With short notice a few gathered last night for our first Table Talk of the summer. Good question and discussion—one question took 1¾ hours to answer and address related topics.
Question: Why do so many Christmas celebrations include the magi in the manger scene? Is that accurate?
Let’s look at the two “birth” narratives: Matthew 1:18-27; 2:1-16 and Luke 1:39-56 and 2:1-7. Note that Matthew’s account focuses on events from the perspective of Joseph whereas Luke’s account gives the perspective of Mary.
|Text||Matthew 1:18-27; 2:1-16||Luke 1:39-56; 2:1-7|
|Ruler(s)||Herod (Jewish)||Augustus; Quirinius (Roman)|
|Location||“house” (2:11)||“inn” “manger” (2:7)|
|Those attending||Magi (wise men) (2:7-11)||Shepherds (2:8-20)|
Notice that the descriptions do not support the idea that the magi came the night of the birth of Jesus.
Historically the Church has celebrated the two events separately: Luke 2 is the basis for the Dec. 25 celebration of Christmas and Matthew 2 is the basis for Jan. 6 celebration of Epiphany (“showing forth”). Jan. 6 then focused on the “nations” coming to the Savior to worship, which in Matthew’s Gospel finds its highlight in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.
The eastern Christian churches have traditionally celebrated Christmas on Jan. 6. In either case, the separation of the two events maintained each proper focus without combining and confusing the events.
Expanding the discussion
This led to a review of how the Christian yearly liturgical calendar developed. (Here is a short article on liturgical calendars):
This chart shows the colors associated with each season of the liturgical church year.
The discussion expanded even further to include the historical development of the liturgical church year observances. The key point was that such development was not done independently of Scripture copying and translation through the centuries, nor was it isolated from mission work of the church. And the doctrinal creeds (statements of faith) developed in response to false teachings that arose throughout the centuries.
The key is that we cannot separate each of these topics and study them independently. There is considerable discussion about the relationship of these topics (see one example http://lexcredendilexorandi.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/hello-world/#comments), I am not commenting on that post, rather my point here is that we cannot separate development of worship especially liturgically, doctrinal formulations, Bible copying and translation, and mission. To separate means to not do justice any of the topics and to misunderstand what was taking place in the broad sweep of Christian history.
As we continued the discussion I observed that in our Lutheran Confessions, the repeated phrase “as the church has always taught” emphasizes that what we “believe, teach, confess” is not something new or original with Luther.
Rather, we are consistent with the Christian Church throughout the ages from the first century. Our confessions do not add to what Scripture teaches, our worship services do not add nor subtract from Scripture. No, both reflect what Scripture teaches and what and how the church worships throughout the history. And justification is central in all of this, as evidenced in the Scripture readings and sacraments (gifts from God for the forgiveness of sins).