Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Archive for December, 2020

A Little More About Christmas….

So, This Is Christmas….

What Actually Happened, What May Have Happened and What We Think Might Have Happened

A Long Time Ago In A Manger Far, Far Away…..

A man named Joseph and a woman named Mary were engaged. They were not wealthy. We know this as a fact as they gave two young doves, or pigeons as a sacrifice at the Temple when Jesus was presented. This was the alternate sacrifice for the poor, who could not afford a lamb. (Lev 12: 8, 24) We are later told that Joseph is a carpenter, but the word we translate as carpenter is a broad term, which may be ship builder (which would explain why Jesus’ disciples tended to be people who had boats), handyman, or actual carpenter, as we typically see portrayed. Regardless, he was a man who did manual labor, and not in an elite position in society.

The couple was engaged, but the marriage had not been consummated. As per tradition, the paperwork had been signed, and it was a time for Joseph to prepare a home for his family. When this was complete, the couple would officially wed and the marriage would be consumated. There would be a celebration, and the couple would begin their lives in their new home.

An angel appears to Mary and reveals that she will conceive, though she is a virgin, and that her son will be the Son of God. To confirm that this is true, the angel reveals that her elderly, barren, relative, Elizabeth, is now in her sixth month of pregnancy, which is also a miracle. Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist. (Luke 1)

As was a custom of the time, Mary is sent off to stay with Elizabeth, to learn what childbirth entails. Elizabeth is the wife of a highly respected high priest, whose pregnancy was foretold at the Temple, when her husband was given the duty of entering the Holy of Holies to commune with God. This was a time when the nation longed for a word from the Lord, and the word was that Elizabeth would bear a child. This high priest’s wife, who is now considered blessed by God in the same manner as the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel would be beyond reproach, and a woman, likely young, who had conceived out of wedlock would soon arrive at her home to be part of this birth…. Elizabeth greets Mary wonderfully, stating that the child in her womb bore testimony to the importance of the child Mary is pregnancy with. There is no shame, only welcome from this expectant mother, whose reputation could have suffered through her association with her cousin. (Luke 1) (Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband and high priest, will later be killed between the altar and the Temple while performing his duties. It is speculated that their son, John the Baptist, was also on Herod’s list of babies to be killed, as the prophecy of his birth indicated he would be a great man, and thus a potential threat to the king. Zechariah may have hidden Elizabeth and his son with the Essenes in the desert, which would explain John’s dress and spartan lifestyle as well as his affinity for baptism and desert preaching. It would also explain why John and Jesus did not know each other well. Mt 23: 35)

Joseph, a good man, did not seek to turn Mary over to the authorities, but instead sought to divorce her quietly, likely to allow her to wed the father of her baby, without shame or punishment. An angel comes to his in a dream and assures him that Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit as she has said, and that he is to wed her. (Matthew 1)

What Joseph and Mary do next is a bit odd. Typically, if you were going to marry a pregnant woman, you would do so quickly to avoid scandal, and, although people would know the baby came a bit early, they would overlook the fact, and allow everyone to save face, assuming the marriage was merely consummated by the couple a little earlier than it was supposed to be, which likely happened at times…. Mary and Joseph however do not officially wed until after Jesus is born, letting everyone know that Joseph is not the father of her baby. Why would they do this? The only reason that makes sense is that they did not want anyone to doubt that this was God’s son, even though the disgrace would follow them, and their child, throughout their lifetimes. Jesus will later be referred to as the ‘son of Mary,’ a title which is not commonly used and likely indicates that others know that he is not Joseph’s biological child. (Mark 6: 3)

Just to complicate matters, a census is called. Now the Roman order for everyone to go to their households was likely not meant as the Jewish people interpreted it. For the Romans, their household was the house they lived in most days, and they were to remain in one place during the census so they would only be counted once. For the Jewish people, this was an order to return to their ancestral land to be counted as part of their tribe, like other censuses in the Bible. Both Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, and descendants of king David. Their ancestral land was in Bethlehem, a small town. Unfortunately, kings tend to have lots of wives and lots of children, and by this time the number of people who also called Bethlehem ‘home’ was significant. By the time the pregnant Mary arrived, there were no rooms to be found.

There is some controversy over where exactly Mary and Joseph ended up. Some claim it was an actual manger with animals. This may be true as Mary would be seen as unclean and needed a place away from others. Others say it was more of a cave, where animals were sheltered. Other say it was a room in the house where animals would be allowed in during times of cold weather. Regardless of where it was, it was not ideal.

