FEAST OF EPIPHANY

bethlehemstar

FINAL CHAPTER—CHAPTER TEN

To think of goodwill from God to the world is to think universally.  I remember fondly from my old church in Portland, Oregon called Imago Dei (Image of God) how the slogan was “to take the whole gospel to the whole world”.  That summed up much of what is intended in the brighter spots to Christian history when the message of Christ is rightly preached and lived.

But Christian history has a template for this in the gospel.  As wonderful as it was for Peter to be the first person to preach the gospel post-resurrection it is not the first example touched by the presence of the Divine.

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11).

These magi were spiritual seekers.  They had some ideas before seeing the star of Bethlehem but it seems clear that they had humility going for them quite well. In conversion there is a time to be skeptical but eventually reason is complimented by faith.  Sometimes the two combined create in the seeker as sense of wonder. 

They were overjoyed at seeing the star—-  It is simply because a sense of joy in that the star had taken them to the fulfillment of all their desire to see this great king.  This fulfillment, like any true spiritual fulfillment, is in knowing God and his will.

on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother—- With the perspective we have now of semitic peoples for centuries leading up to that time we can apply what we know of the role of the queen mother.  The recognition of hierarchy in the royal courts of those people had a place for the queen mother that was higher in distinction than the king’s wife.  Joseph was not chopped liver but they knew that the infant was a fully endowed king and thus no figurative crown on his head.  In other words, they knew the king line here was brand new.  Mary, however is named because she would be the gaberah (Great Lady) as the queen mother would be known.  Matthew had the proper theological hindsight to note it this way since he more than other gospel writers emphasized the jewishness of Jesus. That emphasis includes the biblical thread of Jesus being the “son of David”.

They prostrated themselves and did him homage— This is where discerning how Jesus is Lord turns into action.  Seek him.  Find him.  Worship him.  In prostrating they lay themselves down on the ground in vulnerability and surrender.

opened their treasures and offered him— Recall the words of Jesus where he said where your treasure is there is your heart also.  This is their gateway action standing as example for devotion as they abandon that which supposedly matters for He who really does.  Devotion is the heart of the gospel and it is the simplicity of devotion to Jesus that is at the heart of this most holy faith.

gifts of gold…frankinsense….myrrh—- St. Ireneus stated in Against Heresies that gold is a symbol of royalty, frankincense is in the latria (worship) of God and myrrh Jesus’ humanity.  It is also noteworthy according the Ignatius Study Bible that myrrh was used to anoint levitical priests for service.  In summary, this interpretation could point to those symbols of speaking of Jesus as God incarnate and as a prophet, and royal priest. In short, Jesus is to be our everything.

I began this commentary about bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.  It is fitting to point out two things that we learn from this passage.  If one were to take away one element of the three gifts of the magi you would have an incomplete example of the completeness in Jesus being Lord and Savior.  No divinity means that his atonement has a limit to his priesthood and sacrifice would be of a finite being.  No royalty means that Jesus cannot reign in our hearts much less the world.  And if one were to take away Jesus’ humanity we would not be seeing a chance of adoption in Christ through the gospel.  All of Jesus must be presented by his Church and it must be unwavering.

The second thing I would point out is how these Gentiles, led by a miracle, had the rays of truth in their hearts  (faith and reason) to encounter Jesus the Son of David.  The world comes and adores him.  He is always the same and never changing and this carries into reaching us through those rays in our hearts that are built in to revived by him.  As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until we fine our rest in you” (Confessions, Book I).  This is the portion where the Holy Spirit brings a proposition of the gospel to our hearts.    

The invitation each day, each season is to give him our all as he gave his all in right ordered worship.   And if we see him as distant, who moved?  And if you see a star guiding you out of your comfort zone towards Jesus, even if it is that small voice in your heart, what is lost if you inquire with a moment of wonder?  These are the questions worth the asking in all ages out of the wisdom of the ages: in the gospel. 

Advertisements

Lessons Of A Sacred Path

02-Simeon

CHAPTER NINE

Nobody wants to waste their life.  By wasting ones life I mean not grasping those dreams that are natural to the gifts you have and of the desire of the heart.  For some people they see their life as wasted because a tragedy has come upon them.  For others they see their life as wasted because they gave up time for someone or something that was not worth the investment.  This could apply to toxic relationships or to addictions that for too long are prioritized on the same day to day level in priority as eating, sleeping, breathing and shelter. The years go by, the lights turn on and, “Poof, my life is gone.” 

