Tag Archives: Meditations

Where did Star of Bethlaham Go?

In ancient time, travelers didn’t have GPS.  Most travelers navigated a journey by following stars. Travelers and astronomers knew the night sky. Based on their observations over decades, astronomers knew that star constellations and, what we now know as, planets moved in a prescribed pattern over a year’s time. They trusted this annual rotation of heavenly bodies. You can imagine how surprised these same astronomers were to see a new phenomenon in the night sky.  They didn’t know how to describe it, except to call it a “star.”

Today, a goodly number of Bible scholars and secular astronomers believe that the Star of Bethlehem was an alignment of stars and planets in the Leo constellation. They include the star Regulus (king) in Leo and four plants. Those planets were Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system and the planets Mars, Mercury, and Venus.

Many astronomers and wise men (Magi) in ancient Near Eastern countries lived in Persia. As they talked with one another about the new star that appeared in the sky, they concluded that it must herald the birth of a king. Perhaps, they remembered Balaam’s oracle regarding the Israelites: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.  A star shall come out of Jacob; and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NIV). Several of the wise men determined to follow the star to see this new-born king. Of course, they carried presents for the baby.

Following the star, the wise men arrived in Jerusalem and went to King Herod’s court. They expected that a newborn king would be birthed in a palace, amid a court. The Magi asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2 NIV). King Herod was flabbergasted. He didn’t see a new star in the night sky. His own wise men didn’t tell him about one. Most assuredly, King Herod knew nothing about a newborn king. When King Herod learned that the future king would be born in Bethlehem, he directed the wise men to continue following the star. Once the wise men learned exactly where this newborn king was, they were to report back to him, ostensibly, so he too could go and worship the king.

Following the star, the wise men came to a humble house in Bethlehem where Joseph, Mary, and the young child lived. Although we celebrate Epiphany 13 days after the feast day for Jesus’ birth, best evidence indicates that the wise men didn’t arrive in Bethlehem for a year, possibly, even two years, after Jesus’ birth. The star that led the wise men to the home where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived, wasn’t spectacularly bright. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Joseph and Mary ever saw a large star over their home. Likewise, there isn’t Bible documentation that King Herod saw the star.

The Bible doesn’t identify, what happened to the star. Did it disappear or stop moving when the wise men reached the home of Jesus? If the star was an alignment of planets and Regulus, it would have continued to move westward in the night sky. Yet, the wise men didn’t continue to follow the star westward. They returned to Persia without going back to Jerusalem and reporting to King Herod.

The star’s presence was a heavenly announcement that God’s son was born to humankind; and this son would save both Jew and Gentile from sins. As stars rule the night sky, Jesus Christ rules the powers of darkness on earth.

Epiphany Scripture

Epistle Reading – Ephesians 3:2-12 NIV: Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Reading – Matthew 2:1-12 NIV: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What is Epiphany Season

Although some churches celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday nearest January 6, Epiphany Day occurs on January 6, or 12 days after the birth of Jesus (December 25). The Epiphany season (Epiphantide) extends from January 6 to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It encompasses six-to-eight Sundays depending on the date of Easter. In some churches, these Sundays are named Ordinary Time; however, better labels are the First Sunday of Epiphany, Second Sunday of Epiphany, etc. The feast of Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church and reflects the mystical thinking in Eastern Christian churches, to include the weaving and reweaving of themes in celebrations.

Epiphany Day (January 6) ends the Christmas season. The Epiphany season is time to lift our eyes from gifts, parties, and Christmas trees. In Epiphany, we imagine the faith it took for Magi (wise men) to follow a star up to one thousand miles. Their journey was hazardous. Most people they encountered couldn’t see this “so called” star they followed. At almost every stop or town along the way, the wise men were ridiculed when they told local people that they followed a star which was leading them to a new-born king.

