Archive for December 18th, 2008

Since we’ve been “defending” Bell from unfair mischaracterizations, let’s switch gears:

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You must be doing something right when your position ticks off both the proudly unrighteous and proudly self-righteousness.

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Netzer - a shoot from an olive stumpAfter Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Part I: Getting the Whole Story
Part II: The Time of Jesus’ Birth
Part III: Jesus’ Parents
Part IV: The Location of Jesus’ Birth
Part V: King Herod

As we move toward the end of this series, there are a number of “bit players” – people and places – which have a part to play in the Christmas story. In this article, we will look at a couple of places which figure into the story.

What’s in a Name?

As many biblical scholars and teachers have noted, throughout the Bible, names mean things. To Hebrew readers and listeners, the names of people and places often say as much about a person or a place as any prose that follows the name. For our purposes in this article, I am just looking at a couple of places.

Two cities, in particular, come to play in the story of Jesus’ birth: Bethlehem and Nazareth

The Bakery

Bethlehem, Beit Lehem in Hebrew, means “House of Bread”. In terms of prophecy, this was to be the place where the Messiah was born, per the prophecy in Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. “

Additionally, as we discussed previously, only lambs raised in the flocks of Bethlehem were acceptable as sacrifices in the Temple during the first century – primarily because the Sadducees owned these flocks and they were a source of wealth for this religious party. And so it is that we have Jesus, the Bread of Life, born in the “House of Bread” – the Lamb of God, born in the flocks of Bethlehem, the only sheep allowed for sacrifice. Do you see the picture that is painted here?

Branch Davidians

In the book of Isaiah 11, we read

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

In the Hebrew, a “shoot” from an olive stump (see picture above) is called a netzer. The religious Jews of the first century saw this passage in Isaiah as a prediction of the coming Messiah – a “shoot” from the stump of Jesse. Because of this, it was believed that he would be called netzer in some fashion, as a symbol of this. This led to debate as to whether he would be from netzeret (Nazareth – “shoot-ville”), whether he would be nazir (a Nazarite), or – possibly – both.

As a result of this, the people from Nazareth, known to be fanatically religious, were convinced that the former possibility was true, and that their town would be the home of the future Messiah. The name by which these people called themselves would be translated into English as “Branch Davidians” (yes, you read that correctly), because the branch/shoot from the stump of Jesse (David) would come from their town. Because of this, the people in Nazareth were thought of as being “cultish” and suspect. We even read from one of Jesus’ disciples:

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

And so it was that the coming of the Messiah was announced by John the Baptizer, a nazir, and this Messiah, Yeshua, was a netzer – a shoot – from netzeret. From the Matthew 2:

And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find this prophecy “He will be called a Nazarene”. However, it appears from several sources that this prophecy originated from Isaiah 11, and that Matthew chose the correct interpretation (Nazarene instead of Nazarite) that described Jesus.

And what happened years later in the synagogue at Nazareth?

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

The people were ecstatic! All of those years of being ridiculed for their Messianic beliefs, and finally the Messiah came and proved that they were right all along!

Unfortunately, though, for the people of Nazareth, their faith was in who they were and where they were from and in their ‘rightness’, and it was not in the Lord. And so, when Jesus took them to task for this, he was rejected and took his message elsewhere.

If only this was applicable to us today… or could we, too, be from Nazareth? Could we be so proud of being from the right church, with the right theology, with the right teachers that our own faith is in who we are and not in who He is?*

I would be completely remiss if I did not note that much of the information from this article and this series was provided in essays and lectures by Rev. Ray VanderLaan.

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OK. So I’m a father. And I am often proud of my children. (Though there have been many times where ‘pride’ would not be the operative word, though love might remain constant). In general, I’ve tried to keep my kids out of my blogging (as often the family photos and stories aren’t that amusing or interesting outside the family).

But I have a son that I am very proud of today (and most every day), who is no longer a child, but a man (and, as such, it’s likely he’ll be a bit embarrassed to have been brought up in the first place).  As of tomorrow morning, he’ll be finishing the last of his Sophomore exams at Purdue, after which he will (technically) be in his Junior year in Acoustical Engineering.

When your kids are growing up, you look at them (or at least I do/did) and wonder how they will ever function on their own.  Will they carry on in the faith in which they have grown up?  When Sunday morning comes, will it just be another day of the week, or will they suffer the inconvenience of waking before the crack of noon and walking (!?!) to the campus church?  When the first bills arrive in their mail and the checkbook needs balancing, will they remember everything they’ve been taught and practiced, or will they fail?  Will their hang-ups and foibles become tragic flaws, or were they just overblown in your own mind?

I have always loved Phoenix, who is so much like me that it’s not surprising that we sometimes bring out the best and the worst in each other.  This past year and a half, he has matured in so many ways, and has become (and is becoming still) a wonderful young man, with enough of his mother’s common sense to avoid being as outspoken as his father.  But you probably don’t really care about that, and would consider me biased, anyway.

So, the part that is relevant to our streams of conversation here:

This past weekend, the musical group he sings in, the Purdue Varsity Glee Club, was part of the 75th annual Purdue Music Organization Christmas Show.  Because Purdue does not have a school of music, the PMO is a club and is not constrained by church/state issues.  They are completely funded by private donations and ticket sales to their events, and they receive no state money (renting practice/performance space from the University).  As such, there is no problem putting on a Christmas show (which they have now done for 75 years) or to do frequent performances of sacred & secular music in churches (several times a month). It is not uncommon for the Christmas Show to sell out of it’s 30,000 tickets, over 6 shows.

Their Christmas Show is comprised of two halves:  The first half brings in members of the community and alumni singing traditional Christmas music (a mix of secular and sacred), followed by an intermission (with singing of carols).  The second half is a cantata of unapologetically sacred Christmas music.

You can only imagine how much time goes into practicing for this show, in addition to their normal shows.  And even then, you’re likely to be underestimating it.

This year, they chose one of my favorite Christmas pieces – In the First Light – as the PVGC’s finale of the first half of the show (see below – no, the soloist isn’t Phoenix and the sound isn’t stereo-quality, but that doesn’t matter to me…)

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And the finale of the show, itself, O Holy Night

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There have been times I’ve been bothered by the idea some folks tend to push on kids in the church that to be a “good Christian”, you ought to attend a Christian school.  When I see things like the Christmas show, and campus ministries like the one where my wife and I were married, I see that this is not the case.

Blessings to you this Christmas Season…

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This just in: Homosexuals are no longer Americans! And they certainly don’t have a right to be at the presidential inauguration. And their presence will certain begin the dismantling of the Kingdom of God America. I guess God is not so Sovereign after all if He is threatened by a gay marching band at the inauguration of a slightly less than powerful American president.

Seriously, with all due respect (and I mean this as a genuine point of disagreement): What does the author of Slice care who is invited to a presidential inauguration?

It’s the end of the world as we know it! And Rick Warren will be there too!  Isn’t there something better the author of Slice could do with their time than complain about the marching band at the inauguration of the president-elect? And isn’t there some better use of time than to complain about who is delivering the inaugural prayer? Prediction: Rick Warren will not pray ‘in Jesus’ Name’ at the inauguration and this will begin the downfall of his empire and spark literally tens of ADM blog posts.

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