The Real Story of Christmas, Part 2

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Shirlee just wanted to get through the story of Christmas. She’d just described how in Luke 1:34-37, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would become pregnant. Now, Mark was pulling out a paper. What did it say?

The poll in Part 1 gave you a few options:

  • If you guessed that it was blank and that Mark was bluffing . . . you’re wrong.
  • If you guessed that it was a cartoon of the Holy Ghost and Mary . . . you’re also wrong.
  • If you guessed it was information about those Greek gods Mark likes so much . . . you’re right!
  • If you guessed it was a comparison of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke . . . you’re also right!

Mark read from his paper:

Zeus fathered four children with Leda while in the form of a swan. This is why we now have down comforters.

Zeus was king of the Greek gods. He fathered many children, with goddesses and with mortal women. He took many forms in fathering these children.

For example, Zeus is listed as the father of record for Helen of Troy. He visited Helen’s mother, Leda, in the form of a swan!

When it came to Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete (among others), Zeus came to her in the form of a white bull.

And he even cross-dressed, visiting Callisto and seducing her by taking the form of Artemis, a goddess Callisto worshiped!

Danaë getting a golden shower from Zeus.  Greek vase, C. 425-450 BCE.

Danaë getting a golden shower from Zeus. Greek vase, C. 425-450 BCE. Image: Louvre

But most interesting of all was his paternity of Perseus, by a woman named Danaë. Zeus didn’t take an animal form; in this case, he simply turned himself into a golden shower!

Shirlee held her tongue until Mark was finished, but she was clearly annoyed. “That’s all well and good, Mark, but that’s just made-up stories by Greeks. We’re talking about the Bible here! What do your Greek fairy tales have to do with Jesus and Christmas?”

“I was just noticing how similar it is, Shirlee. Over 400 years before God got Mary pregnant by ‘coming upon her’, Zeus did the same thing by giving Danaë a golden shower! And the Romans made up virtually identical gods, calling Zeus ‘Jupiter’, but simply transferring everything about him to Roman names and places!”

“It is pretty much the same story, Shirlee,” added Ginny. “Why do you think that is?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Shirlee considered the possibilities, furiously trying to come up with a good answer. She hoped it would seem like a dramatic pause. “What, nobody?”

The kids waited, expectantly.

“Satan is the father of lies, children. He knew Jesus was coming way back when Isaiah was being written. So naturally, he could make up similar stories in other cultures, so that when it happened for real, everybody could say that the Christians were just copying the Greeks. And the Romans. And whoever else.”

“If you say so, Shirlee,” Mark chuckled.

“Anything else on that paper of yours, Mark, or may we continue?” Shirlee’s glare suggested the rest of the paper would best be blank.

“Actually, yes. I wrote out those genealogies, you know, from Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Which one did you say was more accurate?”

“As I said earlier, Mark, the Word of God is inerrant.”

“Then how do you explain them being different? The entire list from David to Joseph is different. They diverge all the way back at the first generation after David — Matthew says ‘Solomon’, and Luke says ‘Nathan’.”

“That’s been explained as a ‘levirate marriage’, Mark. When a man died, his brother (or another male relative) was expected to marry his widow and father children with her. Africanus explained it in the 3rd Century, using some records not found in the Bible but kept by the ‘Desposyni‘, relatives of Jesus.”

Mark was unconvinced. “So instead of any official records, this Africanus relied upon the records created by Jesus’ own relatives, after the fact, when they were leaders of the early Christian Church and had a vested interest in proving his descent from David?”

“Exactly! I’m glad you understand.” Shirlee was ready to get back to the story. Mark wasn’t done.

“But what about this? Matthew has 25 men named before Jacob, Joseph’s father, and Luke has 39 men named before Heli, Joseph’s father.”

“More levirate marriages, I expect. Can we continue the story, please?”

Mark sat back in his chair. “Sure, let’s get back to it.”

At long last, Shirlee turned back to her Bible.

Mary, excited that God was going to impregnate her, rushed to visit her cousin Elisabeth. When she got to the house and called out to Elisabeth, the baby (to be John the Baptist) kicked in Elisabeth’s womb. Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and began to prophesy, asking why “the mother of my Lord” should come visit?

Mary, as might be expected, gave a long monologue about all the great things God had done; not just for her, but for all Israel, and how God also exalts the weak and puts down the mighty and the proud.

Mary then stayed with Elisabeth for three months before going home. (Luke 1:39-56)

“Why didn’t she stay for John’s birth?” Ginny was always quick with the numbers, having immediately realized that if Elisabeth was in her sixth month when Mary arrived, and Mary stayed three months, then Elisabeth must have been about to deliver when Mary went home.

“The Bible doesn’t say, Ginny. Perhaps she missed her parents.”

Elisabeth had her baby, a son. On the eighth day after his birth, they came to slice off part of his penis, a ritual called ‘circumcision’. Those gathered wanted to name the boy Zacharias, after his father, but Elisabeth insisted he should be named John — not a name associated with her family.

Since women’s opinions were not considered terribly important, they asked Zacharias, who wrote on a tablet that “His name is John”. Everyone gathered marveled at this agreement in name-choice.

Immediately upon naming the child John, but following the crowd’s amazement at the agreement upon name-choice, Zacharias was suddenly able to speak again, and he praised God. Everyone was scared of this strange happening, and told the story all around the region. (Luke 1:57-65)

“Just to be sure I have this all straight,” Mark began, “Mary and Elisabeth were cousins, yes?”

“That’s correct, Mark,” responded Shirlee.

“And the great miracle in John’s birth, other than Elisabeth being a bit long in the tooth to bear children, was that Zecharias claimed to be unable to speak until after the child was born, yes?”

“Claimed? The Bible says he couldn’t speak.”

Mark moved his mouth silently and frantically waved at his throat.

“What are you doing?”

“I can pretend that I can’t speak, too. And then I can start speaking again whenever I decide it’s time — like when the prophesy I made up comes to pass.”

“Gotta admit, that’d be pretty shrewd, Shirlee.” John hadn’t said much all day, but he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to refer to God loving the ‘shrewd’ liar and thief, Jacob.

Shirlee glared.

“And so then Jesus and John would be cousins as well, right, Shirlee?” Mark wasn’t done yet, apparently.

“Yes,” groaned Shirlee. Couldn’t she just finish the story?

“So all these miracles are all happening in one family, and this one family’s records are what’s used to establish that Jesus was not actually descended from David but that his adoptive father was. Right?”

“That’s correct. God works in mysterious ways, Mark.”

Shrewd ways, one might say, Shirlee.” Mark sat back, satisfied by Shirlee’s cop-out that she didn’t have a ‘real’ answer.

“This is boring,” whined Ginny. “When do we get to the three wise men? And the presents?”

“If Mark will let me tell the story, we will get there soon, Ginny.”

“Three?” Mark grinned.

Shirlee turned back to her Bible.

Zecharias, now able to speak again, was filled with the Holy Ghost and praised God and prophesied about how God had visited and redeemed his people, and save them from all their enemies. He declared that John would be called prophet of the Highest, and that he would go before the Lord to prepare the way and teach people about salvation through the remission of sins, and the mercies of God. (Luke 1:67-80)

“Wow,” said Mark. “When it comes to the Holy Ghost, this family sure is full of it!”

Shirlee glared over her reading glasses, pointed to the supply closet, and returned to her large-print Bible.

“Shirlee, I need to go,” said John, in a tone that let her know he was serious.

“Fine,” said Shirlee. “Let’s all take a short break and stretch our legs. You’re lucky it’s a long service . . . we just may get through this story today after all!”

Don’t miss Part 3!

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