Saturday, December 25, 2010

On Christmas Day...

It is the evening
of the birth of God.
Singing &
with gold instruments
the angels bear down
upon the barn, their wings
neither white
wax nor marble. So
they have been recorded:
literal in the composed air,
they raise their harps above
the beasts likewise gathering,
the lambs & all the startled
silken chickens ... And Joseph,
off to one side, has touched
his cheek, meaning
he is weeping ---

But how small he is, withdrawn
from the hollow of his mother's life,
the raw flesh bound
in linen as stars yield
light to delight his sense
for who there is no ornament.

-- "A Nativity Poem" by Louise Gluck

Christmas blessings,


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Blessings

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn
Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle’s “The Risk of Birth”
copyright 1974 Madeleine L'Engle

I am grateful that Love still takes the risk of birth this Christmas Eve and, indeed, every day in the heart of God and the hearts of women and men everywhere.

Risking Love and sharing God's with you,

Christmas blessings,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas Story -- Fact or Fiction. Part Duex

Since I have gotten in "trouble" (lumps of coal for me this year, I guess) for my previous post about the Christmas story, I thought I'd try to atone with this little quiz (made especially for the Bible scholars who read this).

Here are twenty multiple choice questions for you to answer. There is at least one correct answer to each question but some have more than one right answer (in all 27). Each correct answer receives five points for a possible total of 135 points. For every wrong answer, five points will be deducted, so be careful! Since Christmas is to be a joyous occasion, you may find reason to laugh at some of the choices, but don't let yourself get fooled by trick questions! You may not use your Bible. DO NOT LOOK AT THE ANSWERS UNTIL FINISHED!!

1. When Joseph discovered that Mary was expecting a child:
a. he was very happy
b. he asked for a divorce
c. he contemplated getting a divorce
d. he brooded over it until he fell asleep

2. Before Jesus was born...
a. Joseph left Mary
b. Mary left Joseph
c. Joseph and Mary led a normal married life
d. Joseph built a crib

3. Why did Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem?
a. King Herod made a decree
b. Joseph and Mary were related to the king
c. A star appeared and led them to Bethlehem
d. An angel appeared and told them to go

4. How did Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem?
a. They both rode donkeys
b. Mary rode a donkey and Joseph walked
c. They rode camels
d. The Bible doesn't say

5. Which animals were present at the manger when Christ was born?
a. Sheep and cows
b. Donkey and ox
c. The Bible only mentions sheep
d. The Bible doesn't say

6. What did the shepherds in the field see?
a. an army
b. a choir
c. a star
d. three kings

7. Who were the visitors from the East?
a. Relatives
b. Kings
c. Astronomers
d. Farmers

8. How did these visitors find the baby Jesus?
a. They followed the star to Nazareth
b. They followed the star to Bethlehem
c. They followed the star to Jerusalem
d. They followed the instructions of King Herod

9. What did these visitors do when they arrived?
a. They had a snowball fight
b. They found the child in a manger
c. They dreamed of the bad man
d. They sang Christmas carols

10. Which is the most probable time of Christ's birth?
a. December
b. In the year "Zero"
c. In the year "One"
d. Five to seven Anno Domini

11. The innkeeper...
a. ...sent Joseph and Mary away because they were Jews
b. ...was angry because they woke him from a sound sleep
c. ..offered them a place in the stall
d. ..isn't mentioned in the Bible

12. Which book of the Bible has the most to say about Christ's advent?
a. Revelation
b. Matthew
c. Luke
d. Isaiah

13. When Christ was born...
a. ...there was snow in Bethlehem
b. ...there was snow in Jerusalem
c. ...there was snow in Israel
d. ...the Bible doesn't mention snow

14. How many brothers and sisters did Jesus have?
a. Jesus had two brothers
b. There were at least seven children
c. Jesus was an only child
d. The Bible doesn't say

15. Where did Jesus live the shortest length of time?
a. Bethlehem
b. Nazareth
c. Egypt
d. Capernaum

16. Why did Joseph and Mary take Christ to Jerusalem?
a. because Herod wanted to kill him
b. for Christ's baptism
c. for Christ's circumcision
d. for Christ's dedication service

17. When was Jesus baptized?
a. shortly after his birth
b. on his first birthday
c. as a young lad of twelve
d. a few years before his death

18. As a youngster...
a. ...Jesus was a good student
b. ...Jesus stayed back
c. ...Jesus confounded the teachers with his knowledge
d. ...Jesus' parents were not happy about his behavior

