Mary Did You Know? (Part 2)

I have spent the last two weeks hovered over the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. I wouldn’t venture to guess as to how many times I’ve read the accounts of the announcements of John the Baptists’ miraculous conception and Jesus’ immaculate conception. This time I find I’m seeing and hearing some things differently than in past readings. Luke tells a much larger story than just the announcement of the two births.

In the previous post, Mary Did You Know? (Part 1), we discussed the angel Gabriel’s surprising appearance and greeting of Mary, the insignificant teenage girl from the insignificant little town of Nazareth, far from the religious epicenter, Jerusalem. Let’s continue to look into the Annunciation of Jesus’ birth, starting again with Gabriel’s visit announcing the birth of John the Baptist…

The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci

It was in the Temple in Jerusalem that Gabriel visited John the Baptist’s to-be father, Zechariah, as he was performing his temple duties. Zechariah was a priest. One of approximately 20,000 priests, he was required to be in Jerusalem, serving at the Temple, during each of the four major festivals – Passover, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. Additionally, he was scheduled to serve two, one-week stints throughout the year.

Priests were set apart to carry out duties associated with worship and sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish faith community. Their duties took place at the Temple where God was presumed to have resided. For the Israelites, the Temple was the intersection of heaven and earth. Priests, following Old Testament tradition, served God on behalf of the people and the people on behalf of God. On the day of Gabriel’s visit, Zechariah had been “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9).

The burning of incense was a twice-a-day ritual. As a crowd of worshipers assembled outside to pray, Zechariah entered the Temple’s Holy Place to burn the incense on an altar designed specifically for that purpose The altar of incense was just in front of the curtain separating the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. This was indeed a holy experience for the officiating priest. After burning the incense, the priest came out of the Temple and pronounced the Aaronic blessing over the people, the same blessing we use today as a common benediction to our worship services.

The Temple, you see, is where the “with-you-God” resided with his people throughout the ages. The precursor of the Temple dated back to the time of the exodus from Egyptian captivity. God was content to live in a tent (tabernacle), but the people wanted otherwise. So God allowed them to build a temple. And the steps of the Temple were where people gathered to worship – this intersection of heaven and earth.

In the last post, we discussed the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary. Let’s look at the rest of his Annunciation. After reassuring Mary that she needn’t fear, and reminding her that she had found favor with God, he began to reveal to her the rest of the story, the reason for his visit. She would conceive and bear a son whom she would name Jesus. Jesus is a form of Joshua meaning “God is Salvation.” Gabriel, then, proclaimed five descriptors of God’s saving intervention that Jesus would embody (Luke 1:32-33):

  1. Jesus will be great. Gabriel did not say his greatness would be “in the sight of the Lord” as he did concerning John. Jesus’ greatness is unqualified. It stands alone.
  2. Jesus will be called Son of the Most High. Note that Luke capitalized Son of the Most High, grammerically reserved for royalty. Most High is derived from the Hebrew name for God, El Eylon, meaning the one true sovereign God.
  3. The Lord God will give Jesus the throne of his father David. Most Jewish people would have understood this to mean Messiah. I wonder what Mary was thinking at this point.
  4. Jesus will reign over Jacob’s descendents (Israel) forever. This was a somewhat contemptuous pronouncement considering King Herod’s attempts to establish his reign over the Jewsih people.
  5. Jesus’ kingdom will never end. Eternity is an attribute of God and in Hebrew understanding, only El Eylon’s kingdom is considered to be eternal.

Gabriel was clearly communicating to Mary that the Eternal, Most High, One true and sovereign God was going to take up residence in her womb. Mary understandably perplexed asked, “How can this be…?” Gabriel’s response:

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

A noteworthy word in Gabriel’s response is “overshadow” (Greek, episkiazein). Recall the tent/tabernacle that God was satisfied to live in. After the tabernacle was completed, God overshadowed it and infused (i.e., impregnated) it with his presence and glory (Exodus 40:33-35). Right there in the middle of the camp, God was present with his people. When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek (known as the Septuagint), the word used for overshadowed was episkiazein. Luke did not use an inconsequential word when describing the immaculate conception.

The divine cloud that established God’s presence with his people in time and place now does so in a person. The divine overshadowing of the earthly tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the living tabernacle, the incarnation (Edwards). Thus the Apostle John’s distinctive declaration that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word for dwelling could be translated as tabernacle. Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased John 1:14 in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Bottom line: God left the building and took up residence right there in the middle of Nazareth!

Edwards, J. R. (2015). The gospel according to Luke. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapid, MI

Chili Con Carne 2.0 (or Geometry 101)

Circa 1987. After a 5 year stint with Young Life, we decided it would be healthy for family and me to return to the world of engineering. I took a structural engineering position in Red Wing, MN, designing high voltage electrical transmission structures. My desire to work with high school kids, however, had not diminished, so I went to some Red Wing High School cross country meets. Not only did I meet a few kids, but also the coach, discovering he was the geometry teacher at RWHS. I asked him if he had a need for a tutor. His response: “YES!!” So, I began to volunteer at RWHS 2-3 days a week during my lunch hour.

