We know the Christmas story by heart. It includes the birth of Jesus foretold to Mary and Joseph, born in a manger, the shepherds’ visit, the wise men bearing gifts, etc. We depict the elements of these parts in many ways in our homes, churches, and places. And yet, every time we read the gospels to understand this story, we find new inputs. It is like gold, the more you examine, the more it shines.

This year, we will try to study some parts of the birth of Jesus through the Middle Eastern eyes. This method was introduced to the Western readers in recent years by the late scholar Kenneth Bailey. He tried in his research to understand the life and teachings of Jesus from the point of view of Middle Eastern culture where Jesus lived. I met Bailey for the first time in the early 2000s when he established the Center of Middle Eastern Christianity (CMEC) at ETSC, my former seminary. This meeting gave me motivation to develop my Middle Eastern reading to the Bible. A few years later, I wrote my interpretation of the book of Malachi from Middle Eastern View. A similar method, we will use to analyze the Christmas account which will enrich our understanding.

Jesus was born in a very different context. At that time, Jesus did not have a Christmas tree and its light and ornaments, candy canes, elves, or Santa Claus. The most important thing, he did not have eggnog! He was born in Bethlehem which was part of what we now call the Middle East. He was part of Jewish community which was an oppressed minority. He grew up in a familial culture where relatives take care of each other. How can we understand the birth of Jesus in this very different context? What does it mean to say, Joseph “was faithful to the law” and yet he broke it (Matthew 1:19)? Did the people of Bethlehem welcome or reject the holy family? What happened on the first Christmas? We will try to answer these questions and more during our three sermon-series on December 3, 17, and 24.  

During the advent, I invite you to re-read the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Come to the church with an open mind to re-discover the birth of Jesus in its original setting. Invite your family and friends to enjoy this season in God’s place. My prayer is that we may find hope, peace, joy, and love in Christ and share this good news with everyone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Pastor Ramy