LOVE ADOPTS

Mary Magnify

 

I can only imagine how horrifying it would be to outlive your son or daughter.  It is not supposed to be that way.  It is not nature’s way.  Amped up to another level is that this grown child of yours is innocent, yet has been sentenced to death and there is nothing you can do.

That was the predicament of Mary when she saw Jesus die in a mangled mess on the cross.  His passion was her passion.  What comes in the next scene is a point of reference in Christianity on her unique maternal role and how her faith should be normative for Christians in example and practice.  Knowing every breath is a struggle, the inner conflict of this mother is wanting to hear from him but to lift himself up must be excruciating.

Nevertheless, Jesus lifts himself up and speaks to put both his earthly and spiritual houses in order.  An important legal backdrop according to Brant Pitre’s The Jewish Roots of Mary is that declarations of something being bestowed by the condemned at the site of their execution is legally binding.  In Roman law, the witnesses of such words from Jesus could establish in court a last will and testimony.  With a spiritual context and a secular frame of reference, he puts in place a familial connection to found his spiritual family: The Church. Therefore, a fruit of the cross is adoption through his mother Mary who always points us to Jesus Christ.

THE THIRD WORD

“Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, this is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple: “This is your mother.” (John 19:26-27)

Before these verses are explored, I want to lay some foundations.  One is to acknowledge that in Mary there is a lot to learn from her faith. Second, no Christian could love Mary more than Jesus does.  Third, in light of Jewish and early Christian tradition, she was the mother of Jesus alone in the manner of the flesh.  Otherwise it would be strange for Jesus to bypass having another son of Mary take her in.  The beauty is that she would have a spiritual and yet tangible role as mother eternally bonded in the cross to all Christians as I will demonstrate.

Decades before the cross, this “woman” was one who said yes to God’s will knowing there could be the appearance of scandal in pregnancy before the wedding ceremony.  She said yes in a context of worship in saying, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” and “my soul magnifies the Lord”.  But I want to especially emphasize that she was a woman of faith who rightly worshiped God and viewed humanity in a prophetic way.

She carried a devotion to her son that was not lost in statements she made about justice coming to mankind through Jesus. In her response to God in the presence of his angel she spoke of the high being made low and the poor being exalted. Such is what goes topsy-turvy when the full gospel impacts a culture: oneness and equality happen. This is something she celebrated when she first conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving in her womb.   This was Mary’s family morals for humanity because this was the agenda of God the Father in sending the Son.

But, Mary, was “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and had discernment and a prophetic voice for Jesus in words and presence that endured to the day of Pentecost.  Her life was lived in gratitude, treasuring the events of Jesus in her heart though anticipating the cross since old Simeon prophesied that a “sword will pierce your heart as well” (Luke 2:35).

She was also prophetic at a wedding as she magnified the Lord again though not with all clarity.  She boldly interceded to Jesus for the need of more wine. Jesus did not dismiss her with the word “woman”, any more than he did from the cross. In fact, the idiomatic expression “what have you to do with me” is poorly translated in English and would seem he dismisses her. But Jesus was really communicating to her there is no barrier between them, his hour of the cross had not yet come yet borrowed time would start with that first miracle.  She knew there would be a dark hour to come but Jesus knew that that hour was not that wedding but later.  This would explain him saying this prior doing as she requested though he had said, “My hour has not come” (John 2:4).

She may have perceived a foreshadowing of the cross where she would be a witness to the wine of his blood poured out of his side, with water, to birth the reality of the Bride of Christ into sacramental existence. This is where her heart was pierced and how we see in Mary’s solidarity with Christ how his passion is felt by her and is relatable.

From the early years of Christianity, she has been written about as mother of all believers.  She was and is the living reference of Christ’s nativity (the Christmas story) and the household of faith. This was strongly attested to by Origen of the 3rdCentury on how all Christians share in John’s blessing.

For none of these plainly declared His Godhead, as John does when he makes Him say, I am the light of the world, I am the way and the truth and the life, I am the resurrection, I am the door, I am the good shepherd; and in the Apocalypse [book of Revelation], I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he has lain on Jesus’ breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such as one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as He is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus.Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, (Galatians 2:20) but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, Behold your son Christ. What a mind, then, must we have to enable us to interpret in a worthy manner this work, though it be committed to the earthly treasure-house of common speech, of writing which any passer-by can read, and which can be heard when read aloud by anyone who lends to it his bodily ears? What shall we say of this work? He who is accurately to apprehend what it contains should be able to say with truth,  “We have the mind of Christ, that we may know those thingswhich are bestowed on us by God” (Origen, Commentary of the Gospel of John, Book I, 3rdCentury. Quoted in personal conversation by Fr. John Behr, February 2019, emphasis added).

 

A proper response to feminist critiques of Christianity is to point to Mary as an example on the Christian dignity of women far beyond pregnancy. Before the conception of Jesus, she said, “let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Mary’s grace informed femininity points to Christ.  “Let it be done to me….” is an anthem for men and women to live a faith in harmony with God.