There is also debate as to the timing of Jesus’ birth. At the time death days, to remember a dead loved one, were more likely to be celebrated than birth days, and the exact date of Jesus’ birth is not recorded in scripture. It is very likely that the date is not December 25th, as it is now celebrated. Many speculate the birth was in the spring, using John the Baptist’s birth as a timetable, since we are given a few clues as to when that birth may have occurred, but there are still many assumptions made with that method, such as how far along Mary was, and that Elizabeth conceived very close to the time the prophecy was given. Another speculation is that Jesus was born during the time of the Feast of Booths (aka Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot). This would fulfil the meaning of the feast, which is God dwelling with the Israelites. This would not be a full, but a partial fulfillment of this prophecy, as the fall feasts are yet to be fulfilled, and Jesus did not remain on earth with us. I like this thought, but there is no firm evidence for it either.

When Jesus is presented at the Temple, there are two known prophets, Anna and Simeon, a man and a woman who further support Mary and Joseph’s claims regarding the baby. (This is also ‘proof’ that God was not silent as some claim during the time between the Old and the New Testament, as there were known prophets hanging out, whose function is giving messages from God. God was not ‘silent,’ but merely did not give messages that required preserving for generations to come.)

Some of the first visitors to greet Jesus were shepherds, who told by angels that the baby has been born. During this time, the sheep for Passover were kept in the fields between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The shepherds would witness each lamb’s birth and certify that the lambs born were without blemish, and suitable to the Passover sacrifice. As Jesus is the Passover lamb, it is fitting that these shepherds may be the ones who were also present to visit him shortly after his birth.

Interestingly, there is no mention of Mary or Joseph’s families visiting or helping with the birth, or at any time afterward. As ALL of their extended families would be crammed into little Bethlehem, and the people telling them that there was no room for a pregnant mother were also likely related to them, there is a very real possibility that the couple were treated as outsiders, and the birth ignored, so for anyone dealing with less than ideal relationships at Christmas time, there is evidence that Jesus, Mary and Joseph may have endured similar issues as well…. God/ Jesus being rejected by those who should love Him will be a repeated theme throughout the New Testament.  

The next visitors were three kings, or wisemen, from the east. These men knew of prophecies which are not recorded in the Bible and were looking for the promised king. Likely these are descendants, or future disciples, of the three young men (Abednego, Shadrach and Meshack) and Daniel, who did not return to Israel, but stayed with the Babylonians, then Persians and ruled in the regions under the authority of Daniel. They would have studied scripture, as well as any writings Daniel left behind. This included a sign, or star, that foretold the timing of a promised king. Unfortunately, they alerted Herod, a crazy despot who had already killed a few of his children for fear they would take his throne, of the baby’s presence. Their visit likely occurred sometime after the birth. It is celebrated by some Christians on January 6th. For some, this is the day that presents are given, as it is the day that Jesus received his gifts as well. In New Mexico we put out luminarias (farolitas) to light the way, so the three wisemen can find the baby Jesus.

An angel then speaks to Joseph about the dangers to his family in a dream. (As if he and Mary have not already been through enough…) This affirms Joseph’s position as father, even though he is not the biological dad, and says a lot about how God views the man who raises a child who is not his own flesh and blood. The family flees to Egypt, repeating the history of Israel through their actions. God will again speak to Joseph in a dream, letting him know it is safe to return to Israel. This is not ‘proof’ that God speaks to the husband only regarding the family, as some have said, as Samson’s mother, Rebekah and other women who were married to godly men have also heard from God regarding their children as well. (Judges 13, Gen 25:23, 21: 12) When they return, they will settle in Nazareth, a small town where Jesus will grow up. Nazareth means branch and is an obscure fulfillment of yet another prophecy. (Matthew 2: 13, 19)

I hope you enjoyed a few extra tidbits about Christmas!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Chanukah/ Hanukah/ Hannukah

Happy Chanukah/Hanukah/Hanukkah!

If you are Christian, like I am, you probably do not have much experience celebrating Hanukah. Here are a few tips and facts to get you started!

1. Why are there many spellings for Chanukah? Hebrew has an alphabet that different than the English alphabet so the word is ‘transliterated’ meaning that it is spelled out phonetically. Different people decided on different spellings and in this case, all of them became acceptable, likely because Jewish people tend to live in large groups in order to worship together, so there were already many people using each spelling…..

2. Chanukah is mentioned in the Bible as being celebrated by Jesus. It is called the Feast of Dedication and is mentioned in John 10:22.

3. So, what is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a celebration of a miracle. Some focus on the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days so the priests could continue cleaning the Temple while new oil was being purified in order to be used in the Temple menorah. Others focus on the fact that a small people group, the Jews, defeated a very large, impressive army and took back their land. Both are miraculous and deserve recognition!