But sometimes there is a perspective from the outside in when observing someone that has lived below their means and far from the gifts and amenities that could so be grasped.  For example, someone goes to jail for months or years because of a righteous cause in standing up for the oppressed.  I heard of a monk who did not have the money to redeem a slave along with the slave’s brother and so took the slave’s place.  What “a waste” if one looks at that with selfish values.

But what about God’s point of view looking at unselfish sacrifice?  Is it a waste or an investment with a return far above earthly riches?  Such is the case for an old widow named Anna.  The view of the author and, by extension God, becomes quite clear and beautiful in shedding light on the subject.

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).

There was also a prophetess—  As the story pivots from old Simeon, who prophesied, to Anna it is mentioned that she is a prophetess.  This as mentioned for several reasons.  One is that Luke frequently writes with narratives that create gender balance.  If you see the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain you must also notice the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus.  Second, Anna was able to have provide  a testimony of God’s plan of redemption because her lifelong dedication prepared her to be prophetic.  True testimony of Jesus is real when you walk the walk as is elaborated more below. 

She never left the temple— By the time we get to this line, we see her life in the temple as all she had.  For her to be widowed after seven years and then go into the temple implies that she was without children from that marriage.  There was no law against her being remarried and I am not aware of a practice of kidnapping women and being forced to live a nun-like existence against their will.  She chose God’s temple to be her all in all and in that stands as an example of our nun sisters today. God raises up some who can accept a call to celibacy which shines a special light to the end of days when those in heaven are like the angels innate being married nor given in marriage.  Such people living that consecrated life shine reference that balances out making a belonging in marriage an end in itself.   

but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer— And here we see the beautiful note of her will and where she chose her will to be centered.  She was a worshiper.  As I contemplate the infancy narratives which draw open hearts to worship God in Christmas, we should remember that worship to God is best known as a lifestyle choice no matter how one is called to express it.  Though not everyone is called to live a dedicated religious life in an organized sanctuary, those who do it shine a light to God that illuminates his glory and in the hearts of those who see it and are open.

And coming forward at that very time— This makes the scene very much church though they did not know it as such.  She steps in on the coat-tails of Simeon’s  prophesy that carries with it glory and suffering.  She comes in as a second prophetic speaker in this spontaneous congregation of the infant Jesus and is a second witness, a prophet confirming a prophet, to confirm that this was far more than a circumcision of a mere baby boy but the Messiah.

she gave thanks to God—- If we blink we will miss it.  If she did not have an attitude of worship all those years it would be “Thanks for nothing! All I get to do is hold a baby” but instead it is a matter of knowing that all those years of service to God mattered. She knew supernaturally what it was for in someway as she stood in the Old Temple seeing the New Temple held by his parents (cf. John 2:18-22).

and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem—- This is rich too.  God’s message is one of hope but is to be discerned supernaturally.  Once discerned and internalized how does one not declare it to those who you are in contact with?

The message of this story is that God cares about you.  He wants to be your hope but to experience the superabundance of grace one needs to be where God has called them, worship with all of life and leave the payoff to God.  It could be five years in, at the age of 84 or in heaven.  But the point is that if you gain Christ, you gain everything.  Anna’s five minutes in the presence of Jesus was enough.  Is it yours? He is the Emmanuel.  God is with us.   

Taking The Bitter With Sweet

Message of the cross

CHAPTER EIGHT

I have often wondered where the thorns are for the roses in our lives.  For some who are looking for meaning there is an expectation that meaning and destiny needs to be forged into something that is only sweet. One might say “God forbid” it would be bittersweet.

 “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35).

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him— It is an important starting point in being a disciples of Jesus, which is what Joseph and Mary would amount to, in being amazed.  I am not talking about goosebumps.  They come and go and if we rely on those for our turning points in the Divine we will be putting God into a performance position.  God is not our clown but where his thinking is above our thinking it will inherently blow our minds. It is those key moments where we see God somewhere that reminds us that he is everywhere. 

and Simeon blessed them—-  If there could be any last anesthetic for the cross in being a disciple of Jesus it is that God intends to bless you especially in the cross.  He wants to spiritually bless the world and will preface words and deeds with that bias. “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For Mary, this could be a moment of comfort for the word about to come that would predict how she would lose her son. 

