Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts

The birth of John the baptist.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

John’s birth both fulfilled and inspired prophecy.

Luke 1.57-80

When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced he’d have a son, the confirmation of its prophecy was Zechariah would be mute áhri is iméras géniti távta/“until the day this one is born.” Lk 1.19

Problem is, if you’re a biblical literalist—you insist the bible be interpreted as literally as possible—it’s not literally what happened. Zechariah was mute for more than a week after John’s birth, and didn’t speak till his circumcision. Doesn’t matter what logical gymnastics you use to prove Gabriel didn’t really mean John’s birthday, or that “the day this one is born” can be fudged to mean a week or so (an exactitude such people won’t apply to the six days of creation). Gabriel’s prophecy was fulfilled, but not with the precision any literalist demands. As is true of every prophecy—and all of scripture.

But let’s not poke that bear any further. On to the bible!

Luke 1.57-61 KWL
57 Time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son.
58 Her neighbors and relatives heard God had shown her great mercy, and rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day it happened that the family came to circumcise the baby.
They were calling him by Zechariah, his father’s name.
60 In reply his mother said, “No; he’ll be called John.”
61 They told her, “None of your relatives are called by that name.”

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

In which both of them prophesy to one another.

Luke 1.39-56

When I teach from the gospels, it tends to throw people. Y’see, most of the interpretations we hear in American churches are based on cessationism, the belief prophecy and miracles only happened in bible times, and don’t anymore. As a result of this false, faithless belief, popular Christian culture isn’t familiar with how prophecy works. So when they read about prophets in the bible, they don’t understand what these people are doing. Either people don’t recognize what they’re saying is prophecy, so they miss it altogether; or people interpret everything based on how they imagine prophecy works—and they’ve got some pretty immature ideas.

Starting with why Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth. I kid you not: I’ve heard it preached Mary went to Elizabeth because she wanted to hide her pregnancy. ’Cause that’s what women did in the past when they got pregnant outside of marriage: They went to “visit relatives” for a while… then came back with a new “baby sister” or “cousin.” (Or, if they aborted or gave up the baby, nothing.) Supposedly this is what Mary did: Hid.

Baloney. When Gabriel told Mary she was gonna have a miraculous birth, she knew how babies re made; she naturally wanted to know how this was possible. Gabriel’s answer, as I pointed out, wasn’t all that satisfactory. But for proof, for confirmation—’cause prophecy requires confirmation—Gabriel pointed to Elizabeth. She was pregnant. Mary didn’t know this—nobody knew this—’cause Elizabeth was in seclusion. Lk 1.24 But here was the proof Mary’s pregnancy came from God: “Your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age… and she was called sterile.” Lk 1.36 KWL And if you think that’s impressive, wait till God’s next miracle.

I know; people claim Mary had no doubts whatsoever, and totally believed Gabriel. But that’s not consistent with the scriptures. Why would she then rush to see Elizabeth?

How Mary became Jesus’s mother.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November

Luke 1.26-38.

Last week John’s birth was foretold; this week Jesus’s. Goes like so.

Luke 1.26-38 KWL
26 In Elizabeth’s sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent by God
to a Galilean town called Nazareth,
27 to a young woman affianced to a man of David’s house, named Joseph;
a young woman named Mary.
28 Entering, the angel said, “Hail, your honor!
The Lord’s with you.
[You’re blessed above all women.]
29 Mary was alarmed by this message,
and was speculating about what this greeting meant.
30 The angel told her, “Don’t fear, Mary:
You’ve found grace with God.
31 Look, you’ll conceive in your womb.
You’ll give birth to a son. You’ll name him Jesus.
32 He’ll be great. He’ll be called the Most High’s son.
The Lord will give him his ancestor David’s throne.
33 He’ll be king over Jacob’s house in the age to come.
His kingdom will never end.”
34 Mary told the angel, “How will this happen?—
since I’ve not been with a man.”
35 In reply the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
The Most High’s power will envelop you
and the holy one produced will be called God’s son.
36 And look: Your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age.
This is actually her sixth month—and she was called sterile.
37 No word of God is impossible.”
38 Mary said, “Look: I’m the Lord’s slave.
I hope it happens according to your word.”
The angel left her.

In Orthodox tradition, Mary was at the Nazareth well, so most Christian art depicts her there, with Gabriel either greeting her, or saying something profound as she looks downward in humility. Something pious, and posed—you know, like artist’s models will do.