During Epiphany, we focus on our own faith. As we reach out to others with the good news of Jesus, we modern day “wise men” must be ready for physical hazards, laughter, and incredulity. Still, as the wise men kept going from their home in the East to Bethlehem, we too must keep reaching out with our belief in Jesus and his redemptive work that began when he was born in Bethlehem of Judah in the days of Herod, the King. The four main concepts of Epiphany10 are:

Divine Manifestation. Epiphany is a Greek word epiphania, which means “a god visited earth.”  Twelve days before the start of Epiphany, God came to earth as the baby Jesus. Jesus’ birth was the first incarnate manifestation of God the Son to humankind, but not his last manifestation. At the end of the ages, Jesus will again walk the earth. In this final manifestation, Jesus will bring with him an army of angels.

Royal Kingship. God’s son, the baby Jesus, was a manifestation of the greatest king that ever lived. At Christmas, Jesus was shown to Jews. At Epiphany, he was shown to Gentiles. At the end of the ages, when Jesus returns in all his majesty, the designation Jew and Gentile will be irrelevant. At that time, Jesus, the king of kings, will separate the righteous from the unrighteous regardless of whether the individual is of Jewish or Gentile heritage.

Light. The third theme that runs through the Epiphany season is light. During the Advent season, the world was in darkness. Christians prayed and waited for the coming birth of Messiah and his second coming in judgment. At Christmas, the Light broke forth; but, was seen only by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. At Epiphany, the mysterious star summoned Gentiles to benefit from the work of God’s son. The prophecy is fulfilled: “The nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3 ESV).

The royal nuptials. Marriage, or nuptials, is the final theme in the Epiphany season. Two thousand years ago God’s son married into humanity. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride. Jesus’s celebration of the marriage feast at Cana is symbolic of Jesus’ marriage to the Church. The wise-men from a far-off Gentile country hurried to the wedding feast with royal wedding gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Mary Pondered, Do You?

“Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19 ESV).

Several times in the Gospels we read that Mary pondered things in her heart. What in the world were the “things” Mary pondered on or about the first Christmas?  Unlike 21st century Christmas, Mary’s “things” weren’t newly bought, she wasn’t concerned about returning them, or giving them to Goodwill.  Mary didn’t ponder how to make January charge cards payments.

The liturgical Christmas is a twelve-day season beginning with the celebration of Christmas Day on December 25 and continues through January 5. These 12 days are a gift Father God provides for us to ponder, to think about, what is important and to discount, or not think about, what isn’t important. Now, the halls are decked, gifts exchanged, and most parties over.

Mary completed an 80-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, delivered her first-born son in a barn, and showed him to shepherds who stopped by. If Mary had time to ponder events surrounding Jesus birth, do we have any excuse for doing less? During the 12 days of Christmas, focus your mind on pondering what it means for God to come to earth and into your life. Take time to recognize and ponder the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” Luke 2:10 ESV).

As you sit beside the Christmas tree, consider that Jesus is the light of the world, consuming all the world’s darkness. What darkness has been allowed to creep into your thoughts and actions this year, seeking to consume your soul?  Where is Christ leading you to be light in the world in the new year? Do the gifts you share lead others to eternal treasure?

Reflection: In many churches, the church office is closed Christmas eve through the day after New Year’s Day. Perhaps, even liturgical churches export a message that Christmas is a day rather than a season.

*Written by Denise May, St. John Lutheran Church, Roanoke, Virginia.

