The first book of the year...a fine little volume for Advent.

Ok, so it's way past Advent...yea, I get that.  However since it took me a few days to read through this, I  figured I would start my 2013 book reviews with this fine little volume by Pope Benedict.  Mind you...I approach anything theological written by a Pope with a great deal of trepidation since I know that my knowledge of Scripture and Catholic dogma is not the best...hey I said your Historian was Grouchy, not a good Catholic.

However, this book, weighing in at less than 150 pages, was just the perfect thing for a little Advent meditation without making my brain (or soul) hurt too much.  Part exegesis (ha, didn't think I knew what that was did ya??), part historical criticism and part comparative analysis, the Holy Father takes us on a journey through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as they relate the story of the Incarnation, Annunciation, Birth and Presentation of Jesus.

Now, speaking as a historian, I really appreciated the depth and quality of Benedict's scholarship.  Truly one of the finest theologians of his generation, he is also a pretty darned good historian as well, seamlessly blending historiography and theology to show us how Jesus fit not only into salvation history, but secular history as well.  He takes a point-by-point approach, without being overwhelming, of showing how both Matthew and Luke approached the telling of the Christmas story to their respective audiences, using specific imagery and quotes from the Old Testament that would resonant with their readers. (side-note:  one of the greatest lessons I learned was that each Gospel was written for a specific audience- ergo Matthew for the Jews, Luke and Mark for the Gentiles...although Luke's Gospel was immediately followed by Acts.  And of course John...well, I'm not sure exactly who his Gospel was written for...maybe the hippies and twisted mystics of his day?)

Pope Benedict goes through each phase, as it were, of the infancy of Jesus and does so in a way that shows not only how He was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophesy, but that there was serious foreshadowing of his Passion and Resurrection even in his birth.  One example is that Jesus was laid in a manger, which was used to feed the oxen and other animals in the stable, being placed on what was essentially a feeding table clearly prefigures Jesus in the Eucharist for Catholics today.....pretty heady stuff from my point of view.

So, if you want a bite-sized introduction to the wonderful theology and writing genius of our current Holy Father...this is a great book.