Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Luke 2:1-40 Human Reaction to the Supernatural

Luke 2:1-40

I am having a hard time with this whole thing- angles and prophets and people told what will happen before they die. I realize that is a bit the theme of this chapter, but, really? Really? There are three distinct stories that mingle the natural and the supernatural, three sketches of responses and reactions.

The shepherds are just going about their blue-collar jobs in the middle of the night when a group of angels appears in the sky. I know that would shock me and get my attention for sure. I can't remember the last time angels appeared at my job, let alone singing and announcing that the savior of their nation has been born and is in a manger not too far away. If there had not been angels I am sure they would have thought there was just a crazy person wandering around. I know that I would have thought that. And, to their credit, they go to see. I mean it when I say it is to their credit. It would have been easy to either right the whole thing off or to have been so stuck on the angles singing and announcing things that there would have been plenty of reason to stay- but they got it, they left and went to see this baby. I admire that.

Simeon is one of my favorite characters in scripture, and I love that God tells him he will see the Messiah
before he dies. There is so much mystery in that! Why would God do that? Especially because Simeon is old, and does not appear to do anything with the information other than rejoice and prophesy. Of course, that is enough, but it feels like not quite enough. It is the Messiah, the Savior, the birth of the person at the center of so many hopes, dreams, and promises. So, really, just a statement in the temple? Shouldn't there be a conference and teachings and books and podcasts and telecasts of this event? I suppose it was big enough that Peter knew about it, told Mark and now it is in this document passed down from generation to generation. That is something. And he says amazing things- he seems to really get it. "My eyes have seen your Salvation... a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel." He gets what so many others seem to have missed at various points- that Jesus is the point of Israel and that this is a message for the whole world, the glory of Israel for the Gentiles.

Anna, like Simeon has a more subtle, internal prompting. The shepherds had a concert in the sky, Simeon is moved by the Spirit, and Anna is already there because she is often there. Here are three very different circumstances under which people received news of what God was doing. I would like to think that I am more like Anna or Simeon and that I can respond to the move of the Spirit or see God in my daily life in such a way that I would see His actions and piece of His plans. I am far more likely to need a concert in the sky - especially these days. Part of the reason I am bogging about Luke is to give myself some kind of accountability to read Scripture. I am that rusty, that far from being anything like Anna or Simeon.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Luke 1:26-80

Yeah, I bet she went quickly to another place- the woman is pregnant, engaged, and insisting that she is a virgin.

There is a shared thread in these two stories, other than the obvious miraculous birth, they both involve people who are put in hardship and uncomfortable, undesirable circumstances and they come out with a profound understanding of the situation that they are in. Both Mary and Zechariah voice an understanding far beyond their circumstances. Mary says that "all generations will call me blessed" and that "He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy as he spoke to our fathers to Abraham and his offspring." At the very least, Mary sees herself as part of that story, but what I would guess is more the case, she understood, at least in part, the role her circumstances were playing in the work of God in the world and in the cosmos. That is a big deal, and rare for a human to grasp.

Zechariah, too, must have had lots of time to contemplate while he was mute for roughly 9 months, and also voices an understanding of his specific circumstances having a place in the story and work of God. "He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us ... to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.. .and you, child (John) will go before the Lord and prepare his ways to give knowledge of Salvation of His people in the forgiveness of their sins." Forgiveness of sins? That is astounding, and it is certainly quite something to know about your child when they are less than 8 days old. Sheesh.

And all of this is in the midst of messy, very human, and generally strange social circumstances - an engagement + pregnancy through unknown circumstances, being mute, an elderly couple with a child, a pregnant young woman leaving home to stay with relatives. There was much, much confusion. I am sure.

I think that most of the time when I have read this story, I have been so focused on proving to myself that the miraculous is possible and actual that I missed the human element here. And missed some of the wonder of Mary and Zechariah grasping more than their situations.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Luke- a social experiment in spiritual disciplines

My church, which I have been woefully inadequate in attending because of weddingextravaganza2013, is currently teaching through Luke. I believe that this is what is in the lectionary for ordinary time, but seeing as I am new to liturgy, "ordinary time" is a new idea to me. In order to lean into this time I am going to embark on an experiment in spiritual disciplines. It sounds much more exciting than it is. I am simply going to to read through the book of Luke and try to come to the story itself with a blank slate. While I will never be able to fully get away from all of the background I already have, I would like to try to read it for what it is: an account.

My goal is to reflect on what I am reading in as raw a form as possible. I hope to learn and unlearn and relearn some things about Christ and, through that process to learn a few things about myself. I am in a spiritual funk of sorts and I think that a regular spiritual discipline will be good for me in this time. That is where you come in- there are three things I ask of you. One, I need you to help me simply by reading. Since reading scripture is something that has historically been challenging and dry for me, I am hoping to come to this with a sense of freedom in my thoughts. I think that posting several times a week and just having you out there to read it helps hold me to both the regularity and authenticity of this endeavor. Two, interact. One of my favorite things about social media is that it is social- this only works if we are talking about it over email, over coffee, on the phone, on facebook, on twitter, or on a blog. I have already enjoyed the conversations spurred by my last post about singleness. Those conversations have already challenged and encouraged me and, I hope, spurred on many other conversations for other people. Three, bear with me. This is intended to raw, which makes it somewhat vulnerable- personally, grammatically, and theologically. We are all a work in progress.

Well, here goes.

Luke 1:1-25

This is such a practical undertaking "to draw up an account of everything that has happened among us." It feels like a news story or a journal entry or a blog. And some part of me wants to think of it as more believable because of that, but I find it hard when in the next breathe Luke says, with all practicality "there was an angel standing at the altar." It seems both to make perfect sense that he would just state this, just matter of fact, and it seems that there should be more drama and more build up and more description of the supernatural to make it more believable.

Here there are such human reactions and circumstances- a couple who wants to have a child and can't conceive. I also love Zechariah's reaction to this news "give me a sign." It is akin to "prove it to me," and "what assurances do you have that I am not crazy and that I can trust you?" And then the angel makes him MUTE? What is that? Seems a little harsh, and then he goes home and has sex with his wife? People are funny. Elizabeth also has a very human reaction to finally conceiving a child. "This the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, and took away my reproach among the people." It is about her personal journey, her relationship with the Lord and her connection to her history as a Jew (I think that is what the Genesis reference is about-someone correct me if that is wrong). Such a very normal, human reaction. Gritty. This whole episode is bazaarly gritty and supernatural all at the same time. Strange.