The Birth of Jesus

From the Christian Science Journal, August 1888, by

Matthew the Apostle is called also Levi. (mark ii. 14.) Matthew signifies the Gift of God, which is also the meaning of the similar names Matthias and Mattathiahe First Gospel.s. The Greek name Theodoras, or Theodore, has the same meaning.

Matthew was the son of Alphæus (Mark ii. 14) and was probably a Galilean Jew. His home was at Capernaum. He was a publican, or tax-collector, under the Roman government, and these tax-farmers were usually men of wealth and repute. He was called to be an apostle during the first year of Jesus’ ministry. The last mention of Matthew’s name in the New Testament is in Acts i. 13. His labors were chiefly confined to the Jews in Palestine, for whom he wrote his Gospel.

Matthew has been placed on the list of martyrs, by many writers, but ancient testimony declares his decease not to have been violent. Bible scholars, almost without dispute, believe Matthew to be the author of the Gospel bearing his name. Unanimously the Church joins in declaring this to be the first of the four gospels. It must have been written after the crucifixion, but before the destruction of Jerusalem, not far from the year 50. This Gospel was probably written in Palestine, and presumably at Jerusalem, and is supposed to have been dedicated to the Christian converts in Palestine. Traditions confirm this inference.

The Infant Jesus. Matthew ii. 1-12.

Golden Text: Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins, Matthew i. 21.

Introduction. The birth of Jesus has a twofold significance, spiritual and material. Jesus was the perfect idea of God, reduced to human apprehension, the link between the divine and human.

See Science and Health, nineteenth edition, page 539, for general definition of Jesus; pages 501 and 502, for the Conception and Birth of Jesus; page 5, the Wakeful Shepherds; page 45, Jesus as a Leader; page 46, Jesus’ Spiritual Origin.

Jesus was in Heaven and on earth. His physical personality existed only in the concepts of those who believed in physical phenomena. To himself Jesus was spiritual. He said, “The Father and I are one.” (John x. 30.) Jesus recognized no material origin or birth. He said, “Before Abraham was I am.” (John viii. 58.) Against the physical concept of the world Jesus waged war unceasingly. “My kingdom is not of this world “are words that prove material modes and methods were foreign to Jesus’ thought.

In the lesson under consideration we must seek to bring out the spiritual significance. Study the references given, in Science and Health, and the way will be opened.

Herod means mortal mind, the ruling power, — in belief, having exclusive dominion at the time of the birth of Jesus, or Truth.

The Star in the East is the twinkling, the glimmer, of the new light of Truth, rising above matter, leading to the living Christ. The Wisemen are those who comprehend this heavenly pilot, and turn their faces eastward, where rises the glorious orb of eternal day.

In the appended exegesis only leading thoughts can be suggested, as space is limited. These suggestions must be enlarged by our readers for themselves.

Time. Jesus Christ was born in the Year of the World 4000, and about four years before the date from which we reckon our Christian era; so that he was probably born the last of December, not 1888 years ago, but about 1893 years ago. The mistake was made by a monk who, in the year 526, published the calculations from which we have since counted the years. The visit of the Wisemen was six or eight weeks after the birth of Jesus, or in February.

Place. Bethlehem of Judea; a village five or six miles south of Jerusalem, and east of the road to Hebron.

Rulers. Augustus Cæsar was Emperor of Rome. Herod — called Herod the Great, the first of the seven Herods mentioned in the New Testament — was King of Judea 34 years, under Augustus.

Messianic Expectations. In Jesus’ day men stood on the threshold of a new dispensation. It was the morn of the spiritual resurrection. Behind and beneath was Herod’s domain. In front was the Redeemer of the world, who comes in the winter of mortal thought. Listen to the Angelic Overture which heralds this glorious coming, “Peace on earth, goodwill to man.”

From Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus we learn that at this time there prevailed, throughout the entire East, an intense conviction, derived from ancient prophecies, that ere long a powerful monarch would arise in Judæa, and gain dominion over the world.

Virgil, who lived a little before this era, owns that a child from Heaven was looked for, who should restore the Golden Age, and take away sin.

Abbot tell us that Confucius, in China, had prophesied the appearance of such a deliverer; and a deputation of his followers, going forth in search of him, were the means of introducing Buddhism into China.

