CHRISTMAS PRAYER 2014

Nutcracker on Christmas TreeHeavenly Father, the first thing I’d like to do in my prayer today is to thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world.  He didn’t have to come, but it was a choice he made, in a divine conspiracy with you and the Holy Spirit to rescue us.  It must have been an act of love and passion, because I can’t think of any reason why the creator of all that is, who lives in perfect trinitarian fellowship, would want to live amongst us.  We are so contaminated with hate, jealousy, pride, violence, greed, lust, and intolerance that it is hard for me to think about how jolting it must have been for you.  Yet in love you chose, in Messiah Jesus, to live as one of us, just as we do–coughing, bleeding, with fatigue, soreness, blisters, sweat and snot.  I don’t pretend to understand how you did it, how you were human and still God, how you were the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three different persons but one God, but I believe, just as those who have come before me, that you indeed did it.  You lived like us, and you died like us.  Mystery is the only way I can describe it, and love is the only explanation I have for it, so I thank you.

It feels like every Christmas I end up asking you for some of the same things.  The locations change, but the requests are the same.  I ask, O Lord, that you help us find some way of bringing peace in the world.  I ask that wars and strivings cease in far away places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and in Central Africa.  I ask that ISIS, al Qaeda, the LRA and other oppressive militaristic groups be defeated.  I ask that violence end, that peace flourish, and hope erupt.

There are many issues here, though, within the borders of the nation I love that are hard to imagine.  Somehow, Almighty God, show us how to achieve a justice and equitable society in which criminals are punished but the innocent are not unjustly beaten or killed.  We have a severe lack of trust that stems from generations of suspicion, fear, racism, crime, and the politics of division.  Please forgive us of our past and help us make a future so that we never have reason to see protests on the streets of America again.

I have a spiritual request too, Lord God.  I fear that ‘church,’ or what passes for church, has lost its way.  At one extreme it can look like a neurotic control freak trying to tell everyone else what to do.  At the other extreme it often looks like a lethargic glutton who will not get off the couch.  Neither one of these is good.  I pray that you bring a new generation of leadership with the boldness to call us out on our sins of selfishness, and then lead us to a better way.  I love the church, but fear we are on a path of self-destruction.  Save us from ourselves.

Things seem to have gotten a little better, Lord, in the last couple of years, but I know that many people are hungry, economically distressed, unemployed, and broke this Christmas season.  Help those who want jobs to find jobs, bring relief to those who have ended up on the wrong end of the economic field, and allow honest businesses to thrive.  I intercede also for those caught on the struggle of a political border between two nations–one wealthy and one not.  I pray for all immigrants, that they would find what they need.  I ask that our politicians gain the courage to formulate policy that makes sense and which is true to our highest ideals.  How ironic, Lord, that immigration is on my mind as we celebrate the birth of Jesus–who lived as an immigrant during his toddler years.  It is kinda sad, Lord.  Help us to do better, I know we can.

For many people Christmas has become all about family, tradition, and nostalgia.  I reject those as spiritually inadequate for the grandness of the miracle of the incarnation, nevertheless I am grateful for my family, our family traditions, and the memories of those who are no longer with us but who rest in eternity.  I ask that this Christmas be one of joy, laughter, and rich spiritual meaning.  In the name of Jesus I ask, submitting to his divine will and certain that whatever good I imagine or ask for is far less than his desire for peace, hope, goodness, and love in this world.  Amen.

ADVENT 2013–WEEK THREE AND CHRISTMAS EVE

When many of us think about Christmas, music dominates.  Whether it is Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt, Messiah, or Christmas Cantatas at church we always associate the Christmas holiday with beautiful music.  The third week of Advent brings us to Revelation 6, which has some of the early church’s greatest worship songs and they serve as a preview for the songs of eternity.  However, the music of heaven is not so much “Joy to the World” as it is “Hail to the King” as Jesus Christ is worshiped and adored.  But before we get there, we wind our way through the awful and terrible Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

So here we go down the home stretch of Advent.  The way the calendar falls this year, there is not much in there for week four.  Christmas is on Wednesday, Tuesday is Christmas Eve and so that leaves Monday as the only day for week four.  The lectionary would have us start a section in Titus which would be great if Christmas fell on Saturday or Friday.  It doesn’t.  Therefore I made the editorial decision of simply skipping Monday and posting Christmas Eve.  Just a reminder that these are my translations from the Greek New Testament.  If you don’t like them, read from a version you do or translate them yourself.