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel—- This is notable when we consider that Simeon has now directed his comments to only Mary the mother who would likely be the only one of those two parents alive when Jesus would come into his ministry.  Mary is a humble young woman in a backwater town but of great significance in the eyes of God.  Being full of grace as we can see in the original Greek as a past and completing act. She stands as an icon of God flipping over the paradigms that the carnal mind would be predisposed to.

and to be a sign that will be contradicted—  Jesus would be intertwined with the message of the cross. This is why people that look deeply enough of the cross in the gospel get what Dr. Peter Kreeft calls “Jesus Shock”. St. Paul elaborates on this concept.

“but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

It is fitting that Mary get this message.  She had been told “The Lord is with you” and “Blessed are you among women” which historically were military conquest phrases.  In Jesus the universal message of the Cross through the Church would rock the world.

and you yourself a sword will pierce—- Here is where the bittersweet comes in.  Luke previously wrote about what is apparently a sweet old man who holds and blesses sweet baby Jesus who would grow up to be a sweet blessing for the world.  Those perceptions hold true but not by themselves.  The Good news has to have the hard news on its coattails.

For some who have seen the Passion of the Christ they come away that it could also be of Mary’s passion in seeing her son die on the cross.  Her hope was in God but her heart was broken that her son would suffer.  But for the good of the world would she still cooperate with that. 

so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed— This is important because Jesus in the gospel brings in many turning points who encounter the message and what it calls for.  This “sign” would change everything in conversion because the word of God exposes those things that are and are not of God and necessitates our own turning points. A full understanding of God redeeming humanity in the incarnation brings to light the dignity that humanity is supposed to walk in.  This is where the bitter is comforted with the sweet in the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Going On A High Note

Happy Old ManCHAPTER SEVEN

For people of great or low stature, there tends to be a drive for their lives to matter.  Some people have moments that encapsulate that sense of meaning that their interaction with this world has meaning above themselves.  For some, they peak early.  Others have that moment much later. 

One man who had a sense of meaning later was a man named Simeon.  Here is his story and how it connects to where a God-given hope comes in.

  Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go

in peace, according to your word,

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and glory for your people Israel.”

(Luke 2:25-33).

a man—- Typically when someone thinks of Bible characters they think of pomp and circumstance as kings, fighters or wise people.  The first key here is that God wants to use normal people.  “A man” like him shows that, “normal people” can have an encounter with the divine. God does not have an agenda for special ones only in humanity but all of humanity. 

righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him—- This is also loaded in meaning.  He had that low burn in keeping and seeking a relationship with God and engaging his faith into God’s restorative but mysterious agenda for Israel.  He was a patient man.  With the amount of revelation he had he was faithful to the salvation theme of the Old Testament.  The key point is that he centered on God’s agenda beyond his own interests.  Upon a heart that is disposed that way, the Holy Spirit was on him.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit—  this was key in the sense that such a life met with the wholeness of God to be known in a personal presence.  The Old Testament was pointing to an anointing by the Holy Spirit that would write God’s law in people’s hearts.  The Messiah to come would bring it all together relationally and this day he would be known rightly by this man. 

He came in the Spirit into the temple… he took him into his arms and blessed God— Simeon, because he is guided by the Holy Spirit, is able to recognize Jesus for who he is because he engaged in his understanding in the ways of God as matter of spirit.  Much later Jesus explained to a racially marginalized woman that the coming true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and truth. Guided by the Holy Spirit we can lay hold of truth as the collective people of God. 

he took him into his arms and blessed God—Although it was a point of contact with what he prayed for, the beauty of Simeon’s response was a true worship of God.

Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace…light of the Gentiles— Simeon finds that his greatest treasure to attain is that favor from heaven would be realized on earth before he leaves it.  Somehow Simeon knows that this grace of God in the Messiah is for the world beyond Israel.  I can only guess that Simeon, true to the Hebrew meaning of his name, was “one who hears”.  In hearing God through a lens of sustaining grace it is made known to him that the true light has come. 

It is worth noting that Simeon does not see that the universal application of the Messiah is at the detriment of Israel.  Simeon may likely have known that the successive covenants of the Old Testament increased in the number of people they effected (Adamic- couple, Noah and Abrahamic- family, Davidic-  nation/kingdom).  Simeon saw the day of Jesus meaning salvation to the Gentiles and he embraced it.

One more thing I see in this passage is that in addition to Simeon seeing God’s grace beyond bigotry was that he turns in a moment to the next generation.  The vision God brings to his people is not for his generation but the next.  He is ready to die in peace and pass something on in joy to Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus.  In other words we see that Simeon was “a man” who, like a personified twilight of the Old Testament, grew old gracefully making room for the new.

