Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bible in a Year: Matthew and OT Connections

In 2017 and into Lent 2018, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

I haven't worked on these posts since November because of other responsibilities. How fun to resume! I should wrap up these posts on Ash Wednesday or thereabouts.

Although I left off with Luke, I want to circle back to Matthew again. I found a fascinating book at the fall Society of Biblical Literature convention, David L. Turner’s Israel’s Last Prophet: Jesus and the Jewish Leaders in Matthew 23 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015).

Let me first circle back to the Old Testament... The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

Back in my post about 1 Chronicles (April 19, 2017), I noted (from the Harper Bible Commentary) that Genesis through 2 Kings can be called the primary history of the Jewish Bible, telling the long story from Creation to the fall of Judah. But Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther form an important secondary history, carrying the biblical story from Creation into the early post-exilic era when the Jews were allowed to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple during the Persian era. As the Harper Bible Commentary puts it, “The OT presents us, then, with two alternative tellings of the history of the Israelite people. Their difference in outlook does not necessarily make either of them unreliable; it only reinforces the fact that the telling of any story or any history must be selective and must reflect the intentions of some person or group” (p. 80).

The Primary History does not end on a hopeful note, with the people defeated and exiled, and Jerusalem destroyed. The Secondary History, coming from the post-exilic time and written for Jews struggling with a new era, is more hopeful. The Chronicler emphasizes King David and focuses upon both the monarchy and the Temple, so that “[t]he history of the monarchy… seems to be primarily a history of the establishment and maintenance of the worship of God,” a concern that carries over into Ezra and Nehemiah as the people rebuild the temple and Jerusalem (HBC, p. 79). Although Esther is set in Persia rather than the land, that book affirms the providential continuation of the Jewish people in foreign lands (p. 79). Even the genealogies are implicitly hopeful, demonstrating the continuity of God’s people from ancient times. It makes sense, then, that these books conclude the Jewish canon, effectively pointing to Jews toward their remarkable future.

Because two of the Gospels begin with genealogies that take us back to Adam and Abraham, we can think of the New Testament as a third great telling of Israelite history (or fourth, if you want to consider the Prophets as a different kind of retelling of God's relationship with the people). The New Testament does not literally narrate Israel’s history, but those books refer so often to the Scriptures—by one count, nearly 1400 Old Testament quotations, references, or allusions—that we have a another summary of the history, this one in reference to Jesus.

*****

Why, then, does the New Testament seem to be so anti-Jewish, and why have so many Christians over the centuries been anti-Jewish or antisemitic?

The short answer is: Christians should not be, and the fact that we have been is a tragedy and a shame upon our religion. The longer answer is that the New Testament reflects a time Christianity was a primarily Jewish phenomena, with Jews struggling and discussing with other Jews how Jesus-belief should affect the faith of Judaism and, indeed, what defines being Jewish. When critical or nasty things were said about Jews in the New Testament, it was among fellow Jews—-the way some of my St Louis Cardinals friends talk about the Chicago Cubs and their fans. There is rivalry but no notion that the Cubs are playing some other, bogus game besides baseball.

But after the New Testament period, Christianity was a predominantly Gentile religion, and what seemed to be the anti-Jewishness of the New Testament became actual anti-Jewishness: “those” people (not only a different religious group but now a different ethnic group besides my own) should believe in Jesus and they don’t, so I condemn them, as my holy scriptures apparently do.

There is nothing wrong with realizing how circumstances change after biblical times and with understanding the biblical authors' intentions. Those are aspects of good and responsible interpretation of the scriptures. In this case, we must realize that the supersessionist theology that many of us Gentile Christians have adopted is NOT the theology of New Testament, which is written predominantly by Jews about what they are considering a new Judaism that fulfills their post-exilic Jewish hope in an unexpected way: through the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus. That is, there is no rejection in the New Testament of Judaism as such—but to appreciate this fact requires study and openheartedness. (I’ll write more about this in a few weeks.)

My classmate Julie Galambush has written a wonderful book, The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament's Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book (HarperOne, 2006), which I’ll continue to quote as I study the New Testament in these posts. And---to finally return to my original point, LOL---I've been studying David L. Turner’s book, Israel’s Last Prophet: Jesus and the Jewish Leaders in Matthew 23 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015). Turner expounds on one of the most notoriously anti-Jewish-sounding chapters in the New Testament and puts it in context of first century Jewish belief.