19. How did Jesus get his name?
a. An angel gave him his name before he was born
b. Joseph named him
c. He received his name in the temple when 8 days old
d. The prophet Isaiah gave him his name

20. How well do you think you did on this test (Read instructions again!)?

a. I believe I received between 75 and 135 points
b. I think I have 50 to 70 points
c. I probably only have 25 to 45 points
d. I doubt if I got more than 20 points

Answers to Christmas Quiz:
1. The correct answer is "d"
Joseph was not at all happy about Mary's pregnancy. He contemplated "putting her away" (breaking their engagement) but since they were not yet married, he could not have gotten a divorce. According to Matthew 1:18-20, Joseph brooded about the situation until he fell asleep and an angel appeared in a dream.

2. The correct answer is "b"
According to Matthew 1:25, they did not lead a normal married life until after the birth of Christ. Mary left Joseph when she made an extended visit with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39 and 56).

3. The correct answer is "b"
Not King Herod, but Augustus made the decree mentioned in Luke 2:1-4. According to the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3, both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David, whose birthplace was Bethlehem.

4. The correct answer is "d"
The Bible doesn't say how Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem. All other answers are "Christmas card theology"!

5. The correct answer is "b"
This idea is taken from the writings of Isaiah who wrote, "The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." Since it is Christmas and we want everyone to live peaceably, "d" may also be considered correct. If you
checked both, you get ten points even though that would be a contradiction - it's Christmas!

6. The correct answer is "a"
The shepherds first saw a solitary angel, who was soon joined by a heavenly host (army), which praised God, saying... Nowhere in the Bible is there a reference to angels singing, although Revelation 8 speaks of them blowing trumpets. The NIV mentions angels singing in
Rev.5:12, but the Greek word is "lego", which means speaking. I still think that they can sing though!

7. The correct answer is "c"
Because there were three gifts, some reason that there were three visitors. The Bible does not say that they were kings. This is an old tradition of the Church, which even gives them names and racial origins. The Bible describes them as Chaldean or Babylonian "magi" which indicates persons who study the stars. One root for this tradition can be found in Isaiah 49:7-12 and 60:3-6. (See comments at end!)

8. The correct answer is "a" (See comments at end!)

9. The correct answer is "c"
According to Matthew 2:9-12, they dreamed of Herod, who was obviously a very bad man. Only the shepherds are reported to have visited the stall. (See comments at end!)

10. The correct answer is "d"
This is the only question that cannot be answered from the Bible, but you should be aware of the fact, that our calendar is not correct.

11. The correct answer is "d"
The Bible mentions an inn, but not the innkeeper (Luke 2:6)!

12. The correct answer is "d"
More is written about the coming of the Christ in the book of Isaiah than in all four gospels together.

13. The correct answer is "c"
Jeremiah wrote "Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes?" (Jer. 18:14) and there is a similar verse in Isaiah 55:10. The peak of Mount Hermon glistens with perpetual snow.

14. The correct answer is "b"
Matthew 13:55-56 mentions four brothers and at least two sisters of Jesus.

15. The correct answer is "a"
Jesus lived longer times in Nazareth and Capernaum. Many believe that Joseph died sometime before the wedding of Cana, after which the family apparently moved to Capernaum. The stay in Bethlehem was less than 40 days (compare Luke 2:22; 39 and Leviticus 12:4 and comments at

16. The correct answer is "d"
It was forbidden to enter the temple while unclean; purification rites lasted 40 days according to Leviticus 12:4.

17. The correct answer is "d"
Jesus was baptized by John about three years before his crucifixion.

18. The correct answers are "a,b,c,d"
Read Luke 2:40-52 and you will see that this is true!

19. The correct answers are again "a,b,c,d"
Read Matthew 1:21-25; Luke 2:21 and Isaiah 7:14!

20. Congratulations if you got these five points!

Here is a bonus question (no points!):

1.) Which modern song is most closely related to the angel's message to
the shepherds?
a. "Silent Night"
b. "Jingle Bells"
c. "Don't Worry, Be Happy!"
d. "O Tannenbaum"

The angels message to the shepherds was "Fear not, for we bring you tidings of great joy!" That is pretty close to "Don't Worry, Be Happy!", don't you think?

How did the wise men know that a king had been born in Israel? We know that they saw a star, but how did they know that this star meant? The wise men were obviously familiar with a yet unfulfilled prophecy of the famous Babylonian prophet, Balaam (or Bileam).

