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The Christmas Mystery: What on earth happened at Bethlehem?

Authentic Media, 2007
RRP $18.95

Reviewed by Bob Warrick, a retired Uniting Church minister.

It is many years since I came across the ‘Christmas IQ Test’. Comparing the Christmas story according to Christmas Carols and popular myth with the Biblical Christmas story, it always added something to the plethora of pre-Christmas events.
The Christmas Mystery includes the NRSV text of the Matthew and Luke stories, a one page select bibliography, nine pages of notes and a useful index.
Mr Foster’s opening words in his Preface give some indication of what is to follow. “The church by and large does not celebrate Christmas … many pack churches … Biblical Christmas is almost never mentioned.”
And the eight chapters – including Away in a manger, How to read the nativity accounts, The date and the census, Born in Bethlehem?, Stars, magi and murder, alleged improbabilities in Matthew, Born of a Virgin? and Born which happy morning? – mean that the story is examined from every possible angle.
The Christmas Mystery would make an excellent choice for an Advent bible study group – and it is a comfortable size for reading in your train or bus!
Some tempters …
“Biblical genealogies are an acquired taste, they tell us something of what the writer’s agenda is and are meant to be used.” [p12]
“Matthew plays fast and loose with the Old Testament.” [p 22]
“The world doesn’t end if we read a bit of the Bible and say ‘I haven’t the first idea of what this is about.” [p 26]
“Matthew is always difficult and often maddening … but there are no compelling reasons to doubt his accuracy or his integrity.” [p73]
“The notion of the virginal conception of Jesus was not only theologically unnecessary but in the light of the early church’s tussle with the Gonostics positively harmful.” [p 84]
I think you’ll find that Foster’s Mystery will provide much food for Advent reflection.