Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

New Year's Eve has always been an exciting time, remembering the past year (and in more recent years, wondering what in the world happened to the previous year, since I could swear I just celebrated New Year a couple months ago), and looking forward to the upcoming year. In the Philippines, New Year's Eve often meant going up to Faith Academy, our school, situated on a hill overlooking Manila. From there we could count down the seconds and watch the fireworks until the city lights were blotted out by the smoke from firecrackers, fires, and anything that made noise or fire. Some Filipinos believe that the loud noises chase the evil spirits away, so it is a very loud night. Our dog once tore up the screen door because he was so terrified. The fireworks and firecrackers I can handle, but I do not miss the burning tires. Worst smell ever. I expect whoever came up with the word mabaho (Tagalog for "putrid") had burning tires in mind.

Anyway, more recently, I have not had the pleasure of celebrating the New Year in the Philippines. In the US, it is quite a bit quieter, but still exciting. Sometimes I will attend parties, or stay home and watch the fireworks on TV, or any number of things. I was in Memphis on New Year's Eve 2009, returning the following day (and year) to Seattle. It was then that I learned about the Southern tradition of black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day, which I have tried to do since then. I found them at the store earlier today and plan to prepare them for our family celebration next year...er, tomorrow.

In 1947, Frank Loesser (known for his musicals Guys & Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, among others) wrote a song asking what you'll be doing on New Year's Eve. He observes that it may be too early to ask, but I'll ask it anyway. What are you doing that day? Who will you be hugging as midnight approaches and you ring in the new year? I'm sure you've received tons of invitations, and I'm probably crazy to hope that you'll choose me (Pikachu...oh wait, where was I? Australia.) Just in case you would like to hang out on New Year's Eve, here's the jackpot question: What are you doing New Year's Eve?

Clearly, the singer wants to invite the singee (the spellcheck doesn't like that word...couldn't imagine why) to celebrate the occasion with him or her (depending on who's singing). I find it interesting that Loesser calls it the jackpot question. But then, he also wrote Luck, Be a Lady, so I guess the gambling reference makes sense. It also makes sense because the whole song, it's been building up to this. The singer is asking early because he expects that the guest will have lots of invitations. This must be a popular person! Did he get to her soon enough? What are the odds that she already has plans? If so, can she change them? It's likely he's tried previous years and has been too late, so he's trying earlier this time. Maybe, just maybe, if he invites her early enough, he'll hit the jackpot! "Luck, if you've ever been a lady to begin with, luck, be a lady tonight!"

(So, maybe it would have been more appropriate for me to blog this in September?) :-)

What's that you ask? What am I doing New Year's Eve? I'm at home blogging about a classic Frank Loesser song: "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"That's My Boy!"

An angel appeared to Zechariah and told him that his wife, who was too old to have a child, would get pregnant, and they should name him John. When Zechariah had trouble believing that, he couldn’t talk until a little after John was born, and it came time to give the baby a name! Meanwhile, a few months after Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he appeared to Mary and told her she would have a child and she should name him Jesus. First John was born, then Jesus a few months later. Angels joyfully announced Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds.

Thirty years had passed since then, and John had grown up and moved into the wilderness. After returning from Egypt, Jesus and his parents had gone to Nazareth, where he grew up. Aside from that journey and an incident after Jesus’ bar mitzvah (a ceremony that Jewish boys go through when they turn 12), we don’t know a lot about his childhood. By the time Jesus was 30, John had been preaching and baptizing for a while. Just as the prophets had foretold, John was preparing the way for his cousin the Messiah. He wore clothes made of camel hair and a leather belt, and he ate locusts and honey. That doesn’t sound very appetizing, but I hope John liked it!