Many Christians are accustomed to saying, “Oh, Jesus was more than a prophet, he was God’s Son.” But this seems to me another way of overlooking Jesus’ Jewish and scriptural heritage. As I write in my Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament book (p. 50), Jesus was often understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11; Mark 6:15; 8:28; Luke 7:16; John 4:19; 6:14; Acts 2:30), possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28; Luke 1:76-77; 4:18-20; 22:64), and elicited people’s excitement as a prophet, even the great prophet foretold by Moses (Deut. 18:15-18; see John 4:19; 6:14; 7:40-41). The people of Jesus' time weren't just hoping for a messiah, they were also looking to a new prophet like Moses.

All along in these posts, I’ve been interested in finding continuities between the Old and New Testaments. Part of the perceived hostility toward Jews and Judaism in the New Testament comes from an aspect of continuity between the two testaments: the theology of the Deuteronomistic History (the hypothetical ur-text of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings) is very much part of the New Testament thought-world. Turner cites the scholar O. H. Steck (Israel und das gewaltsame Geschick der Propheten, 1967) who describes the characteristic Deuteronomistic structure:

“1. Israel’s history is portrayed as one of habitual disobedience.
2. God patiently sent Israel prophet after prophet to urge them to repent.
3. Israel rejected these prophets, often killing them.
4. Thus God punished Israel through the Assyrians and Babylonians.
5. But God promises restoration to exiled Israel and judgment on Israel’s enemies if Israel will repent” (Turner, p. 5).

Turner points out that Neh. 9:26-30 reflects this structure, and that the theme is often found in the Tanakh and other Jewish writings of the late Second Temple period (pp. 5-6). As Second Temple-era documents, too, the New Testament stresses #3 more than #2, and #1 less so yet (p. 9). These themes very much reflect the Jewishness of the New Testament, and in this case Matthew particularly (often called the most Jewish of the Gospels). As I discussed in my Matthew post in November, the community to which Matthew wrote considered itself a persecuted group within the Judaism of its time. Consequently, the background of the Gospel’s “anti-Jewish” passages is not anti-Judaism as such, let alone antisemitism, but a deeply Deuteronomistic outlook about the rejected quality of Israel’s prophets (p. 9). Thus, in Matthew 23, Jesus scolds the Jewish leaders in the way that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets confronted leaders of their times—but not to reject them as Jews.

Turner writes: “No one can doubt that the language of Matthew 23 is several, and that it castigates certain first-century Jewish religious leaders in terms that make people with modern sensibilities extremely uncomfortable. And no one can deny that during the intervening centuries many Christians have used this language as a confirmation of anti-Semites attitudes and, worst yet, inquisitions, pogroms, and even the Shoah. But to the extent that Matthew 23 has been involved in these horrors, it has been misunderstood. Christian misunderstanding of Matthew 23 is born out of the arrogance against which Paul warned in Rom. 11;18-21. Such arrogance ignores the Jewishness of Jesus’ woe oracles and his concerns about hypocrisy and the rejection of the prophets. Jesus’ denunciation of the religious leaders in Matthew 23 is in keeping with both the spirit of th prophets and the rhetoric of the times. This denunciation should not be minimized by denying its essential historicity, but neither should it be extrapolated to apply to the Jewish people as a whole, either then or not” (pp. 379-380).

Turner goes on to note that the chapter serves as an excellent “Christian character check” (p. 380). The qualities that Jesus condemns in the Pharisees et al. are qualities of Christians, too, and throughout the Gospel Jesus warns his own followers to be on guard about these sins (p. 380). Turner sees this character check not only as a matter of Christian growth but also as a starting point of Jewish-Christian friendship and relationship (pp. 380ff). Turner’s book is a excellent study of these and other points of interpretation.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Conceptual Continuities

As I often do when I visit my hometown, Vandalia, I drive out to Four Mile Prairie, a place traversed by Illinois route 185. 

My maternal grandmother lived north of the east end of the prairie. The family cemetery where she is buried (and also about twenty other direct ancestors, and other relatives) is also near the prairie. So this is a place frequently visited and traversed during my childhood---and ever since.  

During the summer of 1974, when I was 17 and driving the seen-better-days ’63 Chevy that had been Dad’s stepfather’s, I was completing two genealogy projects: a family history of the Mom’s family, and also a record of all the tombstone inscriptions in the family cemetery.

One morning, driving down IL 185, pressing the clutch and accelerator with bare feet, I had an emotional experience of belonging, a sureness that I would always feel a deep connection to this place: my hometown Vandalia and the surrounding Fayette County. My experience, like a quiet sense of certainty, was right about this location, just east of the turn-off to the cemetery


Just down the road eastbound, I came to the end of the prairie, where the Brownstown Road turns north. The header photo of this blog is a different view of this location.


