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the stars as they keep on in their eternal courses, not wandering hither and thither through the heavens, to guide bewildered magicians as they are hunting after the birth of a child; the comets, whose law now can be read so that we can tell how many hundreds of years ago they were here and how many hundreds of years hence they will appear again,are no longer supposed to be portents to give warning of the coronation, the sickness, or death of selfish or brutal and foolish kings. God's majesty of might among the stars moves on. His wonder in their brightness, his wonder in the growing of the grass beneath our feet, his wonder in the eternal beat and laughter of the sea, his wonder in the sculpturing and carving of the mountains, his wonder in marking out the watercourses of the earth,— the wonder of God everywhere, as modern science is revealing it, is giving us a conception of infinitude and majesty and glory, beside which all the poor tricks of legerdemain, which are connected with the myths of the past, seem contemptible and poor. As Lowell tells it in his " Parable,” a prophet who goes to the mountain in search of a sign from God, on his return, meets his little daughter with an equal sign and wonder in her hand, which, as he says,

"Beside my very threshold, She had plucked and brought to me."


IF I should confine myself strictly to the few things that are absolutely known, I might sum up my morning's discourse in two or three brief phrases. All that we really know about the birth and childhood of Jesus is, first, that he was born; secondly, that he had a childhood; thirdly, that out of this birth and childhood there came a wondrous manhood. But on the basis of slight indications and stories and traditions there has grown up such a stupendous, unnatural, incredible superstructure of dogma that it seems necessary for us, if we will find out what Jesus really was, that we make some particular and careful investigation of these stories and of their origin. I ask you, then, not to think of me as simply critical, fault-finding, picking to pieces this passage of Scripture or that, but rather as endeavoring to find the real Jesus. I will, if I can, strike out a road through the jungle and thick undergrowth of superstition and myth and legend, if by any means we may find a path, so that we may come to the cradle of the real child of Joseph and Mary, and find out that he is not some monstrous birth, separated from us so that we can never really know or understand him, but that he is our brother, and may be our teacher, our inspirer and friend. That we may perform this work, it will be necessary for me, as I said, carefully and critically to review the stories that

are told about his birth, that we may see whether they agree together, out of what they have probably sprung, and how much reliance may be placed upon them as actual history. I believe we shall find them to be not historic, but legendary; not reality, but poetry. And when, by and by, the mind of the nineteenth century has learned to think of them as they are, as beautiful developments of the loving and adoring imagination of Jesus' friends and followers, we shall then be able to read them simply, as we cannot now, without being troubled by the supernatural in them, any more than to-day we are troubled in reading the myths of Greece or Rome; any more than we are troubled about the story of Hercules strangling the serpents in his cradle, or the story of Minerva springing full-grown and full-armed, with helmet, shield, and spear, from the brow of her father Jove.

Let us, then, look at the tales that the gospel narrators tell. We can dispose of John in a word.

If you will take the Gospel of John and read it through carefully with this one thought in mind, you will find that throughout its pages Jesus is not treated as a man. You may not be persuaded that he is treated as the equal of the omnipotent God, but he is at least superhuman, a demigod. John was written, as I have already told you, toward the last of the second century; and by this time the Hebrew Jesus was lost in the growth of Greek philosophy and pagan myth. So John, wishing to carry out this idea of keeping Jesus separate from and above humanity, makes no reference whatever to his having had any human origin. But, apparently by accident, he reveals to us what was the original and universal tradition, when he makes Nathaniel ask Philip, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

At the other end of this scale stands the Gospel of Mark. This represents the oldest, the original tradition of all. And

here we find Jesus not superhuman, not a demigod, but a simple man, the prophet of Nazareth. But this Gospel of Mark, or the tradition it represents, had come into existence before the wonder-stories connected with his birth had hardened into belief. So there is no trace of any appearance of angels, of any supernatural birth, of anything wonderful about his origin in any way whatever. He is treated simply as the son of Joseph and Mary; and it is said that, when he comes to John for baptism, he comes from his home in Nazareth.

Many years after this tradition had taken shape, the Gospel of Matthew was written. Many years after Matthew, the Gospel of Luke was written. And in these two we find the tradition partly grown in Matthew, and still more largely developed in Luke. And if we find, as we go along, that it is impossible for us to reconcile the conflicting accounts of Luke and Matthew, we need not be troubled by it at all; for, when Luke wrote his Gospel, Matthew's was one among those many" that he refers to in his introduction: it had not yet taken its place as an authority in the Church, and the writer of Luke would have had no sort of scruple in telling his own story independently, without raising the question as to whether it was or was not consistent with the same story as told by Matthew.


Let us now come to the special points of these stories, refer to them very briefly, and then look at them side by side. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find that the home of Joseph and Mary is represented as having been at Bethlehem,—not Nazareth, but Bethlehem. Here Joseph and Mary are betrothed. And betrothal, you must remember, in the time of Jesus and among the Jews, was practically the same as marriage; only there remained the further ceremony of bringing the bride publicly to her husband's home. Joseph finds that

Mary is to become a mother, and he is represented as suspecting her fidelity. Then he dreams that an angel comes to him, and tells him that the father of the child to be born is the Holy Ghost. Immediately after this there appear the three wise men coming from the far east and led by a star. Curiously enough, in the first instance they are not led to Bethlehem. They are led to Jerusalem, and here they make inquiries in regard to the place where this wondrous child is to be born, until they have aroused the suspicion of Herod. Then the star, which had not led them aright in the first place, appears a second time, and directs their course from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Meantime, Joseph has had another dream, and the angel warns him against the hate of Herod; and he takes the child and its mother and flies into Egypt. Now Herod, enraged because the wise men had not come back and reported to him,- for they also had had a dream, and been warned to return home another way,- sends out his soldiers and puts to death all the male children from two years of age and under in and about the city of Bethlehem. After Herod's death, Joseph dreams again, and the angel tells him that it is safe for him to return to his own land. When he is nearly there, he hears that Archelaus, the son of Herod, is ruling in his stead, and he is afraid to return to Bethlehem; and the angel in another dream appears to him, and he turns northward into Galilee, to the city of Nazareth, and makes that his home. And that is Matthew's explanation of how it comes to pass that Jesus is a Nazarene.

Now let us see what the story is in Luke, passing it over briefly in just this simple way. Here, as I said, we shall find that the wonders are very largely grown. Now it is not an angel coming in a dream, but a veritable angel appearing in person; and he does not come to Joseph now, nor eveu to Mary in the first instance,-for not only mast there be a

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