John seems to have been pretty well known. People came from miles around to hear him preach and be baptized. People admitted their sins and asked forgiveness from God, and then John baptized them.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were two groups of religious experts of the time. They didn’t always agree with each other, and they were both wrong about a lot. When John saw some of them coming to the area where he was baptizing, he called to them, “You snakes! Who warned you to run away from God’s anger that is coming? Ask forgiveness for your sins and turn away from them! Don’t tell yourselves, ‘Abraham is our ancestor,’ because God can turn the stones into Abraham’s descendants! I’m baptizing people with water to symbolize what happens when people turn from their sins and choose to follow God. But pretty soon, someone will come who is stronger than I am. I’m not even worthy to carry or untie his sandals.” (At that time, slaves sometimes took care of their masters’ sandals.) “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!”

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Galilee. He went to the Jordan River where John was baptizing. When Jesus arrived, John said, “Wait a minute, Jesus. You should be the one baptizing me! Why do you want me to baptize you?”

Jesus replied, “Let’s do this now. It’s the right thing to do to fulfill all righteousness.” So John baptized his relative. No sooner had Jesus come up out of the water, than the Holy Spirit came out of heaven in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus. A loud voice from heaven boomed, “This is my Son! I love him, and I’m so proud of him!”

The next day, John was talking to his friends, and he saw Jesus headed his way. He said, “Look! It’s the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sins! That’s him, the one I told you about who’s greater than me!”

The day after that, John was talking to two of his disciples when he saw Jesus again. He said, “Hey look! It’s the Lamb of God!” John’s disciples started to follow Jesus, and they hung out with him for a while. One of those disciples was named Andrew. He was so impressed that he ran home and told his brother Simon about what had happened. The brothers came to Jesus, and Jesus said to Simon, “You’re Simon son of John. I’ll call you Cephas” (which is Aramaic for Peter, or Rock).

Jesus then called Philip, who found his friend Nathanael and introduced him to Jesus. So Jesus’ ministry began, and He continued recruiting more disciples.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

Le nouveau-né (The Newborn)
Georges de la Tour
Oil on canvas

Hey, everyone! Jeanette! Isabella! Come on and visit this new baby in Bethlehem! Spread the news! Since it's dark out, you'll need to bring torches, and remember that Jesus is sleeping. So you need to be quiet so He can sleep. Don't wake Him, but just look at those rosy cheeks! Isn't He the cutest baby you ever did see? Everyone, come look! But shush! He's sleeping!

That's the gist of the 16th century Provençal carol (from Provence, France) Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle. According to Hymns and Carols of Christmas, the song may have been written to evoke the building of a crèche, or glorified nativity scene. (French tradition goes beyond a scene of the stable to include the whole town surrounding the stable.) It is possible that French painter Georges de la Tour was inspired by the song to paint, likely his Le nouveau-né (above). If that is the painting in question, it likely depicts Jeanette and Isabella holding and quietly blessing the baby Jesus. The torch appears to be just out of the picture, as it is clearly dark, but there's light nearby.

It could also evoke the mixture of the Hanukkah and Christmas traditions of processionals with candles and torches, which were common in Provence and Southern Europe.

Who were Jeanette and Isabella? According to the blog Window Toward the World, they were milkmaids who went to the stable to milk cows, but instead found a baby in the manger. When they made this unexpected discovery, they hurried to the town and invited everyone to come see, but were adamant that everyone keep quiet so the baby could sleep. (That blog cites Wikipedia for this, but the Wikipedia article seems to have deleted that story since the blog was published.) In any case, both in that blog and the Wikipedia article, it tells that Provençal children still dress as milkmaids and shepherds and go to Midnight Mass at Christmas while singing this song and carrying torches.

The tune may be from a 14th-century dance for French nobility. The lyrics were first published either in Cantiques de Premiere Avenement de Jesus-Christ ("Songs of the First Coming of Jesus Christ") in 1553 or Noëls français ("French Christmases") in 1901, depending on who you ask. I think the 1553 date is much more likely, as, according to Making Music Fun and Wikipedia, it was translated into English in the 18th century. It's highly unlikely a song that was written in the 20th Century was subsequently translated in the 18th, and a painter was inspired by it to paint in the 17th. Unless it has some connection to PDQ Bach (1807-1742). I have seen no indication of such a connection anywhere. Or maybe The Doctor was involved? That could get a bit "wibbly wobbly timey wimey"... Hmm...

