Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Road to Emmaus

I wrote this a couple years ago for a Sunday school lesson on Luke 24, and thought I would share it. I ran out of time to finish before teaching the class, so when I got to the end, I just told it to them without reading it. I just now finished it. The first paragraph is based on the beginning of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and the end is based on the final lines of his A Tale of Two Cities.


Jesus was dead, to begin with - deader than a doornail. I don't know what's so dead about a doornail. I don't even know if they used nails in their doors in Jerusalem at that time. I do know that several of Jesus' friends watched Him die, and they saw Him buried. There was no question that He was dead.

Now it was the third day since He had been tortured and killed in a way that no human should have to suffer. Strange rumors were going around town. A few women were saying they had gone to Jesus' tomb, and that it was empty! Not only that, but they said angels had appeared to them and told them Jesus was alive! Of course, Cleopas knew better. People didn't come back to life after being dead. These women must have been out of their minds!

After a very sad and very strange day, Cleopas and his friend were walking home to the town of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked, they were talking about what had happened the past few days. They had been through a lot the past week, and now this new rumor was really confusing.

While they were walking, a stranger joined them and asked what they were talking about. Cleopas couldn't believe that someone didn't know what had happened. He asked the stranger, "Are you a visitor to the area? Do you really not know what's been going on lately?"

"What's been going on?" asked the stranger.

So Cleopas and his friend explained all about Jesus. They told the stranger how Jesus had come to town and done some amazing things, and that they had been sure this must be the promised Savior. But the priests had arrested Him, and the Romans and the priests had condemned Him to death on a cross. They explained how they had hoped He would save Israel, but instead, they had watched their beloved teacher die slowly on a cruel wooden cross.

Then they explained what the women had told them about the empty tomb and the angels. Then Peter and John had gone to look, and they found that the tomb was empty. This was all very strange, and they couldn't figure it out.

Then the stranger surprised Cleopas and his friend. He said, "You silly people! Why is it taking you so long to believe what the prophets said? Don't you know that the Savior had to suffer and die? Then He started in the book of Genesis and explained everything the prophets had said about Jesus.

Pretty soon, they reached Emmaus, and the stranger acted like he was going to go on his way. It was getting dark, so Cleopas and his friend invited the stranger to stay with them for the night.

So they sat down at the table to eat. The stranger thanked God for the food. Then he broke the bread and handed it to them. Maybe it was the way He gave thanks and broke the bread. Maybe they saw the holes in His wrists as He handed them the bread. Whatever it was, they suddenly realized: This was Jesus! And just like that, He disappeared.

Needless to say, they forgot their dinner. They jumped up and went right back to Jerusalem ... seven miles ... in the dark ... and they told Jesus' followers that Jesus was alive and they had seen Him with their own eyes! Then they found out that Peter had also seen Him alive. However, some people in the room still didn't believe them ... that is, until Jesus appeared in the middle of them. Even then, some people thought He was a ghost. So He showed them His hands and feet. He had them touch Him because ghosts don't have skin or bones. Then He asked for something to eat, so they gave Him some fish, and He ate it. Since ghosts don't eat fish, they knew He was alive! Jesus reminded them that this was what He had told them before. He explained that everything Moses, the Prophets and the psalms said had to come true. The Savior had to die a terribly painful death to save us from our sins, and He had to rise from the dead the third day. Starting in Jerusalem, His followers needed to proclaim the great news of His death and resurrection to everyone around the world. He reminded them that they had seen this with their own eyes, and promised that He would send them the power to preach, as God had promised. However, they needed to stay in Jerusalem until that happened.

And so they did. Jesus left them a few days later and returned to Heaven, but just as promised, He sent them the power of the Holy Spirit, and they preached boldly. Many of them gave their lives so that others would know that He came to save them from an eternity of torment. It was a far, far better thing they did than they had ever done, and when their time on earth was done, it was a far, far better rest they went to than they had ever known.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Waltzing Matilda

Now close your eyes and imagine with me. OK, don't close your's kinda hard to read with one's eyes closed. Anyway, picture a large sports stadium, where everyone is gathered to enjoy a rousing game of rugby. Before the game starts, a voice over the loudspeaker says in an Aussie accent, "G'day, mates! Everyone please rise for the national anthem!" A renowned opera singer steps up to the mic and begins to sing. Everyone swells with patriotic pride as the diva belts out the notes of a song telling the story of one lone poor man who stops for a break by a watering hole, steals a sheep, and is getting ready to eat it when he is nearly arrested for sheep stealing. To add to everyone's national pride, the man then decides that, rather than go to jail (or be hanged), he'll just commit suicide. Then for all time, his ghost haunts said watering hole. As the opera singer belts out the final notes, there is not a dry eye in the stadium, as everyone is so inspired.

Does that sound as absurd to you as it does to me?

