CHOOSING THE LIGHT

Be Bold Challenge With Lion Face

It is a common wish for life to be fair.  There is a common statue outside courthouses that show justice is blind.  Defining and finding justice can be difficult.  If it is someone who has wronged me, then I have my biases for what I want dished out to the other person but we do not always get things seen the way we prefer.  As a counselor I refer to the court system as a “stranger in a black robe”.  I say it that way with purpose in the sense of how imperfect a judge on judging guilt and meting out a sentence.

People can be initially repelled of God in heaven being a judge.  The first reflex in someone who is effected by shame and a legalistic form of Christianity is that God is out to punish for the sake of a macabre satisfaction of making us suffer.  With a right representation of what Christianity is about the nature of God being holy and Love in the flesh in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. God being love and holy may seem to be contradicting but really they are paradoxes in perfect harmony with each other in the person of Jesus.  In explaining the dynamics of the important lines of demarcation one can see a building stage by Jesus on the Holy Spirit illuminating this truth. 

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:7-11).

Weeks later the Holy Spirit came down on the Church’s birthday.  When consistent with the deposit of faith, the Holy Spirit communicates through the Church the reality of Jesus as Lord and Savior, his role as High Priest in going to the Father and Satan being judged.  When the gospel is preached in the world, enlightened by the Holy Spirit,  Christians can engage in the marketplace of ideas and call out those things that are rays of light.  This was picked up on by Paul in respecting and engaging the culture. 

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (Acts 17:22-23). 

Here Paul uses something 200 years before in the history of Athens where they had prayed to every god they could to cure their sheep, and came up empty.  Among their means to “grope for him” they  came up with their spiritual door to an unknown God. 

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,“For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’  (Acts 17:24-33). 

Yet Paul does not water down the need to turn from sin.  He says, “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). 

For the people at the end who converted we see beauty, truth and goodness on display.  Paul led them into conversion by embracing the light that was in their culture and put what validly attempted to meet the needs of humanity in the true light of the gospel.  But among the dark forces they were tied to there is to be a day when the parties that “scoffed” will get their wish of not being connected to God. 

The scoffers in all ages come up with other means that were more enclosed to their boxes.  Paul shines a light on how those fail in contrast to God’s long-term golden thread of sovereignty in humanity. 

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:18-23). 

The Apostle John saw this to a logical conclusion at the end of this age. 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). 

Yes, it is possible for someone to choose to not be with God as well as to be with God. 

If actions speak louder than words, God is willing to honor the “no thanks” of the human person.  God is Love in his essence and no choice would mean no love.  Satan is the one who already stood judged and hell is not meant for us.  Augustine was one who went from scoundrel to saint.  He had riches, high intellect and lots of immorality before having a radical conversion to Christ.  He said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” (Confessions, 5th Century). Restlessness for all eternity is not appealing to me nor to God and thus it is his preferred will that we choose him. 

“God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man’s free will. God does not redeem man against his will.”  “John Paul IILove and Responsibility).

And such is the hidden beauty on this divine fork in the road.  The principles of God are laid out and the end result of what we choose will have startling conclusions one way or another. 

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened” (C.S Lewis, The Great Divorce). 

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See, Stay and Go

sun-moon-northpole

In the heat of the day, a woman of one ethnicity meets a man from another ethnicity at the well.  She gets the water then because she is an outcast socially from her people.  This stranger just called her out on her current life of emptiness but she chooses to stick around anyway.  She is challenged but intrigued.

 

See

This woman just got served by Jesus.  Unfortunately for her she was served in the sense of her sinful past being laid to bare.  But to her credit, she rolls with it pretty well all considered.  He challenged her on the issues of living with a man unmarried and having 5 husbands so he could propose to her for something better. 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.” At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:19-29).

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet— A turning point in anyone’s conversion is recognizing Jesus has at least some valid authority. As a Samaritan she had an imperfect formation by Jewish standards in what to hope for but she does see something big is going since a prophet discerns truth.  Her perspective is broadening. 

…this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem— This woman is centering on spiritual mysteries that seem to have no discernible purpose and doing that based on her own cultural lens.  Jesus responds with a coming agenda, a kingdom, that would not be bound to her culture or his and has a broader purpose.  Jesus acknowledges the foundation on how salvation history through the Jews but points to importance of blessing the world.

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed— She points in hope how somehow someone will be anointed by God. It is implied the Holy Spirit will do the anointing. In further developed articulation of Christianity one can see an abundant life full of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is informed by the work of Christ on the cross drawing one to a fully formed life the Holy Trinity.  Below are dynamics of the persons of the Holy Trinity that we can understand in fully articulated Christianity that is, again, of spirit and truth. 

