The Christmas Story (X). Luke: The Scene of Jesus’ Birth.

[Part 9 is here. Part 11 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke has told us about the birth and the circumcision of John the Baptist, and now he begins his narrative of the birth and presentation of Jesus. He spends more ink here since obviously this is his main point in the prologue of the ministry.

In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled [RSV Luke 2]

It’s a census. It’s known that Augustus had a census now and then to get an idea of the population in various places, however he never commanded an empire-wide census. But remember that Luke’s view is a global one, and he wants this to follow that picture. Another thing to recall is that Luke is writing many years after the death of Augustus (August 14AD -yes the month is named for him) and the other events he’s telling us about. Consider trying to recall the highlights of the years of the U.S. presidency of William Howard Taft. It gives you some idea about Luke’s story. You have some general ideas about Taft perhaps, but probably not details about him. You probably don’t recall details of his role in the “Big Burn” and the forest service in 1910. But you may have some kind of general picture, legends of Augustus, if you’re Luke. Luke wants us to understand that this is an event that has world-wide significance.
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The Christmas Story (IX). Luke: Mary, Elizabeth, and Prayers/Hymns of the Early Church

[Part 8 is here. Part 10 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke has given us two traditions, one about Zacharias and Elizabeth, one about Mary, and both involve Gabriel and angelic announcements. Now Luke is going to bring them together by telling us about a visit Mary makes to Elizabeth. This cements the blood relationship between Jesus and John. Luke is the only one of the Evangelists who knows about this, and he uses this to blend the two traditions.

Now that Luke has this backstory of John and Jesus, what does he do with it? Essentially nothing, directly, at least. The other Gospel writers seem ignorant of it, and in the Gospel of John, the Baptist actually says that he never knew Jesus! So this is a little like the infancy stories in general. They create this backstory of Jesus, they provide an Israelite foundation, there are these spectacular events: stars, wise men, murder of children, shepherds who tell the story of angels, and then no one knows about this at all later on. It’s as though Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, never see each other again. The story of this linkage comes to us and then disappears.
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The Christmas Story (VIII). Luke: Gabriel- – -Mary as Disciple

[Part 7 is here. Part 9 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Luke sees Mary as the model disciple. He gives us a picture of Mary as the first to hear, however frightening it might be, and she believes though not fully understanding (hence Luke’s repeated, “and Mary pondered these things in her heart” phrase). Luke has Gabriel come to Nazereth. Thus, Luke tells us that Mary lives in Nazereth. Matthew doesn’t: he thinks Mary (and Joseph) lived in Bethlehem. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph “of the house of David.” Again, it’s Joseph that is a descendant of the great king. David is a symbol for the kingdom itself. Luke writes that Gabriel tells Mary that she is favored of the Lord, God wants in effect to bestow grace on her, and that’s the way St. Jerome translated it, full of grace.

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)

El Greco: Mary meets the angel. Note the dove. (Image: Wikipedia)


The calling, grace, power, she is about to experience is that she is to conceive a child. God’s Son. The words seem to mean that Mary is already a graceful, a faithful person, one who already stands in favor with God. Now she is to stand in greater favor with him.[1]
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The Christmas Story (VI). Luke and the Roman World

[Part 5 is here., Part 7 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Matthew sees things in terms of God’s plan, and the last times are at hand. He sees parallels between the birth of Jesus and the Christological events of his death. Matthew has these very dramatic Jewish motifs that are quite characteristic. Stars, the quaking earth, darkness, turmoil in the elements, angels and the intervention of God. Luke contrasts with this. His is a global view, one that extends to the world as he understood it. He’s not much interested in the kinds of events Matthew emphasizes. He knows the Roman empire as the boundary of the known world and that’s where his story takes us. The (Luke’s) Gospel and Acts were probably in a fluid state after being written ca. 90AD and there is manuscript as well as historical evidence for this. Indeed, it is not until the turn of the third century (200 AD) that the New Testament texts settle into a more fixed state. The key here was the attitude of Christians about these texts and their status compared to the Hebrew Bible.[1]

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Luke’s structure is tripartite. Part one is the story of Israel, the Law and the Prophets. Part two is the life of Jesus–the Gospel of Luke. Part three is the story of how the message moves out into the gentile world by direction of the Spirit–Acts.
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The Christmas Story (V). Matthew: A Wicked King.

