Saturday, December 19, 2015
In Advent we are preparing for the celebration of the Nativity, the birth of our Savior. One of the themes of Advent, for me, the theme is hope.
The Advent readings remind us of Israel’s long waiting for a Savior, the Messiah. Israel was unique in that it wIorshipped the one true God. Granted, there were detours along the way. Images of false gods made their way into Israel’s sacred temple, and there were some practices that were inconsistent with who the Israelites were called to be. And, they ignored their prophets and made some very bad alliances with former enemies, refusing to put their trust in God. However, I believe that in first century Palestine, in spite of these errors in their history, the Israelites, who at that time were called “the Jews”, held fast to their belief in the One True God and held a much higher moral standard than any of their “neighbors”.
Throughout their history they were dominated by many, to name a few: the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Greeks. At the time of Jesus’ birth they were ruled by the Romans.
Herod the Great was the master, the ruler of Palestine called king of the Jews. He was not, however, a Jewish king. He was influenced by the cultural advances of the Augustan age and surrounded himself with Greek philosophers and orators as advisers. He had little interest in Judaism. He never succeeded in gaining the support of the Jews, who really hated him. He was Idumean, and was to them a half Jew. He removed and appointed at will their high priests. He appointed men steeped in Hellenistic culture and philosophy, most unacceptable to the Pharisees who were steeped in the Law. Twice the Pharisees refused to swear allegiance to the emperor and Herod. Hence Herod resorted to violence to hold the Jews in check, and fortresses were constructed throughout the land.
Herod was a man with no scruples. H e married ten wives and murdered several of them and their children. Anyone who was perceived to be a threat was assassinated. We especially know this from his massacre of the infant boys just because one of them might be the Newborn King.
Rome ruled. Even though Herod was king, many decisions had to be approved by the Roman emperor. We know that just before Jesus’ birth the emperor ordered a census and Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. There were no waivers for late pregnancies. All had to obey.
A number of years ago a Scripture professor taught me that context in Scripture is as important as location is in real estate! And we know in real estate it’s location, location, location! This is the context into which our Savior was born. It’s at least the political context or climate of the time.
The Jewish people were waiting, longing for a Messiah, preferably a king who would lead them to defeat their enemies. As we consider their history this is so understandable. Life under Roman rule was not the brightest or happiest for the Jews living in Palestine in the first century. A king who would defeat the enemy, restore the land they had lost and make them look good in front of the rest of the world would be such a blessing! God’s idea of a king was very different from theirs.
More than two thousand years later we are preparing for the birth of Jesus. Yes, he has already come, but we need to prepare to receive Him anew in our hearts.
Just as the Jews and many others feared the Roman government, we fear for the violence that has entered our world, the violence of organized and unorganized terrorism. While the world does have some good leaders, many are sadly lacking, and some wanna be leaders even more so!
We all have our own personal context as well: family, economic, health, work situations, etc.
Just as God burst through history through the birth of his Son, God breaks through our history today.
In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God. He was with God in the Beginning. Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower. ( John 1, 1-4)
In spite of all the darkness in our world, we know there is the Light that will not be overcome. We pray that whatever our “personal context”, the light of Christ will burst through. And it will, just as it did more than 2,000 years ago, in the most unexpected way!