So, allow me to tell you the story of Chanukah (my favorite spelling by the way!).

After Alexander the Great died, the lands he conquered were split into 4, then 5 kingdoms which were ruled by his generals. Israel was in an odd position as reportedly Alexander and his army showed up, the priests showed Alexander that he was prophesied in their writings, he left thinking that they had surrendered and the Jewish people thought he was leaving them alone. Later, Israel would pay a tribute to nearby kings, but that was not the same as being conquered, but it was something, and everyone was semi-content. (A thousand historians just pulled their hair and screamed over this over-simplification….)

So, a crazy king named Antiochus Epiphanius wants to conquer everything and be like Alexander. His name means God on earth, just to give you an idea of his brand of crazy, and he does want people to worship him. His kingdom is north of Israel and to get to the ‘everything’ he wishes to conquer he must go through Israel. He forces the high priests to sacrifice pigs, desecrating (ruining) the altar at the Temple, and then everything in the Temple (which is why it needs to be cleaned) and then continues into the countryside. There he is met by a group of priests, who pretend to go along with him, then attack his men and lead a successful rebellion. These are the Maccabees and their nickname is Strong Hammer. The older priest, the father of the family who leads the revolt, is in his 80s and dies soon after, and his son, Judah, who also fought, becomes a leader. This family will become priest-kings in the inter-testimonial time when this occurs, until Rome takes control. (Chanukah occurs in the time between the Old and the New Testament. It always bothers me when people imply God was not involved with His people during this period. Just because nothing was recorded in the Bible, does not mean God was silent, and Chanukah is proof of that! -Also, there was a female queen of Israel during this time, Salome Alexandra, who has an interesting story….)

The priests immediately began working to clean the Temple but found only one jar of purified oil. The Temple has no windows, but has a seven branched menorah, and gold-plated walls which reflect its light. Without the menorah, they would be cleaning in the dark…. It takes eight days to purify the oil, but they were in a hurry, so they started working, getting as much done as they could before the oil they had ran out. The oil lasted the entire 8 days, when it should have lasted only one, until the new oil was ready, so their work was not interrupted. The Hanukkiah (an eight branched menorah) has one more branch than the Temple Menorah and represents the eight days the oil lasted. It is lit from right to left (the way Hebrew is read) by the candle that is either in the middle or off to the side on some modern Hanukkiah. This is the servant candle, and is left lit as well. The candles for the Hanukkiah are made to burn for one hour, and the Hanukkiah is to be set in a window for all to see.

4. So, how do we celebrate?

There are many ways to celebrate, so feel free to use the internet for more ideas. Since we also celebrate Christmas, we do not get together for all 8 days, and do not give gifts at this time. Most years we meet as a large group just once during this time. We eat challah (sweet, braided bread), have a meal, play the dreidel game, light the menorah (hanukkiah), tell the story of Chanukah and give out chocolate coins (gelt). Sometimes we incorporate other treats typical to the Jewish culture. There are many ways to celebrate, so look up ideas on the internet- there are many- and make the celebration your own!

5. The next question you will have is- Why is the dreidel game so boring?!?!?

This game is actually purposefully boring, and it was a brilliant plan. During times of occupation, teaching the torah was often prohibited. The Jewish people would ignore this rule and teach it anyways. To hide their gatherings, they would play the dreidel game. It was so boring no non-Jewish person would want to play for long. It was also easy to pick up and put down the game when others came, so that no one looked too suspicious, and then go back to studying. There are references in historical texts of pagan writers complaining about the Jewish people always playing that infernal game! Little did they know…. My children when they were young, and now my grandchildren do enjoy the game however boring it may be. The adults breathe a sigh of relief however when they are finally out. Typically, we play for small pieces of candy, but small coins or other things may be used. Interestingly the Jewish people at this time believed that learning should be rewarded since following the Word of God resulted in blessings in your life, so they often rewarded the children for learning with honeyed candies. Living out at least portions of history helps children understand and retain what they learn. I hope this helps you feel more comfortable adding something extra into your holiday time. You can also use it as a teaching tool out of season, if the holidays are already too overwhelming! Sukkot (the feast of booths/ tabernacles), Passover and Purim (especially Purim, where you get to dress up!) are also fun to celebrate as a family as well. Look for my posts regarding those holidays as well.

A Look At Morality Through the Eyes of Star Trek and the Bible

This is an excerpt from my latest Bible Study: An Unofficial Star Trek: The Original Series Bible Study. It is currently available through only…. I hope you enjoy it!

Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One

This study requires you to watch the episode. While I will describe it in enough detail for you to get by, it will ultimately be better if you watch the episode first. Warning: Higher definition TVs and advancements in technology make a few scenes a bit more cheesy…

Season 1, Episode One: The Man Trap

Topic One: Women in Society: 

This episode is interestingly titled “The Man Trap.” While the creature represents a woman, who is the love interest of Professor Crater, Dr. McCoy and Crewman Darnell, it is not the romantic entanglement that is the issue…. While Star Trek did advance the position of woman, there are still a few stereotypes left over from the time the series was made that are included in this episode. Among them are: Professor Crater discussing his love for isolation, but Nancy’s need for socialization with the phrase, “but for a woman, you understand of course,” implying that women have a higher degree of social need than men. Uhura then states to Spock, “But I am an illogical woman who has become too much a part of that communications counsel.” While this is said in jest, it does reflect the thoughts of the time. Janice Rand is harassed by crewman in the hall, and one crewman states, “How would you like to have her as your personal yeoman?” which would be considered inappropriate in a workplace today. Star Trek shows how society’s views of women have changed over the years, and that even a show that fought for women’s rights still held onto some negative patterns, considering them to be so normal that they would exist in the more perfect future as well. 

Discuss God’s role for women and how women are to be treated. Here are some more obscure verses for you to consider. 

Hosea 4:13-14 (NIV) … Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes- a people without understanding will come to ruin! These verses imply that punishment for prostitution and adultery is not always warranted if the circumstances of the woman’s life are somehow pushing her into it. Discuss how you judge differing situations a woman might find herself in and examine whether extenuating circumstances may be in place that would call for mercy rather than strict justice.  2 Timothy 3: 5-6 (NIV) …holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power, avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. These verses talk about a man who uses his position and preys upon women who are naïve and in a position to be inclined to trust a man who appears worthy, but is not. Discuss what these men look like today, and how to protect women who would be susceptible to their ploys from them both in the church and the workplace. This can be in the form of educating and uplifting the women, as well as how to deal with the men when this behavior is suspected or confirmed. Think about what actions you can take in the situation, with the power you have, and not just from the standpoint of what society should do. 

Topic Two: The Rights of the Individual: 

Another issue discussed in this episode is whether, or not, it is right to force someone to do something for their own safety. Professor Crater wishes to stay on the planet even though there is obviously something killing the crewmen (notice that the trend of redshirted actors dying has not yet begun!). He also does not wish to have a physical from Dr. McCoy, and especially does not want Nancy to have a physical, for obvious reasons, yet Dr. McCoy insists. This would be considered battery if a medical professional performed a procedure on a person who refused in the civilian world, but not in the military, where there are different rules. As an archeologist, the professor has obviously agreed to some terms in order to stay on the planet. When quarantine orders are issued on the Enterprise, all personnel seemingly comply without question. There are also instances in the Bible when the people of God are told to stay in their houses while a plague is present. (Exodus 9:19-20) The question here is: When is it Biblical to force people to do what is right, and when is it a question of free will, even if you know the person will be hurt by their choice? Today we may keep a person confined against their will if they may harm themselves or others (a psychiatric hold) or if they have committed a crime (jail). We typically do not force a medical procedure onto an unwilling person, even if it will mean their death, but we have, as I type, enacted and enforced quarantine laws for the COVID 19 pandemic. There is a pastor in Florida who was arrested for continuing to hold large church services despite the quarantine. When does the safety of one, or the many, make it necessary to deny an individual the right to not comply? 

Topic Three: Animal Rights: 

The salt creature is the last of its kind. It killed Nancy, yet Professor Crater felt sympathy for the creature and has kept it alive. His arguments are that the creature is not dangerous if it is fed, it is an intelligent creature, and it needs love. Captain Kirk accuses Professor Crater of keeping the creature alive, not because it is wrong to kill it, but because the creature provides the professor with a wife/harem/idol/slave. It is implied that this is not a proper companion, but an aberrant relationship. (This can be added to the previous discussion, re: what should and should not be considered appropriate in a relationship.) In this case, the salt creature is being compared to extinct species on earth. Kirk argues that the creature is different than the buffalo because it is killing people, and in the end, it kills the professor as well, implying Kirk is right. The creature is ultimately killed when it attempts to kill Captain Kirk and there is seemingly no other choice for Dr. McCoy to make. In the end, Kirk states that he was “thinking about the Buffalo,” indicating that he might not be sure they made the right choice, or that there was some regret regarding their need to kill the creature. (Since it could likely not reproduce as the last of its kind (assuming sexual reproduction), the end of the species was probably inevitable at some point…) 

When is it right to kill an animal, and when is it not, and who gets to decide?

