2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A text wrapped around a text – Matthew 1-4

baptismThe introductory chapters of Matthew are largely wrapped around OT passages.  Some are cited as fulfillment, others are cited as history (genealogy) and allusions to Israel’s history.  Here is a worksheet I made for my adult class.

Jesus Identity Mt 1 to 4 – without answers – do it yourself

Jesus Identity Answers – with answers

Advent Poem – “The Nativity”


I have carved a few nativity figures.  The Nativity scene as we know and celebrate it has its roots in the ministry of St. Francis.  His love of nature and animals has made some impact on our Christmas decorations at least.

In this poem, C. S. Lewis imagined the story through the eyes of the creatures of the nativity.

“The Nativity” –  C. S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)

I see a glory in the stable grow

Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length

Give me an ox’s strength


Among the asses (stubborn I as they)

I see my Savior where I looked for hay;

So may my beastlike folly learn at least

The patience of a beast.


Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)

I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;

Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence

Some wooly innocence!

The Incarnation and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups



There used to be Reese’s commercials with two people crashing into each other. One had a chocolate bar, the other a jar of peanut butter.  The result?  A Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

It is fully chocolate, the chocolate does not get less chocolatey.  It is fully peanut butter, the peanut butter does not become less peanut buttery.

Jesus was born of Mary – fully human.   Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit so he is “God with us” – fully divine.  He does not become less divine, nor does he become other than human.  He is both.

A Reese’s lasts for a moment, Jesus lasts forever.

Advent Poem – “The Risk of Birth”

I love this poem.  1st Century Palestine was not filled with precious moments figurines, but busy people trying to make a life under the leadership of Rome, masters of power.  The world today is also not such a safe place.  I once had a friend honestly say that he did not think it was right to bring a child into such a troubled world.  The Almighty did not think that way…

The Risk of Birth


This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war & hate

And a comet slashing the sky to warn

That time runs out & the sun burns late


That was not time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome:

Honor & Truth were trampled by scorn—

Yet here did the Savior make his home.


When is the time for love to be born?

The Inn is full on planet earth,

And by a comet the sky is torn –

Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle


Don’t Ask! – a Quote from Chrysostom

advent.wreathChrysostom: (Matthew Homily 4.3)

“Do not speculate beyond the text.  Do not require of it something more than what it simply says.  Do not ask, ‘But precisely how was it that the Spirit accomplished this in a virgin?”  For even when nature is a work, it is impossible fully to explain the manner of the formation of the person.  How then, when the Spirit is accomplishing miracles, shall we be able to express their precise causes? ….’I know nothing more,’ he in effect says, ‘but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.’”

Casting a Wide Net – Matthew 1

Casting a Wide NetDear blog-pals, you know by now that I really like my University of Wisconsin library card.  I had to return some books, which is of course an occasion to find some more. In exploring the Matthew section (BS 2575.3) I found some other commentaries.  I have found it worthwhile to read from scholars who are not from my own “school.”  In other words, I cast a wide enough net to catch fish from several schools.  We can fall into habitual reading where the eyes see but the mind glides across the surface.  Reading some other school authors can sometimes provide a surprise.

Matthew by Douglas R. A Hare in the Interpretation series by John Knox is one example. In talking about the birth narrative in Matthew 1:18-25, he was adamant that Matthew was not speaking philosophical theology, and that one should refrain from plunking your Nicene Credal thoughts into the text.

Well, says I, what are you up to?  But I continued until I found this on p. 12

“…In Hebrew, immanu means ‘with us’; El is a short form for the word for ‘God’.  Again, we must be careful not to read this through Nicene glasses.  In its Matthean context it focuses not on Jesus’ essence but on his function in the divine plan of salvation.  At no point in his Gospel does Matthew betray any interest in the philosophy of incarnation.  It remained for the Fourth Evangelist to ponder the metaphysical implications of the conviction that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and to articulate this deepest mystery of the Christina faith in his startling declaration: ‘and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ (John 1:14)”

Well, I disagree that Matthew is not that interested in issue of the essence of Jesus as human and divine (Nicene Creed).  I find a number of ways where Matthew highlights the divine nature of Jesus in his narrative.  See below where I have underlined them.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


What interests me is the idea of Function.  Why and to what purpose was Jesus conceived of the Holy Spirit?  That is answered in v. 21 “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  I think it is probably true that Matthew’s main interest is the Function of Jesus to be the Savior.  He is an evangelist, not a philosopher.

Thus my sermon was born around the two ideas:

  • Who Jesus is – human and divine, son of Mary (not Joseph) and the Holy Spirit.
  • What Jesus does – saves from sin – the confusion, the guilt and the power of it.


Christmas and the messy Family Tree

advent.wreathThis Advent I am preaching twice on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17.  It turns out to be pretty interesting.

In verse 1 and 17 Jesus is linked to Abraham, David and the Babylonian captivity.  This is how the family tree breaks out in the verses between.

  • Abraham to David is where the history of Israel goes from start to golden age.  We could call this section of history “creation” in the sense that God created and shaped a nation to be a blessing to the world.
  • David to Babylon is where the history of Israel falls on hard times.  David is both the high point and the dividing line, because of his adultery and murder, the House of David starts a sharp descent.  The kings that follow are mostly bad, even the good kings such as Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah are flawed. This section of the history could be called the “fall”.
  • Babylon to Christ is the story of Restoration – slowly with many starts and stops – the nation is restored under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But it ends in the birth of the Messiah.

So the family tree shows a parallel to the history of salvation;  Creation, fall and restoration.

There are three important titles:  son of Abraham, son of David and Christ.   Jesus was born to fulfill the calling to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, he is to be a good ruler from the line of David who brings peace to the nations, and he is the Anointed one – the Messiah who was promised from the prophets on.

Then there are these odd additions to the family tree.

  • Tamar who was tricked by her father in law out of her rights who then turned a trick on him.  This Gentile adulteress-trickster is int he line of Christ.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who put her trust in the God of Israel
  • Ruth was a gentile who took the faith of her husbands people as her own.
  • “the wife of Uriah” is Bathsheba, who was the “other woman” in David’s life, yet she is also the mother of Solomon and in the line of Christ.
  • Mary, an unmarried young woman who carried a child under very unusual circumstances.

So the Gospel comes as a fulfillment of the historic promises of God to Abraham and David.  It is also a promise that the Messiah comes as part of the history of sinners.  He did not come to a world that looked like most Christmas cards, but to one that looks like the real messy world we actually live in.

The mission of Jesus is for messy people.  Good thing that.