As I write this I ponder that I am a 48-year old man.  I am not at the end of my life as far as I know but I pray that I can cherish Jesus in all he is and pass on the knowledge of him in any way I can to my next generation.  What is stopping you or I from being “ righteous and devout” by the merits of Christ?  It is only our own self-centeredness which we can leave anytime we want to.

Christ is Come

Light In A Maze

CHAPTER SIX—Christmas Day

The process of spiritual seeking always has two parties in play: the Creator and creation and starts with a breaking ground process.  Sometimes the people that do the seeking are very intentional when a seeming lightning in a bottle happens and sometimes it comes out of nowhere in the Creator doing the initiative.

Such is the case of the shepherds that we sing about every Christmas.  Though the breaking of ground happens in a miracle for the shepherds, we can learn a larger lesson of God breaking ground in our lives.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

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

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:8-20).

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields—  In our modern western culture we miss the importance in this narrative that these men were in the lowest distinction of occupations in society.  At least a lowly carpenter could be preferred for a draft and be a witness in court.  Shepherds were not considered to have a transferable skill set and were not considered to have enough nobility to testify.  A PR expert would say that they should not be on point with the revelation of Jesus. But it was the will of God that this new kingdom have a true value of being “of the poor and for the poor” ( Pope Francis).

“At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.[Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will’“ (Luke 10:21).

A last piece of note is the liturgical significance of what these shepherds did and where. The lambs that were in charge of, specifically in Bethlehem, were the favorites for temple sacrifice. Put that together with the fact that Bethlehem means “house of bread”, Jesus is born there, he is called later the “Lamb of God” and the artistry of God here is rich. Jesus is the Lamb of God,the Bread of Life and born in the “house of bread”. 

good news of great joy that will be for all the people…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests—- This is rich because the message of Jesus that would be expressed when the Church is actualized is for all people.  There are no white or black, rich or poor but an equal opportunity for all who want God’s favor. 

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord—- though Luke’s gospel is not known to have as many Jewish traits as the others proportionally, he mentions this because with Jesus being born in the city of David there is a continuity of God’s long-term plan. What forms of salvation started in Israel does not lose in its universality nor holistic nature. It is also worth noting that one cannot take Jesus as Savior alone. Jesus must be known as king or we miss the fulness of salvation.

… a sign for you… an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—- Theologians refer to the Infancy Narratives as the protoevangelium which is to say that it is primitive portion of the gospel (euangeleon) that points in principles to the whole of the gospel narratives.  The description they are to look for is not aesthetically pleasing for someone looking for the king with sparkle.  Neither do shepherds have sparkle.  And neither are any of us when we remove the veneer of our self-righteousness and worldly pride. When God does here as part of the gospel story is showing an appearance of “foolishness that confounds the wise” with the height of this when this baby dies on a cross as a man. 

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God— The simplicity of understanding how to discern Jesus correctly is our best preparation for heaven to touch down on earth where the Church on earth is manifest.  That is what the combination of angels and shepherds are as a divinely appointed assembly.  These shepherds in being called out by the angels to gather to Jesus could qualify as a divine qahal, or assembly, in the Jewish understanding.  From a completed New Testament understanding on being called out to God’s purposes they were doing Church in a heavenly and earthly context.  One could say that heaven and earth meet in the context of worship where the spiritual and the natural flow side by side.  Angels are manifest for this point to be made.  The writer of Hebrews makes such a point later in the 1st century how the presence of angels is typical for the kingdom of God in Christ.  “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering” (Hebrews 12:22).

So if one is to receive a message of God’s universal and practical plan of grace for mankind and are mindful of God’s kingdom come to earth, what is the proper response?  “So they went in haste” is here the definition of a rightly ordered knee-jerk reaction.

And what should we discern or find when we get in haste to what God has called us too?  “[A]nd found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” means to find Jesus is to find him in the context of fellowship or family.  What should that fellowship be for the shepherds to encounter?  They were found in a manger likely built in a cave since they were marginalized and there was no room for them in the inn.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart—  So for those that hear God’s call to come, come and stay with a reflective heart on the mysteries of Jesus.  Mary is in the narrative as an example of experiencing the grace of God’s kingdom, which she was “full of” according to Gabriel. It is a blessing to a point to be caught up, enraptured, in spiritual experience. Yet that experience should give way to the side of contemplating or internalizing as we consecrate ourselves in whatever station of life we are called to.

