Cover image for Joy to the world : how Christ's coming changed everything (and still does)
Joy to the world : how Christ's coming changed everything (and still does)
Hahn, Scott.
Personal Author:
First Edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Image, 2014.
Physical Description:
175 pages ; 22 cm
"What could be more familiar than the Christmas story--and yet what could be more extraordinary? The cast of characters is strange and exotic: shepherds and magicians, an emperor and a despot, angels, and a baby who is Almighty God. The strangeness calls for an explanation, and this book provides it by examining the characters and the story in light of the biblical and historical context"
A light goes on in Bethlehem -- What happens in Bethlehem -- A new genesis -- The counterfeit kingdom -- Mary: cause of our joy -- Silent knight, holy knight -- Angels: echoing their joyous strains -- O little town of bethlehem -- Do you believe in Magi? -- Shepherds, why this jubilee? -- Glory of your people: the presentation -- Flight into joy -- Blessed trinities: heaven and the Holy Family -- Joy to the world!.
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BV45 .H28 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What could be more familiar than the Christmas story -- and yet what could be more extraordinary? The cast of characters is strange and exotic- shepherds and magicians, an emperor and a despot, angels, and a baby who is Almighty God. The strangeness calls for an explanation, and this book provides it by examining the characters and the story in light of the biblical and historical context. Bestselling author Scott Hahn who has written extensively on Scripture and the early Church, brings evidence to light, dispelling some of the mystery of the story. Yet Christmas is made familiar all over again by showing it to be a family story. Christmas, as it appears in the New Testament, is the story of a father, a mother, and a child -- their relationships, their interactions, their principles, their individual lives, and their common life. To see the life of this "earthly trinity" is to gaze into heaven.

Author Notes

Scott Hahn, an internationally renowned Catholic lecturer & apologist, is a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His books include "A Father Who Keeps His Promises", "Rome, Sweet Home", the best-selling story, coauthored with his wife, of their conversion to Catholicism, & most recently, "The Lamb's Supper". He lives in Steubenville, Ohio.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter 1 A Light Goes On in Bethlehem It was early spring. Christmas was more than half a year away, but the crowd of pilgrims around us sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful." That's the year-­round custom at the Holy Land's Basilica of the Nativity. O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem! As many as two million visitors pass through the little town every year. Almost all arrive as pilgrims to venerate--­ or tourists to gawk at--­the place where Jesus was born. They stand in long lines to pause for a brief moment before the site where Mary and Joseph took shelter and the field where angels announced the birth to shepherds. There is time for a quick prayer, perhaps, before the monk who serves as custodian urges you to make way for the next person in line. To the intensely devout or the intensely curious, a moment is enough. It's worth the occasional anti-­Christian slur called at you in a city that is now predominantly Muslim. It's worth the hostilities you might have to witness in a city that has been a combat zone in recent memory. (The Basilica of the Nativity was occupied and besieged in 2002.) It's certainly worth the inconvenience of the wait in line. The sense of effort and danger is part of Bethlehem's appeal for pilgrims like me. So I felt exhilarated as my family moved from site to site. I strained to hear every whispered word of the tour guides, who were hushed by monks whenever they dared to raise their voices. As I waited in line I scanned the walls and the horizon in search of small details I might know from Scripture and history. Amid my reveries, though, my roving eyes were drawn again and again to a more familiar sight: my dear and only daughter, my twelve-­year-­old, Hannah. She looked bored and restless. The devotion of an older generation can seem an alien thing to a teen. Hannah knew the Bible stories, of course, but not in the way I knew them--­from the years I had spent in seminary and then in a doctoral program in theology. I could see that the guides who enthralled me bored her, as they droned on about the distant past. And she seemed less than satisfied by the reward at the end of a long wait in line: a few seconds to stretch gymnastically in order to kiss some holy and historic rock. By the time we reached Bethlehem, we had already visited several other biblical sites, and the strain was showing on Hannah's face. I tried to give her extra attention, at the Basilica of the Nativity, to ease the time in line for the crypt. Our group passing through was very large, hundreds of people from several buses, but Hannah and I were among the first to queue up, so we soon found ourselves descending the short staircase into the crypt under the church's main altar--­the cave where, according to ancient tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. We paused and prayed and bent low to kiss the fourteen-­point silver star that marks the spot. As we emerged from the exit staircase, we could see the line from our group--­now stretched the length of the basilica and out the doors in back. I told Hannah it could be an hour's