If you want to go back and read Week One click here or Week Two click here.  This is the last of the Advent translations for this year.  For a full introduction to my translating methodology read the Week One post.

Monday Revelation 3:7-13

7. To the angel of the churches in Philadelphia write these things,” says the holy one, the true one, the one having the key of David. What he opens no one closes and what he closes no one opens.

8. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you a door that once it is opened, no one is able to close it, because, even though you are powerless you kept my word and did not deny my name.

9. Behold, I may put those from the synagogue of Satan, those who liars who call themselves Jews but are not, I will put them before you; prostrating at your feet and knowing that I myself love you.

10. Because you patiently kept my word, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole world to test them who live upon the earth.

11. I come quickly. Hold onto the things you have so that no one might take your crown.

12. I will make the one who overcomes a pillar in my God’s temple, which he will never leave. I will write upon him my God’s name, the name of the city of my God which is the New Jerusalem coming down from the heavens of my God, and my new name.

13. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

I am fascinated by the repeated reference in Revelation of those who claim to be Jews but they really are not.  I don’t think this is an ethnic refutation but a spiritual one and clearly references that no real child of Abraham’s spiritual legacy would ever persecute Christ-followers, therefore Jews who persecute are liars about their Jewishness.  The same hold true in our context for Christ-followers.  No true Christian would ever persecute (note, persecute in this context is not the same as point out the flaws in other belief systems) others for their beliefs, anyone who does so and claims to be a Christian is a liar. 

Tuesday Revelation 3:14-22

14. To the angel of the church in Laodicea write these things,” says the amen, the faithful and true witness of the beginning of God’s creation.

15. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot, oh that you would be either cold or hot.

16. But since you are tepid and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth

17. Because you say, ‘I am rich,’ and ‘I have always been rich,’ and ‘I have no need for anything.’ You do not know that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

18. I advise you to buy from me gold that has been refined by fire so that you might become rich. Buy white clothes to wear so as not to reveal your shameful nakedness. Buy eye ointment to rub on your eyes so that you might see.

19. I reprove and discipline those I love, therefore be eager and repent.

20. Behold, I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone should hear my knock and open the door I will come to him and eat with him and he with me.

21. To the one overcoming I will give to him to sit with me on my throne just as I have conquered and I sat with my father on his throne.

22. Those with ears, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

I was taught in seminary that verse 20 was an evangelistic text, best used to tell people they needed to open the door of the heart to invite Jesus in.  The problem is this text has as its setting a church, meeting in someone’s home, who has left Jesus outside.  It is written to a group of people who already have followed Christ, but they are leaving him out of their lives.  It’s most powerful meaning is for Christ-followers (as a group, but also individually)  who have gotten so busy being ‘rich’ that they forgot how much they need Jesus.

Wednesday Revelation 4:1-8

1. After all that I saw a vision of a door having been opened in heaven. At first the sound I heard was like a trumpet speaking, but afterward it said to me, “Come up here and I will show you what will be after these things.”

2. Immediately I was in spirit, and behold a throne sat in the heaven and someone was sitting upon the throne.

3. The one sitting looked like stone, Jasper, and carnelian. Around the throne looked like an emerald rainbow.

4. Around the throne there were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones sat twenty-four elders wearing white clothes and golden crowns upon their heads.

5. Flashes of lightening and sounds of thunder went out from the throne. Seven torches burned before the throne, which is the seven Spirits of God.

6. Before the throne was a sea of glass that looked like crystal. In the midst of the throne, and encircling the throne were four beasts filled with eyes front and back.

7. The first living beast was like a lion. The second beast was like a calf. The third beast had the face of a man. The fourth beast flew like an eagle.

8. Each of the four beasts had six wings all around and insides filled with eyes. They do not rest day and night, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

The sanctus, “Holy Holy Holy” is one of the oldest bits of worship liturgy/song/prayer.