My prayer for you and I dear reader is that we do not let distractions keep us from meditating quietly of the nature of Jesus and relationship to him.  Within a fullness of grace and truth that is in Jesus there is nothing left to stop us— but us.

 

Right View, Right Celebration

seeing God

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Truth has consequences.  We do not always have things figured out on how to live a truth that is introduced to us if it is moral or spiritual.  In fact, “dry truth” may be easier because there is always a quantifiable road on how to apply it.  Math has physics.  Biology has medicine.  But in a scene of the miraculous or that speaking of God in our hearts, rare is the time that we “got it together”.  When we understand God’s agenda it is because we are filled with grace and the Holy Spirit in context of relationship with him.

So we see with this young woman two thousand years ago named Mary of Nazareth.  She gives her cooperation to God’s will not having much at all figured out but obeys one step at a time.  When she arrives at the house of her relative Elizabeth what we see is an openness to life, applied obedience, filling of the Holy Spirit and an absolute hope of bringing order to the chaos that evil creates.  Herein is the launching pad for Mary and what musician Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”. It was from her unique union with Jesus that what welled up from her was praise and worship that recapitulates what God has done and what he is about to do. 

“And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ “ (Luke 1:46-55).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord— Some Bible versions say that her soul magnifies the Lord.  One of my surprises as I made my journey to the Catholic Church from Protestantism was how good Mariology magnifies ones Christology (doctrine about the nature and work of Christ).  I know that I am only drawn closer to Jesus when I pray a rosary. Involving her is both involving the Queen Mother and one who reminds me that God was made flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14) with her being the Theotokos (God-bearer of the Council of Ephesus 431). 

in God my savior—  “Aha! That shows she is a sinner!” So goes the objection that Mary was without sin.  This is an incorrect exegesis if one looks at the term in the preceding salvation history.  If you pull me out of a pit then you are my savior.  If you yank me back when I am about to walk into a pit then you are just as much my savior. All of Mary’s family tree that leads to her was on a collision course for her to be born as a sinner— except God had other plans in how he filled her with grace. Several of the Protestant Reformers uphold this like Luther and Calvin. 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed—– And that is true.  One could go to ancient writings and even a fresco that was made in the first centuries of church history that illuminates her role in an honoring way. The important term from the early church has been hyperdulia.  It is an exalted honor that was always distinct from latria which is worship to actual Deity.  A small sect broke that line in the 4th century but they did not last and either fizzled or were shut down. The honor towards Mary has been so embedded into Christianity that even when Henry VIII of England was persecuting Catholicism and shutting down parishes he made sure that guards were posted at a parish that had a Marian name to make sure it was not vandalized.  Such was the recognition of Mary and her “yes” to God.   

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy — Mary is seeing that God is a Father who keeps his promises and it is based on covenantal faithfulness and not due to the intrinsic holiness of any person except God.

He has shown might with his arm… the lines here are about God manifesting His presence in such a way through the ages, and ongoing, so that social justice takes place out of divine origin.  People will reap what they sow whether it was good or bad but it is God who is the catalyst in informing the consciences rightly in people. But it should be noted that God or the Church informing consciences is not the same as replacing them. 

The hungry he has filled with good things—this is the part where God distributes grace in the kingdom to those that have room for it.  For the rich who are stuck unto themselves there is not room for such good things. For the proud they are to high and comfortable to “demean” themselves. 

according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever—-this is powerful because we know Abraham is our father too but through faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 4).  In that line of faith in the Old Testament we see God’s promises, obedience and then blessing.  The promise of God is always bigger than ourselves and longer than ones lifetime.  This would be in effect in the name of Jesus but the day to day catalyst of the changes in what was to her the coming age would be through the Church Jesus would found.   

For all who believe in Jesus and open up to him as Lord there is a continuation of salvation history  up to and through ones conversion.  This is the kingdom that will have no end and Mary stands as one who stands at the point of salvation history where one path points to a law without grace and another to Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If you are on the outside of Christianity looking in, I say choose Jesus.  If you are in the inside, keep choosing Jesus.  To magnify his name with your words and deeds is our calling. And that magnifying will be beyond your life and above temporal agendas.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

Party of Many

judith-in-art-salvi

CHAPTER FOUR

Not all gatherings are divine.  Some are get-togethers of people who have only goals that are shallow and of this earth.  Some people in religious contexts gather seeking The Deity or Higher Power as they understand and are truly open form something deeper.  Yet some gatherings are mixed in intent. But traditional, mystical Christianity proposes believers gather in God’s presence to encounter God in intimacy and grace.

