The Bible in a Year – 25 December

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

25 December John chapters 19-21

I am sure it cannot be coincidence that the reading for Christmas Day is the last three chapters of John’s gospel, which cover the death and resurrection of Christ.  The people who planned this year-long programme of Bible readings must have arranged it like that, and for a good reason.

Our priest at this morning’s Christmas communion service started his sermon by talking about the Yorkshire tradition of eating cheese with sweet foods – salty blue Stilton with mince pies, creamy Wensleydale with Christmas fruit cake.   He linked this odd, but actually very tasty,  combination of tastes to the fact that within the last week before Christmas, when the church is looking forward to the joy of the Nativity, and the world is celebrating in its own pleasure-seeking way, the church leaders and musicians have been planning the music for services in Lent and Holy Week.

It may seem strange reading about the death and resurrection of Christ, or planning solemn music for the season when we particularly remember those events, just when the focus should be on his birth.  But there are good reasons for doing so.

We cannot understand the birth of Jesus into the world unless we think also of the crucifixion. Nor can we understand the crucifixion without believing in the resurrection.  For that was the whole point of his birth.  The way God rescues us from the consequences of our own sin is to take those sins upon himself and suffer the consequences – separation from God, mental agony, physical torture, and death.  But that was not the end of the story – the resurrection proved that the sinless  one was stronger than sin and death and would live for ever.

Even at the time Jesus was dedicated as a baby, it was prophesied about him that he would be the cause of the “falling and rising of many in Israel”, and of Mary his mother it was said “a sword will pierce your own heart also”.  Throughout the last year or so of his life, Jesus had tried many times to explain to the disciples that his death – and subsequent resurrection – were absolutely part of God’s plan for him, and could not be avoided without wrecking the plan.

There is a line in a Christmas carol that says “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day”.  It sounds good, but it is not good theology.  It would be more accurate – if less poetic – to say “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Day”.  But we can make a concession – as the timeless God came into our world in the form of a time-bound human being, birth had to come before death.  Without Christmas there could be no Easter.  And without Mary’s willing acceptance of God’s will there could have been no Christmas.  Therefore we say with her, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.

Merry Christmas to all readers.

 

The Bible in a Year – 14 April (Good Friday)

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

14 April. 1 Kings chapters 6-7

In these chapters, Solomon arranges the building of his great Temple, which takes seven years, and his even bigger palace, which takes thirteen.  The furnishings of these, especially the Temple, are described in great detail.

 

The Temple in its three versions – this first one, the rebuilt one after the Exile, and finally Herod’s Temple that Jesus knew – would be the central focus of religious life in Israel/Judah for the best part of a thousand years.   There is no longer a central Temple for either Jews or Christians. But its symbolism continues in Christianity – for example the plan of many Catholic and Anglican churches with narthex, nave, chancel and altar sanctuary  deliberately echoes the plan of the temple, and some church fonts are made to resemble the “sea” or large basin of water in the nave of the temple.

 

Today (as I write this) is Good Friday 2017, the most solemn day of the Christian year when Jesus died for our sins.  One of the ‘crimes’ for which he was condemned was the blasphemous claim that he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.  What he meant was that in his death, he would instantly put an end to the the purpose of the Temple (indeed its curtain that kept ordinary people away from the holiest part of the shrine was miraculously torn down at the moment of his death), and on the third day when he rose from the dead he himself would become the temple for us.

 

The Christian understanding is that Jesus replaced the temple, a central place of prayer by priests on behalf of the people, as the way to God, for he was God incarnate, and he “lives for all time to make intercession for us”. He replaced it as the location where God can be encountered, for we can know his presence at any time. He replaced the function of its altars for making sacrifice for sin, for he himself became the ultimate sacrifice.

 

This week, Jews have celebrated the Passover and Christians prepare to celebrate Easter – these are really two versions of the same story of God’s saving love.  But one led, after over five hundred years, to a man-made temple in which God’s love for Israel could be remembered and kept sacred.  The other instantly opened up God’s love to the whole world for ever.

 

May you have a blessed day and look forward to the celebration on Sunday.