Y’all remember from our last class before Christmas we had stopped at the birth of…John the Baptist! Yes, and now we’re going to cover…when Jesus was born! Yes. Y’all know the story already so it won’t take long. Tell me please, where did Jesus grow up? Oh, do come along: N-a-z- Nazareth! Yes. And where was he born? Bethlehem. Yes. Why were Joseph & Mary in Bethlehem? Because that was where David was born? Yes, genius, Micah’s prophecy said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem just like David. But why did Joseph have to go there? Because the King said so. Yes, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus wanted a census taken, and Joseph was descended from David so he had to go there for the census. Tell me about Joseph & Mary in Bethlehem. They had to stay in a stable ’cause there were no rooms. Yes, and? Mary had Jesus in the stable and put him in a manger. Yes, and remember Isaiah’s Christmas prophecies included an ox, an ass, and a manger, so it makes sense that they’d stay in a stable. What was Jesus wearing? Huh? Was he wearing a tuxedo? No…something like…he was swaddled, do y’all know what that is? No. It’s when you wrap a baby up tight so he can’t move. Do y’all know why parents do that? So the baby won’t hurt himself? Yes, more please. So his bones grow straight? Mmm, maybe. It’s to calm him down. When babies are close to being born it’s all very tight inside their mother and they’re used to that cozy world where they can’t stretch out. So when babies get upset, if you swaddle them so they can’t move it calms them down. It’s like being in their mommas again. When one of my children used to get upset, we’d swaddle him tight and put him in a dark room. He’d shut right up and look like an angel; and we could eat dinner in peace. Y’all remember that when you have babies.
So who came to see Jesus first? Shepherds? Yes, who were poor and smelled like sheep. Who told them to come? Angels! Yes. The poorest people came to see Jesus first. And who came later? The Magi? Yes, which means…wise men. Yes. It’s where we get the word magician. But back then it meant they had special knowledge; they studied the stars and so…they followed the Star. Yes. They were foreigners, not Jews, but they came to see Jesus anyway. Before they went to Bethlehem, they stopped in Jerusalem to see…umm, the King? Yes, a mean king named…Pericles? Hey, interesting guess, but Pericles was Greek and not mean…y’all know this, H-e-r Herod! King Herod! Yes. The Magi told Herod they had come to see the new King…what did he think about that? He didn’t like it. Because…he was already the King. Right. But Herod knew Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem. So he told the Magi, “Yes, I think he’ll be born in Bethlehem. Go check it out, come back & tell me where he is so I can pay him homage too.” So they followed the star and found Jesus. Tell me about it. They brought him gifts. Yes, what was first? Gold. Yes. What sort of person would get a gift of gold? A King? Yes. Next gift? Umm…incense? Yes, frankincense, which is crazy expensive…who’d that be for? No guesses? Who burns incense at Mass? The priest? Yes, just like in Solomon’s Temple…so? It’s for a priest? Yes. Jesus is a priest? Yes he is, good question. We’ll see why later on. Last gift? Myrrh? Yes, do ya’ll know what that’s for? It’s for embalming dead people; it’s as expensive as gold too. Why do they bring myrrh? Because Jesus will die? Yes.
Before they leave Bethlehem, the Magi dream that they shouldn’t go back to Herod, so they go home without seeing him. Tell me the story. Herod is mad and he wants to kill Jesus! Why? ‘Cause he wants to stay King! Right, but he doesn’t know who Jesus is, so? He kills all the babies! Yes, he “killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.” These babies are the first martyrs; we call them the Holy Innocents. Had they been been baptised? No…was there baptism yet? No, John the Baptist and Jesus were just babies themselves. So could they go to heaven? No? Good answer, but the Church teaches that unbaptized people who are martyrs are baptized by their own blood. Remember when a priest would sacrifice a bull in Leviticus, what did he do with the blood? Sprinkle it on the people! Yes, but martyred people’s sins are washed away by their own blood, not an animal’s blood, or the water of Baptism.
And how did Jesus escape Herod? An angel told Joseph to leave! Yes, he took his family to Egypt until Herod died. Then they returned to live in…Bethlehem? No…Nazareth! Yes.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. There’s just one story about the time he and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover, tell it please. They were going back home and Jesus wasn’t with them? Yes, and? They went back and found Jesus in the Temple. Doing what? Teaching the grownups! Yes, discussing the Old Testament with the teachers, the rabbis. That’s very unusual for a 12-year-old, as you 12-year-olds would know. I bet that years later, when Jesus came back to Jerusalem as an adult, some of those rabbis at the Temple remembered him from when he was a smart kid. By the way, why weren’t they discussing the New Testament? It wasn’t written yet! Right!
When she found Jesus at the Temple, Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” What’s the 4th Commandment? Honor your Father & Mother! Yes…why didn’t Jesus do that? He had to honor God first. Yes, and who was Jesus’ father? God the Father! Yes. God comes first, then our parents.
