One of the last things many Christians seem to think about at Christmas time is the difference between the Nativity in Matthew's Gospel and in Luke's Gospel. A couple of habits of the church help us not to confront this difference. One habit is that we do not read both gospel versions at the same service (the honourable exception being a service of Nine Lessons and Carols). Another habit is following one gospel one year and the other gospel another year.
The two accounts, we must be clear, do have elements in common: Mary, Joseph, a baby on the way, the baby being born in Bethlehem, the name Jesus, notable visitors attending, and a sense that prophecy is being fulfilled. We perhaps could also make the point - though some would argue against it - that the two stories can be read in a complementary way rather than a contradictory way. For example, we can imagine that each writer knows all that happened* but Matthew chooses to tell about the wise men coming and to ignore the shepherds, and vice versa for Luke. (It is not far-fetched to suppose that Luke, who gives the impression that he has interviewed Mary in depth, did know all that happened). Yet honesty compels us to recognise that there are significant differences between the two stories. In Matthew, the decisions are made by Joseph and he does nothing unless an angel tells him to; whereas Luke seems to know nothing of angelic guidance to Joseph (though angels appear in the Lukan pre-Nativity story).
These differences are the catalyst for gospel scholars to ask the question, is there some significance to the Nativity that one writer is trying to draw out while the other is trying to draw out another significance? Some relatively easy answers present themselves: the Wise Men, for example, are part of a Matthean emphasis on Jesus being Saviour for the whole world (i.e. Jews and Gentiles), an emphasis underscored by the presence of Gentiles in the Genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17) and by the Great Commission (Matthew 28:20). By contrast, Luke offers an emphasis on Jesus being King/Lord of the whole world, who is born in obscurity and extends his kingdom to incorporate the capital of the 'world' (i.e. Rome). In support of this idea, note the way Luke carefully details the date and circumstances of Jesus' birth in terms of an instruction of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-2), and then follow the story of Jesus to its conclusion in Acts 28, where the Apostle Paul, the chief successor to Jesus, according to Luke, preaches the Gospel of Jesus in Rome.
Now for those of us preaching this Christmas, we might like to continue this reflection on difference between Matthew and Luke, and see where that reflection leads us. Its always tempting to let the commentaries do the work for us (a temptation this writer often does not resist), but its very rewarding to come up with insights original to ourselves. Give it a go!
The Bible and the Prayer Book are the foremost resources. Most worship leaders gather up some supplementary resources. A high priority for many is a book of prayers and related materials for use in services to supplement the Prayer Book. A recent book of resources worth adding to your collection is:
Timothy Radcliffe (ed.) Just One Year: Prayer and Worship through the Christian Year, London: Darton, Longman and Todd (2006). ISBN – 10:0-232-52669-9. ISBN – 13:978-0-232-52669-1.
Apart from resources for use in composing services, this book is worth a look because of two introductory chapters:
‘The Christian Year: What Does It Mean To Celebrate It?’
'Thanks, for the heads up' we sometimes say when someone warns us about something which might otherwise surprise us. Is it possible that Anglican worshippers need a "heads up", but in a more literal way? When leading from the front, particularly during a prayer book worship service, when we look at the congregation we often see heads bowed, buried in prayer books. Why is this? Many of us know the services pretty well; but we still keep focused on the text in front of us!
I wonder what God thinks of us? 'Lift up your heads' is one of the great worship instructions from the Psalms: could that be God's command for us today? It can be done - try a Catholic Mass sometime and note how few prayer books are in evidence. But even without such experience, in the day of projectors and screens there is technical assistance available to help us to lift up our heads!
On Preaching and Worship - Anglican style Down Under I aim to post weekly, usually on or about Sunday. Mostly I post on some aspect of preaching and worship, often with a 'how to' angle (sometimes, especially if talking about my mistakes, with a 'how not to' angle)!
I see this blog as complementary to a very important website on worship matters, Liturgy, presided over by my friend and colleague Bosco Peters.
In my present role as Director of Education for the Diocese of Christchurch (NZ) I am not tied to one parish so some Sundays I am a parishioner in the pews and other Sundays I am preacher or presider or both. If you have been to church with me recently please do not think I am blogging about that service (unless I explicitly do so). It is likely, however, that something in the service has got me thinking about how we can better prepare for worship, lead liturgy, and preach God's Word. We serve God. Why not aim to do it to the very very best of our ability?
The Liturgy site listed below is presided over by Bosco Peters, Chaplain of Christ's College, Canterbury. The Lectionary and Worship Matters pages are part of the Liturgy site, but listed separately for your convenience. The gift of these resources from Bosco to our church (indeed, to all churches) is gratefully acknowledged.
Digital NZ Prayer Book Project
Courtesy Bosco Peters, go here to access portions of NZPB electronically.
Postings on this blog will mostly be on the following areas: - Worship Leading - Preaching - Being Anglican - The Lectionary - Scripture (especially on the Gospel for the year: St Matthew (2008), St. Luke (2007).
Previously numbered posts can be found in the archive.
Two Year Cycle - the cyle of readings in the NZPB associated with Sunday themes, Sentences and Collects
ACANZP - Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia
NZPB - A New Zealand Prayer Book (or the 1989 'Red Book' of ACANZP
RCL - Revised Common Lectionary (3 year cycle)
Continuous - (in the RCL) mostly continuous reading of the Old Testament with that reading independent of New Testament readings
Related - (in the RCL) Old Testament reading and the psalm are related to the Gospel reading of the day
Words to encourage liturgy and preaching
It helps enormously to have not only the discipline of the daily Offices, the daily Eucharist here, but actually a praying community. Prayers are offered quite early. Every morning, therefore, I have an opportunity to remind myself that what matters is not the Church of England or the Anglican Communion but the act of God in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. When I am inclined to think that the whole thing is falling apart and that I am making a more than usually bad job of it, the transforming thing has got to be, and in my experience always is, renewing a sense of gratitude. Whether the Church of England survives or not, whether the archbishop of Canterbury survives or not, Christ still died on the cross and rose again, and that’s enough to keep you going for quite a few lifetimes. Archbishop Rowan Williams
O Almighty God,you have built your Churchupon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined togetherin unity of spirit by their teaching,that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;through Jesus Christ our Lord,who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.
(Collect for St Simon and St Jude - originally in the 1549 BCP)