When is it the owner’s decision, and when does society get to set the rules? When does the local society make the rules, or can the international community enforce their standards on another country? 

Here are some animal rights verses for further discussion: 

The welfare of animals is important, even if they are your enemy’s animal. 

Exodus 23: 4-5 If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. 

Animals are not to be overworked and deserve a day of rest as well. 

Exodus 23: 12 Six days you are to do work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from your labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest…

Do not deprive an animal. Allow him to eat the crops he is helping to bring in. 

Deuteronomy 25:4 You shall not muzzle an ox while he is threshing. 

You shall not put an animal in an uncomfortable situation where they might get hurt. 

Deuteronomy 22: 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 

God punishes people who are cruel to animals. 

Genesis 49: 6-7 …And in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. (NIV)

Topic Four: Civil Rights:

Lt. Uhura is on the bridge in a position of authority. This was a big deal at this time as the civil rights movement was coming to a head. Nichelle Nichols was treated poorly by ‘fans’ and almost quit. Martin Luther King Jr spoke with her and encouraged her to stay on the show, stating that Star Trek was one of the only shows he allowed his children to watch, as it was one of the few shows depicting an African American as a regular person, and not in a traditionally black role. Nichelle stayed and became a very beloved character in Star Trek fandom. 

Many Christians at this time believed that slavery and/or racial segregation was Biblical and cherry-picked verses from the Bible to prove their point. Examine your beliefs. Are there any times you have considered a person to be ‘less than’ and not fit for a certain position? Make sure your criteria is actually Biblical. Some things may disqualify a person for a position, such as it is not wise put an unrepentant thief in charge of the money. (Though ironically Jesus did put Judas in charge of the money bag even though He knew Judas was stealing from it… John 12: 6) God has put many imperfect people into high positions. Discuss the Biblical leaders you are aware of in scripture, and think about why God chose them (David, Paul, Peter), and why others were disqualified from service (Saul, the rich young ruler, some of the pharisees). Often the factors we think of as important are not the criteria God uses. 

Things you may wish to google: Nichelle Nichols’ interview discussing her meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (It brought tears to my eyes, so you may want to grab the tissues!) 

Women in church positions is also a current ‘hot topic.’ Discuss your views on women in ministry and their place in society. CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) has resources which may aid your discussion. I also have a book entitled Living Biblically: Women in the Bible that you may find helpful. 

Biblical references: There is also a reference to God in this episode, when McCoy says, “Lord, forgive me,” as he is put in the difficult position of killing the salt creature. While some maintain that Star Trek promotes humanistic and atheistic beliefs, you will find many references to God in the episodes by Gene Rodenberry. I will attempt to note them as they occur.

Whew! Pat yourself on the back! Episode one was packed with difficult topics, but hopefully you got through this relatively unscathed with a deeper understanding of why you believe as you do…

Social Pressures in the Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve: Ruining the Earth for Future Generations

               The biggest question here is why Adam gets all the blame. Eve ate the fruit first, but we are told that it was Adam, and not Eve, who brought sin into the world. Eve’s actions were not without punishment, but Adam gets the brunt of the blame. Why? Thankfully, scripture has an answer for this. Eve was deceived. (2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:14) but Adam sinned with full knowledge of what he was doing. What does this tell us? Eve: It is important to have all the information before making an important decision or things could go very wrong. It is also important, especially when making a decision that will have a great impact, that you check back with the source of your information. (They did walk nightly in the garden with God…) Adam: Knowing something is wrong and doing it anyways often has grave consequences. (Pun intended!) Being ‘prudent,’ which is also recommended in scripture, and checking things out before you ‘bite’ is always a good idea. Following the under-informed/deceived/well-meaning but not fully correct, no matter how much you think you love them or wish to please them, when you know they are wrong, is also a very bad idea…

               There are many pressures in life to do as Adam and Eve did, and sometimes we fall victim to the same scenario. There are many, many pressures to conform in our society today, especially when the person placing the pressure on you believes themselves to be right, and further, believes you to be a ‘bad person’ if you do not agree. Some days we are Eve, thinking something will work out okay and being horribly wrong. And, some days we are Adam, not wanting to disappoint our loved ones, even though we know this is a bad idea. Both are problematic, and here, the consequences are disastrous. But it is a good lesson in both avoiding deception when able, and not following along when you know something is wrong, which in our society today, is usually is due to our tendency to want to please others and avoid a confrontation. And just to place a little less judgement on Adam, Eve was the only other human he had to interact with, and if she was mad at him, well, his life was really not going to be very pleasant!

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