Yep, Christians have our own definition of “season.”

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December
SEASON 'si.zən noun. An indeterminate period of time during which something happens.

Properly a season is a well-defined period of time. But people like to play fast and loose with how well-defined it actually is.

As soon as the weather switches to cold, whether that’s in November as usual, or freakishly earlier like September, people (Game of Thrones nerds included) start talking about winter: Winter’s coming. Some will go so far as to say winter’s here.

Winter’s not here till the winter solstice, which in the northern hemisphere is 21 December. Winter is defined by the time between the day of the year with the least daylight, and the next time we have equal day and night. Ends at the vernal equinox, 20 March. But that’s considered the scientific definition of winter, the too-literal definition. Winter means “the cold season,” however long that season lasts.

This sort of fudgery also happens with Christmastime. Again, Christmastime has a defined time: Starts on Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas; ends at Epiphany, 6 January. And again, people figure “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” as soon as the stores start selling Christmas things—right after Halloween. Half of them object in rage: The Christmas season starts on Black Friday! Period! The rest of us actually like Christmas, and don’t mind it stretching back a little further. But it ends, as we all know, at midnight 26 December, when it’s time to take down the tree… then start debating whether Kwanzaa is a real holiday.

But as you notice, the human tendency is to take something which has limits and boundaries… then sand away at those edges till they’re nice and soft. Or till they break, and the contents spill over into whatever form we’ve invented.

So, “season.” As defined as ordinary seasons actually are, whenever we Christians start to talk about seasons, we don’t always talk about their boundaries. We don’t usually know them. We might know when a season began—we know it after the fact. But we don’t know when theyll end. We don’t know when the next one is coming. We don’t even know what the next one will consist of. We know what we hope it’ll consist of: We want it to be a season of prosperity, of joy, of blessing, of hope, of grace, of miracles, of anything positive. We’d like the next season to be better than our current one. Especially when the current one sucks, ’cause it could be a season of depression, of sorrow, of suffering, of hardship, of poverty—and we want it to end, and be replaced by something much better.

The prophets who recognized Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

Why Joseph and Mary went to temple, and the people they encountered who had “words of knowledge” about Jesus.

Luke 2.21-40

Luke 2.21-24 KWL
21 Once eight days were fulfilled, Joseph circumcised him and declared his name Jesus,
which the angel called him before he was formed in the womb.
22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law,
they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law:
“Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12
24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law:
“A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8

Jesus followed the Law. If he didn’t, he couldn’t be described as without sin, He 4.15 because sin is defined by the Law. Ro 3.20 And though, as an infant, he couldn’t yet do anything on his own to actively follow the Law, he had Law-abiding parents who took care of it for him. As instructed in the Law, eight days after birth Ge 17.12 (meaning he wasn’t born on Sabbath, contrary to some theories), Joseph circumcised his adoptive son, and as the angels instructed, named him Jesus. Mt 1.21, Lk 1.31

As for Mary, she was ritually unclean for 7 days, and unable to go to temple for 33 days. Lv 12.2, 4 But once her 33 days were up, she had to have a sheep sacrificed to represent her atonement, and a dove sacrificed for her sins. Lk 12.6-7 I know; Roman Catholics claim Mary never sinned. Well, she was ordered to sacrifice the dove anyway, and not sacrificing it would’ve been a sin. In fact, I guarantee you plenty of animals were sacrificed on Jesus’s behalf over his lifetime, even though he didn’t need a single one of them to die for any sins—but sacrificing them was part of the Law, so he offered ’em anyway. Really, not a one of them had ever taken away sin, He 10.4 for they were merely representative of Jesus’s later self-sacrifice. He 10.1 I’m getting way ahead of the story though.

Since Luke quotes the verse about how the poor can swap another dove for the sheep, Lv 12.8 it implies Joseph and Mary were poor. Which they likely were—by now, between baby expenses and the Romans’ taxes as part of their survey. Cash-poor meant doves or pigeons were a much more affordable option. You could catch birds for free, y’know.

On the way into the temple, Jesus’s parents were accosted by a prophet. Yes, there were still prophets back then. God never stopped having prophets, nor stopped speaking through them.

The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

“Go tell it on the mountain!” isn’t actually part of the story. Sorry.

Luke 2.8-20

The same night Jesus was born, a bunch of angels appeared to some nearby herdsmen, scared the bejesus out of them, told them Christ had just been born, then let ’em watch the angels rejoice at what their Lord had done. Nice.

As usual I’m gonna pick apart that story in some detail, ’cause our average Christmas stories tend not to know the background (or care) and therefore miss significant things.

Luke 2.8 KWL
Sheep-herders were in that area, keeping watch over their flocks that night.