Thursday Revelation 4:9-5:5

9. Whenever these beasts give glory, honor and thanksgiving to the one sitting on the throne, the one who lives forever,

10. the twenty-four elders will fall before the one sitting upon the throne and worship the one who lives forever. They throw their crowns before the throne saying,

11. “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power because you created all things and by your word they were created.”

Chapter 5 (But still Thursday’s reading)

1. And I saw on the right of the one sitting upon the throne a book with writing on the inside but the outside had been sealed with seven seals.

2. I saw a strong angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and break its seals?”

3. No one in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth was able to open the book or even look inside it.

4. I began to cry a lot for no one was found worthy to open the book or look inside it.

5. One of the elders says to me, “Do not cry—look—the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, he conquered to open the book and its seven seals.”

The verbs get tricky, at least for me in this passage because the entire passage feels present tense but the verbs move back and forth from present to past and then John throws in a lot of participles which complicate it even more.  I tried to write these to reflect that ‘time-confusion’ because that is a big part of what John is going through.  He is jumping around all over the place, in space and time.  It’s kind of sci-fi if you think about it.

Friday Revelation 5:6-14

6. Then I saw a lamb, as if slaughtered, that stood in the midst of the throne, the four beasts, and the elders. It had seven horns and seven eyes, being the seven spirits of God which he sends into all the earth.

7. He went and took it from the right of the one sitting on the throne.

8. When he took the book, the four beasts and the twenty-four elders fell upon their faces before the lamb. Each one had a harp and a golden bowl filled with incense. These are the prayers of the saints.

9. They sing a new song saying, “You are worthy to receive the book and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and bought from God with your blood from all the tribes, languages, people and nations.

10. You make them kings and priests of our God and they will reign upon the earth.”

11. I saw and heard a sound of many angels around the throne, together with the beasts and the elders they numbered into the millions,

12. Saying in loud voices, “The lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing.”

13. I heard every creature in heaven, on the earth, underneath the earth, and upon the seas all those everywhere saying, “To the one sitting upon the throne and to the lamb be blessing, honor, glory, and sovereignty forever.”

14. The four beasts said, “Amen” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Saturday Revelation 6:1-17

1. And I saw the lamb open one of the seven seals. Then one of the four beasts said spoke like thunder, “Come.”

2. Behold, then I saw a white horse. The one sitting on it had a bow and he gave him a crown. He went out victorious in order to conquer.

3. When he opened the second seal I heard the second beast say, “Come.”

4. Another horse, a red horse, went out and he gave to him sitting upon it the ability to take peace from the earth so that they will slaughter one another. He gave a large sword to him.

5. When he opened the third seal I heard the third beast say, “Come.” Behold, I saw a black horse. The one sitting upon it had a pair of scales in his hand.

6. I heard a voice from the midst of the four beasts saying, “One day’s ration of grain for a whole days pay, and three day’s ration of barley for one whole day’s pay, but do not harm the oil and wine.”

7. When he opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, “Come.”

8. Behold, I saw a yellow-green horse and the one sitting above it had the name Death, and Hades followed behind him. He gave him authority over a fourth of the earth to kill with the sword, famine, and death by the wild animals in the land.

9. When he opened the fifth seal I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who have been slaughtered because of the word of God and for holding on the witness.

10. And they shouted in a loud voice saying, “Will it not be much longer until the holy and true master judges and avenges our blood on those dwelling on the earth?”

11. He gave each of them a white robe and they were told to rest a short period of time, waiting for their partners in service, brothers and sisters, and all those about to be killed as they were.

12. When he opened the sixth seal I saw that a great earthquake happened. The sun became black as a sackcloth made from hair and the whole moon became as blood.

13. The stars in the heavens fell on the earth as a fig tree drops the unripe figs when a strong wind shakes it.

14. Heaven was opened up as a scroll that was rolled up and put away. Every mountain and island was moved from its place.

15. The kings of the earth and important people, generals, rich and powerful as well as every slave and freeman hid himself in the caves and the rocks of the mountains.

16. They said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hid us from the face of the one sitting upon the throne and from the wrath of the lamb.”

17. For the great day of their wrath came, and who is able to stand?

Christmas Eve Philippians 2:5-11

5. You should think about yourselves like Jesus did himself.

6. Who, because he was God in his form did not think being just like God was stealing.

7. But, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant becoming in likeness of a man and being found in appearance as a man.