Today, the well, and the cave it’s in, is underneath St. Gabriel’s Church in Nazareth. As our tour guide rightly pointed out, if it wasn’t the very place Gabriel appeared to Mary, it doesn’t entirely matter; Mary did go to this well to get water, since it’s Nazareth’s only natural water source. (As a city of 74,000 today, it has to tap a few additional water sources.)

When the art doesn’t depict Mary at a well, it’s often of her at home. Sounds reasonable, ’cause Luke says Gabriel entered, and we usually figure that’d be a building. The Roman Catholics built a chapel, the Basilica of the Annunciation, over the cave where they think Mary’s family lived. Yep, another cave. Caves are all over Israel, and I remind you Jesus was both born in, and buried in, caves. Once again, western art got it wrong: Mary’s family could hardly have afforded the Roman villas they often depict her in. Nazareth was just not that sort of town.

One heck of a birth announcement.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

In the other gospels John just shows up. In Luke he’s miraculous.

Luke 1.5-25

Most Christians vastly underestimate the importance and significance of the prophet John bar Zechariah, whom we more commonly know as St. John the baptist.

Largely it’s because we see John as a minor figure, and kinda weird. He showed up, made a lot of noise, preached obedience and repentance… and once Jesus showed up, he faded away. (Or got arrested and beheaded. Same difference.) His only purpose was to point to, and baptize, Jesus, and that done, he died.

Others figure John’s a much bigger deal than that. But only because they believe—incorrectly—that John was the first prophet to appear in 400 years. Supposedly after Malachi finished the Old Testament, God went dark. For four centuries he said nothing and did nothing. Then John shows up, and wham: Prophecy’s back! Revelation is back! The miracles turned back on! God is up to something.

Yeah, that’s entirely wrong. ’Cause

  1. The apocrypha, the “extra books” in non-Protestant bibles, tell of historical events which God was obviously involved in.
  2. Josephus, the first-century Pharisee historian, also told of miracles in those 400 years.
  3. Two, count ’em two, prophets show up to proclaim baby Jesus: Simeon and Anna. Lk 2.25-38 Both of ’em are described as old (Anna was 84) and had likely been prophesying for decades before Jesus was born.

Not to mention the obvious prophetic abilities of Jesus’s parents Joseph and Mary, or John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. In fact everybody with a speaking role in the nativity story (save Herod, of course) was a prophet! But, as usual, cessationist dogma trumps basic reading comprehension.

God has always been talking. There have always been prophets. John didn’t stand out because he was the first prophet of the New Testament era. He stood out because he was an extremely significant prophet: He was Messiah’s herald. And his story begins with an angel, who stands before God’s presence, actually heralding him. Even Messiah’s herald gets the royal treatment. But that’s just a hint as to how important John was, and is.

The word became human, and explains God.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

This is the reason he came to us. Not atonement; he could’ve done that invisibly. But to reveal God.

John 1.14-18

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

We Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage, because while it’s in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which might give God feminine qualities tend to give certain macho guys the heebie-jeebies), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh. Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find the idea blasphemous. It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh: He only looked flesh. Peel off his human mask (eww) and there’s God under it. He only looked physical, but he was a spirit with a physical appearance. He only looked real, but he was a mass hallucination which confused the real world. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, a demigod, a new species, a hybrid, an alien.

But he wasn’t. He was human. Yet God.

Recognizing and embracing the light of the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October

Light is a metaphor for a lot of different things in the bible. Here, it’s life.

John 1.1-13

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning. The word’s with God. The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God. 3 Everything came to be through him.
Nothing that exists came to be without him. 4 What came to be through him, was life.
Life’s the light of humanity. 5 Light shines in darkness, and darkness can’t get hold of it.

In his first chapter, the author of John (probably John bar Zebedee, “the student Jesus loved”) pins a few metaphors on Jesus. We got word. We got light. And later John the baptist uses lamb. (Or ram; it depends on how meek or badass you wanna make Jesus sound.)

The word created life, and the author quickly started calling life “light” Jn 1.4 then said Jesus is the actual light coming into the world. Jn 1.9 In fact later in this gospel, Jesus made this claim about himself twice: "I'm the light of the world." Jn 8.12, 9.5 He comes to give us life. Abundant life in this age; eternal life in the next.

Even though the bible’s not a series of codes for clever Christians to crack, various Christians insist “light” means the same thing everywhere, and manage to mix up “Life’s the light of humanity” in verse 4, with “God is light.” 1Jn 1.5 You know, just like they mix up Jesus-God’s-word with the-bible-God’s-word. They’ll try to mash the “truth” they find in 1 John together with “life” (and let’s not forget way, Jn 14.6) and hit frappé. Any excuse to make the Light as clear as mud.