Who is God? Part 12

WHO IS GOD? Part 12 (Israel)

Persistent readers of this blog will recognize that this is another installment in a continuing series. Earlier installments can be found lower down on the website scroll.

Our dialogue with Anaiah, an educated Jew from the 500’s B.C., continues.

SBB: We have been talking about the origin of sin, evil, and death, but our original topic was to learn about how God is depicted in your sacred writings, what we call the Old Testament. We saw that Abraham was called by God to bring a blessing to all people, and we saw that God is looking for obedience, loyalty, and sacrifice, as exemplified in the instruction to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise. Where should we look next?

Anaiah: Isaac had two children, twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, but by a series of rather devious actions Jacob got himself recognized as the heir to Isaac. As a consequence, Jacob had to flee from Esau’s fury and the two brothers were parted.

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SBB: Did this really happen?

Anaiah: You asked the same question about Abraham. My answer is the same: we are entitled to believe that Abraham, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob were real people, though over time some legendary elements may have entered their stories. In this case, it is not obvious why this somewhat sordid story would be told if it were not true. But again, our focus is on how God is depicted.

SBB: So what happened to Jacob after he fled from Esau?

Anaiah: He had some remarkable adventures (Genesis chapters 28-31), but the most remarkable was this: while sleeping in a certain place, he had a dream. https://jesusmessage.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/jacobs-dream.jpg?w=490&h=292

And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” Genesis 28:12-14.

SBB: That sounds like a renewal of the promise made to Abraham.

Anaiah: Exactly. Notice that the vision of God includes a ladder between the earth and heaven. God does not live in the sky, of course. We know from the creation story that he made the sky. But it is ancient literary device to picture God in the sky, where he can survey all the earth at once. The point here is that God is allowing a connection between the heavenly realm and the earthly one. This story tells us, perhaps with legendary additions, of a personal encounter between a human man, Jacob, and the divine Creator.

SBB: There are lots of stories through history of such divine encounters.

Anaiah: Yes, and one common feature is the narrator’s inability to describe in concrete terms what he or she experienced, leading to common reliance on picture and metaphor. We see this again in the even more intimate encounter to follow.

SBB: What do you mean?

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Anaiah: Jacob eventually wanted to go home, and that meant a meeting with Esau. Afraid that Esau and his followers might attack, Jacob sent rich presents ahead, along with this growing family and group of servants, and stayed behind alone, waiting to see if his brother was willing to be reconciled. What happened next is interesting:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel [meaning “strives with God”], for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” https://saintbarnabasanglicanofseattle.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/3a6ef-jacobwrestlinggod.jpg?w=472&h=480

SBB: That is a vivid story. What does it mean?

Anaiah: Its deepest meaning is a mystery, which is only to be expected when we are dealing with the transcendent Creator of the universe. But I see the following. First, we have God’s somewhat scandalous choice of Jacob, the devious brother, for favor and intimacy. Second, we have the interesting combination of Jacob’s struggle against the mysterious man, and at the same time his refusal to let him go. The history of our people has been one of resistance to God mixed with clinging to him. God appears as both an adversary and a source of blessing. Reflecting on this story, I have concluded that it represents an important truth. When we do not surrender ourselves to God’s priorities, he can appear to us as an adversary, frustrating our plans for power and independence. But when we cling to God, we get a blessing that we did not expect. For this reason, our people have often called themselves the “children of Israel,” thinking of the blessing and the struggle.

SBB: Did Jacob ever reconcile with Esau?

Anaiah: Yes, it turned out that his fears were not realized. Jacob lived on and prospered, with many children, who form the basis for the next story I will tell you.

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Epiphany

Epiphany (from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance) is a festival celebrated on January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas (for that reason it is also called Twelfth Night).  It celebrates three different events that manifested or revealed the glory of Jesus Christ to the world:  (1) in the adoration of the Wise Men from the East (see the second chapter of Matthew), (2) Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, when a voice from heaven proclaimed him the Son of God (see the first chapter of Mark), and (3) the marriage at Cana where Jesus began his miracles by changing water into wine (see the second chapter of John).  Over the next few Sundays we will be hearing these stories from the Bible.https://frjeromeosjv.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/epiphany-tript.jpg?w=640

Various legends have grown up around this festival.  The Wise Men (or Magi) became the Three Kings, though the Bible does not say they were kings or even that there were three of them.  Another legend is that as the Wise Men traveled towards Bethlehem, they met an old woman who was cleaning her house.  They invited her to follow them.  After she finished sweeping and collected some gifts for the holy child, she set out, but by then the Wise Men were out of sight.  Ever since that day, she has been wandering the earth looking for the child Jesus.  According to Italian folklore, on the eve of Epiphany she comes down the chimneys of the houses and leaves gifts for children.  In Italy she is known as the Befana (a corruption of the word Epiphany).  Over the centuries, Epiphany became a day of pranks and revelry (which may explain why Shakespeare’s play about jokes and disguises is called Twelfth Night).  In Rome, the revelry was centered in the Piazza Navona, where crowds gathered to sing, dance, and make as much noise as possible.  The final movement of Ottorino Respighi’s delightful work, Roman Festivals, presents the Befana festival in musical form.