[Part 4 is here. Part 6 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

One of the things about Matthew and the other gospels is their very essential orality. Meaning that, at least in part, they arise out of a naturally fluid oral tradition. Christians were rather late in taking up the pen. It’s useful in dealing with these texts to remember that they developed out of preaching.[1] For example: Herod. A Herod appears at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, and there is a Herod at the end of the Gospel. It seems hard to believe that people who heard the Christian preachers understood that they were two different people. The Herodian family is complicated, mostly because of all the wives. Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Herod Agrippa, people would not have understood the distinctions, and I suspect that most people still don’t who hear or read the accounts.[2] Matthew and Luke have this theme of a Herod as antagonist either to Jesus himself, or to Christians. Matthew has this at the birth of Jesus (Herod the Great), Luke has another Herod at the trial of Jesus, Herod is trying to kill Jesus, and in Acts another Herod kills James the apostle, the brother of John, and another Herod shows up in Paul’s trial.
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The Christmas Story (II). Matthew’s Genealogy.

[Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.]
[You can find the whole series here.]

In a lot of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from the Revised Standard Version (RSV). It’s still a very good translation and a great study Bible. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is also quite good. One of the things no one thought about in producing the RSV was inclusive language. the NRSV rectifies that, but it may go too far in representing some passages as inclusive, when they are intentionally not. Anyway, the RSV is online and free, it’s nearly always superior to the King James Version (KJV) [see also here] and I’ll point out a few places where that’s important for the story of Jesus’ birth as I go along. (Sometimes I use the New English Translation (NET) also free online, and the English Standard Version (ESV) a few times. As I often tell my wife, I like to do different things.)

Matthew’s two chapters begin with the phrase (RSV) “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David, and the son of Abraham.” Matthew knows what he is going to write in his Gospel, and this introduction is perspicacious. Two things: people at the time (ca. 70AD+) will not likely read this, they will hear it, and it is written in Greek.[1] Matthew begins with the word “genesis” (in Greek) and that’s the same Greek word for the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and this is styled as a New Genesis. There is a new creation, a new “God’s people” if you will, and the colophon above has things in a new order. Jesus comes first, then Abraham. And of course, David. The kingdom is always in view. And it’s clear that for Matthew, the Christmas story begins with Abraham. Right away you can feel the tension over Jew and Gentile, and what it means for a gentile to become a Christian.
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The Christmas Story (I). Introduction.

[Part 2 is here.]
[You can find the whole series here.]

This begins a series of posts on Jesus’ birth, and how the New Testament tells that story. The Twelve Days of Christmas, New Testament style. Your December bedtime reading fodder. No guarantee of twelve installments, however. See you every evening for the next 12? days.

The canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up about 40% of the New Testament. That 40% amounts to about ninety chapters. Of those ~ninety, four discuss the birth and childhood of Jesus. This is a tiny section of the New Testament, but it has had an enormous effect on human culture and of course, Mormonism is a subset of that culture. Whatever one thinks about the commercialization of Christmas, it cannot be denied that Christmas and the Christmas story stand at the center of much of religious consciousness.
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If You Like Trunk-or-Treats You Probably Don’t Have a Testimony

Because it is Halloween time again, I’ve decided to re-post this important message. The comments to this post are among the most beloved treasures in BCC history, and worthy of your consideration.

Holy crap Trunk-or-Treats are the worst thing in the world and if you believe Trunk-or-Treats are consistent with the Gospel, you are wrong.

E.T. Trick or Treating

What is the point of a Trunk-or-Treat, anyway? When I was a kid and this societal cancer first reached my awareness, I understood that it was born of concern about poisoned candies and apples with razor blades and other dangerous crap that Big Mom was worried about. It probably got its start from the movie E.T., when that punk Elliot didn’t come home on time and Gertie was going on and on to the police officer about her dad being in Mexico with his lover. Halloween + Adultery + Space Aliens = NO MORE TRICK OR TREATING. So, instead of sending the kids out on the streets at night like rational human beings, we line everyone up in a parking lot and distribute candy like it’s freaking Hamsterdam. [Read more…]

Making the Desert and the Soul Blossom as the Rose: Pioneer Day in a Global Church

The Mormon Trail (source: http://tinyurl.com/q5lkkkh)

The Mormon Trail (source: http://tinyurl.com/q5lkkkh)

