Terri?
Terri Moore
I’ll let David answer.
David Lowery
Terri’s actually – she took a class with me on Matthew. She’s an outstanding student. She knows Matthew, but anyway, I’ll answer the question. Matthew uses a series of prophecies to show the way in which the events associated with Jesus’ birth have worked out in accordance with the plan of God. And he ends his gospel with Jesus’ word to his disciples, that I am with you right to end of the age. The Emmanuel reference that begins is also affirmed in a somewhat different way at the end of the gospel.

And Matthew also shows that the coming of Jesus into the world was fraught with danger, opposition. He illustrates how the magi, the gentiles are responsive to Jesus, but the religious leaders and Herod, the king of Israel, were opposed to him. You have this theme of joy on the part of the magi, but fear and animosity and opposition on the part of the people of Israel. And Matthew also includes the slaughter of the innocents, the death of those who were in Bethlehem, and he sees it as, in some sense, a foreshadowing of the kind of opposition and misery and sorrow that will come to the people of Israel because they too, for the most part, will end up rejecting Jesus as their messiah. These twin themes of joy, but also fear and sorrow run through Matthew’s presentation. And his use of scripture is the word of assurance to readers these things happen in accordance with the plan and purpose of God. And even though they may look like happenstance, they are what God intends and we can be confident of his purpose as being achieved.

Mikel Del Rosario
This is really a very unusual story when you try to put yourself in the context of people who don’t know the end of the story.
Darrell Bock
I think it’s an interesting thing to see how that tension works itself out. That Jesus walks into a world that produces a choice and there are themes of joy that surround this child, but there are also themes of real tension that surround this child. And the scripture doesn’t walk away from either of those. It has them interwoven and I do think there’s a beauty in having multiple gospels telling the story from different angles in different ways. Mark doesn’t even mess with the infancy story. He leaves it completely blank and John goes to a completely different plane. From the first verse, you know what’s going on in terms of the fullness of the story. But what I love about Matthew and Luke is they show the humanness of what God is doing for us, and that happens and it generates both joy and tension.
David Lowery
It also prepares the reader for the fact that Jesus is going to be opposed in his ministry and he is going to come to an end in accordance with what he told the disciples. He is going to be rejected. He is going to be killed. What Herod tried to do at the beginning, ultimately the gentile Pilate does at the end. But in both cases, it’s in accord with the purpose and will of God. Jesus tells his disciples and he quotes a text from Zachariah that the shepherd is going to be struck and the sheep will be shattered in accordance with the plan and purpose of God again, but it comes at the end of his ministry, not at the beginning of his life.
Terri Moore
I think also as a first century reader reading even Luke, when you hear the angels announce good news, son of God bringing peace being the savior, those were also things that were said about Caesar. And so it’s almost like in Luke, there’s music in the background foreboding you. Whereas Matthew is more explicit about the dangers and the tensions for the child, if you’re listening, in Luke, you can hear that – you hear Mary proclaiming he’s the king, which means Herod is not and Caesar is not. There’s that foreboding in Luke also of there’s going to be conflict and then Simian, who, at the end, when he sees Jesus in the temple, is excited to see him, but also then tells Mary, but he’s going to be opposed. And so you have that in both of these gospels.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, you do have the tension in both of the gospels and the interesting thing about that, the tension and the pressure and the foreboding that you get about who Jesus is, is you have some surprising elements. We call Matthew the Jewish gospel and yet it’s the magi who really senses what’s going on at the birth. These are gentiles. These are gentile astrologers, for lack of a better description. They’re stargazers and so apparently the horoscope page was doing better than the reading of the scripture. There are surprises in the midst of the story that are amazing and yet the message that’s coming across loud and clear through the use of the scripture, the way in which that scripture is woven through the rest of the story is God is going to perform his word. And isn’t it amazing that we get to be a part of this drama, that we’re in the story?
Mikel Del Rosario
There’s this joy and tension that’s juxtaposed. There’s humility and royalty that’s juxtaposed. There is the other one. What’s the other one that was –
David Lowery
You have God’s faithfulness.
Mikel Del Rosario
The theme of God’s faithfulness. Oh, and then the fact that we have Jewish people or people living in the Jewish area who are opposed to Jesus when we have the gentiles who are actually responding. Kind of showing us, foreshadowing that this birth is not just for Israel. It’s for the nations too, somehow. And we do have some microphones out in the audience, so if you would make your way to a microphone if you have a question. Go ahead and do that right now so that you can ask a question of one of our guests. If we were to take a look at the Christmas story in both of these things and put them together and compare and contrast them, what’s one closing Christmas message that you think somebody could integrate into a Christmas message on the birth narratives?
Darrell Bock
I think the thing that strikes me about it is I really love – there are two scenes that I love out of Luke. One is when Mary and Elizabeth get together, and everything’s all jumbled up ‘cause Elizabeth is the older. Mary’s the younger and yet the respect that is communicated is communicated from the older to the younger because of the child that Mary bears. There’s a reversal that’s going on there and there’s such a sense of humility about being a part of this story, about being included in the drama that I think is tremendous.