In English:

...and in French:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Unexpected Guests

The news was getting out. Sometime earlier, God had used angels to announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Now He chose another interesting and unusual way of announcing it to someone unexpected. This time no angels appeared. But a group of guys in the east, professional stargazers, were looking into the sky when they saw an unusual star. Where were they from? We don’t know, but it could have been Arabia or Persia. They studied the stars, and they believed that the stars showed signs and announced events. They had also studied many ancient scrolls, and they had read that a King of the Jews would come someday. Somehow they realized that this star had something to do with that King, and they wanted to know more. They were known as magi. We get the words magus, magi and magic from the same word. There was a lot of mystery about them, and some people believed they could do magic. They were also known as wise men because they often gave advice and interpreted dreams and other things for kings. How many of them went on the trip? We don’t know. But we do know that they chose three interesting and expensive gifts to take with them on the journey they were about to take.

Gold was a gift for a King. Frankincense was a gift for the Son of God. Some people burn it when they worship. Myrrh was a gift for the Messiah. It’s a spice that people used when they were burying people. Prophecies told that the King of the Jews would be the Son of God and the promised Messiah, and that one day He would give his life to save us. The gifts that the magi chose showed that they had read the prophecies, and they knew who they were about to meet. They were pretty excited about this, because it isn’t every day you meet someone like that! So as soon as they saw the star, they gathered their gifts, packed up, and left.

It was a long journey. If you’re looking for a King, where do you look first? You go to the capital of the country and find the King’s palace! So they found themselves in Jerusalem at the palace of King Herod. They started to ask around, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose, and we’ve been following it so we can worship Him.”

When Herod got word that these guys were asking around about a new King of the Jews, he was pretty upset. What new King of the Jews? Herod was King of the Jews! Did this mean someone was about to take his place? He liked his job and his life, and he didn’t want to see it end because some kid was gonna come and take his throne!

So Herod called the experts: the priests. They had also studied the prophecies, and so they told him that the prophet Micah had said that the Messiah would be born in the tiny village of Bethlehem.

Then Herod came up with a crafty plan. He talked to the magi and found out exactly when the star had appeared. He told them about the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. “Go there,” he told them, “and when you’re done, come back here and let me know where he is… because I wanna worship him too!”

So the magi left Jerusalem and followed the star to Bethlehem. It kept going ahead of them until it stopped over a house. They couldn’t contain their excitement! They knocked on the door, and when they went in, they saw him. The boy was probably somewhere around 2 at this point. Mary and Joseph couldn’t believe their eyes as a bunch of richly-dressed foreigners came into the house and knelt down to visit their son! They laid their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at his feet.

That night, one of the magi had a dream that included a warning: Herod wasn’t planning to worship the new King of the Jews. So the next morning, instead of returning to Jerusalem, they left, and went home another way.

Joseph also had a dream. An angel appeared to him and said, “Quick! Get up! Take Mary and Jesus and get out of here! Herod is about to come looking for Jesus to kill him! Go to Egypt and stay there until I tell you it’s safe to come back.” Later someone remembered that the prophet Hosea had once foretold, “Out of Egypt I will call My Son.”

Sure enough, Herod’s men came looking for Jesus, but He wasn’t there. Sometime later, the angel appeared to Joseph again and told him, “It’s OK to go back now. Herod has died.” So the young family returned to their hometown of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the night wind to the little lamb, "Do you see what I see?"

Wait a minute. The night wind can see? It has eyes? This is interesting. Further, I find it interesting that the inanimate night wind can not only see, but can communicate with a lamb. Maybe the lamb has some kind of connection with the wind, or perhaps that's the lamb's interpretation of the whistling of the wind. Maybe it blew in a certain direction, and the lamb looked in that direction, thus noticing what the wind was trying to point out.

"Way up in the sky, little lamb. Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite! With a tail as big as a kite!"