The historical basis for Pioneer Day celebrations is the 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley of wagon trains of Mormon pioneers fleeing religious persecution in the United States. They first left their prosperous city of Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois in the Winter of 1846 and traveled a 1,300 mile route on foot and with covered wagons through the inhospitable American outback to reach an isolated desert valley on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mormon pioneers from around the world continued to make this or other similarly arduous journeys of migration from their homelands in the heart of civilizations to this far flung frontier settlement throughout much of the rest of the nineteenth century. Theirs was a pioneer spirit, as evidenced not only by how they accepted their lot as refugees forced from civilization into what was, at the time, a remote, harsh, virtually uninhabitable wilderness, but also by virtue of their conversion from among many nations to the truly radical religious movement known as Mormonism, which laid claim to a Restoration of Christ’s Gospel and of all things. [Read more…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

Easter Evening: Changed Hearts, Spiritually Begotten

Felix Mendelssohn, Psalm 114 Op. 51, “Da Israel aus Ägypten Zog” (1839)[1]

* * *

The Resurrected Christ brought this universal message to the people described in The Book of Mormon:

9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

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Lent II

Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

* * *

For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]

Family History Road Trip

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trial interpretive center.

We caught up with the wagon train at the California Trail interpretive center.

I live in Vienna while the rest of my side of the family remains scattered across the western United States. Thanks to a confluence of favorable factors, we are able to make an annual visit to the old homestead each year for several weeks, which has led to a tradition of a trip within a trip–we fly home, spend about a week moving from couch to couch paying our respects, then take a week to be tourists and travel somewhere I never got around to visiting while growing up , and wrap things up by cooling our heels at the parental roost for a few days.

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A Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Home Evening

I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church. [Read more…]

Your Friday Xmas Present Thread

Here at BCC, we usually save talk of Christmas presents for after the big day, but I figured it’s Friday and we’ve spent most of the week talking about torture and financial transparency, so it might be nice to talk about something more fun.
SMB, Duck Hunt, WCTM

So, two questions:
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Transcending Mere Toleration in November’s Friend Magazine?

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe (source: http://tinyurl.com/o3je4gm)

November’s Friend Magazine has a remarkable entry that cultivates an attitude transcending mere Toleration in favor of genuinely accepting the religious pluralism that is essential for true religious freedom to exist in democratic societies. That is, the article takes the step from Toleration, or merely tolerating the differences around us (in the case of the Friend essay, religious difference), as the lowest common denominator necessary for a free society to accepting and even appreciating people’s differences on their own terms. Such a perspective strengthens the robust and beneficial pluralism that the Church has argued before the European Court of Human Rights “has been dearly won over the centuries” and is “indissociable from a democratic society.”[1] [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Quotes from Prophets, Ranked

One of my favorite things to do during Thanksgiving is revisit some of the choice words from modern prophets and apostles about this great holiday!

Thanksgiving
As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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Scary Mormon Halloween Costumes, Ranked

It’s Halloween week (though perhaps you already celebrated with a ToT), so Steve and I figured that it would only be appropriate to have a super-spooky ranking! This is some scary stuff!

CTR Pumpkin
As always, these rankings are authoritative.
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If You Like Trunk-or-Treats You Probably Don’t Have a Testimony

This post has been moved here.

Pioneer Day

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Pioneer Day

Genesis 26:3-5 (KJV), Psalm 95 (KJV), Isaiah 35 (KJV), Matthew 8:11 (KJV), Romans 6:3-10 (NRSV), 1 Nephi 2:4, 2 Nephi 9:23, Jacob 7:26, Doctrine & Covenants 64:41-42

The Collect: Heavenly Father, who through Thy Son hast led Thy Chosen People into many wildernesses with the promise that they will blossom as the rose, make us pioneers willing to crucify our old self in Christ’s death to find life with Him in that Undiscovered Country that is Thy Kingdom so that we may then speak peace to those in fear, strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees, through Thy Son Jesus Christ, who reigns with Thee in Thy Kingdom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]

Honoring Our Mothers, Warts & All: A History of Mother’s Day

I had assumed that Mother’s Day was a greeting card holiday invented by Hallmark to turn filial guilt into revenue.  I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day has a history longer than Christianity!  Ancients celebrated Isis (Mother of the Pharaohs), Rhea (Greek Mother of the Gods), and Cybele (The Great Mother).  The worship of these ancient goddesses is similar to the reverence we show to Mary, Jesus’s mother as these Mother Goddesses are often depicted with a baby in arms.  They also represent the reverence we should feel toward our own Heavenly Mother, symbolizing the care the earth provides to us all physically and the divine protection we receive. [Read more…]

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day

Two minutes can seem a very long time. I know because I was given the responsibility for keeping time during the two-minute standing silence that our UK ward observed every Remembrance Sunday. I was strict about it and timed exactly two minutes, but everyone, including my fellow bishopric members, began glancing around anxiously, the other counselor looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps in past years people had been casual about the two minutes, just estimating it. Based on my experience of a two-minute silence, a two-minute long siren wail would seem an eternity. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Easter Evening

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Easter Evening

Isaiah 25:6-9 (KJV), Psalm 114 (KJV), 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV), Luke 24:13-49 (NRSV), Mosiah 5:7-9, 3 Nephi 15:9-10

The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]

Easter Sunday

Eric Huntsman concludes his series on Holy Week.