We see intimacy and grace in the Christmas story when God makes a meeting of species. The angel Gabriel came to human Mary passing on a divine proposal. But later there is another divine gathering but of two humans with a resolutely divine purpose when Mary came to her relative Elizabeth.  Mary carries Jesus and Elizabeth carries likewise in her womb John the Baptis who would prepare the way for Jesus.

This group of seen and unseen shine as a gathering is one called out due to directions from above. The meaning in the Greek is ecclesiaEcclessia is where we get church or iglesia in Spanish.  To an observer with the carnal eye it is a meeting of two women who may have lumps in their bellies.  To a divine observer there was more than two by far, as we will see, with women of great significance to salvation history. The divine can indeed be manifest among the humble.  So Mary came to her because there was a call above her to show this.  In their respective callings they created environments in their obedience of right praise by the merits of Christ present in the flesh and the Holy Spirit being poured out on flesh.   

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:39-45).

traveled to the hill country….. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord[n] should come to me?—–  These lines show this great fellowship to be a case of the “Old is revealed in The New” (Augustine of Hippo).  These details have been pointed out by Scott Hahn in Hail, Holy Queen and Tim Staples in Behold Your Mother as closely related to an Old Testament story.  When the Ark of The Covenant went to the hill country of Obed-Edom and then to King David he said closely parallel wording to that of Elizabeth. What we see here is a special recognition of the presence of God in a place that is out of the way but yet appointed. Mary would be the new Ark of the Covenant.  Mary serving as a handmaid of the Lord stands as one who bridges the Old Testament to the New Testament.  And for Christians there is an opportunity in humility to engage in right praise as vessels unto God. 

and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice—— In this line is a layer of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) that speaks of a new Ark of The Covenant and its proper devotion.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek.  The New Testament was generally written in Greek including Luke. In the Old Testament the term “cried out” is used many times but there was one word for it that was used only when the Ark of the Covenant, an object that was sanctified and filled by the presence of God, was used.  This word was used seven times in the Old Testament and used only once in the New—-right here.  True this conversation was originally in Aramaic but Luke has a way with words in translation for a theological purpose.  As to our devotional purpose we can see the presence of Jesus as both divine and inherently a worship event. But notice what is crucial here: Elizabeth cried out in praise because she was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

filled with the Holy Spirit,…. the infant in my womb leaped for joy—- This confirms even more for us that this gathering, or church, on this front yard in Judea is bigger than two.  We know from other scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a person.  That makes three.  We know the Holy Spirit fills people and not things so John makes four.  And if John is a person in the womb then so is Jesus so that makes a party of five.  We can apply right there that in a valid church gathering there should be an openness to life in all its forms and the filling of the Holy Spirit.  We see this repeated by Luke in his sequel, Acts, in how the early established church had that experience. It is fitting that Mary was one of that party of 120 on the day of Pentecost.  She knew the difference surely between goosebumps and the Holy Spirit. 

Blessed are you who believed—– This is the last but not least mark of true church we can get and if we are not careful we will miss it.  Mary is not to be understood as a model of faith because she was a bullseye target for the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus and be an incidental vessel.  She is known in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to be one who believed because she cooperated in her faith and works with God’s will.  This shows the mark of a true church to be obedient to God’s will in pursuit of holiness. The theme we get so much in the Bible is that, “believe,” is a pregnant word that assumes a corresponding action to what God asks.. 

If ones experience of God’s kingdom begins and ends with sitting in complacency  and prioritizing personal happiness then it is not God’s kingdom but a kingdom of self. In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit indwells by how we infuse grace and a resolved manner of obedience.  Today we can ask, are we caught up with the gatherings and mentalities of the world in our religious communities that hinder us from those what is divine?

Most blessed are you among women—  When we are blessed it is to be a blessing and of the type that counters the evil of the world quite assertively.  If we get out into a truly blessed mindset, we can be a light in the world that casts out darkness.  This term is also used in the Old Testament for women that nail or cut off the head of the enemy literally (Jael, Judith).  If you are in sync on the details above, how does one not take the fight to the enemy with spiritual weapons?  We do that by continually relying on God’s grace and applying such grace in simplicity.  Mary in her yes, with humility, shows a submission to God that changes the world. 

Years later Paul saw it this way saying, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4).Paul goes further in the implication for how Christians engage in warfare in basic principles. Later he wrote, “For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).