Angels, Dreams and Stories
Christmas is coming when Christians will retell, often in drama and music, the stories of Jesus' coming into the world. Mark tells us nothing of the birth of Jesus. We hear from Matthew and Luke of happenings which for very many people in this so-called rational, technological, scientific age are irrational, not scientifically provable.
While historians search for archaeological and written evidence for the existence of people who have for good or ill influenced their contemporaries sufficiently for their words and actions to influence future generations, stories which emphasise their importance for ordinary people have been told. It is likely that more research of ancient documents examining language, translation, errors made in copying, reasons for including certain incidents and words included in the documents, has been carried out about Jesus, called the Christ by his followers, than about any other famous person.
Those disinclined to believe in the existence of an historical character are more likely to be convinced by the reports of contemporary impartial or even hostile witnesses rather than by the words of fervent supporters.
Josephus was a Jewish historian, born in 37 or 38AD. His writings were rich in detail and where they can be checked from archaeology, are impressively accurate. He was not a Christian but was interested in matters of religion. We would expect him to make mention of an historical Jesus and his followers, and indeed he appears to do so in his writings "Antiquities of the Jews". He says "At about this time there lived a wise man Jesus" and "He was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah .. and the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has to this day not disappeared". Josephus goes on to mention Jesus' trial, crucifixion and resurrection. We would seem to have positive confirmation of the existence of Jesus from a contemporary independent source.
Hostile comment about Yeshu (Hebrew for Jesus) who was hanged on Passover Eve, who practised sorcery, led Israel astray and whose legitimacy was questioned are to be found in writings added to the Mishnah, writings of Jewish rabbis up to about 200AD. It is hardly likely that they would have invented an enemy of the people.
To the 21st Century scientific mind certain aspects of the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus are puzzling. If they cannot be observed, measured and evaluated their truth is suspect. Yet much, if not most of living, is proved by experience which defies current scientific techniques. Experienced scientists are now agreeing that science does not have all the answers. Because God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and as Paul tells us we are presently seeing through a glass darkly angels, dreams, extraordinary stellar activity are ways of explaining the experience of the intertwining of time and eternity; of times when people find themselves in a border place at a border time. They make a little clearer the eternal mysteries.
And so the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us of an angel (angelos in Greek means messenger) visiting Mary; angels appearing to shepherds in the Bethlehem fields; a new star and an angel choir; God communicating with Joseph and wise men through dreams. (We meet angels and dreams in the Old Testament).
These well-loved Nativity stories emphasise the importance of the grown man Jesus to his contemporaries and the generations who have followed.
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