So now the night wind is pointing out a star. Probably by blowing the lamb's wool and causing it to look up. That makes sense. As stars are also inanimate, I assume "dancing" refers to how they twinkle. (If I understand it right, as big balls of gas, stars tend to burn with fires which move around, causing it to seem somewhat alive, and from our distance, they often seem to appear and disappear, or at least vibrate somewhat.) Some have interpreted the star in question to be an angel which guided the wise men to the young infant Jesus. I don't know if it was a literal star or an angel, but the next line is interesting. "With a tail as big as a kite" raises two issues in my mind:

1. If the star has a tail at all, it must be either unusually large or unusually close to the earth. Perhaps this is inspired by the paintings of the star with a spotlight shining on the stable?

2. How is a First Century BC lamb supposed to know what a kite is? Were kites even invented yet? Well, apparently so! According to Wikipedia, kites were invented in the 5th Century BC in China! I had no idea they had been around that long. I don't know if the phenomenon had reached Israel by the First Century BC, but that's interesting. I suppose it's possible. I suppose it could also refer to the bird known as a kite. They also have tails.

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, "Do you hear what I hear? Ringing in the sky, shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear? A song, a song high above the tree with a voice as big as the sea! With a voice as big as the sea!"

Now the lamb is passing on the message to the shepherd. I'm sure the lamb is trying his best to get the message across, but I imagine the shepherd just hears, "Baa! Baaa!!" Although shepherds and sheep could get pretty attached, I suppose. Dogs and cats can get pretty good about communicating with their humans. Why should it be different with lambs? If the lamb was bleating loud enough, I imagine the shepherd would have said, "Shush! I'm listening to this choir of angels!" Or maybe he didn't need to. According to Luke, it sounds like the army of angels was hard to miss and likely very loud. I wonder if the shepherd would even be able to hear the lamb bleating over the angels' voices "as big as the sea"? Now that's a big voice!

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, "Do you know what I know? In your palace wall, mighty king, do you know what I know? A child, a child shivers in the cold. Let us bring him silver and gold. Let us bring him silver and gold."

Now we're getting to messengers who can actually talk to humans in such a way that said humans can easily understand them (assuming they speak the same language). This must be after the shepherds visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Now they are spreading the word. But who is the king? It can't be Herod, because as we will see in the next verse, this king seems to have been happy about it. Herod was anything but. Was it the wise men, who are often misinterpreted to be kings? (See my commentary on We Three Kings.) The shepherds would have had to travel an awful long way to reach the wise men, unless said wise men were nearby at this point. In which case they probably would have known about the child. If it's the wise men, they also didn't bring silver (that we know of). They just brought gold. (Well, they also brought frankincense and myrrh, but that wasn't included in the shepherd's request.)

Also, was it cold? It's very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25, so it probably wasn't winter. From what I've heard, it may have been springtime, right around Passover (thus the need for shepherds and sheep in the vicinity). I'm not sure how the temperature is in Israel at that time of the year. Also, as metals, silver and gold wouldn't help anyone to stay warm. If it's already cold, metals would probably have the opposite effect. They could probably buy lots and lots of blankets with the silver and gold, but it seems like blankets would be a more practical gift if they are trying to solve the problem of the child shivering in the cold. Otherwise, Mary and Joseph would need to take time to find the nearest blanket vendor to buy what they need. I suppose they would be able to get a blanket in a color they like that way...sort of like the First Century BC version of a gift certificate. Furthermore, I would think a poor shepherd might not think to suggest giving precious metals.

Said the king to the people everywhere, "Listen to what I say! Pray for peace, people everywhere! Listen to what I say: The child, the child sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light. He will bring us goodness and light."

Now the unidentified king is spreading the word. Surely Herod wouldn't have been promoting the child that he was afraid would supplant him. This king clearly knows that Christ brings hope, "goodness and light." Several centuries earlier, King David had written that we should "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).