Starting with the poiménes/“pastors,” the shepherds, or sheep-herders. Most preachers like to point out these were rough, dirty, low-class people. These weren’t like your refined upper-class Pharisees, the sort of people who thought they should be the ones to receive God’s birth announcement when their foretold Christ (or Messiah, or anointed king) had come. Nope; God hadn’t sent angels to those jerks. He sent ’em to ordinary people. Commoners. Scum of the earth. Because God came to save regular joes, not know-it-alls.

Maybe I’m biased ’cause I tend to be one of the know-it-alls. But there’s just a bit of class warfare involved in that interpretation. Bashing snobbery is its own kind of snobbery, y’know; it’s not any better. And not appropriate when we’re talking about Jesus. He came to save everybody. Commoners and the upper class, tradesmen and herdsmen, laborers and scholars, Pharisees and pagans, Jews and gentiles, jerks and humble people. This good news, as the angel later said in verse 10, is for all people. Jerks included. Really, they need God’s forgiveness more.

Preachers also tend to describe these herdsmen as societal outcasts—for no good reason. Bethlehem was sheep-herding country for thousands of years, since the time of King David—himself a shepherd from that city. Most of the Bethlehemites were either in that business, or connected with it. Ain’t no shame in that business. It’s only our culture which tends to look down on ranchers or herdsmen or cowboys, and again for no good reason. It’s a class warfare thing; it’s the assumption that if you work with your hands, you don’t often work with your brain. President Harry Truman liked to point out how back when he was a farmer, he did a whole lot of thinking while he was behind the plow. Never underestimate laborers.

Once we look at the angel’s message to these herdsmen, we’ll see the angel obviously didn’t figure these guys to be dumb. Or second-class subjects. They’re some of the people Jesus came to save, who’d appreciate hearing their King was born. Plus it was late, and they were already awake, so why not them?

Christ the Savior is born.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

I know; I should’ve stalled this article till Christmas, right? Nah. Here y’go. Early present.

Luke 2.1-7

Luke 2.1-3 KWL
1 This happened in those days: A ruling, to survey the whole Empire,
went out from Augustus Caesar.
2 This first survey happened during Quirinius’s leadership of Syria,
3 and each and every one was traveling to their hometowns to be surveyed.

Some bibles refer to this apo-gráfesthai/“write-up,” as a census. But it wasn’t just a head count. The United States takes censuses every decade to figure out how many representatives each state should get, but the Romans and other empires took censuses to figure out exactly how much tax money they should expect from their territories.

Historians were a little confused because for a long time they couldn’t find records of a specific Roman survey round the time of Jesus’s birth (roughly 7BC or so). They assumed surveys were rare, something that’d have a lot of documentation around it. But surveys were regular. The Romans held one every few years. ’Cause they weren’t like the U.S. Census Bureau: They didn’t keep track of, or know how to estimate, population growth inbetween surveys. The Roman army might’ve just put down a rebellion, crucified a slew of people, and so much for their calculations. Best to just survey everybody all over again. Plus you could throw in a poll tax—everybody who shows up for survey has to pay a half-sheqel for their pains.

Now for the date. Luke tries to pin it down by mentioning the Roman emperor, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (Gaius Octavius’s official name by that point); and a certain Syrian leader, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. Here’s the problem: In 7BC, the year we’re figuring for this survey, the praetores/“leaders” of Syria were Gaius Sentius Saturninus, whose term was up; and Publius Quinctilius Varus, whose term began. Quirinius didn’t became praetor till year 6 of the Christian Era. But Jesus was born before the death of Herod of Jerusalem in 4BC—’cause Herod ordered Jesus killed. Mt 2.16 So we have a continuity problem.

Here are the popular solutions to the problem. Pick your favorite.

  • Skeptics: Doesn’t matter; it’s all mythology anyway.
  • Inerrantists who like to parse words: Okay, Quirinius wasn’t praetor till 6CE. But back in 7BC he was a legatus/“officer”—a military leader in charge of Syria’s defense and foreign policy, if not the proper governor. He held a position of igemonéfontos/“leadership,” Lk 2.2 right? He could’ve supervised the Roman survey, right? Close enough, right?
  • Inerrantists who really need to buy newer reference books: Maybe Quirinius served two terms, with a first term before Saturninus? [A theory pitched back when there were a few gaps in Roman Syrian history. They’ve been filled since.]
  • Inerrantists who like to double down: The Roman and Jewish historians, and every historian since, have the dates wrong. Luke doesn’t. Quirinius was totally governor at the time. The bible rules.
  • Inerrantists who only mean the originals: The original text of Luke must have “Saturninus,” or “before Quirinius’s leadership of Syria.” Either way, some copyist slipped up and wrote “Quirinius,” so now we have a boo-boo in the bible.
  • Non-inerrantists: Luke mixed up the governors.

Got one chosen? Goody. Now on with the commentary.

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.”

Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law.
2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.]
[Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj., Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n.]