12 Days of Christmas

Primary school students learned the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It has a jaunty tune and repeats information which appeals to these students. Most students and holiday revelers had no idea that the popular carol was a hidden catechism for Catholics. For about 300 years (1558 – 1829) during a time of severe persecution in England, Catholics used this carol to transmit the Catholic faith from one generation to another. In the carol, basic tenets of the Catholic faith were symbolized.  Here are the verses of the song:

The Carol and Interpretation:

  • On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. Me refers to all baptized persons, and more specifically, to all Catholics. A partridge in a pear tree refers to Jesus Christ. A pear tree references the wood of the manager.
  • On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Two turtle doves refer to the two parts of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.
  • On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Three French hens are the Trinity: God, Son, Holy Spirit.
  • On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Four calling birds are the four Gospels.
  • On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible.
  • On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Six geese a-laying are the six days of creation.
  • On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Seven swans a-swimming are the seven sacraments of the Catholic church.
  • On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eight maids a-milking refers to the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
  • On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Nine ladies dancing refers to the eight levels of angels.
  • On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ten lords a-leaping is the Ten Commandments.
  • On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eleven pipers piping refer to the eleven apostles (minus Judas).
  • On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Twelve drummers drumming refers to the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

Christmastide scripture

Collect for Christmas Day:7 “O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he come to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”  

­­­                Epistle Reading –  Hebrews 1:1-9 NIV: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.  For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?  And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

Gospel Reading – Luke 2:1-20 NIV: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

Why an Advent Wreath?

Why an Advent Wreath?

The symbolism of Advent is light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. At his second coming, all mankind will be enlightened, i.e., know that Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God. He will be the center and light of the new earth. Jesus gives light to each of us as he lives in our person. At his birth, the light of night stars shined in the sky over Bethlehem. The Magi following the light of a star from Persia to Bethlehem. Advent is four weeks of delightful anticipation as we wait to celebrate the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem.

                Often, Christians express basic tenets of faith in symbols. In Christian churches the Advent wreath is the primary symbol of light during the four Sundays of Advent. An Advent wreath is made from evergreens shaped into a circle to signify eternal (never ending) life. Evergreens tree branches used as the base of the candle can be the spruce, holly, laurel, cypress, and pine, or any mix of these branches. Evergreen boughs, rather than deciduous tree branches which drop leaves and appear dead in winter months, are used to symbolize that Jesus is alive eternally and that we are alive eternally in Jesus.

Advent Wreath

Four candles are spaced equidistant around the evergreen wreath. Traditionally, three of these candles are blue or purple to match the liturgical colors. The other candle is rose-colored. Various churches and denominations have assigned meaning to the four candles. Generally, a blue candle is lit the first Sunday of Advent. This candle is labeled the candle of Prophecy because God’s prophets foretold both the coming of a baby and the judge of the world. On the second Sunday of Advent, a second blue candle is lit. This candle is labeled the candle of Preparation. This candle symbolizes that we must prepare, even change, some parts of our lives to welcome the coming Jesus.

The third Sunday of Advent is named Gaudete Sunday. On this Sunday, the rose candle is lit. In Latin, gaudete means “rejoice” and is the first word of the traditional prayer “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4 NIV). The faithful rejoice because they have arrived at the midpoint of Advent. From this point onward, congregates are joyful over the anticipated birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. In some churches, altar colors and ministers’ vestments are rose colored on Gaudete Sunday.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final blue candle is lit. It is identified as the candle of Love. We remember that God loved humankind so much that he planned for Jesus to be born as a fully-human baby. Saint John described Jesus’ light and love this way, “In him (Christ) was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4 NIV). “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV).

Several traditions have evolved around the Advent candle. One is that each of the four candles represents 1,000 years, the sum of the years from Adam and Eve until Jesus’ birth. Another tradition is that the progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope that surrounds Jesus’ first coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead. A modern-day adaption of the Advent wreath is a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath. Often this candle is broader (greater diameter) than the four weekly candles. It is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning to represent Jesus’ birth. To further enhance its beauty, the Advent wreath can be decorated with pine cones and cinnamon (or cassia) sticks.

Although the Advent Wreath is a symbol of waiting for Jesus’ first birth, the history of the Advent Wreath was pre-Christian northern Europe. People sought to hasten the sun’s return in the darker times of the year (at the winter solstice) by lighting candles and fires. In Scandinavian countries where night reined during winter months, lighted candles were placed around a wheel. People prayed to the god of light to turn the wheel of earth so that light was restored, and days became warmer.

