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Lunch Box Conversations: Sebastian Gomes on the Birth of the Messiah

Vivian Cabrera

Monday, December 14, 2015

As Canada’s only Catholic Television Network that broadcasts across the nation 24 hours a day seven days a week, we run a fairly tight operation. With 30 or so full time employees, everyone is constantly doing one thing or another. But when it comes to lunch time, there is no messing around. We sit, we chat, we eat and we enjoy each other’s company. In this series, I sit down with various colleagues of mine to have deep, insightful conversations about their latest projects and activities. I (cleverly) call this – Lunch Box Conversations. This week, I sat down with Sebastian Gomes for a delicious meal and to discuss his newest project - a special Christmas documentary called The Birth of the Messiah.
Sebastian and I chatting about The Birth of the Messiah.
V: What was your inspiration for The Birth of the Messiah?
Sebastian Gomes studying the Scriptures with leading Scripture scholar Sr. Laurie Brink.
SG: When we think of Christmas we tend to think of a Nativity scene. We put all the characters together, like St. Francis of Assisi did, to create a warm, cozy manger scene. But when you read the infancy narratives—the Christmas stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke—you realize that our nativity scenes are not entirely accurate. There are some major discrepancies between Matthew and Luke’s stories.
For example, Matthew has Joseph and Mary living in a house in Bethlehem when Mary discovers she’s pregnant. She gives birth to Jesus in their family home. Luke has Joseph and Mary travelling from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, where they have trouble finding a vacancy, and she gives birth in an unknown place.  We presume that because Mary “laid him in a manger” (Lk 2:7) that the place was a barn or stable, but Luke doesn’t say explicitly. So, did Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem or Nazareth?
When you study the texts carefully and notice such discrepancies, it raises important questions about how we read the Scriptures and what we presume about the Christmas story. This shouldn’t be a threatening thing. It’s actually an enriching thing because it leads us to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the infancy narratives, and the truth about Jesus. When we go a little deeper into the story, we see that both Matthew and Luke tell their own unique story about the same reality, namely, that the long-anticipated Messiah in the Jewish tradition is this Jesus, who is the son of God.
So, my inspiration for The Birth of the Messiah came from a desire to explore the riches of these two infancy narratives in a way that’s accessible for people today. The truth is we Catholics don’t really know the Scriptures well. This kind of biblical exploration, which has been encouraged by the Church since the 1960’s but is still not widely known, is invaluable for understanding Jesus and what it means to be his disciple today. 
V: How will The Birth of the Messiah be different from other programs on the Christmas story?
SG: It’s true there are always a lot of TV programs about Jesus around Christmas time. The same thing happens at Easter time. There’s a kind of cultural fascination with the Jesus story in our part of the world during these seasons.
What typically ends up happening is that a TV network will produce a program that focuses entirely on questions of historicity, that is, of whether or not something actually happened. They find a variety of historians, theologians and Christian ministers to examine the historical probability of the resurrection, for example.
It’s interesting that these programs—especially the mainstream TV network programs—rarely feature Catholic Scripture scholars. They typically feature historians of religion (nonbelievers) and/or Protestant Scripture scholars.
In my years of studying theology and moving in Catholic circles I’ve met and read some incredible Catholic Scripture scholars. So, I thought, why not feature “the Catholic perspective” on some of these questions?
What this means practically is that our program, The Birth of the Messiah, goes beyond simply asking the historical questions. Yes, those questions are important, but the infancy narratives as we read and understand them are not pure history. They are much more than that. They contain the living memory of our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. So, in a sense, we can’t treat the stories purely objectively, because they are our stories too.  Discovering that is an enriching and liberating experience.
V: Did you learn anything new while preparing for The Birth of the Messiah?
SG: Of course. Even though I’ve read the infancy narratives a thousand times, I always learn something new when I study them. The thing that jumped out at me this time was how uniquely complex and complete each of the infancy narratives is. Reading them separately as two distinct narratives allows you to grasp more fully what they’re trying to tell you about Jesus. There’s a whole theology of Matthew’s narrative and another whole theology of Luke’s. And once you open those doors and immerse yourself in each one, you come to a deeper understanding of Jesus and the vast richness of the Christian tradition.
V: Thanks Sebastian! 
Here are a few behind-the-scenes photos:
Be sure to catch The Birth of the Messiah on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015 at 8 pm ET/ 5 pm PT only on Salt + Light! See the trailer below:

Vivian Cabrera is a displaced Texan living in Canada. A recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, she enjoys writing about the many ups and downs (both spiritual and physical) that come with moving to a country very similar yet quite different from her own. And because God is good all the time, she spends most of her time trying not to forget how to speak Spanish and working as the Social Media Coordinator for Salt + Light. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Suggestions? Find her up on twitter (@iCabrera05) or email her here: [email protected].

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