People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this:

  • “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towards fake behavior.
  • “They were legalists.” Pharisees were all about teaching the Law, and as a result Christians assume they were legalist—that they thought God would save them because they perfectly followed the Law. Thing is, if that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t have to shout at them to stop sinning, and taking their salvation for granted just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Mt 3.7-10 Because—just like us Christians—some were legalists… and some were libertines, who figured God forgives all, so do as you please.
  • “It’s not a denomination; it’s a political party.” Flavius Josephus called ’em that, and it’s easy to see why: There was no separation of church and state (make that temple and state) back then. When that’s the case, denominations seek power just like political parties do—whether it’s Calvinists and Anabaptists in medieval Geneva, Puritans and Traditionalists in early modern England, Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. They were both.
  • “They universally hated Jesus.” We all know exceptions, like Nicodemus. We also forget: Every synagogue Jesus taught in was a Pharisee synagogue. His title, rabbí/“master,” was a Pharisee title. His apostle Paul, who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament, continued to call himself Pharisee. Ac 23.6 Many Pharisees didn’t care for him, but we certainly can’t say all.

As you know from your Old Testament, the Hebrews kept falling into the Cycle, a repeating bit of history where God’s followers fall away from him, then return to him. They sucked at passing the Law down to their children. Their next generation would grow up semi-pagan, the generation after that would be full-on pagan: Within 40 years Israel would be lawless, and the LORD would withdraw his protection, and their enemies would take a crack at ’em. Whereupon they’d repent, cry out to the LORD, he’d send them a savior, and they’d follow the LORD and his Law again. And the Cycle would repeat.

Pharisaism was meant to break the Cycle.

True compassion: Offer help, not just advice.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
Hebrews 4.14-16 KWL
14 Since we have a great head priest who passed through the heavens—Jesus, God’s son—
we should hold sway by agreeing with him:
15 We don’t have a head priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses.
He was tested by everything just the same—and passed the test sinlessly.
16 So we should come to his gracious throne boldly:
We should receive mercy. We should find the grace to help us in time.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit reflects the thinking and attitude of the Spirit, those traits of his which oughta come pouring out of the people he lives within. And which are invisible, or nearly so, in the people he’s not within—or they’ve figured out a way to fake ’em.

Compassion, the ability to feel for other people, to sympathize with what they’re going through, to want to be gracious and helpful to them, is definitely a Christlike trait. Conversely its lack is definitely an antichristlike trait. Christians will care; antichrists won’t. Christians will reach out when people have need; antichrists will figure those people aren’t their problem… till they start affecting property values or taxes. Or if people who lack compassion wanna look good to the public, or get tax breaks, they figure maybe they should help those people; maybe not exactly the way those people want, but what do they know? If they knew better they wouldn’t be needy. Beggars shouldn’t be choosers anyway.

I’ve worked in a few different charities, and saw firsthand the differing attitudes of the religious and irreligious folks who worked there. In the Christians you’d see the other fruit of the Spirit come out: Patience, kindness, joy, love. In the irreligious Christians and the pagans, frustration, harshness, sarcasm, coldness. “These people. God. They’re so pathetic. Why should we have to help them? Why can’t they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Best thing for them. Makes ’em independent. Makes ’em tough and hard. Like me.”

Yeah, I’ve met a lot of not-so-compassionate people in the church, offering their frigid sort of “comfort” to the suffering. I’ve been the recipient of some of it.

Wanna feel the Holy Spirit? Crank up the bass.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

’Cause people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion.

That title—if you want people to feel the Spirit, crank up the bass—is a joke I regularly make to the folks in my church. ’Cause it’s true. If the sound guy were to take all the lower frequencies out of the sound mix during the worship music, I guarantee you we’d have people in the congregation mutter, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I really couldn’t feel the Spirit today.” Whereas if we turned that puppy all the way up to 11, those same folks would tell everyone, “Man the Spirit was moving this morning!”

Bass, as any sound expert will tell you, makes people feel the music. Literally.
Yeah, I put this on Twitter.
The sound waves hit a frequency which physically vibrates your innards. Most of us are aware we hear bass, but aren’t always aware we feel it too. All we know is we feel something—and because music sparks emotions, often the bass will spark ’em too.

So because people don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion, they’ll assume when it makes ’em happy, “my spirit is being uplifted.” When it makes ’em sad, “my spirit is downcast.” Just as often they’ll think it’s not their spirit, but the Holy Spirit making ’em feel happy or sad, content or anxious, excited or… well, not nothing. If they feel nothing it means he must’ve been absent.

I’ll repeat that statement in case you missed it: People don’t know the difference between spirit and emotion. And no, I’m not just talking about pagans, new Christians, or immature Christians. I’m talking about you. And me. And everyone. ’Cause I’ve caught very mature Christians making this mistake. I know better, and I still make this mistake sometimes. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who hasn’t slipped up on this one.