The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God. Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world. In adoring the Holy Trinity, life-giving, consubstantial, and indivisible, the Church’s faith also professes the distinction of persons. When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 689). 

The work of the Holy Spirit is partly to point to Jesus as the visible member of the Godhead.  Working as “Breath” (the word for spirit and wind is the same in Hebrew), there is a relational context that the believer is invited to of unity (John 17:21).  This intent of breathing the Breath of God has to have consequence on earth in a new agenda.  This is the gospel lived out.  This woman in her simplicity points to a foundation for this hope. 

Stay

will worship the Father in Spirit and truth- Jesus is contrasting her presumption that the new faith would have to be anchored by a singular geographical location.  For Jesus to say this had foundation from prior scripture.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere, and a pure offering; For my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). How is this supposed to work if God’s people are bound to only offer sacrifice in the temple?  In the rabbinical narratives between the Old and New Testament they wrote with the Messiah to come the sacrifice to remain would be of bread for thanksgiving; it was called todah in Hebrew,  translated eucharistia in Greek in a translation of the Old Testament and is Eucharist in English. 

the Father seeks such people to worship him- Those people are sensitized to the joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The spirit spoken of is a reminder of the Holy Spirit being the Breath behind all spiritual wind which reveals the son for which there is no discrimination. 

God is Spirit-  Exactly articulated later with these words in the Nicene Creed of 325 “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.    

those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth – For those who know the call after conversion to be true worshippers they are introduced into partaking of this divine nature, sensitized to true worship and will worship the Father in Christ. The rituals that are absent the spirit only point to a greater reality but are not in themselves that greater reality.  But Christ is and he is to be experienced in matter and faith. 

I who speak to you am he  This is the dividing line.  She can go backward from Jesus but not in ignorance.  Or she could go forward and continue to be changed in perceptions and lifestyle with a full conversion.  She has been proposed to and not imposed upon. So we can be in the moments of turning around and giving our own testimony to the world about this mysterious Other.   

Go

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”— Good evangelism sometimes is knowing the right answer to the right question.  She had her answer: Jesus is Savior and she needed saving.  Each day one chooses to walk in friendship with Jesus is an opportunity to be whole.  Not all dynamics of conversion are meant to be figured out.  But if we open our eyes Jesus will meet us in the common wells of our lives. The subsequent transformation compels us to a proclamation of the comprehensible and the mysteries in Christ.   

The Lord’s missionary mandate is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 850). 

Magnifying Above and Beyond

Mary MagnifyTruth 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 Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”.

“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.”  Not really.  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 do not dispute 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 early in 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.

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. 

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 your agenda.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

The Simple Party of Five

judith-in-art-salviNot all gatherings are divine.  Some are get-togethers of people who have only goals that are shallow and of this earth.  Some people gather seeking The Deity as they understand and are truly open to what will happen.  Some gatherings are mixed in intent. Maybe wanting God but on very tight terms. But true openness to gather in God’s presence is always an encounter with God in intimacy and grace.

A factor we can see in a true gathering in God is in the meeting of species like when the angel Gabriel came to human Mary passing on a divine proposal. Case in point of two humans with a resolutely divine purpose is Mary coming to her relative Elizabeth.  Mary carries Jesus and Elizabeth carries John who would prepare the way for Jesus. In this gathering is a calling and a called out gathering in the Greek is ecclesia.  Ecclessia 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.

“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 when the Ark of The Covenant went to the hill country of Obed-Edom and then to King David who said 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.

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 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 whether quiet or not.

filled with the Holy Spirit,…. the infant in my womb leaped for joy—- This shows us that this 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.

Blessed are you who believed—– This is the last but not least mark of true church we can get and if we blink 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 cooperated 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 personal happiness then it is not God’s kingdom but a kingdom of self. In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit indwells, all are counted with a culture of life and we come with resolved manner of obedience.  I frequently ask “What’s stopping us?”  Today I ask, are you caught up with the gatherings and mentalities of the world that would prevent you from those that are divine?

Most blessed are you among women—  If we get out into a higher 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. 

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.

“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).

The Tension With Wonder

think-big-start-small-byob-post1If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him as things get more complex?  Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.

As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive.  Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose.  When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him that we do in grace and do not go away but are like gold refined in the fire.  When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.

“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).

How can this be…?—  It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.

First, since God is impartial, she would have been silenced like Zechariah if she was cynical against the word of God. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck mute for doubting John’s miraculous conception.  The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life.  For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.

But for Mary there was the principle of consecration totally to God and such disposition lends the soul for the unexpected and even the miraculous.  There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle. 

Far fetched?  Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law. For her, consecration unto God was an end in itself and she understood God was permanently there meeting her in that which superseded any other relationships.  I would suggest along with the Sacred Tradition of the early church that she vowed her virginity even through marriage. 