That's because, contrary to popular belief, Waltzing Matilda is not, and never has been, the national anthem of Australia. (In fact, that claim would be akin to calling Clementine the national anthem of the US.) That honor goes to Advance Australia Fair.

Interestingly, the above scenario came close to being a reality. In a vote on May 21, 1977 (coincidentally, exactly 6 months before I was born), a group of Aussies decided to make Advance Australia Fair the national anthem, winning at only 43%. Second place was Waltzing Matilda at 28%, followed by God Save the Queen (19%) and Song of Australia (10%). Personally, I think Advance Australia Fair was a much better choice of national anthem.

I learned Waltzing Matilda when I attended Faith Academy in the Philippines in the '80s. Several of my classmates were even from Australia. Once, I played the swagman in a dramatization of the song (that's me sitting by the billabong in the picture above, with the squatter and troopers mounted on their thoroughbreds coming to get me). As we learned the song, we learned the definitions of the words.

A swagman is a poor homeless man. According to Wikipedia, swagmen traveled from farm to farm searching for jobs. They carried big packs on their backs containing all their earthly belongings.

A billabong is a watering hole, or a small lake formed by being cut off from a nearby river. When they have water in them, it is stagnant.

A coolibah tree is a kind of eucalyptus. (Good thing the song isn't about me. Eucalyptus and I don't agree.)

In school, we learned that a jumbuck is a sheep. I didn't know until now that there's more to it than that. Jumbucks are generally large sheep that are wild and hard to shear. Makes me think his tucker bag must have been huge.

A billy is a can used for boiling water. As you'll notice in the article linked in this paragraph, they've become more modern and advanced since the days of swagmen.

A tucker bag is a bag for carrying food ("tucker"). It could often be closed by means of a drawstring. These days, the term also refers to reusable shopping bags, although I'm sure that was not what the swagman had. :-)

Troopers are policemen.

In the Philippines, we knew squatters to be poor people who live in huts made of cardboard, plywood, whatever they can find to build a house with. However, as we learned, the word has a different meaning in Australia. An Aussie squatter is a farmer and shepherd, who may or may not have a legal right to the land they are using to herd their sheep.

As for the title, waltzing refers to the practice of traveling around and doing jobs in different places, often for 3 years and one day at a time. According to Wikipedia, some carpenters still do this. A Matilda is the large pack that the swagmen carried. To waltz Matilda is to travel around from job to job, carrying a Matilda containing one's personal belongings.


The Aussie poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to the song in 1895. (He is also known for his poem "The Man from Snowy River", which would later inspire an excellent movie.) The music was written by Christina Macpherson, based on a folk song that she somewhat remembered. She was probably remembering the Scottish song "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielee", written by Robert Tannahill in 1805 and set to music by James Barr in 1818.

In other news, today is January 26, Australia Day. Thus this blog post about Australia's most famous song.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems that these days, people on nearly all sides of the political and social spectrum look to Martin Luther King Jr. with respect. As most people know, he was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement and his advocacy of non-violent resistance for the betterment of society. Thanks in large part to him, Rosa Parks and others, minorities now have a greater voice, and his dream of racial equality has made large strides. In some ways, the dream has a long way to go, but it has made great progress since the 1950s and 60s.

One thing I just learned that I find interesting is that he was born Michael King, Jr. However, when he and his family visited Germany, they were impressed with the legacy of Martin Luther, and the senior Michael King changed both his own and his son's names to Martin Luther King. Best known for his "I Have a Dream" speech, the younger Martin Luther King became an ordained Baptist minister, and he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to achieve racial equality. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray while staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. That motel is now the National Civil Rights Museum, in his honor. Rev. King was only 39 years old. Mr. Ray spent the rest of his life in prison (after being arrested at London's Heathrow Airport).

Sources: Wikipedia articles for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his assassination

After his death, his widow Coretta Scott King took up the banner and continued the fight for racial equality, as well as joining the Women's Movement. His four children also picked up the banner and continued the fight. His niece Alveda King has done much for the fight for racial equality, focusing particularly on defending the youngest and most defenseless, those who have not yet been born. She also has a Twitter account, which I highly recommend following.

I thought it would be good to include some quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (thus the title of this post)...
"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

"And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. I'm so happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man." [He said this the day before he reached the promised land, shot to heaven by an assassin's bullet.]

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Truly a wise man.

