The Genesis of Christmas

Title: The Genesis of Christmas
Text: Genesis 1:1, Matthew 1:18, John 1:1, 1 John 1:1
Time: December 15th, 2014

 
During the Christmas season this year I was snooping around in my Greek New Testament and rereading the Christmas Nativity accounts found in Matthew and Luke. Greek is the original language of the New Testament and I feel grateful that I was able to learn it during my college and seminary days in preparation for the ministry. I’ve tried to keep up with the language ever since the days when I first learned it; I try to read a little bit every day from the Greek – I also do that too with the Old Testament Hebrew, I try to keep up with that as well, so that I don’t lose it. But this past month I was reading along in the Greek about the birth of Jesus and stumbled upon an interesting observation that I decided to turn into a sermon message. What I found was that in the first part of Matthew 1:18, which is normally translated in English as “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” Pretty straightforward. But what I found in the original Greek language of the New Testament is this, “The Genesis of Jesus Christ was thusly.” The very Greek word used in the title of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, is used here in Matthew to describe the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. I found that very interesting. Now the word genesis in Greek can definitely mean birth or beginning or start and so forth, but it’s usually translated birth here in Matthew in connection with the Nativity Christmas account. But I began to realize that while it’s easier to translate the Greek word genesis as birth, it misses some of the richness of the word, especially its history in the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament and used throughout the New Testament. So I decided I’d put together a short teaching on why I think it’s significant that Matthew used the Greek word genesis in this place to describe the birth of Jesus. One of the great benefits of reading the Bible in the original language is that you can do a little more digging around and poking around with the words – you aren’t locked into the English words the translators give you. So I found something interesting here poking around the Greek. I’d like to share it with you today and hopefully it will build up you faith this Christmas as we think about God and the birth of Jesus. What I’m saying is there is a connection with the birth of Jesus and the Old Testament book of Genesis. I’m saying that when we celebrate Christmas we aren’t just celebrating the birth of a baby but really we should be celebrating a new beginning, a genesis. God, through the birth of Jesus, was initiating a new beginning on earth, and we need to be aware of it and walk in that newness. Let me explain further.

First, there’s the Old Testament book of Genesis. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now you have to understand something about how the first book of the Bible got it’s name, Genesis. It came about during the time the original language of the Old Testament, Hebrew, was translated into the Greek language over three hundred years before the time of Christ. If you recall history in ancient times, the Jews had been around for a long time and their language was Hebrew. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew. But as Jews more and more dispersed to different regions of the world they came into contact with the Greco-Roman world do to military and political changes. Eventually, these Jews began to use the Greek language even more than their own Hebrew language. So it became important to translate the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language for these Jews in exile and dispersion, but also for interested non-Jews who wanted to learn about God from the Jews. So in Alexandria, Egypt a translation of the Old Testament known as the LXX or Septuagint was made. Now we understand why the first book of the Bible is called Genesis. Verse one of chapter one goes, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now the word “beginning” in the Greek here is arche but the translators named the first book after the word genesis. Why? Why not arche? Probably because the word genesis or origins made better sense. By the way, in the Hebrew Bible the first book of the Bible isn’t named Genesis, it’s name Berashith, which means “in the beginning.” But when the English translators translated the Bible into English, they took the Greek name for the first book of the Bible instead of the Hebrew name, and that’s why we all still use the name Genesis as the name of the first book of the Bible. It comes from Greek meaning origins. Now that’s all in the way of an explanation, and it makes a lot of sense. Genesis is the description of the beginning of things on planet earth, how everything came into being. It gives us an understanding of our origins and how life began and why life began. If someone were to ask me which book of the Old Testament is most important, I would probably say the first book, Genesis. Why? Because it gives us the answers to the most fundamental questions – why are we here? what is our purpose? where did we come from? Without Genesis we wouldn’t have a clue why we are here, how we got here, or what is our purpose here. It describes the beginning of the creation of God, a profoundly important point in history. I could go on and on about how important Genesis is, but you get the point. Now the point is, New Testament readers would know all this as well, which is why Matthew using the word genesis in his Christmas Nativity account is important. Let me explain.