Wait a minute. What if the mighty King is David? He was a shepherd boy when he was young. Maybe he looked at the stars while he was tending his sheep, holding a little lamb, and dreamed about his descendant who would one day be born in his own hometown of Bethlehem, to beginnings even humbler than his. Maybe when he grew up and became King, he remembered his childhood as a shepherd boy and had more compassion on the shivering children of the world. Perhaps he looked forward to his descendant Jesus bringing us goodness and light, as he took care of his own children.


"Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written in October 1962, with lyrics by French songwriter Noël Regney and music by his wife Gloria Shayne (which was a switch, as it was usually the other way around. They released the song after Thanksgiving of that year. It was at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the USSR was threatening to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to fire on the US. My mom tells me that it was a terrifying time, and she recalls people crying, as for all they knew, this could be the end of life as they knew it. So the song was not only a memory of the birth of Christ, but a plea to pray for peace, people everywhere! They pointed out with this song that God could bring peace, goodness and light, and our only hope was to pray for peace. Thankfully, President Kennedy and Russian Premier Khrushchev were able to work it out diplomatically, and it didn't come to a nuclear attack. People's prayers for peace worked.

According to Regney's obituary (he died in 2002), he stated in an interview in 1985, "I am amazed that people can think they know the song, and not know it is a prayer for peace. But we are so bombarded by sound and our attention spans are so short that we now only listen to catchy beginnings." In World War 2, he was drafted into the Nazi army, but deserted. He eventually made it to Manhattan, where he arranged, composed and conducted, as well as writing radio jingles.

After Regney and Shayne wrote this song, they had trouble singing it. It evoked such emotion, especially the plea for peace, that they just couldn't get through it. As Shayne once said, "It broke us up."

I think the plea for peace is just as relevant today as it was at the time of World War 2 and the Cold War.

Many singers have recorded the song over the years, but Regney's favorite rendition was that of Robert Goulet because "when Mr. Goulet came to the words 'Pray for peace, people everywhere,' he almost shouted the words."

Thus, I leave you with two versions of Robert Goulet singing the song. The first video is better quality, and the second one has him "almost shout[ing] the words" that Regney referred to (but I find the random pictures somewhat distracting, so you may want to close your eyes while listening to the second video).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Savior in a Feed Box

The rocks crunched under their feet. A young couple was on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The man was leading the donkey carrying his pregnant wife, and it was slow going at times. The heat got to them, and they were sweaty. Riding a donkey isn’t comfortable in the best of times, and it’s especially tough when you’re pregnant. But it was better than having to walk all that way! Joseph the carpenter lived in Nazareth, but Emperor Caesar had ordered a census, and everyone had to go to the place their ancestors were from so they could be counted. Joseph and his wife Mary were descendants of King David, and David had once been a shepherd in Bethlehem. So here they were making a trip they had hoped they wouldn’t have to make right now, while Mary was in the hardest part of her pregnancy.

It was probably spring time, right near the Passover celebration. So maybe it was appropriate for Joseph and Mary to celebrate the Passover in the town of their ancestors. But when they finally got there, they discovered a new problem. Not only had the journey been difficult, but they couldn’t find anywhere to stay! A lot of others had come for the census too. Here they were in a town that was pretty far from home, with Mary going into labor any time now. Where could they go? They had to make do with the best they could find. A really nice person who lived there didn’t have room in his guest room, but it was very important in that culture to give visitors the best they could give. In this case, the best they could give was in a room with their animals. There was a box in the floor where they kept hay to feed the animals, and that was the softest place they could find. So that was where the baby was born. As with any birth, the pain Mary had just gone through was nothing compared to her pain as the baby was coming out. But pretty soon, they heard a cry. It was a beautiful sound. Mary and Joseph felt a new kind of love they had never felt before, as their child came into the world. After they cleaned him off, they wrapped him in cloths and laid him in the best place they could find: the feed box.

Meanwhile, sheep grazed in a nearby field. The shepherds in the area may have been there so they could sell some of them for sacrifices to be used in the Passover. It was getting dark, and the shepherds were standing around taking care of their sheep. Suddenly, it was bright as day! Confused and shocked, the shepherds looked up into the sky and saw the last thing they had expected to see. Someone was up there, and the light seemed to be coming from him! The shepherds’ first thought was, “RUN!” But they had to take care of their sheep, so they couldn’t just bolt.

