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which Mary and the brothers of Jesus belonged,' and over which the eldest of them, James, presided,can have known nothing of it; for the later Jewish-Christian communities, the so-called Ebionites, who were descended from the congregation of Jerusalem, called Jesus the son of Joseph. Nay, the story that the Holy Spirit was the father of Jesus must have risen among the Greeks, and not among the first believers, who were Jews, for the Hebrew word for spirit is of the feminine gender. The Ebionites, therefore, called the Holy Spirit the mother and not the father of Jesus.
Only think! If the birth of Jesus had really taken place under such extraordinary circumstances, announced by a messenger from heaven, and hymned in mortal ears by a ** great company of the heavenly host,” how would it have been possible that every trace of such wonders should have disappeared, that they should all have passed away, and left no recollection after them? Yet this takes place according to the Gospel; for not only is the general public entirely ignorant of these events (though the news must have spread like fire through the land, especially when the Messianic expectation was at such a height), but his own family show beyond a doubt that they had not the faintest conception of the lofty significance of the personality of Jesus. This would be inconceivable were the story genuine history. If his parents fail to understand him when he says, at twelve years old, that he must be in his Father's house ; if he himself afterwards declares that he finds no faith among his nearest relatives ; 4 if he exalts his faithful disciples above his unbelieving mother and brothers; 5 above all, if Mary and her other sons put down his prophetic enthusiasm to insanity, - then the untrustworthy nature of these stories of his birth is absolutely certain. If even a little of what they tell us had been true, then Mary at least would bave believed in Jesus, and would not have failed so utterly to understand him.
But when once we are convinced that the story is not genuine history, its emblematic meaning comes out clearly. It embodies a poetical conception and description of the person and the lot of Jesus, and foreshadows his life and work in a few bold lines and significant contrasts. Let us glance at the main figures. In the foreground stand Augustus and Jesus, — the proud Emperor of Rome, who holds sway over the world by force of arms, and the lowly son of man, the truth of whose preaching, the power of whose spirit, and whose self-sacrificing love exact submission from all men. But there is another special reason for the introduction of Augustus. The first disciples of Jesus, Jews by birth and attached to Judaism heart and soul, believed, in their narrnw national pride, that the Christ was the special possession of Abraham's chosen seed. They were jealous of their supposed privileges, and barred the entrance to the kingdom of the Christ against all who were not Israelites, unless they would first go over to Judaism. Our story enters a protest against this idea, for the imperial decree to take a census of all the world is carried out at the very time of the birth of Jesus, who is thus represented as a citizen of the world, belonging to all mankind, and not to Israel alone; the deliverer not only of his special people, but of all his brothers over the whole earth. Is not that a noble thought? And look again what deep and true feeling pervades the legend. For him, the great bearer of salvation, a brilliant career is surely held in store, and the world will give him a glorious welcome? Alas, no! There is no room for his parents; no room even for Mary, much as she needs it, in the inn. When Jesus comes into the world there is not a creature to give him a thought, or to help to supply his wants; and he is cradled in a manger. It is the foreshadowing of a life of bereavement. He will never rest, never find a home, not so much as a place in which to lay his head, until, beset and persecuted on every side, the victim of the world's fierce hatred, laden with its scornful curses, he drops his wearied head upon the cross in eternal rest! But though he comes without external display, though he bears no trace of earthly splendor, and though the superficial world sees nothing in the son of the carpenter of Nazareth to mark him off from others, yet this event that earth passes by unnoticed is celebrated with intensest joy and brightest radiance in heaven. Contrasting with the deep poverty within is the message and the song of angels without; and this sharp contrast sums up, as it were, the whole life of Jesus, — humble in bis earthly lot, majestic in his moral grandeur ; without material power, but mighty in the spirit; despised by the world, but glorified by God. The blessed tidings are brought to humble shepherds, not to the great and wise, --for Jesus himself bestowed small care upon the great ones of the earth, and was almost always thinking of the poor and simple “peoples of the land.” It was his ambition to befriend the people and console the poor. And what a wealth of noble thoughts is crowded into the angelic song itself! For the sake of this child of man God rejoices in mankind; he who is to establish the kingdom of peace upon earth has come. Surely his birth, with all its results of unutterable glory, should wake songs of praise and thanksgiving to God in hearts overwhelmed with thankful joy !
1 Acts i. 14.
2 Acts xxi. 18; Galatians ii. 9, 12. 8 Luke ii. 50.
4 Matthew xiii. 57 (Mark vi. 4). 6. Matthew xii. 48-50 (Mark iii. 33–35).
6 Mark iii. 21.
In what a clear and beautiful light this picture places all that Jesus may be to us! What artistic beauty, what deep symbolic truth pervades it! In it the Christians of the olden time tried to reproduce their own thoughts and feelings about Jesus; and the legend is the visible expression of their veneration and gratitude towards him. And though we should choose other forms in which to express our reverence for Jesus, we can fully share the affection and can rival the gratitude that inspired this old legend. It is a declaration of faith in Jesus made by the apostolic age; it is a glowing testimony to the high honor which Jesus has a right to claim, to the fulfilment in him of the hope which the noblest of our race had cherished, to the restoration in his person of the honor of human nature, of faith in human worth, and in man's calling to spotless holiness. As such we can accept it and rejoice in it with all our hearts. Indeed, when we consider it rightly, this sweet old legend of the birth of Jesus, with all its wondrous beauty, gains a fresh charm for us when it ceases to rank as history.
THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.
LUKE II. 21-39.
WHEN the time appointed by God had come, he sent
his , Law.” In these words the Apostle Paul describes the birth of Jesus as that of an ordinary man,” and, what is more, an ordinary Israelite. We too often forget that Jesus was an Israelite, not only by birth and education, but in his whole style of thought, speech, and life; that his conception of the universe and his own individual character unmistakably bore the Israelitish stamp, and that he can only be rightly understood and fully appreciated when this fact is borne in mind. It is often difficult to remember this, for Jesus had risen, at the price of many an effort and many an internal conflict, far above the one-sidedness, the narrowness, the pride, all the faults in short that characterized his people. But we must try never to lose sight of the fact that he still remained a thorough Israelite.
1 Galatians iv. 4. 2 Compare Job xiv. 1; Matthew xi. 11.
Luke calls attention to it at the outset, by telling us that the parents of Jesus scrupulously fulfilled their religious duties, and faithfully observed the injunctions of the Law with respect to their child. On the eighth day after his birth the ceremony of circumcision was performed ; and at the same time he received his name.
Both Matthew and Luke find something very remarkable in the name Jesus. They say that the new-born child received this name at the command of God as Israel's future deliverer.2 But the fact is that this name, which is pronounced in Hebrew Yezua, and is sometimes Grecized into Jason, was very common. After the Captivity it occurs quite frequently, and is interchanged with the name Joshua. Indeed Joshua, the successor of Moses, is called Jesus in the New Testament more than once, though the meaning of the two names is not really quite the same. We know of a Jesus, son of Sirach, a writer of proverbs, whose collection is preserved among the apocryphal books of the Old Testament. The notorious Barabbas, or son of Abbas, was himself called Jesus. Among Paul's opponents we find a magician called Elymas, the son of Jesus. Among the early Christians a certain Jesus, also called Justus, appears. Flavius Josephus mentions more than ten distinct persons priests, robbers, peasants, and others - who bore the name of Jesus, all of whom lived during the last century of the Jewish state. But we need not be surprised to find the Evangelists laying such stress upon the name, for the narratives of the Old Testament have taught us that the Israelites thought much more of names than we do; for we hardly ever think of their meaning, and in most cases do not so much as know what it is. The Israelites, on the other hand, saw in the meaning of every great man's name a prophecy of his character, his fortunes, or something that specially concerned him. Thus they inverted the real order of things, for in reality it was not the name which described the man by anticipation, but the man whose brilliant services conferred a special significance upon the name which he happened to bear. If Joseph and Mary, instead of calling their child Jesus, had happened to give him the name of Solomon ( - Frederick), David (= Gottlieb) or Isaiah (=Godhelp) what legends might not have been spun out of such sugges. tive names ! In fact Matthew, if he had had the choice, would evidently have preferred Immanuel (= God is with us) to Jesus.'
i Luko ii. 21, 22, 23, 24, 39, 41. 2 Matthew i. 21; Luke i. 31. 8 Acts vii. 45; Hebrews iv. 8; compare Nehemiah viii. 17.
Now the name Jesus means deliverance, sufety, preservation; or, perhaps, deliverer, preserver, 2 and is identical in meaning with the Greek expressions which occur in the New Testament, and are translated salvation and saviour. But unfortunately we have learned to associate these latter words with the life after death, and to think of the bliss of heaven when we use them; whereas the Greek expressions always refer to the Messianic kingdon, especially to preservation from the terrible judgments of God which were to precede the founding of the kingdom. In using the words saviour and salvation, therefore, we must remember that they simply mean one who saves or delivers, and safety or deliverance.
The Law declared that a mother who had given birth to a boy was unclean for seven days, and must separate herself or remain at home for thirty-three days after the circumcision. If the baby was a girl, both periods were doubled. All this time the mother must not touch any sacred thing or enter the temple. When these days were past she must make an offering of purification in the temple, consisting of a lamb of one year old for a burnt sacrifice, and a young pigeon or turtle-dove for a sin offering; or, if she was too poor to buy a lamb, she might take another dove instead. Besides all this, first-born sons must be taken to the temple when a month old and presented to the Lord, as it was called. They were then bought off or redeemed from him for five shekels, a sum about equal to twelve shillings, but since money was worth so much more in those days it would be equivalent to about twenty days' wages of a workman. Το save trouble, this presentation was made at the same time as the sacrifice of purification. 1 Matthew i. 23.
2 Sirach xlvi. I.