There is reasoning for Mary’s perpetual virginity to not be far-fetched. Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower.  Then the bride says, “How can this be?  There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”.  There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of the marital embrace.

The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.

“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status.  Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she intends to remain one in the future.”

There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse.  Doctrinally, in the subset  of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff.  There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorse it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).

But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation.  Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself for God alone was important to her.  If your calling is to be a spouse, celibate, or single but looking then bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving one day at a time.

The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah.  Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.

Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—-  I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community.  God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but often in the faces of others.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.——  Being at peace in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out.  Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there.  We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new way for Him.  The absence of welcoming is the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes.

For further research on point of Mary being a perpetual virgin, I recommend looking at the Protoevangelium of James written in the second century and highly attested by many early church fathers including Ambrose of Milan. This includes a major implication that Joseph took her as his wife but did not know her sexually.

Here is the link.

http://ministries.tliquest.net/theology/apocryphas/nt/protevan.htm

Also believed by a major leader in the Reformation. 

“A new lie about me is being circulated.  I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ” (Luther’s Works, 22:214-215). 

Day 2- Right Principles as Whole People.   

Incesne with angel

I like stories of drowning people being saved by a good lifeguard.  The images that come to mind are often the flapping in the water, gasping for breath and tunnel vision right before a powerful hand swoops in to save the day.  The intervention in those stories range from the lifeguard being fully in the water to being anchored in something that floats.  The trick is that the lifeguard may not be received in full trust as a gift to be received fully and simply.

To this point of not receiving that help is a story by Watchman Nee.  There once was a man who got a cramp and was drowning in a lake.  A champion swimmer stood by fully dressed and did not move until the man began to go under.  When he did, he got out of his sweats and saved the man.  When asked what took him so long he said that the drowning man had to be at the end of himself or they both would have drowned.

When John the Baptist formally presents Jesus to the crowd he uses words for  Jesus to fulfill in several dimensions and continues to fulfill when we cooperate.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).

Behold, the Lamb of God– – Where a lion is known to conquer, the lamb is known to be conquered and consumed.  Jesus is proclaimed as one who would give all and not take like kings of old nor exploit the resources of the people.  Jesus is counter-intuitive as a gift for our redemption that we are unable to obtain for ourselves.  So we depend on Jesus for that.   Jesus is wholly self-giving.

takes away the sin of the world– Here is indicated that the gift of self is beyond Israel but to the world (John 3:16).  The gift is not tied anymore to a temple in a certain city but is universal.  Salvation as a gift for the world is shown in the Church which Jesus founded and as early as 110 AD was called that by Ignatius- – Catholic. And before Jesus came this was foreshadowed of Jesus being re- – presented by the people of God like this.  Jesus is wholly accessible.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

he existed before me–  Here John shows Jesus to be beyond the time of a human life span.   The gift is divine.  After all, one can look at the gospel of Luke and see that John was conceived three months before Jesus if one views Jesus only according to the flesh.  John opens  a perspective  later seen more fully by Paul that, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  The gift transcends understanding.  Jesus is timeless and thus must be discerned with eyes for the eternal than the timely.

I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him– The only time before that the Holy Spirit had come down on a single direct object was the temple of Solomon.  One more reason that Jesus said,  “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6).  The gift is consecrated because Jesus is that gift and he is holy.

will baptize with the Holy Spirit– – Christ through His humanity and in partnership with the Holy Spirit brings in those who are His with adoption that is beyond a legal transaction.  If it was only legal, the relationship between God and the believer would be contractual in what I have is yours.  Instead it is “I am yours”.  To have a relationship with the Blessed Trinity that is covenantal is to be in synch to the original creation of humanity.  “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Romans 8:15)! The gift is intimate and is forward towards oneness.

Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God– – John has already spoken that Jesus must increase and he must decrease.  By saying this officially, John steps back for Jesus to shine.  He does continue to baptize but the traffic continues to be more to Jesus.  Just as John yielded to Jesus, so in the process of conversion and formation towards Jesus there is a yielding to happen.  This yielding to Jesus as the gift is informed by how he redeems, transcends understanding, is consecrated, is universal, and is intimate. To hear John’s words right, is the beginning to getting Jesus right.  Such is the fulness of the proclamation of the gospel in the Church that Jesus wants. To yield is to be on mission in disposition.  And to be on mission is to be sent.  And to be sent is to be apostolic.    In one sense, all who have “testified” to the fulness of Jesus are apostolic.

The design for a people that are transformed and have ongoing connection to the authority of Jesus as Lord is one with the traits above.  And to water down these traits with a forgetting this kind of encounter is to move with the world that God wants to redeem through Jesus.  To hold on to these is to be the Church that instead moves the world as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.