In the meantime my wife, Barb, and I joined a small group through the church we were attending. One of the members was particularly fascinated that I chose to tutor high school students with no apparent agenda. A bit out of frustration, he finally asked, “How do you make the transition?” I knew what he was asking. He wanted to know how I transitioned from tutoring to telling kids about Jesus. My response was politically correct – kids needed caring adults in their lives regardless of any potential to share the Gospel. He was not satisfied with my answer. Nor was I. It was one of those times I went away thinking there must have been a better response.

I lay in bed that evening running the conversation through my mind, wondering what a better response might have been. Around 11:00p, I sat up in bed and said, “I get it!” Barb (who was sleeping and a bit annoyed at being awakened) asked “You get what?” I said excitingly, “I am the transition!”

In the previous post we posed the question “How was Jesus sent?” in response to the directive to his followers, “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you” (John 20:21). If we are to follow that directive, then it’s important we consider how Jesus was sent by the Father. In the post we considered the incarnation of Jesus, his taking on of human form and living among humanity. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

So what? How does that affect what 21st century Christ-followers do? It affects everything. As followers of Jesus, He lives in us through the Spirit. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Galatia of this: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). And to the followers in Ephesus he prayed they realize the resource of the Spirit within and that “Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him” (Ephesians 3:16-17). Just as Jesus was an incarnate being, so are we!

That means when I attend a cross country meet or tutor high school students, Jesus is in their presence. To borrow a term from Guy Doud, the Staples, MN, educator who was the national teacher of the year in 1986, we get to be “Jesus with skin on” to those around us. We become the transition!

What does that look like for you and me as we live out life? It means when we cross the road to be with our neighbor, Jesus is visiting her. It means when we engage in a conversation with the checkout person at Walmart, so does Jesus. We don’t have to work so hard to share Jesus – we can’t help but! To be “Jesus with skin on” is the highest calling and privilege afforded to Christ-followers! “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you.”

Chili Con Carne

Fall is here (though it doesn’t feel like it – as I write this temps, are approaching the mid-80s with the dew point in the 70s). The advent of cooler weather increases my appetite for chili. I like all kinds of chili – mild or spicy, and the thicker the better. In restaurants, I like to load up a good bowl of chili with onions, cheese, and sour cream. At home, its the addition of buttered soda crackers (you have to try it sometime!).

Last week I was sitting with my mom at Guardian Angels Care Center, watching one of her two favorite TV shows – The Rachel Ray Show (the other favorite being Jeopardy). Rachel Ray was making chili. I could almost smell it as she did the prep work. Along with all kinds of good looking ingredients, she included some chorizo. Brilliant!

You may or may not be aware of this, but what we simply refer to as “chili” is technically known as “chili con carne” – chili with (con) meat (carne).

As we consider Jesus’ directive to his first century followers “In the same way the Father sent Me, I am now sending you” (John 20:21), it’s imperative that we start at the very beginning of his time on earth. The opening of the Gospel of John tells who Jesus is: “At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning… So the word of God became a human being and lived among us” (John 1:1-2, 14, JB Phillips New Testament).

How did the Father send the Son? In bodily (human) form! In Jesus! The theological term for this is incarnation, which is connected to the Latin word carne. Incarnation means God in the flesh, God with ‘meat’ (con carne). It’s easy to gloss over this as simply a theological reality and miss it’s implications for Christ-followers who are wanting to discover the practicality of theology.

Continuing in the JB Phillips New Testament, I want to direct our attention to Philippians 2, written by the Apostle Paul: “Let your attitude to life be that of Christ Jesus himself. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges* as God’s equal, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a [human being]” (Philippians 2:5-7). What kind of privileges did Jesus give up to become a human being? I can think of a few to start with…

  • His omnipresence (another theological term) – the ability to be anywhere, anytime, all the time. He gave up that privilege and confined himself to the womb of one of His own creations – not much movement there! And after his birth, he had to learn to sit, crawl, stand, and walk just like everyone else. As a grown person, he was limited to walking about 3 mph, just like everyone else.
  • His omniscience – his knowledge about everything, past present and future. When Jesus came out of the birth canal, his brain was a piece of flesh that required input and learning, just like everyone else. Keep in mind this was provided by family and teachers who were also his creations.
  • His omnipotence – his unlimited power. He was limited to the physical abilities of a human body, susceptible to injury and disease, just like everyone else.
  • (Likely we could think of other privileges Jesus gave up to become a human being. I highly encourage you to ponder other examples.)

Since we tend to gloss over the incarnation as simply a theological reality, it’s important to realize that we also gloss over and have domesticated Jesus’ birth – that sweet little boy lying in a fresh bed of hay in a cute manger. Try viewing his birth through the realities of what we’ve discussed above. It will change everything for you. I promise!

* The online version version of the JB Phillips New Testament uses the word prerogative. In my hard-copy, its privileges.