8. He humbled himself, being obedient to death, death on a cross.

9. Therefore God raised him and gave him the name above all names.

10. So that at the name of Jesus all knees in heaven, on earth, and underneath the earth

11. and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.

There is so much in this passage—entire theologies are found in there—but three quick notes. One, using the word ‘form’ is tough and it would be easier to translate it as “essence” in verse 6 and then as “shape” or “role” in verse 7. However, I chose to keep ‘form” because it is the exact same word in Greek and I can think of no English word that works in both places. The point is that Jesus by his nature is God but he chose to take the nature of humanity. Two, there is a connection in verse 6 to the adamic fall. Adam wanted to be like God so he stole God’s fruit in the garden on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Jesus was different from Adam; being like God for him was not theft. Third, I am always troubled by the rendering of verse 5 in most English Bibles. The word is an imperative verb, second person plural and give to the Philippian church as a command as to how they should treat one another in community. This passage, for all its beauty is not about deep piety or inward search to have some kind of transformational ‘mind of Christ’ moment. It is all about how we act and behave in church—take the road of the servant, not the road of the one who thinks he is God’s favorite.   This passage is often made far too mystical than the practical way Paul meant it.  

Thanks for reading through Advent 2013 with me.  I appreciate it, and I hope it was meaningful.

4TH WEEK OF ADVENT: LUKE 1:1-80

Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight is Christmas Eve, and in order to finish all my Advent translating I worked through thirty verses yesterday and then another thirty today.  I really feel like I’m inside Luke’s head.  The reading for this week moved away from Matthew and into familiar Christmasy passages from Luke 1.  Tomorrow I will finish the journey at church where we will read Luke 2:1-20.

Advent week 1

Advent week 2

Advent week 3

Luke 1 contains lengthy poems, both the Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy.  There are also some very interesting angelic visits.  As always, my commentary is in italics in the brackets.

 

Luke 1:1-80

I noticed that many undertook to compile an account of the events which have happened among us.  They became servants of the word and handed down to us eyewitnesses from the beginning.  It seemed good to me, after studying it, to write you everything accurately, structured, and from the beginning, noble Theophilus that you might learn the word with certainty.

It happened in the days of Herod, King of the Jews, that there was a priest whose name was Zechariah, from the order of Abijah and his wife was from the daughters of Aaron.  Her name was Elizabeth.  They were both blameless servants before God keeping all the commandments and the pronouncements of the Lord.  They had no children because Elizabeth was barren.  Both of them were old.

Now the time for his group in the order to serve before God came.  It was the custom of the order to determine by lot who went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense.  All the people were outside praying when the hour of the incense came.

An Angel of the Lord appeared to him standing at the right of the incense altar.  Zechariah was troubled when he saw it and fear fell upon him.  Then the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah because your prayers were heard and your wife Elizabeth will have a son and you will name him John.  He will be a joy and gladness to you and many will rejoice at his birth.  He will be great before the Lord.  He shall not drink wine or liquor for he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.  He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  In the Spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him [The him here is the Lord—He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah] to return the hearts of parents to children and the disobedient to righteous wisdom, to get people ready to prepare for the Lord.  [There are two different verbs which mean ‘prepare’ here.  Both must refer to the people and the work John will do.  Neither verb is an infinitive, but I have tried to capture the feeling.]

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can this happen?  I myself am old and my wife is also old.”

The angel answered and said, “I myself am Gabriel, who stands before God and he sent me to speak to you and to bring this good news to you.  Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens for you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their time.”  [I never realized just how long Gabriel’s speech is in this passage.  His language has a formality to it that feels very much like pronouncements, not dialogue.]

And the people were waiting for Zechariah and they wondered at his delay in the Temple.  When he came out he was unable to speak to them and they realized that he had seen a vision in the Temple.  He kept making signs to them and he remained mute throughout.  He did fulfill the days of his service and then went home.  Now, right after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived but she hid it for five months, saying, “So this is how the Lord has worked in these days.  He looked upon me to take away my shame before people.”