And then the other one that I really have fun with and I always want to play the music to Fiddler on the Roof in the background when – in this scene is the scene where they name Jesus in Luke. And they use a name that doesn’t have any family precedent or whatever. All the people in the audience who have [musical sounds] going in the background go wait, you can’t name this child this name. There’s no precedent for this. And yet what they both learned in the quiet time that Zachariah had is we’re going to obey the lord. The lord gave us this name to name this child and we’re going to do it because the theme running through the events that Luke is presenting is God will perform his word and his word is worth responding to and embracing. We have the humility on the one hand of what it is that we’re experiencing, that we get to be a part of the drama. That’s actually part of the joy of Christmas, is that we’re part of the drama. Every one of us in this room is a part of the drama. And the other is the recognition that God will do what he says.

Audience Member
This is regarding way far forward during Jesus’ ministry when his mother and his brothers were coming to him. And it’s the part where he said, “Who is my mother? Who is my brother?” During that time, what would be the reason why they would be going to him? Because despite the knowledge that the angel came to Mary saying that Jesus will be the savior, what – at that time, did she think of a physical salvation as in all the other messiahs that came before and freed the Israelites from each oppressor from their own respective time? Were they also expecting Jesus to be the person to rise up against the Romans and free Israelites or did she actually understood that it was a spiritual salvation at the time?
Mikel Del Rosario
Who wants to take that?
Terri Moore
I think Mary was like other Israelites and she had expectations of the Messiah. She expected him to overthrow gentile rulers and Jesus was confronting Jewish leaders. She expected him to drive out sinners from the land and Jesus was having dinner with them. And I can imagine as a mother, she may have been like, “I don’t think he understood what I told him the angels said.”

The angels told me this and you’re acting this way, so I think there probably was an idea in her head that he was not meeting the expectations that she had, even with the revelation she had. And so the text doesn’t really tell us how she responded to that, but I think because she’s with Jesus at the crucifixion, I think she probably got the message of what he was saying, of yes, mother, I do know what you said about me being messiah. This is what that means.

Darrell Bock
The question actually illustrates something that I think is important to get about the gospels, and that is that the synoptic gospels at least tell the story of Jesus from the earth up. And I remember a devotional one Christmas in our church and when we got up in church, and she said, “I wonder what it was like to be Mary and know that you were raising a perfect child.” And I’m sitting there in the audience going I’m not sure Mary had that thought. Mary’s expectation is this was going to be the messiah. I don’t think she’s approaching the second person, the ontological trinity level of understanding yet.

And so Jesus was doing things that were shocking. They were almost beyond messiah-ship in some ways and that scene that you’ve talked about is showing some nervousness on her part about what he is doing and how he’s going about it. I think she wants to have, like mothers might with their child, a little private strategy meeting about is this the best way to go about this. And Jesus turns around and makes the point, those who do the will of my – God’s going to do his word. Jesus knows what that word is all about and God’s going to do his thing and he’s going to do his thing through me. That’s, I think, very much what’s going on in that passage.

David Lowery
It’s a theme that runs through human encounter with Jesus in the course of his ministry. A considerable amount of misunderstanding on the part not only of his disciples, but also of his immediate family because he doesn’t fit the expectation in their mind as to what the messiah should be. He has to redefine it for them and his redefinition is not one they’re happy with. That’s the challenge.
Darrell Bock
And sometimes, the 2,000 years of pretty good PR that have come out of the church has colored the original circumstances in which we find ourselves and in which these people found themselves. And we sometimes miss the drama. I actually think it’s important for the church to learn how to tell – to retell the story of Jesus from the earth up ‘cause my contention is that’s how we all come to Jesus. None of us comes to Jesus with an inherent understanding when we were first born that Jesus is the second person in the ontological trinity. If you came to Jesus that way, I’d like to meet you after the hour.