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Christ is risen. Hallelujah! Christ is risen indeed. That is how Christians all over the world have been greeting each other all over the world this morning, and it is how I wish to greet you as I bring my brief stint guest-posting here at BCC to an end. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: The Great Vigil of Easter

Many Christian traditions celebrate an Easter Vigil. The version I have experienced is the Episcopal one, from the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure I have a lot to say about it, except that it’s beautiful, and that it seems familiar to me. It reminds me of the temple endowment in many ways–it is a retelling, recreation of salvific history from Creation to Fall to Atonement to Exaltation:

Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how
he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God
will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.

 

One of my favorites of the sermons I’ve been able to publish in Dialogue is an Easter Vigil sermon; I think it gets at both what might seem familiar to Mormons and what might be strangely, newly lovely in it. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Good Friday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12 (KJV), Psalm 22 (KJV), Hebrews 10:15-25 (NRSV), John 18 & 19 (KJV), Mosiah 3:9, 3 Nephi 8

The Collect: God the Eternal Father, we ask Thee in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to strengthen our resolve as we contemplate the suffering and voluntary sacrifice of Thy Son and seek to emulate the loyalty of Thy Servant Simon Peter in the Garden but without violence or aggression, seeking healing and peace rather than confrontation and conflict as we hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, through the grace of Thy Son and His Atonement in Gethsemane and on Calvary, who now lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Read more…]

Good Friday

And he, bearing his cross went forth into a place 
called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha: 
where they crucified him . . . 

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, 
that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst . . . 
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, 
It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. 

John 19:17–18, 28–30 


J. Kirk Richards, Grey Day at Golgotha

J. Kirk Richards, Grey Day at Golgotha

Eric Huntsman continues his series on Holy Week.

Good Friday is observed with great solemnity in some Christian traditions. While not marked as a holiday as such in the LDS community, Good Friday can be a tender and reflective time for individuals and families to pause and consider how Jesus, as our great high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for us: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). Understanding how and why he died makes the miracle of his resurrection on Easter morning all the more glorious and joyous. [Read more…]

A Poem for Holy Week

0413-blood-moon-eclipse_full_600Melody Newey is a frequent guest of the blog. We’re happy that she chose to share some of her poetry with us.

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Eric Huntsman on Maundy Thursday

Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane

Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane

Eric Huntsman continues his series on Holy Week.

The Thursday before Easter is a day rich in deep, often poignant events. These include Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, at which he instituted the sacrament and washed his disciples’ feet; his prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; his betrayal by Judas and abandonment by the other disciples; and his arrest, cynical examination, and abuse by the Jewish authorities of the time.

Known as Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities, in many English-speaking countries this Thursday is sometimes called “Maundy Thursday.” The word “maundy” is an early English form of the Latin mandatum for “commandment” and recalls Jesus’ teaching “A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye love one another” (John 13:34). [Read more…]

Spy Wednesday

Tissot, The Meal in the House of the Pharisee

Tissot, The Meal in the House of the Pharisee

Eric Huntsman continues his series on Holy Week.

The texts for today are Mark 14:1–11; Matthew 26:1–16; Luke 22:1–6 and cover the plot to kill Jesus, the Marcan and Matthean anointing of Jesus prior to his Passion, and Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. The fact that the lovely story of the anointing is in an intercalation (or “sandwiched”) between two dark, deceitful scenes has given the day its traditional name “Spy Wednesday.”

One note on chronology: many LDS harmonies list “no events recorded” for Wednesday, and as far as I can tell this arose from J. Reuben Clark, and others, adopting the harmonization of some nineteenth century Victorian divines, who read “two days before Passover” inclusively. For my reasons for counting it exclusively, see the discussion in my working chronology. I think this also fits the pattern of relative time markers in Mark, and even if it did not, remembering these events on “Spy Wednesday” puts us in harmony with the majority of other Christians who are following traditional observances during Holy Week. [Read more…]