Then in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the city of Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph who was from the house of David.  The name of the virgin was mary [Actually, Mariam in the GNT.  Both Joseph and Mariam are very Hebrew names.  Likewise, for reasons beyond me Zechariah in the earlier text ought to be Zachariah, but traditionally it is rendered Zechariah.]  he went into her and said, “Rejoice you who have been graced.  The Lord is with you.”

At this word she was deeply disturbed and wondered what this type of greeting might mean?  The angel said to her, “Do not fear Mary for you found grace from God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and you will bear a son and name him Jesus.  This one will be great and he will be called an exalted son and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I’m not sexually active?”  [the actual wording in Greek is “since a man not I know.”  In the Bible, the verb ‘to know’ is an idiom for sex.  This is true in the Hebrew as well as Greek, hence Adam “knew” his wife.  The other problem here is the tense.  Mary speaks in the present tense, which makes English options difficult, although in Greek it makes perfect sense because it speaks of a present situation.  That is why I opted for ‘sexually active.’  I know that it is a jarring phrase, but keep in mind, regardless of what violence we do to the Bible stories in church children’s literature, the Bible is an adult book with adult themes.  Mary’s statement is supposed to be unnerving.]

The angel answered and said, “Holy Spirit will come to you and overshadow you with exalted power, therefore the child being born is holy.  He will be called Son of God.  Behold, your relative Elizabeth, the one called ‘barren’ has conceived a son in her old age.  She is six months along.  It is not impossible for God to do all these things. [things=words (rhema) in GNT]

Mary said, “Behold I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your words,” and the angel left her.

Mary rose up in those days and traveled with haste to a Judean city in the hill country.  She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Then what happened is that as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant jumped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She screamed a loud shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And how is it that the mother of my Lord might come to visit me?  For it happened at the sound of your greeting in my ear the infant jumped with gladness in my womb.  Blessed is the one who believes that it will be completed what has been spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is gladdened by God my savior because he looked upon the humility of his servant.  For behold, all generations will say [There is no verb here in the Greek for “say” or “call” so something has to be added to smooth it over.  The lack of a verb her is not an omission or a sign of chopped speech, but instead reflects careful poetic thought for word choice.  The verb is assumed.] I am blessed from now on because of the great things The Almighty did for me.  His name is holy.  His mercy to those fearing him is from generation to generation.  He strengthened his arms and scattered those with arrogant thoughts in their hearts.  He deposed the powerful from thrones and exalted the humble.  He filled those who were hungry with good food and he sent away the wealthy empty handed.  He took care of Israel his child, remembering mercy.  Just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” [In translating the Magnificat, two things are apparent.  One, Luke did not compose this.  The language, style, and vocabulary are not from his hand.  He was obviously using a written source.  Two, the language is careful and poetic, artistic and theological.  Some have argued a young Jewish girl could not have written this.  That is a different argument.  However, it was composed by someone who knew what she was doing.]

She remained with her three months and returned to her own home.

Then Elizabeth’s time came to give birth and she had a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard about the Lord’s magnificent mercy to her and so they rejoiced with her.

The eighth day came and they went to circumcise the child and they named him after his father Zechariah.  His mother answered and said, “No, name him John!”

They said to her, “There is no one from your family that is called by that name.”  Then the father nodded his head that this is what they wished to name him.  Asking for a writing tablet he wrote saying, “His name is John,” and everyone marveled.  His mouth and tongue were opened and immediately he spoke blessings to God.  Fear came as their neighbors and the whole Judean hill country as they heard these words.  It settled on all of them as they heard about it such that in their hearts [heart is singular in GNT] they were saying, “What then will this child be?”  For the hand of God was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied saying,

“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel for he visited and ransomed his people.  He raised up a horn of salvation in the house of David, his child to us.  Just as he spoke by his prophets, the holy ones from the past.  Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of everyone who hates us.  To have mercy on our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham to give to us.  Not to fear the hand of our enemies for we will be rescued to serve before him in holiness and righteousness all our days.  And you, child, will be called a prophet of the most high for you will lead before the Lord to prepare his way to give knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of their sins to his people.  By the compassionate mercy of our God he will look upon us as the dawn from above to shine in the darkness and upon those sitting in the darkness of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in the Spirit and was in the desert until the day of his proclamation to Israel.