The clearest of all these prophecies was one by Zoroaster in Persia. The Nestorians say that Zoroaster was a disciple of Jeremiah, through whom he heard of the expected Messiah. As their tradition is remarkably corroborated by Abulphargius, let it be quoted, as found in the Memoir of Mrs. Judith S. Grant:

Zoroaster taught the Persians concerning Christ. He declared that in the latter days a pure Virgin should conceive, and that, as soon as the child was born, a Star would appear, blazing, even at noonday, with undiminished lustre. “You, my sons,” exclaimed the venerable Seer, “will perceive its rising before any other nation. As soon as you see the Star, follow it wheresoever it leads you, and adore the mysterious child, offering your gifts to him with the profoundest humility. He is the Almighty Word which created the heavens.”

This Messianic expectation arose no doubt from the Jews, who had been scattered everywhere, with their Scriptures and their hopes, since the Babylonish captivity. The Prophet Daniel was himself a prince, and chief among these Wisemen. His prophecies were made known to them, and the calculations by which he pointed to the very time when Jesus should be born; for the Book of Daniel was part of the ancient Hebrew literature.

These instances show that the entire East was expecting a Messiah. Jesus’ appearing was the physical manifestation of this thought. He was the Saviour which should be for all people. (Luke ii. 10.)

From astronomical calculations, by the great astronomer, Kepler, we learn that a remarkable conjunction of the planets of our system took place shortly before Jesus’ birth, and that at his advent there appeared a new star in the constellation called the Serpent. The Serpent signifies personal sense, (Science and Health, page 547.)

Jesus was the “bright and morning star,” which blazed through this serpentine illusion, misnamed mortal sense. Jesus was called Immanuel, which signifies God with us. (Matthew i. 23.) Jesus was the highest conception of God cognizant to the senses.

1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold there came Wisemen from the East to Jerusalem.

Bethlehem means House of Bread.

Judæa is a modification of Judah, which signifies “a personal and material belief disappearing, and the spiritual understanding of God and Man appearing.” (Science and Health, page 540.)

At the birth of Truth, to our human consciousness, material beliefs gave place to spiritual understanding.

Jerusalem signifies mortal sense, (Science and Health, page 539.)

The wisemen (Greek magi, or sages) were originally a class of Median and Persian priests, who formed the King’s Privy Council, and studied astrology, and other occult and natural sciences. They are frequently referred to by ancient authors. Herodotus speaks of them as a priestly caste, and interpreters of dreams. The Gospel does not state how many magians there were, but tradition favors the number three, presumably on account of the triple offerings to the young child. From the foregoing historical information it will readily be seen that these Wisemen had reached above the conventional mortal thought, and sought that which was higher. They looked higher than the world; consequently they saw the shining of a higher idea. This they followed, (Science and Health, pages 202-204.)

The concept of these Eastern Magi was still material, but in a higher sense; hence their utterance:

2. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his Star in the East, and are come to worship him.

This inquiry, translated more literally, is: Where is this newborn King of the Jews? The Magi expected, no doubt, to find Jesus in the Capital City, probably in the royal palace; hence their first interview with King Herod. Translating this verse into a still higher sense, it teaches all true followers of the spiritual concept (the perfect idea of God) to constantly hold in thought the sinless model, striving each day to make ourselves like unto him. Truth first appears as a star shining above matter, coming from whence cometh all light, the East.

3. When Herod the King had heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

The Magi first addressed themselves to the official head of the nation. The tidings spread like wildfire throughout the palace and province of Herod. He was troubled lest he should be dethroned, and divested of his power. His life had been saturated with crime. He was hated by his subjects, and the least excitement, especially the rumor that the Messiah had come, would be likely to inflame the people to a civil insurrection. Herod’s conscience was smitten, and his fears aroused. “All Jerusalem with him” must mean the officials in power. Many dreaded the advent of a Saviour, because of their past wickedness. The coming of Truth is always troublesome to those who desire it not.

“All Jerusalem with him” would show a transfer of mortal thought.

4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it was written by the Prophet.

