December 2016

     The nativity of Jesus is one event that creates a world of knowledge when it combines factual history with a long tradition of art. For example, this historical event was recreated on panel paintings by hundreds of artists throughout the middle ages and Renaissance for churches and cathedrals across Europe.

     But the art spun off from a form that originated in Late Antiquity as a formal literary document. The diptych was a folded, flat two-plated ivory notebook attached by hinges to display consular texts. Its name is Greek in origin for "fold."

     One diptych example was the Barberini Diptych from Constantinople. A triptych was a three-hinged book that later was introduced as panel paintings. One example was Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiece for Cardinal Gaetani at Old Saint Peter's Basilica and The Seilern Triptych, Entombment of Christ, by Robert Campin, c. 1420 A polyptych had multiple hinges, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Matthias Grunwald and Nikolaus Hagenauer, for the Monastery of Saint Anthony, 1515.

     Using the activity cards encased with this unit, have the group examine each image separately, and then chart the various titles, forms, and other details about each piece. Of course, these works all deal with a theme related to Christmas Day. This can be completed as homework and discussed the following day or week.

     As a follow-up evaluation, have each student prepare their own diptych or triptych layout. Instead of religious figures, the characters may represent heroes, angels, or historical figures. The design must include makeshift hinges and a description of the scenes, back to back.

     As for literary traditions, what is the event of Christ's nativity about? If anything, it is the history of at least one family trying to stay together safely, as far back as almost 2,000 years ago. 

     The nativity event actually occurred back in the day after Julius Caesar and Pompey gained control of the  Mediterranean and Asia Minor. For this context, the Bible provides a reliable source for facts. It so happens two of these historical accounts vary; Matthew's version includes a visit from the Magi and a very realistic journey into Egypt from Nazareth, Israel, to Bethlehem of Galilee, Egypt, where Jesus was born. Luke's account includes a presentation of newborn baby Jesus in the Temple. What other differences exist between Matthew and Luke? Here are both accounts. You be the judge.

     LUKE 2

 1 The Birth of Jesus In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Jesus Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord,”

24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.

26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,

28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen your Salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,

35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.


     The Birth of Jesus Christ Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. The Visit of the Wise Men .

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt

15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Herod Kills the Children

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Activities and Discussion -- Elementary


     The student will be able to:

Sequence several events of the Nativity story from the reading in chronological order;  label the start and end points of Joseph and Mary's journey;

Formulate questions and answer questions to investigate the interrelationship between sense of self, role, relationship, responsibility, and various situations in daily life;

Use an inquiry process to examine past and present traditions and celebrations within their own family and community;

Describe landform regions, land type uses in Ontario, and how land use in Ontario municipalities addresses social demands;

Demonstrate an understanding that people have different roles, relationships, and responsibilities, and that all people should be treated with respect, regardless of role, relationship, or responsibility.


     The student will be able to:

Label the start and end points of Joseph and Mary's journey;

Understand roles and responsibilities of citizens and different levels of government;

Describe relevant aspects of ancient Rome's power in global regions and organize that information through speech, writing, and graph or chart form;

Learn about the basic components of medieval art forms, describe their definitions verbally and in writing, using appropriate vocabulary, what they impart about past social and environmental issues from several perspectives (for example, governmental responsibility for addressing those issues;

Use an inquiry process to examine global issues of political, social, economic, and/or environmental importance during the Roman Empire, their impact on global communities, and responses to these issues, and clarify ideas verbally and in writing


Reading handouts, blank world maps, graph paper, pens, paper, markers, images


Read two accounts of the Nativity from Luke and Matthew on the handout sheet.

Choose 10 illustrated scenes that best represent parts of the Nativity event and put them in chronological order.

     Use citations from the story to support your sequence. Plot these on a map or graph. Print out the path Joseph and Mary took from their hometown Nazareth to Bethlehem. How far was the actual journey?

Look at the topography. What might the journey have been like on donkey and foot?

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