Tag Archives: Bethlehem

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

The Need of King and Savior

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)

We end the book of Judges with succinct  summary of the situation. There was no King or central authority. The loose confederation of tribes were spread out over hundreds of square miles. Each tribe co-mingled with the peoples and religions in their areas. The carefully prescribed laws and religious procedures that Moses had handed them became almost impossible to follow or enforce as there was no clear center for worship. The ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, but it was seen as a resting place more than a center of worship. It took a national crisis to get all the peoples to gather there.

After the heated battle between Benjamin and the other tribes, there is a frantic effort made to ensure that Benjamin remains a part of the nation. The bad blood, however, would never really go away. In later years when the tribe of Judah broke with the other tribes to form their own nation, the tribe of Benjamin would be the only tribe to go a long with them.

As we wrap up the book of Judges this morning, I’m thinking about the realities of the human condition. When left to ourselves without authority and rule of law, society quickly becomes a scary place. Lord of the Flies comes to mind. The book of Judges is a tough read. It is filled with unspeakable cruelties, violence, and cultural realities that are hard to fathom today. But, I believe that is the point of these chapters in the Great Story. The human condition left the people of Israel (like all of us) ultimately needing both savior and king.

The earthly example would soon show up in the person of a shepherd boy, musician, and poet who was good with a sling. The ultimate provision for the human condition was still a millennia away and would show up in that shepherd boy’s hometown, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

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featured photo: drpopular via Flickr

Christmas in July

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Back in the day when I led youth, I always enjoyed celebrating Christmas in July. It was just the sort of silliness that kids loved. I would gather the young people for caroling and other traditional Christmas festivities in the sweltering Iowa summer.

This came to mind this July morning as I read Micah’s prophetic word concerning God’s Messiah coming from Bethlehem. While we celebrate God’s gift each December and give nods to the idea of celebrating the reason for the season all year long, I wonder how often we really stop to celebrate God’s gift once the New Year arrives, the tree is down and the decorations are put away.

“Wise men still seek Him” is a popular phrase around December. Today, I’m thinking of those astronomers, the Magi, who took a good long while to travel to Bethlehem chasing that star. We don’t know for sure when they saw the star and how long it took them to get to Bethlehem from their home. Perhaps they stood in sweltering summer heat contemplating the prophesied King who was born. I am more wise guy than wise man, but on this hot July morning I find myself thinking of the prophet Micah’s words and singing a Christmas carol:

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!