Second, there’s genesis in Matthew Gospel. Matthew 1:18, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” Or literally in the Greek, “This is how the beginning of Jesus Christ came about.” The word “beginning” is the Greek word genesis. So we have the word genesis, which means “beginning” here in the Christmas Nativity account. Is that coincidental? Is that by accident? I don’t think so. Now somebody might say, “Well, Matthew, writing in Greek, had to use the word genesis to describe the birth of Jesus because that’s just the word anybody would have used to give an account of a birth that happened.” Well, maybe, possibly. But I think there’s more to it than simply using the word genesis in a general way. If there were no biblical history with the word genesis, if Matthew didn’t know the history, if his readers wouldn’t know the history, then, yes, I could believe that he might have happened to use the word without any other deeper meaning. But because of the rich history of the word genesis in the Old Testament and also because we see in the New Testament later on John uses the very same idea with genesis in his Gospel and letters, putting everything together, it’s no accident that Matthew used the used genesis here in connection with the birth of Jesus. And there is a richer deeper meaning in his use of it here. What is Matthew trying to say? He’s saying that God is doing a new thing and starting a new beginning on earth with the birth of Jesus Christ. We could even say God is bringing about the new birth of a new humanity through the baby Jesus. There is the world before the visitation of Christ and then there is the world after his visitation. There is the old spiritual order before Christ, then the new spiritual order after Christ. As Christians we have a new way of life in Christ, although we mostly miss that profound point in our modern age. Our modern time tries to negate anything special with the gospel, Christianity and even Christmas. Our modern world nearly totally misses the profound truth of Christ. It tries to convince even Christians that there’s nothing special going on. But the Bible teaches us that the birth of Christ marked a new beginning in the world – God visited humanity in the flesh and offered a way of salvation from sin and death. In many ways, the entry of Christ into the world was just as profound and as important as the creation itself – that’s why Matthew in linking the two together by the use of the word genesis.

Third, there’s the genesis-associated word arche in John’s Gospel and letters. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, — this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.” So here are two more important uses of the word beginning found in the New Testament, found in the writings of the Apostle John. Now the Greek word arche is used by the Apostle John, not the word genesis, but because the two words are so closely associated, we can see the link immediately. If you remember back in the Old Testament Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the Greek word arche was used to translate the Hebrew word barashith or “in the beginning.” Yet the first book of the Bible is called genesis, not arche. So we see the ancient LXX or Septuagint translators linked the two words together. And they have been linked together ever since. Now, in the New Testament we see writers using both words, and we can’t help but see a link as well. The Apostle John is trying to communicate a new beginning or new origins for the human race. Clearly in John 1:1 he’s trying to put Christ, the eternal word, in the beginning at creation, or even before creation. He’s trying to communicate that Christ was involved from the beginning, before there were people. Then, later, in 1 John he describes Jesus as the incarnate word from the beginning. The reference and link back to Genesis of the Old Testament is very clear. So again, just like Matthew, John here is trying to say that Jesus was involved in the very beginning and that the ministry of Jesus started a new beginning also on earth. Now with all this emphasis on a new beginning, we even have the Bible second part named the New Testament, with all that emphasis why is it that we don’t hear more about it today, this new beginning? Maybe because the new start or new beginning is over two thousand years old, and it might seem stretching things to claim that something two thousand years old is new, or constitutes a new beginning. But even though this natural way of reasoning has logic to it, it’s still flawed. Christ makes all things new and the way he makes things new can’t get old. The gospel is as fresh as ever. God himself is timeless so categories old or new don’t apply. So what’s the confusion?

The problem is the natural world is constantly trying to drag anything meaningful and purposeful or special or significant down to the ground. We see the same thing happening to Christmas as a holiday. What started out as a profoundly spiritual holiday is becoming more and more into simply a time to celebrate whatever it is that we happen to want to celebrate. The meaning and purpose of Christmas is being lost by it being diluted of meaning. This same happens to the Christian church as well. The early church had a burning zeal to take the message of the gospel to the end of the earth. The Christians had experienced the profound life-changing power of Christ in their lives and so they lived a new life in the spiritual reality of God. The way the early church grew can only be described as miraculous. But today, after two thousand years, we’ve let the gospel become so common and so casual a message that we aren’t moved by it anymore, or aren’t moved very much by it. We’ve allowed a hundred and one idols take its place in our lives. The Christian church can’t figure out why people aren’t excited to hear the gospel message or the Christmas message. But what has happened is that we’ve diluted that message or we’ve confused the message to the point that it’s hard to see why the world was so profoundly changed back two thousand years ago by the birth of Christ, his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension. How could the Christian message have had such a profound impact on the world? We can’t understand because we don’t understand the depth of the message. We’re too distracted by our modern worldly accomplishments. We’re too distracted by our smart phones and Internet activity. We’ve got too many television programs for viewing. Our world is a great big distraction away from the most profound and meaningful things. Is it any wonder people can’t figure out what the big fuss is over the birth of Christ or Christmas? Is it any wonder why hundreds of other so-called traditions have been brought in at Christmastime in place of the real reason for the season, Jesus? We need to refocus and return to the simple, yet profound truth of Christ this season. When Jesus was born he through his life, death and resurrection ushered in a new reality on earth, the born again spiritual reality of salvation. It’s a big thing, it’s a huge thing, it’s biggest thing of all. Let’s not lose the impact and importance of it by getting distracted by lesser and lower things. Christmas is like Genesis, the beginning of the new.

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