These folk legends and customs remind us of a time when Christianity was the  dominant popular culture and furnished seasonal occasions for joy and sorrow, reflection and revelry.  This is no longer the case.  One can no longer learn about Jesus Christ simply by cultural exposure.  But that does not change the importance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our eternal destiny.  At St. Barnabas, we are dedicated to preserving and spreading the Good News.  Come and hear about it!

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There is still time…

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Are you still considering a New Year’s resolution? This year, instead of resolving to join that health club (again), why not resolve to learn more about the loving creator of the universe?  That is what we are doing and you are welcome to join us. We start fresh every week on Sunday mornings at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

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Joy to the World!

Have you ever noticed the note of joy in our Christmas carols?  Joy to the world!  O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!  Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies!  Good Christian men rejoice, with heart and soul and voice!  God rest you merry, gentlemen . . . O tidings of comfort and joy!  All of this echoes the words of the angel who came to the shepherds:  Glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Joy is more than pleasure or personal satisfaction.  It is an emotion that includes both delight and triumph at the victory of what is good, of light over darkness.  And so it is the perfect word to describe our feelings at Christmas, when God became man to save us from sin and evil and death.  God’s plan is so often quiet and incremental, but here we see a decisive step in our salvation, and so we feel joy.  The Christmas season is twelve days long (remember the 12 days of Christmas?).  Come and join us in rejoicing at God’s goodness.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

 

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Christmas is coming!

The schedule of activities is provided just below and on our calendar.  December 24 is the fourth Sunday in Advent, so the liturgy at 10:30 a.m. will be one of lessons and carols appropriate for that season of anticipation They tell of the long years in which God’s people looked forward to God’s decisive intervention into history and form a perfect preparation for the celebration to come.  Then in the afternoon of December 24 we turn our attention to Christmas itself, which commemorates the second greatest miracle of all, when the infinite God became human and shared our mortal lot.  There is a “Christ Mass” at 5:00 p.m. and another at 10:30 p.m., both recalling the Jewish practice of starting each day at sunset of (what we would call) the previous day. 

There is also a short service at 10:00 a.m. on Christmas Day.  In the music and prayers for these services, you will hear both about the birth of Jesus and about his mission to accomplish the greatest miracle of all, the conquest of sin, evil, and death.  This is good news for everyone!

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Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Service Schedule

Christmas Schedule

December 24, 2017

10:30 am   Festival of Lessons and Carols

Christmas Eve

5:00 pm   Early Christmas Eve Mass

10:30 pm   Candle Light Mass

December 25, 2017

10:00 am   Christmas Day Mass

Please invite your family and friends to these beautiful Christmas services.  All are welcome!

Merry Christmas!

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God & Sinners Reconciled!

Do you feel that there must be something more to Christmas than colored lights and consumerism?  Are you repelled by the appeal, “This holiday season, treat yourself to a new car!”  Are you looking for something real to address the anxieties, hopes, and fears of your life? Are you looking for a response to all of the distress in the world?  Are you dissatisfied the answers provided by the “sit coms” this year? On more than one episode cast members explain what Christmas is really about! Their answer is family gatherings and warm feelings. If all of these fall short, then look instead to the deeper meaning of Advent and the Christmas season. The Christmas carols in the mall can give you a clue, listen:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!  Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.  Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.  The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Everyone lives with hopes and fears.  Meanwhile, the power of God has been silently at work.  Once, two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, came a decisive moment.  God became human and lived among us.

Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!  Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!

This is why Jesus was born, to reconnect humanity with the holy God, to heal the breach that our sins made between us. This truly is what Christmas is about!

Mild he lays his glory by, born than man no more may die.  Born to raise the sons of earth, born to given them second birth.

Forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, these are real things, to which the Church looks forward in Advent, and which the Church celebrates at Christmas.  You are welcome to join us.  God’s gift is for all people and we want you to know about it.

Holy Family on their way to Bethleham 1st Advent 2015

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This day in history

We remember the brave men and women who sacrificed all on this day December 7, 1941. “This is not a drillnaval-dispatch

