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History Matters

Christmas is coming. Advent begins in just eighteen days. We are entering the season and Luke 1 is a good text to help us prepare. Perhaps any reading of Luke at all should pay attention to 1.1-4. It certainly helps us to understand the reason for details we find later. Luke tells us that many have told the story before. Servants of the word, ministers of the gospel, and other eyewitnesses have told the story of Jesus. Yet, Luke wants to tell it again. Luke wants to investigate details carefully. Luke wants us to understand what we’ve been told.

Immediately, Luke starts in with the details. In 1.5-7 things feel so historical, just the way Luke wants it. We discover right away the name of the king of Judea. We learn the name of one of the priests and the priestly division he belonged to. We learn the name of his wife and something about her family tree. We are told that they were of good character “righteous and obedient and blameless.” We are told they are old. And we are told the woman, Elizabeth, was barren.

That is a lot of historical information in only three verses. Perhaps we should state the obvious. No one comes to church to find out the name of a first century king, the name of a first century priest, or the birthing status of a first century woman. Yet, Luke tells these details because they belong to a story so important, they must be told.

We may not go to church to learn history, but Luke is on to something. If our faith is not rooted in history, our faith is broken and we should find something more credible to hang our hat on. That God acted in history gives us faith that God is acting in the present and will act in the future.

So, we listen to historical details in the text. We listen because Luke wants us to listen but also that we might feel it in our bones. God works in real places and among real people. There is good news to be found here and we do go to church in order to hear good news. This story and its details prepare us for a birth that will be announced in the next chapter as “good tidings of great joy” or “good news that will bring great joy.” That is to say, Luke is preparing us for gospel.

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I and II Thessalonians cannot seem to stop talking about work. In these short letters we find references to work at I Thessalonians 2.9, 5.12-13; II Thessalonians 3.6 -13. Here are four implications we might be able to make from reading I & II Thessalonians.

1)      If you have been gifted with hands and strength and brains, do not take advantage of your generous Christian brothers and sisters.

2)      It is not a good witness to become dependent on or indebted to another.

3)      Stopping work in order to act all religisophical gives the appearance of idleness and hinders the witness of the church.

4)      A follower of Jesus who is idle in public suggests the wrong thing about the church and puts all believers at risk.

To continue the theme of adding some culture to this blog, here are some classic excerpts from another story to be told as the days become colder. There is a tale discovered among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker that is told often at this time of year. It took place on “a fine autumnal day.” We are told;

“The sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their somber brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.”

This tale includes a night of “merry-making” that took place at the Van Tassel mansion. It was quite a night. In fact, most of the tale takes place on this one night. It started with a festive atmosphere.

“There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes.”

Several of those at the Van Tassel’s were;

“Doling out their wild and wonderful legends. Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was taken… Some mention was made also of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.”

We have Washington Irving to thank for this enjoyable prose. That is, all of us except for one Ichabod Crane. As the story goes, the night turned for the worse for Mr. Crane.

On January 29, 1845, the Evening Mirror published a poem that is a good one for cold nights. I admit some admiration for Edgar Allan Poe. In “The Raven” he excels at rhyming at the end of a line but also rhymes at other times throughout as well. This gives a sing song effect that makes even the less pleasant portions of content easy to listen to. Poe’s skill at vocabulary and his skill at using repetition make the poem sound like some kind of a “haunting hymn.” The opening strophe is enough to evoke something within the reader and I include it in an effort to maintain some classic culture, .

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

In an effort to bring some culture to this blog, I thought I’d include some poetry. Here is something that seems fitting as the leaves begin to change and the air gets colder. William Shakespeare provides a scene and a song that has always intrigued me. The scene occurs in the middle of a dark cave where a cauldron is boiling. As thunder crashes, three witches enter. Three times a cat meows, once for each witch, a hedge pig whines, and the Harpier cries “tis time.”

The three witches chant and the fun begins. This might be a recipe you want to pass on.

“Round about the caldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!
ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH.  Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
3 WITCH.  Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg’d i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.
ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH.  Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.”

Question Du Jour

Do you ever feel like Eutychus sleeping through the Good News and hoping if you fall out the window someone will bring you back to life?

A Fall Story

This is a Fall Story. I’ve always liked Fall, there are things I like to remember about it and things I look forward to. I like to watch the leaves change. I remember people always saying that leaf color peaked in the third week of October, but here we are and things are still green. I enjoy Fall for those mornings you can see your breath against the sky. I enjoy anything apple or pumpkin.

There are things about Fall that I have always loved and figure I have probably retired from. This is not an intentional retirement, but I haven’t done them in so long I suspect that I’ve retired. I’ve played a lot of Fall soccer, but not for some time now. It has been a long while since I’ve made a scarecrow or bobbed for apples or attended a costume party. I was never very good at that.

But, surprisingly, my Dad could pull off a costume. Dad was influenced by whoever influenced James Dean. He combed his dark hair straight back. I might also add that Dad had false teeth. Once when the church was in need of a drunkard for a play, Dad volunteered. He flipped the collar up on his jacket, pulled out his teeth, messed up his otherwise slicked back hair, and staggered up the aisle – he totally pulled it off. I think people were lining up afterwards to get his autograph.

Since it is Fall I am reminded of a Halloween costume party. At this particular party, there was an unrecognizable old man in a dark corner. He looked rough, he held a cane, he held it out if someone came near. He would sometimes yell and cause commotion. I stayed away, out of fear. When the party was over, the scary man stood up, combed his hair and put in his teeth. I had no idea that was Dad.

Each Fall there are things I look forward to. I like to overnight in the forest and Fall is the perfect time. The sounds, the smells, the way the fire feels against the cold, the way the star lit sky looks through the tree canopy. I like to carry my bow in the woods. I like to fit in one more fishing trip. And now that I have retired from some activities, I do things like clean out the gardens, clean out the bird boxes, clean the feeders. I used to run around on a soccer field, now I have become a maid for the local wildlife. I am seriously thinking about putting up an owl box. I am thinking about putting up a bat house.

But so far, I haven’t had a chance to do any of this. I have been busy writing a paper. 7500 words, for those counting at home that is 28 pages double spaced. Now that I think about it, I should have continued bobbing for apples and retired from writing papers.

This paper took over my life, at least it felt like it. A class I am part of was assigned a text and told to read it over and over. We were told to steep in it, like a tea bag steeps in water to make a delicious refreshing drink. It doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. I took the request seriously and steeped and steeped for over two months. I read it in six different translations. I read it in a different language. I read it out loud. I moved to different rooms to read it. I read it upstairs and downstairs. I read it standing on my head (true story). I thought I might read it in a tree, at least in a hammock, but then I haven’t made it to the forest.

The text I’ve been reading is from the New Testament and includes apostles and widows and complainers and table servers and priests. I pretended to be all of them. I read as if I were auditioning for the part of apostle. I read as if I were auditioning for widow. I read as if I were auditioning for someone waiting on tables… you get the idea.

Did I mention this paper took over my life? Fortunately for me, I turned that thing in this week – all 7500 words. And the best news is, we are not yet halfway through Fall. I have time left to do some of those things I’ve been looking forward to…