Chaldea or Babylon (now Iran and Iraq) was world-famous for its Chaldean prophets. Bileam or Baalam lived and prophesied about 1400 years before Christ. The Moabite king, Balak called upon him to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24), but against his own will and to the
utter chagrin of the Moabite king, Baalam could only bring forth blessing. After several attempts, the king commanded Baalam to cease his prophesies but Baalam was compelled to prophesy one more time. He foretold the appearance of a star which was to announce the coming of a special Jewish king (Numbers 24:17).

But the appearance of a new or different star alone would not have in itself provided sufficient evidence. The wise men were undoubtedly also familiar with the unfulfilled prophecy of yet another famous Chaldean prophet, Belteshazzar, better known to us as Daniel. It was acclaimed of both Baalam and Daniel, that all their prophecies came to pass (Numbers 22:6 and Daniel 6:3). Daniel lived about 800 years after Baalam and foretold the exact time in which that special Jewish monarch would arrive on the scene. He even prophesied that this special prince would be executed without a fair trial. (Daniel 9:24-26).

Six centuries after Daniel and fourteen centuries after Baalam, the Chaldean astronomers or "wise men" of Matthew's gospel saw a special star and concluded that it had an important significance. Perhaps they searched for clues in the gigantic collection of more than 100,000
clay tablets that were stored in Nineveh, at least 30,000 of which still exist. After recognizing that the only unfulfilled prophecies of their two most famous prophets coincided exactly, the wise men set out on their long journey (about 600 miles) to Jerusalem, where they fully
expected to find a new-born prince in the palace of the king.

"And when the fullness of time was come..." Galatians 4:4 The arrival of the Chaldean wise men in Jerusalem did not go unnoticed. Their query about a new-born king of the Jews caused no
small stir in the king's palace and also in the city. You see, the wise men were not the only ones who were familiar with Old Testament prophecy. Jewish leaders and residents of Jerusalem, including the aged Simeon and Hanna, were also expecting the imminent arrival of the
Messiah (Matthew 2:3; Luke 2:25-40). Joseph of Arimithea was also expecting the Messiah (Mark 15:43) and Luke 3:15 declares that the people of Israel were in general expectation of the Christ, wondering if John the Baptist could be the promised Messiah. It is reported that the leading Jews sent Levites and priests to Bethany on the Jordan to investigate this possibility (compare Malechai 4:5; Matthew 11:14; 17:11-13; John 1:19-21). King Herod took this news so seriously ("Even the devils believe and tremble!" - James 2:19) that he called all the leading theologians into his palace for consultation. Gemaliel, Paul's famous teacher, was probably among their number (He was also of the line of David. Could he have been staying in "Bethlehem Hotel"
where there was no room for Joseph and Mary??). The Jewish Theologians told King Herod that according to Micah 5:1, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so he sent the visitors to this town with instructions to return and give a detailed report on their findings to the king
(Matthew 2:1-8). Herod was so upset about the failure of the wise men to report back to him, that he ordered the slaughter of all infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem.

The star did not lead the wise men to Jerusalem as some assume. It appeared to them first while they were in their own country. Although the wise men set out for Bethlehem, they wound up in Nazareth instead, for the same star which they saw in the east reappeared and directed
them to the "house" where the young child was living (Matthew 2:11). Their journey must have taken months, yet Joseph and Mary could not have been in Bethlehem much more than a week. Even if Jesus was circumcised in the Synagogue of Bethlehem after 8 days, he was brought
to the temple in Jerusalem for his dedication. This took place after the "purification" which lasted 40 days (Leviticus 12:4), after which the family "returned to Nazareth" (Luke 2:21-22 & 39). The wise men did not obey Herod, but obeyed God instead -- as wise men still do!
(Matthew 2:9-12).

Have a blessed Christmas and may you be resolved to study your Bible more carefully in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. The Christmas Story -- Fact or Fiction

Well, according to the picture above from a prominent United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, it's fiction. I'm not surprised they feel that way -- my sainted fundamentalist Friends grandmother often warned me about hanging around with Methodists. "Why," she exclaimed, "the only time you ever hear the name Jesus in a Methodist church is when the pastor falls down the steps."

Me and my peeps, as true believers, hold to the veracity of the Christmas story ... down to the donkey that Mary rode to Bethlehem.

Holiday Blessings on us, one all.

-- Brent

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What Kind of Christian ARE You?

Emergent. Missional. Post-Christian. Post-modern. Pre-post-missional emergent traditional Orthodox. What canst thou say?

-- Brent