We remember an event and a world at war. We are grateful to all who responded to a call and gave their lives in defense of a nation and of the free world. May God bless the souls of all who lost their lives in that terrible conflict. To learn more about the “a date which will live in infamy” go to this page:

https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/december-07

History has more to show us on this day. This day may live in infamy (Pearl Harbor) but it is also a day to celebrate the life of St. Ambrose.  Ambrose was born around 340 A.D., son of the prefect of Gaul, a Roman province. He was afterwards made governor of the province of which Milan (Mediolanum) was the capital.  Milan was also the capital of the western Roman Empire at that time.  In 374, Auxentius, the bishop of Milan, died and there was a problem about naming his successor because (reportedly) Auxentius endorsed what is now called the Arian heresy.  The Arians believed that Jesus was not fully God.  Their opponents, along with the authors of the Nicene Creed (written fifty years earlier), held that Jesus was fully God.  The Arian and Nicene factions argued bitterly about who was right theologically and who should be next bishop of Milan.  Ambrose, in his role as governor, urged the two factions to keep the peace.  To his amazement, both factions decided that Ambrose himself should be the next bishop.  Their choice was particularly surprising because Ambrose had not yet been baptized, though he was studying Christianity.  Ambrose initially declined, but when the Roman emperor (Valens) supported the appointment, he gave in and was baptized, confirmed, and ordained in a single week.  He served as bishop of Milan for over twenty years, much beloved by the people.  He was a pioneer in writing hymns for use during religious liturgies.  He died in 397.

St. Ambrose 339-97, by Matthias Stomer, c. 1633-39 | The Core Curriculum

St. Ambrose 339-97, by Matthias Stomer, c. 1633-39

 

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Who is God? Part 11 (Our Progress to Date)

We are inquiring whether the claims of Christianity are true, and particularly whether Christians have a reliable account of God.

The first question was whether anything entitled to the title of God exists at all. Engaging in natural theology, we noted that the universe appears to have had a beginning and that it contains both physical laws governing matter and moral laws governing our conduct. All material things are subject to the physical laws; only humans appear to be subject to the moral laws. And only humans notice that the glory of the world, redeeming it somewhat from the curse of sin, evil, and death, is self-giving love of individuals. We speculated that if there is an all-powerful God who made the world and its laws, that God should be concerned about the struggle of love with sin, evil, and death.

We turned next to the Bible to see what it records about communications between God and human beings. Talking to Anaiah, a fictional interlocutor, we heard about the call of Abraham, in which God revealed a plan to bless all of humanity. The blessing would not come suddenly by magic, but through the patient obedience of one man and his descendants. The blessing would consist not in fame and fortune, but in the defeat of sin, evil, and death through unification with the holy, loving God. This may seem to be a mixed blessing in culture that exalts wealth and power, but surely we have seen enough to realize that the lives of the rich and powerful are not reliably happy. Thus our examination of Abraham produced this result: the writers of that part of the Bible understood the human condition and depicted God as addressing this condition in a loving way.

We then digressed a bit to inquire about the origin of evil in the world and saw that the beginning of the Book of Genesis appears to provide a rather sophisticated analysis of this problem. The story sets the reality of sin, evil, and death against a cosmic background where Adam and Eve were tempted by a spiritual enemy to disobey God. The story has legendary elements, but it speaks to a deep truth about the world: sin, evil, and death are realities that we cannot avoid. The only hope, it would seem, is to ally ourselves to a being who is untouched by these realities.

Our next installment will further explore the history of the Jewish people as recorded in the Bible to find out more about the character of God depicted there. After all, we can’t make a reasonable judgment about whether the God of the Bible exists until we know what that God is supposed to be like.

HuffPost Editor Likens Joseph and Mary to Palestinians — a ...

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Advent Season

What Happens Between Thanksgiving and Christmas? 

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the popular culture tells us to buy things.  The Church, by contrast, tells us to look for God coming in human flesh to save us from sin, evil, and death.  The name of the season in the popular culture is “Year-End Sale!”  The Church’s name is Advent, which means something important is coming.  The popular season is marked by anxiety:  Have I bought enough gifts to make my family and friends happy?  Will my packages be stolen from my front porch?  The Church’s celebration is marked by quiet expectation and self-examination:  Have I understood my need for God?  Am I prepared to welcome Him into my life?  The fruits of the popular “Christmas” season can be disappointment and debt.  The fruits of the Advent season can be peace and joy (as the Christmas carols promise).   

St. Barnabas invites you to join us for a Christian Advent so that, properly prepared, we can celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas starting on Christmas Day.  Our schedule for the first three Sundays of December remains as usual:  a spoken liturgy at 8:00 a.m., and a liturgy with music at 10:30 a.m.  The fourth Sunday of Lent is also Christmas Eve, so watch this space for more information about that.  On  December 24th at 10:30 a.m. we will observe a service of Lessons & Carols. This is beautiful service of Hymns and Scripture Lessons. Later on Christmas Eve we will have a family communion service at 5:00p.m. Much later, at 10:30pm we celebrate another communion service. On Christmas Day there will be a single service, a Christmas Day Mass at 10:00 am. Naturally,  Visitors are always welcome!

Yesterday, Sunday November 26th was the Sunday before Advent. We are anticipating the Advent Season this week and our prayers are: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the will of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen. (collect for The Sunday next before Advent 1928 Book of Common Prayer)

Pewter Celtic Knot Advent Wreath

 

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