The Linked Parishes of Pope John XXIII & Christ The King
2020-21 Faith Formation Program
Session 3 - Christmas / The Infancy Narratives
The Infancy Narratives
The INFANCY NARRATIVES in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew are stories related to Jesus’ birth, and early childhood.
The INFANCY NARRATIVES in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew are stories related to Jesus’ birth, and early childhood:
Luke Chapters 1 and 2
Matthew Chapters 1 and 2
Both stories begin before Jesus is actually born. The authors (Luke and Matthew) wanted to establish from the start, that Jesus was the Messiah who was long
awaited for by the Jewish people for centuries. Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies
(prophecy means truth revealed) concerning a deliverer who comes from God.
The word, “Messiah” means the anointed one of God who saves or delivers the Jewish People.
In Greek the word “Christ” means the anointed one or messiah.
Life in Judea 4BC/6BC
There are numerous accounts in the Old Testament, centuries before Jesus’ birth, where the Jewish people, were often conquered and oppressed by foreign entities. Often these difficult times lasted hundreds of years, and caused them great sufferings. They looked to God to assist them and deliver them from their captors.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, this was still true; the Roman Empire ruled over great areas of the known world, including the area we now identify as the Middle East.
In addition to the Roman regulations, many Jewish rulers also put many physical, emotional and spiritual burdens upon the common Jewish people. So when Jesus was born, Judea and all of Israel were not exactly easy places to comfortably and freely live. Many eyes, for different reasons, were always watching for any perceived threats to authority and established laws and regulations; and there were many.
WHY ARE THERE 2 DIFFERENT STORIES OF JESUS' BIRTH IN THE BIBLE?
Many times the details of Jesus’ birth and those leading up to His birth, are either omitted, combined, or shortened, resulting in just one story. This enables great Christmas Pageants! But there are major differences. The authors, Matthew and Luke came from different backgrounds and perspectives.
MATTHEW traditionally is thought to be an actual eyewitness and accompanied Jesus during much of His ministry. His focus was to spread the Good News that God had entered the world, fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies, to his Jewish Community.
LUKE, on the other hand, was a follower and friend of St. Paul. St Paul encountered the risen Jesus, in a most profound way. Luke was also a physician. Traditionally, St. Luke is thought to have known, or at
least spoken to Mary- Jesus’ mother. His focus was to spread the Good News that Jesus, is the universal savior- for all people, not just the Jewish Nation.
Not all four Gospels have the Infancy Narratives…
The authors of each Gospel had their own focus, literary style, and purpose. The real BIG story in all FOUR GOSPELS was proclaiming Jesus’ divinity and the Resurrection! Even the Catholic Church, up until the Middle Ages did not place much emphasis upon Jesus’ birth. It was all about the Resurrection. Even today, Easter is celebrated more solemnly than Christmas…
Let's Start With
Have you ever asked your parents and/or grandparents about their lives when they were younger; or, maybe about other family members who lived a long time ago?
People really like to know about their ancestors. Today there is the ability to trace a person’s family history using archived records, photos, documents, and much more. Computer programs such as, ‘Ancestry.com’ and DNA ancestry testing services also enables people to connect with known and unknown relatives of long ago.
Why are people so fascinated with this? Most people want to know where they came from, who they are related to, and what happened during these peoples lives. It helps us to know who we are: why we may have certain behavioral and physical traits. It may also help us to reconnect to and understand our ancestral cultures, and lineage.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (1: 1-17) the ancestry of Jesus is presented. It is a list that goes back 14 generations: It begins with David and ends with Josiah, all great Kings and rulers of Judah and Israel.
Why is this important?
It establishes that Jesus is a descendant of David, the most revered of all the Kings. The prophets of the Old Testament spoke that it would be through David’s kingly descendants that salvation would come to the world.
Matthew is therefore suggesting that Jesus is no ordinary person: Jesus is the King of Kings, He is Emmanuel- God with us!
Has someone ever revealed to you a secret or given you information that left you feeling confused, scared, and or even angry?
This is what happened to Joseph. At some point in their relationship, Mary reveals to Joseph that she was pregnant with Jesus. However, this was no ordinary pregnancy. She also told Joseph that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that she is found to be with child.
How would you react?
Would you believe her?
This was a very serious situation because Joseph and Mary, although married had not finalized their marriage. They were not living together.
Joseph was a very kind and faith- filled man. He followed the Jewish law.
Under Jewish law, if Mary’s pregnancy had been exposed within the community, Mary would face extreme punishment, such as exile or even death.
Also Joseph had to consider his own reputation and possible consequences. So Joseph decided that the best thing to do was to divorce Mary quietly…
But not so fast….
Joseph had a dream and God intervened, “ The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And so Joseph took Mary as his wife and became Jesus’ earthly father. Also, in the quote did you notice how the angel referenced, “Joseph, son of David”? It was through Joseph that the line of salvation was to be fulfilled.
