Postmodern Prophet -

As Usual

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. (Luke 2:41–42, NLT)

There is something to be said for customary behavior. Good habits are good.

Jesus grew up in a family that kept the traditions. Jesus himself is the very definition of new wine, but he grew up drinking the old wine from old wineskins.

We do our families a favor when we at least respect the traditions of those who have gone before us. Church, for many of us, is not traditional in any aspect these days. We remind me of the Fosterites in Stranger in a Strange Land. Not good.

If you ignore tradition, you are missing a side of the quadrilateral. And you can’t sense when things are getting out of hand.

Waiting and Waiting

At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25, NLT)

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38, NLT)

Anna and Simeon are what you would call a remnant. They were still waiting for God’s salvation of Israel long after most people had given up or decided to get along with the ruling powers. They were still waiting.

God enabled them to recognize that Jesus — just a baby — represented that salvation. Simeon prophesied about the child’s future, and that of his mother. Anna joined the shepherds as the first bunch of evangelists.

The salvation of Israel had come at last. And of the world.

In Person

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. (Luke 2:6–7, NLT)

In some of the Psalms, people cry out to God as if he is at a great distance, as if he were distracted from watching the world of men. People need to get his attention and they are crying for help. They wonder why he has been absent and why the world is going bad.

They were hoping for a divine intervention. Those usually had come by one army defeating another army. The prophets said it was God using the armies.

In Jesus, God came in person.

It might have seemed underwhelming, seeing God lying in a manger. But that was God. In person.

God’s plan was incipient in that place, in that baby. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. He will save his people from their sins. He will be the first one resurrected. He will restore the earth to its initial purpose. He will rule it will power and glory.

Everyone will bow to him. In person.

The Visitation

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? (Luke 1:41–43, NRSV)

John’s first prophecy is to leap with joy in his mother’s womb when he first comes in contact with Jesus.

Elizabeth prophesies as well. She calls Jesus the Lord in her words to Mary.

Jesus is Lord. He was then and he is now. One day, every person will bow down to him and acknowledge his kingship. John and Elizabeth were ahead of the curve.

Let it Be

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38, NRSV)

“Let it be with me according to your word.” The perfect response to God.

My response is more likely to be, “OK, but let me get some stuff in order first”, or “Alright, but I’m not too good at some of that stuff”, or “But can’t you do that better with someone else?”

Let it be. Let it be.

Here’s Your Sign

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” (Luke 1:18–20, NLT)

Zechariah got the sign he asked for. Perhaps not the sign he really wanted.

I don’t fault Zechariah. As I try to put myself in his place, I imagine that he did better than I would have. He was told 1) you’re going to have a baby in your old age and 2) this will be no ordinary baby. Perhaps he thought his once-in-a-lifetime offering of the incense in the sanctuary had gone to his head.

Even if he is slow to accept it, God is doing something brand new. The temple venue at evening offerings under the auspices of a token leadership largely gone over to the enemy is the perfect place and time for this start. Keep your eyes open. It’s gonna get hairy.

The End

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, NLT)

There’s some good advice. Fear God and obey his commands.

We’ve lost the fear of God and replaced it with a buddy relationship. I know that Jesus is our brother and our friend. But we need a healthy respect for the otherness of God at the same time.

We’ve really lost the idea of obeying God. We’ve been sold a bill of goods about what faith is and about how this inadequate picture of faith is all we need to “get to heaven”. How we live is important to God. Let’s not build our house on the sand.

Read your Bible.

Closing Ecclesiastes

The idea of reducing a book of the Bible to a set of propositions is ludicrous. If God wanted us to have a systematic theology, he would have inspired a set of propositions to be written and handed down to us. Instead, he gave us narratives and poems and dramas and prophetic rants and historical reflections and wisdom literature. Let it be what it is. Let’s not make the Bible into something it isn’t.

So as I come to the end of my reading of Ecclesiastes (this time), instead of summarizing what it says, I will try to summarize the lessons I have learned for myself.

  • God made this world and I am meant to enjoy it. Enjoyment of creation isn’t my be-all and end-all, but it can be a pleasure along the journey.
  • Life doesn’t last long. Therefore, I shouldn’t get used to it and should enjoy what there is of it.
  • Some people think they know exactly what happens when we die, but I don’t think the picture is at all clear. My faith is not about going to heaven when I die, because that is self-centered. My faith is focused on Jesus. I’ll leave the details to him; I can’t do anything about it anyway.
  • I don’t understand Christians that focus on the afterlife. It seems escapist to me.
  • I am facing my mortality even more than usual because of my cancer. Reading Ecclesiastes has reminded me that my situation is not unique. We all are mortal.
  • Truly, life is a vapor and most of it is meaningless, too.

Living Life

I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes lately. My passage for today is 11:7-10. A theme that runs through the book is that of living life to the fullest. One might say that the Sage is telling us to enjoy an abundant life.

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning. When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless. Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 11:7–10, NLT)

Some interpreters like to interpret this stuff negatively, that is, that the Sage is saying to eat, drink, and be merry, but that he is giving us an example of what not to do. I’m not buying that interpretation. I prefer the positive interpretation, as exemplified here by Iain Provan in the NIV Application Commentary.

It is at this point that a particularly Christian repentance may well be necessary, for Christians have all too often managed to give the impression that our faith is about refusing to live a full life in the present so that we may inherit a better life in the future. We have thus seriously distorted the gospel, which is about love, joy, peace, and freedom, as much as it is about patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). We are not called to suspend earthly life in the hope of eternal life but rather to live out eternal life as earthly life, embracing the reality of the latter as firmly and as affirmingly as God did in becoming incarnate in Jesus.

Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 210.

Culture Wars

The culture wars are not winnable by Christians. Ask the Taliban.

Let it go. Let’s get our own house in order. We are in no position to be salt and light.