By 1500, both Catholics and Lutherans integrated Advent Candles (fire and light) into traditional preparation for Christmas. Often these traditions focused on Jesus’ birth rather than his second coming. To Christians of the Middle Ages, Jesus, the Light of the World, came to dispel the darkness of sin. By the beginning of the 19th century, on most Advent wreaths three candles were blue (purple) and one a rose color.

Copyright 11/17/2020, Carolyn Adams Roth

Confession

Eternal God, you do not change. You have revealed yourself to me in your Word. You call me to worship you in spirit and in truth. But I confess that I often worship not your true self but who I wish you to be. I too often ask you to bless what I do rather than seeking to do what you bless. Forgive me for seeking concessions when I should be seeking guidance. Forgive me when my worship shapes you into what I want instead of shaping myself into what you want. Help me to meet you here, that I might bow before your unspeakable majesty and so live for you now and ever, in Christ. Amen.

I’m not good enough

 The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.14: During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah.

Meditation: At this time, Jacob and Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, would have been 8-10 years old. He was old enough to assist the reapers in cutting wheat in the fields. He was old enough to realize that his father, Jacob, didn’t love his mother, Leah. Perhaps, Reuben sensed that Jacob resented that Leah was his wife and he had to provide for her.  Reuben may have doubted his father’s love for him because Jacob made it obvious that he wanted sons with Rachel, his preferred wife.

Reuben wanted to help his mother, Leah, when she stopped conceiving children. When Reuben found mandrakes in the wheat field, he brought them to her. Apparently, Reuben, like Leah and Rachel, believed that mandrakes caused conception in a woman. Reuben wanted his mother to continue having children and being valued by Jacob, if not as a beloved wife at least the mother of additional children.

My concern with this Bible story is that Leah transmitted her anxiety at no longer conceiving children to her son. Equally true, Jacob made his ongoing disregard for Leah and concomitant preference for Rachel obvious to the entire family.

As a child, Reuben may have thought he did something wrong because his father wanted children through Rachel.  Even though he was Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben wasn’t enough to make Jacob happy. Likely, this 10-year-old was distressed by how Jacob discounted his mother. Reuben believed it was his responsibility to make this situation better.

Through the lens of 21st century child psychology, we view this situation as a “no-win” for Reuben. Probably, we would suggest that Leah get him counseling; yet, two centuries before the birth of Christ, there weren’t child psychologists. Like Reuben, children had to weather mal-adaptive family dynamics that from the perspective of the twenty-first century are appalling.

Reflection: What do you do when you feel inadequate in situations, or when you feel discounted by others? God never discounts our feelings. If you aren’t sure about God’s acceptance of you and how you feel, read how King David pour his heart out to God in the Psalms.

Copyright 9/18/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

Burning Bright

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 8.6-12: After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

 Meditation

The first place that the olive tree was mentioned in the Bible is when Noah sent a dove out of the ark and it returned with an olive leaf. Olive trees may have survived the torrential rain and lived submerged in water for as long as a year. Alternatively, God may have newly created this olive tree after the flood.

Olive trees are known to live 1000 years. That means that some of the trees on the Mount of Olives are two-to-three-generation offspring of those present when Christ walked the earth.

Olive trees produce olives from which olive oil is made. In ancient times, olive oil fueled lamps, i.e., in the Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and individual homes. Olive oil was used in cooking. Olives were eaten both green and ripe.

To ancient Israelites, the olive tree, branch, and leaf were associated with peace and prosperity. Other symbols could be resiliency and light. Jesus told believers: “You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16).

When I read these three Bible verses, my mind remembers the words of William Shakespeare, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Your small kindnesses can be the beam of light in the world.

Reflection: The interesting point of Jesus’ words is that he didn’t limit them to Sundays, or to interactions only with fellow Christians.

Copyright: 6/17/2020