Now we jump ahead to when John and Jesus are grown men. John lives in the desert, wears animal skins, doesn’t cut his hair, doesn’t drink alcohol and eats bugs. Girls, how about it? Eww, gross! Boys? Gross! I think it’s gross, too, but there’s no pizza in the desert. Who’s John like? Samson? Yes, and…Samuel? Yes, Nazirites; and also like Elijah. So Jewish people would know John wasn’t a nut, but a prophet. John preached in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Remind me, the Old Testament was written in…Hebrew! Yes, and the New Testament was written in…Latin? No…Greek! Yes. Baptize is the Greek word for “immerse.” So why was John baptizing in the river? So they could go under the water! Yes. It’s a bit like drowning: the old sinful self dies and comes up reborn and clean. Y’all watch out, we’ll learn a lot more Greek words the rest of this year.
Tell me please, what was King David’s big sin? He had an affair with the other man’s wife and killed him! Yes, he had an affair with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. And did he just confess to God he was sorry? No, he had to tell, ummm…C’mon, N-a-t-h Nathan! Yes. Why did he have to confess out loud and not just pray? ‘Cause he’s a body’n’soul! Yes, so he had to confess both in spirit and in flesh as the Bible might say. And why would people come from all over Judea and Jerusalem to confess their sins to John? Why didn’t they stay home & confess to God? ‘Cause they had to confess out loud to somebody! Yes! And it’s humbling to hike out of town, let everyone see you acknowledge your sins to this wild man of the desert, and get dunked in the river.
John was getting a lot of attention from everyone, so “priests and Levites from Jerusalem” came to see him. Because they made their living at the Temple dealing with peoples’ sins, John was cutting in on their business. The priests wondered if John might be the Messiah, or at least might think he was the Messiah. They asked John, “Who are you?” He confessed, “I am not the Christ.” By the way, Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name. ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek word Christos, [on the board] which means ‘Anointed One,’ or ‘Messiah.’ So when you see the word Christ, think Messiah. “But he said no. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John is starting to aggravate them: they want simple answers, but John won’t give them any. He just quotes Isaiah, and expects them to figure it out on their own. This is very typical behavior for prophets like John, and Jesus, who was also a prophet. Prophets give partial answers so their listeners have to do some work to understand what they say. Because if you have to figure out an answer…you know it better? Yes, and you remember it better. Y’all have to figure stuff out in class too, it’s good for ya.
Then John pulls out his flamethrower: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? …do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Like other prophets, John is telling the priests & Levites, who are the special men who work in God’s House, that being Chosen People, Sons of Abraham, won’t save them from God’s wrath. What’s ‘wrath’? God’s mad at them! Yes. They need to repent like everyone else, but they’re too proud to be baptized by John. And they sure feel insulted that John called them nothing but a mess of snakes. Then John says, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” What fire is that? Hell? Yes, and the trees? People. Yes. And the good fruit? Doing good things! Yes. So God isn’t too concerned with who you are, but…what you do! Yes. And the axe will be cutting down the bad trees shortly. No doubt the priests & Levites leave in a huff.
The next day John was baptizing as usual [we act out this section. I’m John, one child is Jesus, one child is being baptized, and the rest are the crowd by the Jordan]. Daughter, are you sorry for your sins? Yes. Are you repentant? Yes. OK down you go…and up. All done. Crowd, are her sins forgiven? Yes!…No! Uh-oh, that was a trick question! Who can forgive sin? God. Yes. Not John. John’s job is to call people to repentance, he can’t take their sins away…who can? Jesus! Yes. So what’s the baptism for? To show you are sorry? Yes, John’s baptism is symbolic. Baptism doesn’t wash away sin yet. John said “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Daughter, you can join the crowd.
Then John saw his cousin Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Tell me crowd, what do Jews use lambs for? Eating? I mean, why do they need lambs? For sacrificing! Yes. Why do they need to sacrifice? ‘Cause they’re sinners! Yes. Does God sin? Ha, no! So why does God need a lamb? Well, he doesn’t. So who’s this lamb for? For us? Yes. And this one lamb will “take away the sins of the world.” What kind of lamb could do that? A perfect one! Yes. So God’s lamb is a perfect gift. Why does he give it to us? Because he loves us? Yes. We know all this now, but that day by the Jordan people probably went home telling their families that the bug eater had made a very odd prophecy about his cousin.
Jesus, come on into the water…why are you here? To be baptized. Crowd, is Jesus a sinner? Ha, no! In fact, “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” Jesus is showing repentance not for his sins…but for ours! Yes. OK cousin, down you go….and up. “And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Who’s the dove? The Holy Spirit! And the voice? God the Father! And my cousin? God the Son! Who all make? The Trinity! Yes. John says, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Digame por favor, cual es un quinceañera? What’s a quinceañera? It’s when a girl has a big party when she’s fifteen. Yes, it shows she’s a young woman on her way to be her own person, not just a girl under her parents’ wings. In English we’d say it’s a coming-out party. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s there are debutante balls where young women called debutantes are presented to society in a similar way. Well, Jesus’ baptism is like that: he’s a grown man about 30 years old, but he’s led a quiet, private life until now. But John has said prophetic things about Jesus in front of crowds of people, who will all be talking about Jesus now, and his life will never be quiet and private again.
That’s it for tonight; next week Jesus begins what we call his public ministry. Yes, honorary son? Why don’t we get parties like that? Like debutantes, with photos in the paper? Yeah! Because women have the babies, and we don’t. So we treat them special. Right, daughters? Right!