Error appeals to error, seeking in mortal sense that which is spiritual. The Chief Priests and the Scribes were the educated religious teachers of the day, — interpreters of the Mosaic Law. They were simply the expounders of the religious writings of national leaders, long since deceased. They depended wholly on past opinions. Indeed, they invariably cited some ancient rabbi as authority. They prided themselves on their study of the Talmud, an immense collection of commentaries on the Old Testament, containing many more pages than the Bible itself. Error always seeks its own methods and ways; hence Herod appealed to the Scribes and Chief Priests for the information he did not himself possess, and which the ecclesiastical teachers of his day knew only by education, and not by demonstration.

Again, as usual, Herod was answered, “for thus it is written.” The answer of the Scribes and Priests was given without any hesitation, as if the birthplace of the Messiah was by divine appointment, and the location already settled.

6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Bethlehem was the birthplace of David. Jesus was the consummation of David’s thought. Bethlehem was marvelously fertile and beautifully situated, an admirable place for the birth of the King of Kings. Its eminence commanded a wide view in all directions. The altitude of Jesus’ thought commanded a wide view in all directions on earth, yet was one with the Life of the Father in Heaven.

Over this lovely spot (Bethlehem) the guiding-star hovered. Here David watched his flock, and praised God. Here was heard the angelic host, at Jesus’ birth, (Luke ii. 8.) Near by were the three great reservoirs which Solomon built.

These little facts have beautiful spiritual significance, which will be revealed to the earnest seeker. Bethlehem, before the Advent, was an unimportant place; hence the contradictory utterance at the opening of the verse, “Thou art not the least,” &c.

7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the Wisemen, inquired of them diligently what time the Star appeared.

8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Deception. With the pretense of devotion Herod seeks to find the young child, in order to slay him. Error always attempts to destroy, to our consciousness, the sense of Truth, (Psalm lxiv.) Herod really conceived a malicious plot against Jesus. This pretended devotion would impress the people with the belief that he also shared their anticipations, and was ready to offer homage to the child-king.

9. When they had heard the King, they departed: and, lo, the Star which they saw in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

The Wisemen detected the wolf’s fangs beneath the sheep’s clothing which Herod had put on, and they departed from such hypocrisy. Wisdom detected the subtle lie which was concealed beneath the mark of piety. While they listened to Herod (mortal mind) the Star evidently disappeared. When the Wisemen departed from Herod (mortal mind) it reappeared, and held its lead till it stood over the place where the young child lay. If we hearken to error, the Star of Truth leaves us. When we depart from error, the Star once more appears.

10. When they saw the Star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

Herod looked at worldly evidence. The Wisemen, after departing from Herod, looked up and beheld their heavenly pilot. They rejoiced, aware of the fact that their journey was fast nearing its end. It increased their joy that the artful King had not prevented their onward search. The suspicions and doubts suggested by Herod had not changed their course. Their sight was still heavenward and they walked in the right way.

11. And when they were come into the house they saw the young child, with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The journey of the Magi was at an end. They had been far off. Now they were in the presence of the Infant Jesus. Opening their treasures they presented their gifts, according to the ancient Oriental custom when subjects sought an audience with royalty. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were their highest treasures. The highest human concepts are requisite to reach the still higher Truth. The extreme bitterness ascribed to myrrh may show that the bitter experiences of the world are made sweet by the companionship of Jesus. Coming into the presence of Christ, Truth reveals the nothingness of worldly treasures, and we gladly abandon them for the all-power of Christ.

The Wisemen prostrated themselves at Jesus’ feet, conscious of the nothingness of materiality. They had found the Truth. Material treasures had been laid aside for a priceless treasure, Christ. No more would they lean upon gold for support. No longer would frankincense be needed to neutralize the odor of burnt sacrifices; for they saw that sacrifice must be of the heart, and not in outward expression. No longer would myrrh be used to embalm the dead; for they saw that Life was eternal, that man lived because God lived. The Magi would no longer perpetuate the false claim, for the true was forever made manifest.

12. And being warned of God. in a dream, that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

A realization of Truth warns mankind not to return to error when they have once found the new way, but to follow Truth’s star wherever it leads, depart, from error, and go into “their own country,” their home, which is Paradise, the birthright of Spirit, — the “Father’s house” to which the Prodigal Son returned “when he came to himself.”

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