NRCBR Advent Seminars 2014

Nativity by Dona Gelsinger
Nativity Scene by Dona Gelsinger

Christmas is fast approaching! Decorations are beginning to appear and we’ve even had a couple of frosts in central England. Adding to this sense of festive expectation is the news that Wednesday 3rd December will be the first of this year’s Advent Seminars at Newman University.

The story of the nativity is arguably the most widely known story from the New Testament (if not the entire Bible). For many people, especially those who do not consider themselves religious, it probably forms one of the most important foundation blocks for their understanding of Jesus and Christianity. This is perhaps not surprising, both Matthew and Luke use their accounts of Jesus’ birth in exactly this way; to introduce to the reader their presentation of Jesus and the kingdom that he us bringing.

Although complaints about the secularisation and commercialisation of Christmas have become as much part of this season as tinsel, holly and mince-pies, images of the nativity remain close to the heart of the celebration. There is something about this story that appears to be able to bridge cultures. This story about a young couple and the birth of a child, attended by donkeys, kings and angels, is something that most people can enjoy  and understand. Its message is simple and clear… or is it?

How has this story developed over the centuries? What has been added and what has been lost? Would Matthew and Luke recognise the scenes portrayed on Christmas cards and annually recreated in school plays and advertisements? Moreover, does it matter if things have been added and lost?

Starting with Matthew, over the next three weeks we will be looking at these questions. Instead of dismissing our familiar ‘Christmas story’ and trying to go back to the ‘orginal(s)’, we will take as our starting point the nativity as we know it today and we will then explore what Matthew, Luke and later traditions can add to our understanding and appreciation of it.

Just to get you into the Christmas spirit and also brush up on some Matthean cheer (…or is it?!), meet some of the coolest camels ever to appear beside the manger…

Video by Will Vinton (Claymation Christmas Special)


Wednesday 3rd December  – Matthew’s account of the Nativity (a new king is born)

Newman University (Room DW004) at 7.00pm

These seminars are open to all. There is plenty of free on-site parking.

Contributions: £4 (refreshments included) free to students and staff

4 thoughts on “The Nativity (with ADDED GOSPEL OF MATTHEW)

  1. A big thank you to Richard Goode for the fascinating seminar last Wednesday 3rd December. I was fascinated by reflections on what the Christmas Story would look like if we only had Matthew’s account. Matthew’s way of dealing with difficulties by tackling them head on fascinated me. So we have Magi and the atmosphere of dodgy magic about the place. No wonder they were turned into kings later on! We have four woman in Jesus’ family tree all of whom have doubtful reputations and then the fifth is Mary! And I loved the comment made in the evening that we have a clash of empires taking place here. The first we know about because in one way or another we all live in it. It is the empire in which power is exercised over others. Sometimes I wonder as I look at all the troubles of the world is whether the Pax Romana is the best any of us can hope for, an empire that can exercise enough power to keep the dark at bay. Is that the Pax Americana in our own day? Then I look at Matthew showing us the Kingdom of God. Not much security there but those who are touched by it come alive.
    I can’t wait for the next seminar on Wednesday 10th December!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your encouraging comment and your point about Pax Romana is really interesting Stephen; establishing ‘universal’ peace was Rome’s raison d’être and justification for their methods. As reflected in current eve of war rhetoric today, they view peace as only possible through violence and victory. So I think your point about Pax Americana is well made. This is one of the issues at the heart of Paul’s argument in setting the Kingdom (or Empire) of God against the Empire of Rome. They were both ultimately about ways in which peace is established (and maintained). Rome through violence and and the establishment of victory; KoG through non-violence (love) and the establishment of justice – distributive/restorative rather than retributive.
    Is it possible to see echoes of this in Matthew’s nativity? Herod’s brutal act (as the powerful often justify their brutality) is after all the only way to keep the peace and totally characteristic of his and Roman mindsets. It avoids the greater bloodshed of the nation. The baby in the house in Bethlehem has other ideas. Through non-violence he will also brutally die (as hinted at in Matt’s account), but – to borrow shamelessly from CS Lewis – that is where the story really begins!


  3. May I add my thanks also for this thought provoking seminar. I am no scholar, and was delighted by the welcome I received.

    I found it well to be reminded of the dual nature of the nativity. We are often so in awe and wonder at the mystery of the incarnation – at God in human flesh – that it is easy to forget the colossal powers coming into contact – and conflict. Exploring Matthew for me put the comforting, but astonishing, miracle of incarnate God’s understanding of our human condition with the awe-inspiring incomprehensibility of a kingly power that will upturn the whole concept of power itself.

    The placing of Mary in the genealogy was something I had never noticed – there was mention of deliberate inclusion of gentile and Jew, also of the brave but damaged reputation of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife. I wonder if the placing of Mary, the Jewess, at the very end here as Mother of God, alongside the questions that were raised about her unwedded pregnancy, also upturns concepts; of background, of womanhood, and of our judgements of those qualities?

    The whole thing to me made me think of Corinthians: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” What a statement of power and salvation!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Victoria and it was lovely to meet up with you.
    Yes, this whole, almost paradoxical, idea of a ‘kingly power’ that will upturn the whole concept of power runs right through Paul’s writings and then also the Gospels. As we will see in the next seminar looking at Luke, Luke emphasises this aspect even more and it is embedded at the heart of his nativity account.
    I think the fact that all four women share what you describe as ‘damaged reputations’ and Mary’s unmarried state is not coincidental. By the time Matthew was writing these four women were seen within Jewish tradition as being (to a greater or lesser extent) faithful and used by God despite their past. Within Christian tradition Rahab and Ruth were looked upon as role models. I am sure that their places within Jewish tradition was a reason why Matthew used them and by doing so laid the foundation for how we should see Mary – although, again, he is very plain in making the reader understand that Mary’s condition was not the result of sexual impropriety.
    I like your use of 2 Corinthians 5:17 – the nativity accounts are exactly that; heralding the new things are about to come!


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