The Birth of Jesus, Part IV. The Two Versions of the Birth Story

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 5 December 2012 0 Comments
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I wonder if you have ever thought abut producing a monthly homily for those of us weary to death of two hundred years of scripture scholarship being ignored in what we hear. Last week it was, “You are Peter...” and not one word about whether or not Jesus actually said it or even that the original building was to be of a polis. Some years ago I did this for some of my friends and posted them to me website at, but I do not have your expertise or pastoral experience. I’m a Catholic laywoman, now widowed, who took seriously the documents of Vatican II and trained to the PhD level to be one of those lay leaders who were to balance the clerical mind-set in decisions in my church. Of course, I have no forum to do so. Anyway, just a thought from a weary traveler in Christian country.



Dear Catherine,

No, I haven’t thought about producing a monthly homily. I write this column once a week and that is all I can manage.

I also think a homily or a sermon is part of the life of a worshiping community and draws its strength and power from the common life of the worshipers. A sermon delivered by e-mail and read individually is not in my opinion an effective tool of communication.

I certainly share with you a despair over much that passes as preaching. I will never forget listening to two dreadful sermons in a row from two different preachers during the Christmas season on the innkeeper from Luke’s gospel. One suggested that the innkeeper was sensitive to Mary’s need for privacy given her near term condition. The other said the innkeeper was like his mother for whom there was always room for one more around the dinner table. The thing of interest to me was that there is no innkeeper in Luke’s Christmas narrative or anywhere else in the Bible. The innkeeper is the creation of pageant directors and myth makers.

I see this column largely in terms of being an online class in Bible study. My hope is that as biblical scholarship is improved, it will carry preaching with it.

Thanks for writing. For what it is worth, I personally I love listening to sermons as a worshiper in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey. We have a great rector, a great associate and a great congregation.

~John Shelby Spong





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