During the ensuing years, my home area has been (to use Frank Zappa’s phrase) a conceptual continuity for me. All the history teaching and writing that I’ve done connect to the summers I did local genealogy projects. And all the Bible-related and religious work that I’ve done (including most of my twenty books) relate back to my grandma, who not only inspired me to do genealogy but also got me interested in the Bible and spirituality in a very preliminary way that bloomed a year or two after her death. 

This past fall, I made a typical, leisurely drive out to Four Mile and enjoyed being there. I took the country roads out to another familiar place: the location of the one-room school where my mother attended prior to high school. The school has fallen down now, but I thought that the road leading up to it made a pretty picture. 


Is there something in your life that links most or all of your interests and activities in some way? 


Landscape: Lindström

Arvid Mauritz Lindström (1849-1923), "Evening, Sunset in Winter Landscape Colors". From Twitter, History of Painting @AHistoryofPaint, Dec. 27, 2017.







Thursday, December 28, 2017

Supporting Causes and Charities

I'm thinking about charities and other organizations that provide some kind of ministry or service or advocacy. This year I've wanted to step up a little better and increase my own awareness of such groups. If you’re interested even in a small end-of-the-year contribution, or if you're interested in getting behind a particular group, there are lots to investigate!

Groups that address hunger, refugee crises, and other crises include UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (unhcr.org), good old UNICEF (unicef.org; I trick-or-treated for them as a kid!), Church World Service (cwsglobal.org) and the related CROP hunger walks (crophungerwalk.org), American Jewish World Service (ajws.org). There are emergency relief organizations; the United Methodist Committee on Relief (umcor.org), is always a favorite, but other denominations have similar ministries.

What others are important to you? What am I You can check out such organizations not only through the websites but also through Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org/), which examines and clarifies things like financial expenditures, transparency, etc.

Then there are groups like Magdalene St Louis a community for women who’ve survived situations of sexual violence and addition (magdalenestl.org); the Trevor Project (thetrevorproject.org) that provides services to LGBTQ youth; and groups in different communities like food banks and homeless shelters to persons in need. There is a list of groups that address racial justice and the empowering of black communities: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/28-organizations-that-are-empowering-black-communities_us_58a730fde4b045cd34c13d9a

There are also groups like our local Diversity Awareness Partnership (dapstl.org) that works for and educates about diversity and inclusive communities, and also our local Interfaith Partnership (interfaithstl.org), that encourages interfaith understanding and mutuality. Many communities have similar kinds of organizations.

Lately I’ve been interested in learning more about organizations that address human rights and hate group activity, through advocacy of policy as well as education and other ways. There are several such groups, with different approaches and goals, like the Human Rights Foundation (hrc.org), Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org), Anti-Defamation League (adl.org), the ACLU (aclu.org), United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (ushmm.org), and others. Locally, I really appreciate the work of the Jewish Community Relations Council and all their great work to promote interfaith cooperation and fight antisemitism (jcrcstl.org)

Same deal: organizations like these can be investigated at Charity Navigator.

Obviously there are LOTS of areas in which a person can be socially involved, even in a small way, in addition to service in one’s own religious congregation and/or denomination.

I haven’t even gotten into alumni/a giving to one's university or college---we give to Webster U and Eden Seminary, for instance, and also to our colleges and my div school---and also environmental groups, pet rescue services, and others. PLUS, arts and music organizations, PBS and NPR...

I'm probably forgetting or unintentionally omitting some important groups. What am I leaving out?

But my point is: there are lots of ways to choose from, even to make a small positive difference in the world!



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Landscape: Waldmüller

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller  (1793-1865), "Praterlandschaft" (1830). From Twitter, "History of Painting" @AHistoryofPaint, Dec 12, 2017.



Landscape: Kondratenko

Gavriil "Pavlovič" Pavlovich Kondratenko (1854-1924), "Winter" (1883). From Twitter, "History of Painting" @AHistoryofPaint Dec. 9, 2017.




Monday, December 25, 2017

The Birthday of Life

"Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

"No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no person free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he received the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

"In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown humankind.

"And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God's goodness, what joy should it not bring to lowly hearts?

"Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh... Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom."