wait till all our people made it through. It was probably not the most helpful thing to say. She sighed a deep teenaged sigh, expressing a boredom that approached despair, and I prayed the usual parental prayer for wisdom. Then came the godsend. One of the local people who were working with our group came over to announce the next scheduled stop: our group would pay a visit to a nearby orphanage. We could begin moving in that direction. I looked at Hannah, and her face lit up. The orphanage trip meant immediate release from the dim church where she'd been doomed to the slow counting of tourists who passed by. Our guide led us out the doors and into the bright sunlight of the square. It was a quick walk to the orphanage, and we had no trouble keeping the pace. Even I felt relieved after the slow shuffle of the queues. And Hannah seemed more engaged than she had at any other moment since our arrival in the Holy Land. The orphanage was crowded with children, but they were bright and clean. Hannah was giddy, practically ecstatic, to be around children instead of monuments. She did not know, and maybe could not understand, the reason such a place was necessary. She knew little about the Israeli-­Palestinian conflicts--­the bombs, the battles, the economic collapse, and the primitive medical care that had left so many children without the care of a mother and father. The little boys and girls beamed as they saw Hannah and closed in for her company. In early adolescence, she was a giant among the toddlers, yet she was clearly not a grown-­up. Her age accommodated her perfectly to their care. The staff at the orphanage led her to a chair and asked if she would like to hold babies. Hannah smiled and gave an eager yes. It was important, they explained, that each infant receive a healthy amount of close human contact every day--­the closeness they would get in a home with parents and siblings. The third of six children, Hannah had had long experience with babies. So she knew what to do when a nurse handed her the first bundle. She cradled the tiny boy in her arms and leaned her face down toward his. Her voice rose an octave as she lavished endearments on him. She must have made all the right moves. A caretaker came to cycle that baby out--­and replace him with another. And then another. Hannah beamed. She was animated in a way she had not been since we left home. She chattered with us cheerily between coos for the baby. I was feeling happy because she was feeling happy--­and then I got hit by another sort of happiness. As I watched Hannah, radiant in that chair in Bethlehem, I thought of another teenaged girl. She, too, had come to this town from far away. Her eighty-­mile journey by donkey surely took longer than our nonstop flight from New York. She arrived under circumstances that were less than ideal. She surely had to wait in line and deal with crowds. Sleepy first-­century Bethlehem was not designed to handle a census. Yet that young woman, long centuries ago, found fulfillment in Bethlehem--­in a baby placed in her arms. Everyone who saw her remembered her radiance, and after two thousand years we still remember it. Looking at Hannah as she looked at those babies, I could understand why. The effect on Hannah was long-­lasting. She was changed--­visibly changed and inwardly transformed. You could see it in her face and in her deeds. Months later, she organized a fund-­raiser to send clothes to "her orphans" in Bethlehem. She had undergone a spiritual awakening, but still more than that. It was a kind of maternal awakening--­a coming of age--­a transition from being a little kid to caring for little kids. There were many wonderful memories from that trip, but our time in the orphanage stood out. In Bethlehem I know I saw the joy of Christmas--­not exactly at the spot of the nativity, but not far from it. What had been merely a word for me--­Christmas--­was now a word made flesh. And the moment is still vivid in my memory. The reality of Christmas, for me, is not primarily what I learned at seminary or in the research I slogged through in pursuit of a doctorate. Christmas is, for me, the joy and the love that passed between a young woman and the child who had been placed in her arms. That child was Jesus, and in time he made way for another child who needed love--­and that child was you--­and that child was me. He grew and redeemed us so that he could welcome us into the life he lived here on earth. He welcomed us into the very family he created for himself. Jesus did not come into this world alone. He came into this world by way of a family, and he brought us salvation so that we could share membership in the family of God. That's the very meaning of salvation and the meaning of Christmas: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12)--­God's sons and daughters, members of his family. If we don't understand Christmas, then we don't really understand what Jesus did when he saved us. There is a family dimension to all the saving mysteries--­from the Lord's passion and death to his institution of the sacraments and the Church--­but nowhere is it so brilliantly manifest as in the story of the birth of Jesus. That's what my daughter, Hannah, showed me in Bethlehem all those years ago. The Christmas story is one of the most popular stories in all of history, yet I would argue that it defies many of the conventions of narrative. The most enduring stories are usually those that have outstanding heroes and memorable villains. Christmas does have its villains, and they're easy to identify. Bloodthirsty King Herod looms over the opening chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel. When Saint