(The picture is of Martin and Coretta King in 1964. I got it from the Wikipedia article on Coretta Scott King, and according to Wikipedia, it is in the public domain.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

We Three Kings

We Three Kings is a great song. Like many hymns, people who know it often only know the first verse. It tells the story recorded in the book of Matthew of three wise men who came from the east, following a star to visit the infant Jesus and bring Him kingly gifts. I find it interesting that they use the word "traverse" rather than "travel." The two words are related, but traverse involves crossing, going back and forth. It often implies a search, rather than just a trip. The wise men knew from their studies of ancient prophecies and the heavens what the star meant. But a star is high in the heavens. If one is following a star, it's hard to tell precisely where it is leading. That's probably one reason they visited Herod to find out what he knew about the promised King of the Jews. He didn't know much, so he asked his experts, who told him that the prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). After consulting the experts, Herod, terrified about this promised King who might just overthrow him, got back to the wise men and told them to search for the new King in Bethlehem and come back so that he could "worship" [see: kill] Him. The wise men then proceeded to follow the star until it stopped over the house [note it does not say stable...more about that later] where Jesus was. I'm not sure how they knew it was that exact house. Many paintings depict a shaft of light coming from the star like a celestial spotlight, shining on the house/stable. However they figured out which house it was, it seems that it was pretty obvious to them when they got there. They presented their gifts and left by a different route, since they had been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. When Herod realized that the wise men weren't coming back, he got really mad and ordered all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2 killed. The song, of course, doesn't mention most of those details, but that's what happened.

The second, third and fourth verses of the song go into greater detail on the individual gifts that they brought:

Gold was a gift for a King. Prophecies foretold that Jesus would be King of the Jews, and that His reign would last forever. The wise men came to pay homage to the newborn King, who was so great that His birth and reign had been prophesied for hundreds of years.

Frankincense was a gift for God. Prophecies also indicated that Jesus would be no ordinary King, but rather God in human form. Frankincense is basically the hardened sap from a Boswellia tree (see the Wikipedia article for more details). It is often used in incense, and when it is burned, it lets off fragrant smoke that rises into the heavens (provided there aren't walls and a roof in the way). It is used by many traditions in worship. In India, they use it for medicine, and some people use it as a mosquito repellent.

Myrrh was a gift for the Messiah, who would one day, about 30 years later, die a painful death to save us from our sins. Like frankincense, it is a kind of sap, this time from the Commifora variety of trees. In several ancient cultures, it was used as an embalming spice. It was likely one of the spices the ladies brought when they came to put on Jesus' body and instead discovered that His tomb was empty. Myrrh is also used in many cultures (including China and India) for its medicinal qualities.

The final verse is more or less a summary of the gifts and praise to God. It points out that He is "King [thus the gold] and God [frankincense] and sacrifice [myrrh]." It then goes on to say "Alleluia, alleluia! [הללו יה, Hebrew for "Praise the Lord!"] sounds through the earth and skies."

The lyrics are here. The song was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1857 for a Christmas pageant featuring his nephews and nieces. It was also featured at another pageant at New York City's General Theological Seminary, where he was the music director at the time. It was published in 1863. (See the Wikipedia articles on the song and Hopkins for more on that.)


As for the timing and location of the visit of the Magi...they are often portrayed as being at the stable, all ready for the group shot with the shepherds, sheep, goats, cattle, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger. Not so. Matthew specifically states that they came to the house, not the stable, where Jesus was. The census was over, and many people had gone home. Apparently, Mary and Joseph had stayed in Bethlehem and found a house to live in by this point. I'm sure they got out of the stable as soon as possible, and they probably didn't want to make the difficult journey back with a newborn baby in tow. Jesus could have been as old as two years by this point, judging from the fact that Herod ordered all the boys age 2 and younger to be killed (based on information he had gotten from the Magi).


One thing I find interesting about We Three Kings is that the title is a bit of a misnomer. There were probably more than three of them, and they were not kings. The Bible doesn't actually say how many wise men came, so the traditions draw the number from the number of gifts that they brought. Traditionally, their names were Balthasar, Gaspar and Melchior. According to Spanish tradition, Melchior came from Europe, Gaspar came from Asia, and Balthasar came from Africa...which is interesting, since the Bible states that they came from the East, and Europe and Africa are northwest and southwest, respectively, of Israel. In any case, I don't know how many of them came. I just know that they brought at least three gifts.

So if they weren't kings, who were the wise men? The Bible calls them Magi (or "wise men"; the singular form is magus), an order of advisers to the King of Persia dating back centuries before the birth of Christ, to the days of their founder Zoroaster. They studied the stars and interpreted their meanings. Today we would call them astrologers. It is likely that the advisers of King Nebuchadnezzar, in the prophet Daniel's time, were magi. Some even believe Daniel was a magus. Interestingly, the term is also translated "sorcerer" in the book of Acts. The word magic is related to it.