I wonder if Gabriel got used to having to tell people not to be scared. He had had to tell Zechariah and Mary that, and now he had to tell the same thing to the shepherds. “Whoa, it’s OK! Don’t worry!” Gabriel said in a loud voice. “I have some awesome news for everyone in the world! You know how you’ve waited for centuries for the Savior the prophets told about? Guess what! He was just born in King David’s hometown! You’ll know him when you see a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feed box.”

Just when they thought the sky couldn’t get any brighter, a huge army of angels appeared around Gabriel, and they sang something more beautiful than anything the shepherds had ever heard before: “God is more magnificent than anyone else in heaven or earth! He gives peace to everyone on earth that He chooses!”

The shepherds were speechless. They had never seen anything like this before. When they finally recovered enough from their shock to be able to talk, they all agreed that they needed to hurry to Bethlehem to find out what the angels had told them about. They found Mary and Joseph and their newborn baby in a feed box, just as they had been told. Mary and Joseph were surprised to see a group of shepherds, probably bringing their sheep along, come in the room to see their baby. When the shepherds told what they had just seen, the couple was amazed! The shepherds left, and they told everyone they met about the wonderful news. Meanwhile, Mary thought about what they had told her and about everything that had just happened. All that pain had been worth it. Here was a baby who by all accounts wasn’t even possible. Now she found out angels had appeared to shepherds to announce that her baby had arrived. It gave her a lot to think about.

Eight days passed, and the time came to give the baby a name. But Gabriel had already told Mary the name: “The Lord Saves.” Yeshua. Jesus.


Mary had a lot to think about right now. But she would have even more to think about a couple years later when they would have more unexpected guests. More about that next week.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Waiting for an Announcer and a Savior

All through the Old Testament, prophets kept repeating how something big was coming. A man would someday be born who would change everything, and another man would prepare everyone for Him.

It all started in a garden. Satan used a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to do the one thing God had told them not to do. When God confronted them about it, He gave them punishments. One thing He said to the snake is important to what we are going to learn today.
Genesis 3:15
And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.
Hundreds of years later, Jacob lay on a bed in Egypt with his sons gathered around him. He was about to die, and as was custom before dying, he gave a blessing to each of his sons. He had something interesting to say to his son Judah.
Genesis 49:10
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
More centuries passed. King Saul reigned over Israel, and when he died, David took his place. David ruled for many years, and Solomon became King after he died. After Solomon’s death, the tribe of Judah and a couple other tribes couldn’t agree with the rest of Israel who should be the next King, and the nation of Israel split into two. David’s dynasty continued in the nation of Judah. During the reigns of four Kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah), God sent a prophet named Isaiah. He prophesied so much that it filled up a whole book! He had some interesting things to say about what was to come!
Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.

 Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. 
Isaiah 40:3
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
At the same time as Isaiah, God sent another prophet named Micah. He had this to say:
Micah 5:2
“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.”
More years passed. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led an attack on Jerusalem, defeating King Jehoiakim and taking many people from the kingdom of Judah away to Babylon. Among those was a prophet named Daniel, and he served several Kings of Babylon. The angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel in dreams, and gave him some messages to tell Israel a lot of stuff about the promised Savior, such as when He would come. A few kings after Nebuchadnezzar, Darius was King of Babylon, Daniel was still alive, and God sent the prophet Zechariah with some more things to say, such as this:
Zechariah 9:9
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
    Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I expect we’ll learn about when that prophecy came true in a couple months.

Sometime after that, a guy named Malachi came along and prophesied this:
Malachi 3:1
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
The prophets talked about two men who would come. One would tell about the guy who was coming, and the other one would be the one he was talking about.