Most of us come to Jesus because someone sat down or we were exposed to the word or whatever way and explained to us how absolutely unique this one baby that’s entered the world is from every other baby who’s ever entered the world. And it’s got to dawn on people. The spirit has to do a work for that to happen and sometimes I think we miss that tension, that narrative literary tension that’s in the story. And I think it would help church communicate with people who don’t have a church background to recapture how the scriptures actually do that.

Audience Member
So sort of a historical background question, but in popular depictions, Joseph and Mary are always by themselves, wandering through the desert to get to Bethlehem. But from a cultural background perspective is that likely or would they have probably had family or a whole entourage with them, do you think?
Darrell Bock
It’s an excellent question because usually if you’re making a move because you’re being asked to make a move for something like a census, which of course is the background that brings Joseph and Mary from the north to the south. The idea that you would travel just the two alone might or might not be the case. In fact, I think I saw a recent movie in which that was not the assumption and it’s – completely unrelated to the question and completely unrelated to our topic, but worth thinking about is when you do a depiction of this stuff, which means when – even when you get up in the pulpit to talk about it, you’re filling in a lot of gaps.

There are a lot of things that you assume that aren’t in the text and I always marvel at movie writers, script writers ‘cause they’re filling in all those blanks for you. And so sometimes the most basic questions – there were two floors in the house or how did they get from the north to the south? What did that trip actually involve? We don’t even think about those things and yet they’re very much a part of the story. And more interestingly, how we conceive of that may actually impact the way we tell the actual story of the things that are in the bible. It actually is an important thing to think through. That was a fancy way of saying I don’t know the answer to your question, but it sure is fun to think about it.

David Lowery
Yeah, whoever was traveling with him was also a Davidite, a member of the family of David, because they were going to Bethlehem for that purpose. It may have been a relatively small company actually of people who qualified in that regard.
Audience Member
This may sound like a silly question, but I’m not very familiar with ancient Jewish birthday parties. But when Jesus and his disciples – I’d like to think of them gathering together and him sharing his birth story with them. Was it common for them to celebrate birthdays and what that may have looked like?
David Lowery
Gentiles celebrated birthdays. Jews, as far as we know, did not. Not much recognition on the part of Jews of birthdays. Now that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t recount his experiences or at least what he was told for the disciples, but Jews, as – the exception would be Herod Antipas, who had a very infamous birthday party. But it was more Greco Roman than Jewish and so it’s unlikely Jesus blew out too many candles in the course of his life.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, no precedent. That actually raises another question and that is why December 25th? You ever thought about that question? It actually comes from a much later period. It’s designed to replace a pagan celebration in parts. We actually don’t know what time of year Jesus was likely to have been born in. Another interesting question is why is it that Jesus was born in 4 BC? How can the Christ be born before the Christ?

That one gives me my hairline.

How does that work? And there are calendrical issues in how we determine the calendar. And the first time they did it, like much math done by theologians, they got it wrong. And so they went back and adjusted for leap years and other things and the different kind of calendar that it was, and they recognized oh, there’s probably a four to six year mistake year. We have Jesus born before the Christ, on a day that we celebrate for other reasons, and that’s why Christmas falls at the time of year that it does. Just random trivia stats about Christmas.

Audience Member
Yeah, I just wanted to speak to the humanness of Jesus and why we distance ourselves from speaking of that, even from the pulpit, orators, from mothers, fathers around the fireplace, trying to tell the story of Jesus. Why we distanced ourselves from the humanness of it, from the lineage of Christ coming from actual people instead of him just plopping down on earth. Like the stories that we read about or the depictions of who he is. And secondly, I wanted to speak to Jesus being a person of color and why we distance ourselves from that as well. And where did that come from? One of your parishioners saying I wonder what it feels like to have raised a son who was perfect. How do we continue to dispel those things about the humanness of Jesus?
Terri Moore
I think those are excellent points to make. A lot of reasons why that we don’t want to talk about his humanness is that it’s hard. It’s easier to think of him as a heavenly being and there’s a lot of tradition and a lot of heresies that ignored that part of him. And I think a lot of times, we confuse perfect with sinless. I think he probably had to learn his arithmetic. It’s not a sin to have to learn some things. And so honestly, I don’t know the answer to the question why, but I think we have here a birth story that’s very physical. As women and men know who have been around that experience, that’s physical. That’s human and that’s the experience that he came into the world with.

