For the last two years my habit has been to re-read Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Just perfect reading leading up to Christmas to review all the scriptures related to the story of Christmas. After reading a book review by William Newton I have found another book to add to that annual reading. Scott Hahn’s recent book Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).
In some ways they are companion books especially as Joy to the World references Pope Benedict XVI book throughout. The underlying chronology is of course similar as you would expect when the primary sources are a limited number of passages in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Reading them together back-to-back they reinforced certain themes while also have different emphasis. If you line up 15 scripture scholars together you are likely to get 15 different opinions regarding reconciling some texts and that is also the case here to a small degree.
In Joy to the World I especially enjoyed one chapter on the angels and his saying “… Christmas appears in the Gospels as an explosion of angelic activity.” I found this phrasing rather striking and such an apt descriptor. He then canvases the Old and New Testaments to all the appearances of angels. While angels are certainly not lacking in the Old Testament the arrival of Jesus really does bring in an explosion of angels. We also learn from Jesus that angels are really good at multitasking. The Guardian Angels can both guard us and worship the face of the father.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 18:10)
Don’t blame Scott Hahn for the multitasking observation since it is my own. Really Scott Hahn kept his punning to a minimum in this book. Still I was laughing over his observation comparing the styles of St. Matthew and St. Luke in a chapter regarding the Magi. There is much in Mr. Hahn’s writing style I appreciate as his love of scripture is always infectious. I also enjoy his phrasing of things.
“We live in a world of marvels, but we are schooled to put these aside if they do not fit the broadest generalities in categories confirmed by the scientific method and approved by a magisterium of skeptics.”
Another point he brought out that struck me and stuck with me:
“Though the Gospel is certainly rich in allegorical meaning, it is first of all history. If there is allegory in the infancy narratives, it is fashioned by God, and not simply with words, but rather with creation itself—with the very deeds of sacred history. God writes the world the way human authors write words.”
This observation really applies to all of scripture. There is just so much parallelism and echoes in scripture. Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Reading salvation history there is more than rhyming involved, and an agency involved with God as poet. All the crooked lines of human history being straightened with repeating refrains. Scott Hahn goes into some of these parallels as they relate to the infancy narratives such as the parallels between the New Testament Joseph and the Old Testament Joseph. While he doesn’t reference the parallelism of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant in this book he has covered it elsewhere. Those scripture parallels give me virtual goosebumps as God’s plan is revealed in a series of parallels passages between the Old and the New Testament regarding Mary. You can read his article on the subject here.