The Nativity of Christ

A Christmas sermon preached by Jerome.

Our collection begins with the work of one of the most thorough students of the Bible in the early church, and with a sermon that may well have been preached in Bethlehem itself, in a church built to honor Jesus' birth (the Basilica of the Nativity). Jerome was a pioneer biblical scholar, who translated the entire Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into Latin, and is known for his work in assessing the validity of biblical manuscripts. After living in Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople, he worked for almost thirty five years in Bethlehem.

Most of Jerome's Christmas sermon consists of phrase-by-phrase commentary on Luke 2. Jerome's pastoral intent can be seen in his advice to the poor to take comfort in Jesus' lowly birth. He takes time to ponder each textual detail, often citing other Scripture texts that provide insight on the meaning o f a given phrase-though occasionally Jerome makes more of each detail than the text warrants (did Joseph really not touch baby Jesus?). The sermon also includes a short treatise on why Jesus' birth should be celebrated on Christmas (in light of a calendar dispute with other Christians of the time) and culminates with a summons to Christmas praise. In a move emulated by preachers o f every generation, Jerome ends with an apology for preaching too long ("We have forgotten our resolution and said more than we intended"!).

In this sermon, Jerome was the first to tie Lukes comment that there was no room found for them in the inn to the idea of Jewish unfaithfulness. This association fed into the adversus Judaeos tradition, which was used to fuel Christian hatred of Jews.

"She laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7) His mother laid him in a ...

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The Nativity of Christ
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December 2004

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