(From a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, I, Advent Season and Christmas Season, pp. 404-405. I made the language inclusive in three places. From 2014)


Sears Christmas Catalog

When I was ten in 1967, I got the notion that I wanted to save that year's Sears Christmas catalog "for posterity." I was a nerdy kid, interested in science but more interested in history than I realized. Partly aided by the fact that my parents rarely threw anything away, I managed to keep the catalog all these years, although I hadn't seen it lately. It reappeared this past summer when I sorted boxes in our basement storage room.

How interesting to look at the prices of things: board games were around $3, construction toys 8 to 10 dollars, talking dolls about $10, men's suits about $30, an 18-inch TV about $120. I found this site which features several representative pages. That year, the catalog was Dennis the Menace themed. After I placed this picture of the catalog on Facebook, a classmate commented she had fallen in love with a big toy collie in that same catalog and had begged her parents for it. I found it on page 582 and shared the picture with my friend.

I leafed through the pages and smiled at the different clothing styles, especially the 60s women's dresses. I wondered whether I'd recognize any of the toys I might have gotten for Christmas that year, and I'm guessing I got the chemistry set and the microscope. From this site, I see that 1967 was the last year the catalog was called the Christmas Book; in 1968 it officially became The Wish Book, as it had been informally called for years. Enterprising preservationists have scanned several vintage catalogs for their site http://www.wishbookweb.com.

For as long as they were produced, the big semi-annual catalogs from Sears, Penney's, Montgomery Ward, and other stores were enjoyable for many of us. But the Christmas catalogs were especially thrilling for generations of kids. Although A Christmas Story's Ralphie didn't reference the Wish Book, his joyful declaration about Christmas expresses humorously the feeling many of us had when the catalog came: "We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice." What a wonderful, shared cultural experience of searching the pages of toys, games, and other treasures in advance of Santa's arrival!

(from 2015) 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Wise Men and Shepherds Together

Our family set up our two creches for the season. It’s always nice to see them again after an eleven month absence!

If you’re familiar with the biblical Christmas stories, you know that Matthew and Luke have contrasting accounts. Matthew 1:8 through chapter 2 gives us the angelic announcement to Joseph, the visitation of the wise men, the escape to Egypt, the massacre of the innocents, and the return from Egypt. These stories provide a parallel of Jesus’ birth and that of Moses. Matthew has nothing about an inn and a manger, and Jesus’ family goes to Nazareth to escape Herod’s wrath, rather than the family journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a census.

Luke 1:5 through 2:40 interweaves John the Baptist’s birth with Jesus’ and provides us with accounts of John’s parents, the angelic visitation to Mary, the journey to Bethlehem because of the census, the inn with no vacancy and the manger, the angels and shepherds, and Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in accordance to Jewish mitzvot.

You may know that a second century Syrian man named Tatian took the Gospels and wove them together into a harmony called the Diatessaron. According to Howard Clark Kee (Jesus in History: An Approach to the Study of the Gospels, second edition, HBJ 1977, 280ff), the work was known only in fragments or in Armenian translation until the twentieth century when a complete Syriac version was discovered. One fifth century bishop destroyed copies that he could find, replacing them with the canonical gospels. We don’t know why Tatian compiled his Diatessaron, but it harmonized the gospel accounts of Jesus while, of course, neglecting the integrity of each gospel author.

Here is an online translation of the Diatessaron: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diatessaron.html

I think about all this because, of course, we tend to conflate the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth in our imaginations, and in our creches. The three wise men figurines stand among the shepherd figurines and the little manger and baby Jesus (plus a few animals). And why not? We understand the differences between the two gospel accounts and we picture the stories together.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My CPAP

This past summer, I had a routine colonoscopy. Afterward, the anesthesiologist asked if I had sleep apnea, because of the way I breathed under general anesthesia. I told him I hadn't been diagnosed with that condition. So I found a sleep specialist, discovered I had SEVERE sleep apnea, dealt with what insurance would and wouldn't pay for, and now beside the bed I've this continuous positive airway pressure ventilator, aka CPAP.  


I remembered a post on "sleep" that I wrote a few years ago. When my family and I visited a museum in Ireland--in Waterford, I think---we passed an exhibit of historical bedroom furnishings. The description included a quotation from poet Isaac de Benserade: “In bed we laugh, in bed we cry; And, born in bed, in bed we die. The near approach a bed may show Of human bliss to human woe."

Talk about Christian discipleship usually focuses on things to do, attitudes to develop, ways we fall short of Christ-like love, and so on. But a very large portion of our lives (and a large range of our emotions) revolve around the privacy and vulnerability of the bedroom.