In Matthew there are no details about Jesus’ actual birth. It only suggests that Jesus was born, and Joseph was present: "When Joseph awoke (from his dream), he did as the angel commanded him and took (Mary) his wife into his home." Matthew 1: 24
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Now Let's Look At
The Infancy Narratives in the Gospel of Luke will be a lot more familiar to you. They contain the settings, people and events that are referred to most frequently, when talking about Jesus’ birth- Christmas
Like, Matthew, Luke begins with events that occurred before Jesus was actually born. The stories may be different, but they have the same purpose as Matthew, and that is to establish that:
1. Jesus was the fulfillment of all the prophecies in the Old Testament (that a deliverer would be sent for the Jewish people, and that Jesus is from the house of King David);
2. That Jesus is of divine origins (He is God coming to Earth)
3. That nothing is impossible for God.
The Infancy Narratives of Luke and Matthew is an introduction of a love story, wherein God desires more than anything else to show His love for His children by becoming one of us. It is through the INCARNATION (God taking on our humanity) that God is able to save us from our sins. It is through Jesus, that humanity was able to physically touch, hear, and see God. God is no longer a distant God, as portrayed often in the Old Testament, He is God that walks and talks with us and knows us intimately.
The Gospel of Luke continues with the story of the announcement of St John the Baptist’s miraculous conception and eventual birth
St John the Baptist is an important person. He is the last of the great Jewish prophets but he is also regarded more highly than those prophets. He was sent by God to prepare the Jewish Nation for the coming of Jesus.
He is a bridge between the old and the new: The Old Testament prophets and ways of thinking and Jesus’ (God) entering into the world for our salvation and new ways of thinking.
You are probably more familiar with the Angel, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary concerning the conception and birth of Jesus. This is referred to as the ANNUNCIATION. When this happened Mary was only about 13-15 years old!
When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, she lived in Nazareth. She was betrothed (married, but did not live with her husband) to Joseph. Luke points out that Joseph was of the house of King David. This establishes once again that the OLD TESTAMENT prophesies concerning the connection of King David with the Messiah (savior); it also establishes Jesus’ kingly authority and divinity.
The angel’s greeting to Mary, “HAIL FAVORED ONE! The Lord is with you.” shows that Mary was special and chosen to be, Jesus’ mother and should be honored.
Like, Zechariah, Mary is troubled and frightened by the angel’s appearance and message. The angel Gabriel, responds her to, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” Gabriel continues to tell Mary that she will bear a son, and will name him Jesus.
Mary replies, since she is a virgin, “How can this be?” The angel, once again reassures Mary, and tells her that, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the MOST HIGH GOD will overshadow you.” The angel then points out that her cousin Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy. Elizabeth was thought never to be able to bear children!
Nothing is impossible for God! God overcomes all challenges! Mary accepts Gabriel’s message, with the reply, “Behold I am the handmade of the Lord. May it be done to me according your word”.
The Annunciation by Gabriel to Zechariah and Mary have very similar traits, but there is one key difference: John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit, but is human on every level.
Jesus, on the other hand, is presented as, “The Son of the Most High God”. In other words Jesus is God who is entering the world through Mary’s “ Yes! He is both God and human. (INCARNATION).
Do the words of the angel Gabrielle sound familiar to you?
How about Elizabeth's response when Mary visited?
These two stories, the ANNUNCIATION and the VISITATION form the basis for one of our most cherished prayers
This is the birth narrative that you should be the most familiar with. It starts out with the proclamation of Caesar Augustus that the entire world, AKA Roman Empire should take part in a census.
Scholars believe that a Roman census was done regularly at different times in different provinces. So, to fulfill the census requirements, Joseph travels with Mary, who was very pregnant with Jesus, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Why Bethlehem? Because Bethlehem is associated with King David, and Joseph belonged to the descendants of David.
No Room To Stay
The custom at that time was one of hospitality; of welcoming guests into one’s home. The homes were constructed in such a way that there were multiple levels. The upper 1-2 levels were where people lived, and the bottom level is where animals were kept.
Some of these houses actually had as their “basements” cave like stables.
It is possible that Joseph and Mary were given that part of the house because there was no room, and to give privacy during the birth of Jesus.
When you think about the shepherds, how do you envision them? Shepherds in ancient Israel, were not looked upon very highly. They were needed to ensure that the flocks were kept safe. Most of the time they remained with the sheep in the fields. Shepherds were among the poorest of the poor, looked upon as outcastes because of their lack of cleanliness, their lifestyles did not always follow the Jewish Laws, and sometimes they were petty criminals. Yet, they were the first to learn about the birth of the Lord, Jesus. The shepherds were the first people to see Jesus. God’s love knows no bounds. He loves all His children, even if they are poor, dirty, and imperfect at keeping rules. He wants everyone to be saved!
Swaddling clothes are cloths and bands used in the practice of swaddling, or essentially “wrapping” an infant tightly in cloth. The idea behind swaddling is that it helps the baby transition from the womb (a very snug place) to the outside world. Swaddling clothes are still used today, but with some modifications. In general, swaddling has been proved to help infants sleep better, to prevent them from scratching themselves. In ancient times, like today, a swaddled infant was safe if wrapped and watched properly. Many cultures still practice swaddling today.