Israel and their ancestors went through a lot. Adam and Eve got thrown out of a garden paradise. Noah built a boat to save mankind and animals. Abraham went on an epic journey from Ur to Canaan. God saved Jacob (Israel) and his sons from a horrible famine by making Joseph a ruler in Egypt. They then endured 400 years of slavery, and 40 years of wandering before they finally got to return to their homeland. They had judges and kings. The Assyrians took the nation of Israel captive, and the Babylonians took the nation of Judah captive. Judah got to go home after 70 years of captivity, but it was never the same. After the time of the prophets, there were 400 years that aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Other books tell about how during that time they were ruled by an empire that didn’t let them worship God, and they did bad things to the temple. A family named the Maccabees led the charge against their oppressors and defeated them. Then they had to purify the temple. The Jews still celebrate the purification of the temple. In fact, they just celebrated it last week! It’s called Hanukkah.

So it was that about a century and a half after the first Hanukkah, a priest named Zechariah and his wife really wanted a child. They were getting on in age, and he and Elizabeth kept praying and praying for a kid. Zechariah was alone in the temple one day, burning incense like he often did to worship God. Suddenly, he was surprised to notice someone next to the altar right near him! It was an angel, and he could tell that Zechariah was a bit scared. So the angel said, “It’s OK, Zechariah. Don’t be scared. God has heard your prayers, and Elizabeth will have a son. Name him John. He will bring lots of joy, and the Holy Spirit will fill him even before he’s born! But be careful. He must never drink alcohol. He will lead many people to God, and he will prepare the way for the Lord.”

Zechariah was a bit skeptical. “How can I be sure?” he said. “We’re too old to have kids.”

The angel replied, “I’m Gabriel. God sent me, and since you didn’t believe me, guess what! You won’t be able to talk until what I said happens.”

So Elizabeth got pregnant, and Zechariah couldn’t say a word. Literally. He couldn’t talk.

Six months later, Gabriel showed up again, this time to a girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary, and she was engaged to a guy named Joseph. Imagine her surprise when she looked up and saw an angel! He said, “Hey, favored one! God is with you!”

Mary had never seen anything like this, and she didn’t know what to make of it. But she was pretty scared too. So once again, Gabriel had to tell her not to be scared. He explained, “You’ll have a child, and you need to name him Jesus. He’ll be great, and he’ll be the son of the Most High God. He will sit on the throne of his ancestor David, and he will rule over Jacob’s descendants forever.”

“Wait, hold on,” Mary said. “How is that possible? I’m a virgin! It’s impossible for me to get pregnant yet!”

So Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come on you. The boy who is born will be holy, and he will be the Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is pregnant, and she’s an old lady! In fact, she’s been pregnant for six months now. Nothing that God says will ever fail.”

“OK,” said Mary. “Let it happen.” So Gabriel left.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy was probably news to Mary, and she decided to go visit her relatives in Judea. Mary was still a ways off when she saw Elizabeth and called to her. Just as God had promised Zechariah, the Holy Spirit came on the baby in Elizabeth’s tummy. Little baby John couldn’t contain his joy, and he jumped in excitement! Elizabeth called to her young relative, “Hey, Mary! You are blessed among women, and the child you’re gonna have is blessed! What an honor to have the mother of my Lord come visit! As soon as I heard you call, the baby in my tummy jumped for joy! You are blessed for believing that God will fulfill His promises to you!”

So Mary said, “My soul glorifies God my Savior. He’s seen little ol’ me, His servant, and from now on, people will call me blessed. He’s done amazing things and brought down strong rulers, but He’s lifted up the humble. He fed the hungry but sent the rich away emptyhanded. Just as He promised Abraham and all our ancestors, He has helped Israel.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months and then went home.

Pretty soon, the day came, and Elizabeth gave birth. Eight days later, it was time to name the baby. The priests almost named the boy after his dad Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “Wait a minute! His name will be John!”

Now everyone was confused. It was normal to name a child after a relative. They didn’t have any relatives named John. So they decided to get a second opinion. They asked Zechariah, who still couldn’t talk. He asked for a writing tablet, and then he wrote on it: “His name is John.” As soon as he finished writing, he discovered he could talk again! So they named him John, and the news began to spread.