John speaks symbolically about the Messiah's birth, in Revelation 12, he informs us that the real archvillain is Satan himself, portrayed as a murderous dragon. But who is the hero of the Christmas story? We tend to read the Gospel narrative through two millennia of tradition, and so the answer seems obvious: The hero is Jesus! He's the "reason for the season." He's the Christ we strive to keep in Christ-­mas. It's his story we hear and then go out to "tell it on the mountain." Yes, Jesus is at the center of the drama, but he doesn't behave like a conventional hero. He doesn't fit the classical model. He's not acting alone. He's not intruding himself to change the course of events. In fact, he's hardly acting at all. He's passive: nursed and placed to sleep in a manger, found on his mother's lap by the Magi, carried away in flight to Egypt. Like any baby, he exercises a powerful attraction--­drawing love from those who draw near. Yet he is visible only because other arms are holding him. The Christmas story has an unconventional hero--­not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family. The details of the story always lead us back to that fact. We see the swaddling bands and know they're for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling. So we have a mother and child. We have a father. We have a household. We hear tell of the manger-­crib where he lay, but someone needed to place him there. We read of the child's exile in Egypt, but someone had to take him there--­someone had to protect him from brigands along the desert roads--­and someone had to work hard to support the mother and baby in a foreign land. The scenes of Jesus's early life--­Mary's crisis pregnancy, Joseph's provident decisions, Herod's persecution--­are dramatic precisely because they involve the intersection of so many individual lives. Indeed, the other details of the story derive their meaning from the Gospel's primary focus on the family: the Holy Family. The dragon and Herod are clearly anti-­family, anti-­child--­murdering Bethlehem's offspring, devouring them. History tells us that King Herod slaughtered his own sons, and the Gospel shows him commanding his soldiers to turn their swords upon the children of Bethlehem. The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity. Pope Saint John Paul II noted that everything good--­history, humanity, salvation--­"passes by way of the family."1 When God came to save us, he made salvation inseparable from family life, manifest in family life. Since the family is the ordinary setting of human life, he came to share it, redeem it, and perfect it. He made it an image and sacrament of a divine mystery. Salvation itself finds meaning only in familial relations. The truth of Christmas begins with a family. The events turned historically on the decisions of a husband and father, a wife and mother. We know of these events only because that mother pondered them in her heart and chose to share them with her son's disciples (Luke 2:19, 51). The truth of Christmas was passed on by way of families. Ancient pilgrims found their way to the cave of the nativity, not because there were historical markers and directional signs along the dirt roads of Bethlehem, but because the earliest Christians--­some of them perhaps eyewitnesses, or the children of eyewitnesses--­had pondered the local events and passed on their accounts to the next generations. For centuries, their faith was illegal. In Bethlehem, as elsewhere, they met for worship not in grand churches, but in family homes. And they considered all who met together to be one common family. That, indeed, is one of the most profound implications of the Christmas story: that God had made his dwelling place among men, women, and children, and he called them--­he calls us--­to become his family, his holy household. That, then, is the theme of the chapters that follow. They are meditations on Christ's coming into the world--­the Christmas story--­in light of its most intimate and most necessary historical setting. We'll meet the members of the Holy Family and join them on their journeys: to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, and to Egypt. We'll consider the deepest meaning of the small details of the narrative: the angels and the manger, the swaddling bands and the Magi, the star and the shepherds. The details sometimes seem strange and impenetrable until we consider them in relation to a home, a mother, a father, a bond, a household, a lineage, a heritage. And now the heritage is ours! We are Christ's family, and so the joy of Christmas belongs to us. And it can be experienced not just in the Holy Land, but anywhere, at any time of year, every day. Without Christ, the world was a joyless place; and anyplace where he remains unknown and unaccepted is a joyless place. Everything has changed since Christ's birth, yet everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith. Excerpted from Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed the World by Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 A Light Goes On in Bethlehemp. 1
Chapter 2 What Happens in Bethlehem...p. 13
Chapter 3 A New Genesisp. 23
Chapter 4 The Counterfeit Kingdomp. 39
Chapter 5 Mary: Cause of Our Joyp. 49
Chapter 6 Silent Knight, Holy Knightp. 67
Chapter 7 Angels: Echoing Their Joyous Strainsp. 83
Chapter 8 O Little Town of Bethlehemp. 97
Chapter 9 Do You Believe in Magi?p. 107
Chapter 10 Shepherds, Why This Jubilee?p. 119
Chapter 11 The Glory of Your People: The Presentationp. 127
Chapter 12 Flight into Joyp. 135
Chapter 13 Blessed Trinities: Heaven and the Holy Familyp. 145
Chapter 14 Joy to the World!p. 155
Notesp. 169