There, we sleep for a third or a fourth of our 24 hour days. Add another hour or two hours a day (or thereabouts) getting ourselves ready for the day or ending the day. Typically, people have sex in the bedroom. When we're sick, we're in bed even more. And at the beginning and ending of our lives (as de Benserade puts it) in bed is where many of us will be. My mother was not ambulatory at the end of her life and spent most of her final years in bed if she wasn’t in her wheelchair.

When I was in school, I studied on my bed, with my books spread over the covers. That was the way I did my first committed Bible study, working on my college courses in Bible content, New Testament Greek, and other classes. I still study that way sometimes.

God, who is never absent from any portion of our lives, is our caregiver and sustainer as we lay, sick or asleep, or sexual, or reading a book, or (in my recent situation) ceasing to breathe several times an hour during the night. Many of us carry our problems into bed and we lay sleepless worrying about things. Psalm 6 expresses this kind of sorrow and distress:


I am weary with my moaning;

every night I flood my bed with tears;

I drench my couch with my weeping (Ps. 6:6)

God sustains us whether we are distressed or whether we are sick:

The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;  

in their illness you heal all their infirmities (Ps. 41:3)

Sleep is even a divine gift:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives sleep to his beloved (Ps. 127:2)

Psalm 63:6 is another good verse:


....when I think of you on my bed,  

and meditate on you in the watches of the night…

Joyce Rupp speaks of the moments before she drifts off to sleep and the moments between waking and rising. She considers these as wonderful prayer times when she can fall asleep mentally communicating with God in trust and peace, and then when she wakes up, God is in her first conscious thoughts and she can give her day to God. Our daily discipleship is sustained by prayers offered in our PJs to the Lord.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mary's Advent Visit with Elizabeth

from United Methodist Memes on Facebook
Here are Advent thoughts that I've shared before. In our lesson today from Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:26-56), Gabriel visits Mary and announces that she would be mother of "the Son of the Most High" (vss. 26-38). The text continues that "In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (vss. 39-40).

To paraphrase that On the Town song "New York New York," Nazareth is up and Judea is down--quite a way down, over eighty miles. One wonders if Mary traveled with a caravan or by herself. A map that I found online shows a possible route from Nazareth over to the River Jordan, then down the river banks to the Jericho area, then over to Jerusalem which is just north of the Judean hill country.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (vss. 41-45).

Several things we can gain from this story, including the lovely words of the Ave Maria, Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When I wrote about this passage elsewhere on this blog, I wrote about Elizabeth's gift of the Spirit. In those days before the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered only certain people to prophesy, and when Elizabeth heard Mary coming, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). By the Spirit’s power, Elizabeth preached the Gospel of Jesus before his birth! She recognized Mary as Jesus’ blessed mother. She interpreted her own physical discomfort as God’s sign.

In other words, Elizabeth was a prophet, in a long line of Hebrew prophets which, most believed, had ended centuries before. One wonders: if the Spirit came to a person who previously had been perceived as disfavored by God (as childlessness was then believed to be), doesn’t the Spirit now comes to all kinds of persons, whether favored or disfavored in society? What might the Spirit be up to in our present, distressing world that might startle us and give us hope?

Our lesson also includes the famous Magnificat, set to music by so many composers, when Mary herself preached the Good News.

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever."

Our pastor preached on this passage today, and she noted how many echoes we find between the Magnificat, and Jesus' teaching when he visited the synagogue in Luke 4.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Landscape: Guzhavin

Mikhail Markelovich Guzhavin (1888=1931), "Wild Flowers in a Field" (1927).  From Twitter: History of Painting‏ @AHistoryofPaint Dec 1


First Sunday of Advent

On the Christian calendars, today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and also the first day of the liturgical year. Advent, in turn is the Western Christian season of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and anticipation of his future return.

Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).

But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide. Right in the middle of Christmastide are New Years Eve/Day, a pair of secular holidays mixing festivities with resolutions for self-improvement.

Rather than feeling guilty about the way we observe Christ's birth, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we're a little tired  and let-down for a while.

This prayer from St. Anselm’s Proslogion reflects the "seeking" quality of the Advent season.

"Insignificant [person], escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

"Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

"Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in ‘light inaccessible.’ And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And the, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.

"Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face? He yearns to see you, and your face is too far form him. He desires to approach you, and your dwelling in unapproachable. He longs to find you, and does not know your dwelling place. He strives to look for you, and does not know your face.

"Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.

"Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?

"Look upon us, Lord, and hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart from you.

"Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you."

From The Liturgy of the Hours: I, Advent Season, Christmas Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1975), 184-185.