And not seeing him as a brown man, he was a man of color. Again, that’s tradition and people painting pictures of lily white skin on Mary and on Jesus, and not recognizing the historical – this real context. If you look through these stories, there’s political references. Who was in charge at the time and what was going on in the world? We lose that context when we do – like you started, when we make it this beautiful, smooth story, instead of recognizing the tension, the fear, and the earthiness and – of what was happening in the incarnation.

Mikel Del Rosario
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 13 year old Mary painting. I haven’t seen that.
David Lowery
Most people don’t preach the genealogies either, but that would be a good place to start. You say both Matthew and Luke show Jesus descent from a variety of persons. They’re slightly different in both accounts. Matthew includes a few women, which is unusual in a genealogy. And some of them are of questionable moral character. A good reminder, again, of God’s grace in bringing together varieties of people through whom ultimately the messiah comes.
Terri Moore
And I know we’re running out of time, but one of my favorite things to do with the Christmas story is talk about what I call the pyramid of those in power in the world of Jesus, where you have Herod in Rome as his backer at the top. And then you have a retainer class of the chief priests and people who were supporting Herod and wanted to keep him in charge. And then you have all these lower rungs, the peasants, the kind of – the ones who did offensive work, like shepherds. They were unclean and then you see the announcement of the messiah and where he’s coming in. He’s coming in on the lower rungs and like we’ve talked about, the higher rungs of that power pyramid are not even – not only are they not recognizing who he is, they are opposed to who he is. They are trying to kill him from the very beginning. And so that world that then Jesus comes into with power and authority, and uses his power and authority to heal those at the bottom rung and criticize those at the top rung, that’s the upside down kingdom that Jesus is bringing. And you see it from the beginning.
Mikel Del Rosario
God is keeping his promises. Jesus has answered this world of tension and joy. And even today, we always celebrate Christmas in tension and joy. I want to thank you so much for coming to our cultural engagement chapel. Darrell, I’m going to ask you to close us in prayer.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Father, we do thank you for this season. We thank you for what it represents. You’re taking your creation which you shaped and reshaping it yet again through a savior. We are so privileged to be beneficiaries of that act many centuries ago. May we never take it for granted. May we rejoice in what it represents. May we never forget that it’s designed to address a world that is full of tension, but a world also that you’re setting aright because of the child who came. We lift up our voices in praise and say thank you lord for being a wonderful and gracious god who loved us enough to give yourself so that we may experience you. We ask these things in Jesus precious name. Amen.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a doctoral student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles for Bibliotheca Sacra, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with confidence though his apologetics ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
Terri Moore
Dr. Terri Moore holds a B.S. from Mississippi College and a Th.M. and Ph.D. in New Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary. She has served as adjunct professor in the NT department of Dallas Seminary since 2010 and is currently adjunct faculty at Criswell College and Dallas Baptist University. Her new book, The Mysteries, Resurrection, and 1 Corinthians 15, will be available soon from Fortress Academic/Lexington Press. In addition to researching and teaching the NT, Dr. Moore enjoys traveling and other adventures with her husband, Darren, and their three children, Jacob, Stella, and Alex.
Public Square
Apr 16, 2019
Gary HabermasGary HabermasDarrell L. BockDarrell L. BockMikel Del RosarioMikel Del Rosario
Resurrection Truth and Hope In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, and Gary R. Habermas discuss the truth and significance of Jesus’ resurrection, focusing on the hope Christianity...
Theology
Apr 9, 2019
J. Scott HorrellJ. Scott HorrellJustin BassJustin BassDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock
Who Is Jesus? - Classic In this classic episode, Drs. Darrell Bock, Scott Horrell, and Justin Bass discuss Christology, focusing on early texts implicitly revealing Jesus’s divine identity.