The First Christmas by Marcus Borg & Dominic Crossan

Study Begins November 15, 2015

Available on Amazon  in hardcover, paperback and for Kindle.

Scroll down to hear an interview with the authors.


Mickey Goodson - Study Coordinator

On Sunday, November 22, the Pilgrims class will begin our study of The First Christmas (2007, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan).  We will continue through eight weeks, taking us through Sunday morning, January 10 (the first Sunday after Epiphany).  

Advent is the liturgical season of expectant waiting, focusing our thoughts on the hope of incarnation (God with us).  Epiphany (January 6, the "12th day of Christmas") falls on a Wednesday in 2016.  Epiphany commemorates the revelation of incarnation to gentiles as well (i.e., the whole world), as symbolized in Matthew's story of the visit of the magi sometime after the birth  Thus, Christmas and Epiphany are integrally tied together, and their meaning is the focus of our study for the next eight weeks.

During holy week in 2009, Pilgrims focused on the story of Jesus's last week, as told in the gospel of Mark.  Our guide then was another Borg/Crossan book, The Last Week.  Together, the birth stories and the stories of the week leading up to Easter serve as "bookends that frame the gospel stories of his public activity, his mission and message.  The stories of his birth . . . are like overtures to the story of Jesus, just as Holy Week is its finale."  

Borg/Crossan acknowledge that Christmas is a sentimental time for most of us.  But they argue that the stories in Matthew and Luke are more than sentimental.  Rather, they are "both personal and political.  They speak of personal and political transformation.  Set in their first-century context, they are comprehensive and passionate visions of another way of seeing life and of living our lives."  The birth stories are, they argue, "richer and more challenging than is commonly imagined . . . they speak, and speak powerfully, about our deepest yearnings and about God's promises and passions . . . They are about us  -- our hopes and fears.  And they are about a different kind of world.  God's dream for us is not simply peace of mind, but peace on earth." (viii - x)

Our work with the Matthew and Luke "Christmas stories" over these eight weeks will be a focused scripture study.  We'll try to wrestle with the question  "What do the gospels really teach about Jesus's birth? "   The Borg/Crossan text has nine chapters, which we plan to discuss on this schedule:

What kind of stories are these?
Nov 22:  Chp 1 (The two different stories), and  Chp 2 (Parables as overture, i.e., literary genre).  Don't forget to read the book's preface too!
Nov 29:  Chp 3 (The context of the stories, "Rome" vs "the kingdom")

Some important details in the stories:
Dec 6:    Chp 4 (Genealogy as destiny)
Dec 13:   Chp 5 (An Angel comes to Mary). - Meet at 9 am
Dec 20:  Chp 6 (David's city of Bethlehem)

The meaning of Jesus' birth:
Dec 27:  Chp 7 (Light against darkness)
Jan 3:     Chp 8 (Fulfillment of prophecy)
Jan 10:   Chp 9 (Joy to the world)

Jan 17:  Reflection on the Study

The resources you will need for our First Christmas study are:

  • A good Bible translation (the email for the first chapter will include brief recommendations on study bibles if you'd like to go that route)
  • Hopefully, some reading time with the Borg/Crossan text.  
  • Of course, an inquiring mind is always a prerequisite of learning for those of us who consider ourselves "unfinished."

Here's the workplan:  

  • It would probably be good for everyone to read both the Matthew and Luke birth stories afresh as we begin (chapters 1 and 2 in each gospel).
  • If you've chosen to purchase the Borg/Crossan text, try to spend time with it each week.
  • Each week I will email a summary of key thoughts in the chapter(s) for the upcoming Sunday.
  • Then, we'll use our Sunday morning group times together to discuss what we've read, to share insights, and to lift meanings.

We'll need at least three Pilgrims each week to accept responsibility as "discussion facilitators" in the breakouts.  This should not require much additional preparation, just the willingness to be the discussion leader and assure that everyone gets the opportunity to participate.  If you have preferences for when you'd like to be called on for this duty, or if you would like advance notice, please let me know.

And so, we're off and running.  You will see the email summaries for chapters 1 and 2 (the topic for the November 22 Sunday morning) in your in-box early next week.  This study is an opportunity to engage with the minds of two leading contemporary Jesus scholars on the meaning of the Jesus event, as foreshadowed in the birth stories themselves.

May our expectant waiting in this season be joyous.  And may it lead to epiphany!


From the Religious Studies YouTube Channel


Published on Apr 22, 2013

In The First Christmas Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan—top Jesus scholars and authors of The Last Week—help us see the real Christmas story buried in the familiar Bible accounts. Basing their interpretations on the two nativity narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Borg and Crossan focus on the literal story—the inner truth rather than the historical facts—to offer a clear and uplifting message of hope and peace. With The First Christmas readers get a fresh, deep, and new understanding of the nativity story, enabling us to better appreciate the powerful message of the Gospels.