This tells me a lot about the people to whom God chose to announce His coming. They were the last people anyone would think of announcing the arrival of God in flesh. Shepherds were the lowest of the low in Jewish society. They were regarded as dirty outcasts, only fit for raising sheep to be used in sacrifices. Astrologers have long been regarded as evil occultists in religious circles. (The apostle Paul even struck a magus with blindness, due to his opposition to the Gospel.) When He grew up, Jesus pointed out that "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). The shepherds probably had very little, if any, education, and they likely didn't know much about the prophecies or even the Lord, but one visit from an army of angels, and they became some of the first evangelists. The Magi were highly intelligent individuals who had the ancient texts and the interpretations of the stars at their disposal. They were obviously very rich, considering the gifts that they brought. They believed that the stars foretold the future. As believers in Christ, we often tend to shun people who believe, dress or behave differently from us...but that's exactly who God chose to announce His coming to. Jesus died to save them. Shunning and avoiding them is an insult to His sacrifice. I'm not saying we should do what they do, but we need to show them His love, not scorn. Judging is God's job, not ours. more thing. Why am I posting this now? I meant to post it on January 6, which is Three Kings' Day, also known as Epiphany, the traditional end to the Twelve Days of Christmas (the day the singer received a whopping 78 gifts - 23 birds, 55 people, and 5 rings). In his novel Notre Dame de Paris (which was later translated into English and renamed The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Victor Hugo tells about a counter-celebration that the non-Catholics celebrated on January 6, the Feast of Fools (or, as the Disney version calls it, Topsy Turvy Day). On a related note, I find it interesting that in English, both the French musical Notre Dame de Paris and Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame involve Quasimodo being crowned "the King of Fools." But Hugo wrote his novel as a criticism of hypocrisy he saw in the Catholic Church, and the French versions of the novel and the French musical have them crowning Quasimodo "the Pope of Fools." Once again, people translating something as "King" where that's an inaccurate translation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

There are lots and lots of Christmas songs to choose from when recording one's thoughts in a blog. The choices are much more limited when it comes to New Year. Auld Lang Syne is, for many, the first song that comes to mind. For me, the song evokes images of the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life, in which Harry Bailey leads the crowd of friends in a rousing rendition of the song. George is holding Zuzu, and he has his arm around Mary, and family and friends gathered around. Even Zuzu is singing along (although she only knew a few of the words). Oh hey, that rings a bell...

Anyway, I find it fascinating how well-known Auld Lang Syne is, as opposed to how many of the words most people know. To many, the song goes like this:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never la la la
Hm hm hm hm ba da da da

So what are the words, and what, exactly does "Auld Lang Syne" mean? I thought you'd never ask. In the past, I've always heard it translated "Days Gone By". According to Wikipedia, that is an accurate translation, but more literally, it is Scots for "Old Long Since." "Days Gone By" makes more sense to our American ears. Another way of translating "auld lang syne" would be "in the olden days."

Robert Burns wrote the song in the Scots language in 1788, based on an older poem by James Watson (1711), and set it to a traditional tune. The fact that the song is in Scots, which is similar to English, likely accounts for the fact that so few people know the words:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Is it any wonder that modern Americans don't know the words very well? What in the world is that saying? Fortunately for us, Wikipedia has an English translation. The gist of the song is as follows:

The first verse is asking if old acquaintances and old times should be forgotten.

The chorus is resolving to be kind (using a cup metaphor) and drink to the old days.

Verse 2 - both people mentioned (you and me) are going to buy pint cups so they can drink to the old days. ("It comes in pints? I'm getting one!" -Pippin Took)

Verse 3 - Since the olden days, we've both spent a lot of time running through the hills and picking daisies, but since then, we've spent a lot of time wandering to the point of exhaustion.

Verse 4 - We used to paddle in the stream from morning to dinnertime, but since then, wide seas have separated us.

Verse 5 - I'll reach out my hand to you, and you reach out your hand to me, and we'll drink to the old days.


It's human nature to look back on the old days with fondness, remembering a time when things were simpler, we didn't have so many worries, and life was a lot more enjoyable. We often tend to conveniently forget the difficulties of the previous years, and often we forget that the times weren't nearly as simple as we remember them.

I think it's important to remember the past, and it's even good to look back on it with fondness. As they say, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." We need to remember the good things and the bad, so that we can learn and become better people. There is, however, a danger in living in the past. We need to remember the past...but we also need to remember that "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14).

Remembering is good, but pressing forward is equally as important. We can't live in the past or the future. We have to use our memories of the past, as well as what we've learned from our parents and history books, to help us press forward into the future.


Auld Lang Syne was originally sung in Scotland at New Year's celebrations, and as the Scotsmen moved around the world, the song spread. The Scottish even have a dance that goes with it. It is also sung at funerals, graduations, and other celebrations/ceremonies that signify beginnings and endings. It has been performed by a variety of musicians, including John Philip Sousa, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Susan Boyle. It has also been used in a bunch of movies (not just It's a Wonderful Life).

This song makes me happy, and I really should try to learn the words, if for no other reason than to feel nerdy. :-)