Good Mariology is good Christology in articulating Christ’s identity better. In Mary there is a fuller view of how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  Mary is a controversial point in Protestantism, but the early Church put her in her elevated place to define all that Jesus is and be an example of all that the Church is called to be. This is why she was referred to as the Theotokos (God-bearer) in the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.  She was named the Theotokos in the Council of Ephesus not to glorify her but protect the doctrine of Jesus being 100% divine and 100% human.  Mary refines the unity of faith and “magnifies the Lord”.

So, with that, let us now reflect on the full meaning of adoption in Christ being bound in spirit, matter and form but to God the Father.  Let us take her into our home and invite her intercession, receive her exhortation to “do what he tells you” (John 2:5) and learn from her humility. In doing this we can be very much like John.  Furthermore, she will behold us as her children and in Christ, “pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death” (The Rosary) with a lifetime of life in the Church called to pray, teach and live the “Our Father”. Apostle Paul summed this up well on the adoptive effects of the gospel when he said, For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!Father’ “(Romans 8:15)!

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DEATHBED ZIP DRIVE

Jesus Holding The Bread

The meaning of life and death is pondered in groups and for individual departed.  People often try to give the departed a sense of dignity and give comfort to the survivors. A seemingly impossible task in finding a meaning for it all if “this is all there is”.

Sometimes someone gets it right when there is an epitaph on a tombstone. It could be something funny to bring a laugh to loved ones that come visiting at the cemetery or something sentimental.  But really a lot have no message fearing a failure to give justice to what someone’s memory.

However, there is always room for something more than a few words in the last spoken words by the deceased or what they write in their will. If their heart senses their values and choices were integrated with consistency then the sense could be literally called integrity instead of despair like the theory of Erickson about the end of life stage.  And even still, often, the soon to be dead would rather keep living.

But the counter-intuitive approach from traditional Christianity is in the cross of Christ and what Jesus said.  In evangelizing in his ministry Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me”. This is not appealing to comforts. The inflexibly comfortable would not endeavor to be a disciple of Jesus any more than any other contradiction of terms. The voice that wants to play it safe would say no.

But the epitome of the gospel of the cross may be summed up precisely in what Jesus said on the cross.  There are several reasons for this.  It is half the gospel literally in action and we see up to two other convicts there and many others who are both witnesses and a captive audience.  We see a thief who first mocked Jesus having a turn of conscience and faith and spoke up for him to the other thief.  We see a soldier, there for duty, say, “surely this was the Son of God”.  And then there were his loved ones including his mother and “the disciple Jesus loved”. Last, there were scoffers of the religious elite who refused his love.  From the cross, his actions and words from the cross moved some even though the eyes of the flesh would be seeing only a Roman execution.

So what will be addressed below are the 7 sayings of Jesus. One final will and testament expressed in words and blood. They are not evangelistic spells of a sort that Christians are to use and overwhelm the unbelievers into a trance of conversion.  But we can see glimpses on what Jesus addresses of normative experiences for a full, Christian life for those who do not have it.

To understand what his last words from the cross means to Christianity is see them like a zip drive.  The convert receives it but the disciple unzips it over a lifetime. Christ on the cross illuminated truths to be taught and caught in him and in unity with his Church.

Paul connected to this in the grace of conversion and ongoing growth in holiness.  He stated when Peter erred in his prudential judgment of living out the meaning of grace in the gospel saying, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20). Paul connects himself in Christ’s cross, denies his life as being the center so Christ’s life is central and applies it continually in faith.  This is a testimony for Paul but signals to us what that flashpoint of conversion is and calls us to in simplicity in the heart first.  Paul later wrote on the simplicity of the gospel.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

A few letters later Paul elaborated on where this mysterious connection to the cross is for the believer.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul knew that we have all accessed the cross of Christ in baptism. This is why several times in Acts Christians are referred to as followers of the Way.  The word for way was hodos and in the Greek Old Testament the word, exhodo,is the “way out” in the sense of Moses guiding Israel through the water of deliverance which Paul calls a baptism into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3).  The ultimate way out springs from the work and meaning of Jesus in the cross.

So really this is the personal testimony that all Christians can draw hope from and integrate in sharing the message of Jesus.  However, it is not to be comprehended like a simple math equation. It is made practical in the school of experience and chief in that experience is suffering.  We can point to the mystery of Christ on the cross as hope and light especially when we join him in suffering.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh(2 Corinthians 4:6-11).

Last, I would like to see how we can see the person we share Jesus with in the fullest kind of sight.  People we meet may be cynics like those who jeered at Jesus while he was suffering on the cross.  For the Christian this unzipping the zip drive includes knowing God’s mercy to us and those who may even persecute us.  We must join our voice together for the world as intercessors calling for God’s mercy over the earth.  And this intercession of sorts is not only our words but also our actions. For this, Paul wrote, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Filled with the unity of knowing Jesus, we can only then keep the resolve to change the story of our faith communities seeing the bond of peace in the cross.  Seeing Christ in his glorious sacrifice, not just a Roman execution, we see its end working out to make all people new who convert and then be disciples.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view. We know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

With that in mind, let us sit at the Master’s feet while he hangs from the cross, heaving and pulling himself up for breath to say the words that free us in this sacrifice of love. Sacrifice without love is unendurable.  Love without sacrifice is meaningless.  But Christ’s wisdom in the cross is the power of God.

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. 

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.