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As Christians anticipate the advent of Jesus this holiday season, they focus once more on the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Sermons will praise Mary's faith and courage. Carols will extol the holy infant, so tender and mild. Scripture readings from the evangelists will depict Jesus as the Savior and Deliverer of God's chosen people. Yet Christmas also bears a tinge of disappointment. For the most part, Christians do not share this celebration with Jews. This division preoccupied the New Testament writers, particularly the apostle Paul, who envisioned a time when many Jews will join the Gentiles in praising the name of Christ the Lord forever.

Matthew, believed to be writing to a largely Jewish audience, opens his gospel, "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1). Jesus' birth accorded with the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. And when the wise men visited from the east, they asked Herod, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matt. 2:2). Despite a different readership, Luke's gospel likewise draws attention to Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. The angel Gabriel told young Mary that her son would receive from the Lord God the "throne of his father David" and would "reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Luke 1:32-33). An angel of the Lord told the shepherds the good news that "unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). And when the devout man Simeon, who waited in Jerusalem for the consolation of Israel, saw the baby Jesus, he knew he could depart this world in peace. His eyes had seen God's salvation, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" ...

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November 2009

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