How Joseph became Jesus’s father.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

I know; people say Jesus’s foster father. Nope; adoptive father.

Matthew 1.18-25

Luke tells of Jesus’s birth from Mary’s point of view; Matthew from Joseph’s. In Luke she received a message from an angel. Now Joseph had to receive a message for himself. ’Cause obviously he didn’t believe Mary.

Matthew 1.18-19 KWL
18 The genesis of Christ Jesus was like this: His mother Mary was promised to Joseph.
Before she came to be together with him, she had a child in her womb from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her man Joseph was righteous.
Not wanting her to make a scene, he wished to secretly release her.

Greek myths abound of stories where Zeus disguised himself as traveling salesmen or geese or bulls golden rain, and impregnating all sorts of loose ’n freaky Greek women with his hybrid spawn. And now here it seemed Mary was trying to tell him a Jewish variation of that same myth: “The Holy Spirit did it. Seriously.”

Moderns like to assume the ancients were stupid, and actually believed all those myths—they didn’t realize, deep down, that these tales were invented by Greeks trying to disguise their adulterous affairs by blaming their unexpected pregnancies on their false god, who obviously couldn’t defend himself. Of course, these skeptical moderns never bothered to read these myths: The Greeks didn’t believe their women when they claimed Zeus was the father. They took out their outrage upon their wives and daughters just the same. Banished ’em, imprisoned ’em, sealed ’em in a coffin and threw them into the sea. (Then Zeus had to smite them for their unbelief.) The ancients knew exactly how babies are made. The Zeus-did-it story never worked.

Joseph is more proof of that. He knew the LORD didn’t make babies that way. His god was no wandering rapist. So Joseph understandably decided to end their relationship.

In his culture, if your woman displeased you for any reason, the rabbis ruled it was okay to end things. God has another view, as Jesus declared: Infidelity is the only valid reason. Mt 19.9 And it sure looked like Mary was unfaithful.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December

Deuteronomy 5.11.

Deuteronomy 5.11 KJV
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Christians often teach, and pagans often assume, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” refers to swearing with God’s name. Might be when we blurt out “God!” in surprise, or “Christ!” in pain, or “Oh Lord!” in exasperation, or “God damn it!” in anger.

Scandalized yet? Most Christians are. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” There’s a whole commandment against it. It’s one of the top ten. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” forbids us from using “God” as any part, or as the whole, of a swear word.

Well, that’s partly correct. The command is about God’s name and swearing. But it’s not about swearing “God!” It’s not about profanities.

  • It’s about swearing to God, yet we’re totally lying.
  • It’s about promising, “as God is my witness,” but we’re not gonna.
  • It’s about declaring things in Christ’s name, yet we don’t really believe we’re gonna get what we’ve declared.
  • It’s about name-dropping God as our guide, aid, judge, support, and copilot… but we’re hypocrites.

Vain means useless, and taking the Lord’s name in vain means we’re using his name in a useless cause. And yeah, swearing with his name is pretty useless too, but that wasn’t what God was trying to crack down on with his command. He was ordering the Hebrews to stop using his name casually. Y’see, when we invoke God, he takes those statements seriously. He is not a God to be trifled with.

For the LORD won’t hold us guiltless—in today’s English, “won’t let you go unpunished” (NLT) —if we swear by his name, and don’t follow through.

How feedback works around here.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 December

As you might’ve noticed, I have an email link on TXAB, and each article has a comments section. So if you wanna send me a note, ask a question, or comment on a post, feel free.

However.

If you’ve ever bothered to read the comments on YouTube videos—and I really don’t recommend it—you’ll notice a lot of them are stupid and awful. Because as you already knew, people are awful. Let people post whatever they please with no moderation, with no accountability, and you’ll get the very worst of humanity.

Even among Christians. Christianity Today originated with a comments section, but finally got rid of it in 2014 because the commenters were consistently acting far, far less than Christian.

My previous blogs didn’t always allow me to moderate comments—nor moderate them easily. TXAB uses Disqus, so now I can easily moderate ’em, and do. When anyone comments in any way I consider less than Christian, I’ll edit or remove the comment. Do it twice and I’ll block the commenter.

You can repent and appeal, and I might relent. It’s happened in the past. Wish it happened in every case. But it doesn’t.

You can defend yourself by appealing to freedom of expression, which I of course believe in. Thing is, my deleting or blocking your expression doesn’t stop you from expressing yourself. You’re entirely free to do so. Just not here. TXAB is my blog about following Christ Jesus, and as such it’s gonna reflect my view—or Christ’s view, as best as I can figure him out. If I don’t feel your view contributes to that, I’m gonna tweak it or remove it.

That’s the primary rule about commenting here: Don’t be a dick! And there are other, more specific circumstances.