Then Zechariah prophesied: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel! He has come and redeemed them! Just as He promised through the prophets, he has raised up salvation in the house of His servant David, to save us from our enemies and show mercy to our ancestors. He promised Abraham that He would rescue us from our enemies and would make sure we could serve Him without fear and in holiness for all our lives. You, my son, will be a prophet, and you will prepare the way for the Lord. You’ll tell people about how God will save them and forgive their sins because of His mercy. The light of God’s mercy will be like the sun shining on people who were in darkness, and it will help us to walk in peace.”

Mary, meanwhile, was still pregnant. But that’s another story for another Sunday. John grew up and lived in the wilderness until he started to appear publicly.

Just as God promised the snake in the Garden of Eden, Jesus came along and crushed Satan’s head, but not before Satan struck Jesus’ heel. More about that at Easter time. Just as God promised Isaiah, a child was born of a virgin, and He was a wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. As God promised Isaiah and Malachi, John called from the wilderness, preparing the world for his relative Jesus. Just as God promised Micah, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. As God promised the prophet Zechariah (not John’s father), Jesus would one day ride into Jerusalem on a colt. As God promised through Gabriel, Jesus was born just when Daniel said He would be born, the priest Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth gave birth to a child in her old age, and a young virgin gave birth to a healthy baby boy who would save the world.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Tower of Babel

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction
    a haughty spirit before a fall


Have any of you learned any languages besides English? Which ones?
Have you tried talking to someone who doesn’t speak English? How did it feel? Did you figure out a way to communicate?


In 6 days, God created the earth and everything in it. The first two people He made were Adam and Eve, and they lived in a beautiful garden. God told them that they could eat anything from any of the trees except for one. For a while, they did a good job of obeying that command, but eventually, when the devil tempted them, they disobeyed and ate the fruit of the one tree they weren’t allowed to eat from. That made God very sad, and He had to throw them out of the garden because of it. They had children. Their son Cain was jealous of his younger brother Abel, and let’s just say he overreacted. At any rate, Abel didn’t survive. The first generation was guilty of disobedience, and the second generation was guilty of murder. Things were going downhill fast! Adam and Eve had a third son, whom they named Seth. They also had other children, but we don’t know what their names were. As more generations came along, people got worse and worse. They worshiped idols. They killed people. They did many other horrible things, and finally, several generations later, God had had enough. He caused a huge flood that wiped out everyone but one family and at least two of every animal. Noah and his family were the only ones who followed God, and He had Noah build a boat to save humans and animals.

He had three sons, named Shem, Ham and Japheth, who came with him on the boat. After the flood, Noah’s family started to grow. Ham had four sons. You may not have heard of his sons, but you’ve probably heard of some of the nations they and their descendants founded. Their names were Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan. Cush had a son named Nimrod, who was a powerful king, and he built many cities. You may have heard of Babylon and Nineveh. Those and many others were his handiwork.

At this point, the people had again begun to multiply, and there were lots and lots of them. But they all spoke the same language. People started moving eastward, and they settled in a land called Shinar. Then they decided to build a city. Not just any city. This one would have a tower, and they decided it would be super tall. It should be the tallest building anyone had ever built, and it would reach up into the sky. It would be so tall that people from miles around would be amazed, and they would know how awesome these people were.

So they set to work. They made their own bricks and started construction. God was watching, though, had He had some problems with this. Everybody spoke the same language, and they thought awfully highly of themselves. Too highly. If this kept up, they would be able to do almost anything they set their mind to do, good or bad, and they wouldn’t bother looking to God, who provided what they needed to survive.

So God came up with a plan. Something that had never happened before.

One day, the people were working hard. The leaders were yelling commands at the workers. People talked to each other, and they started noticing something weird. Ils ne purent plus se comprendre.

« Trouve un marteau ! » cria un contremaître.

“Ano?” may nagsabi. “Anong sinasabi mo?”

Après avoir vu plusieurs aspects bizarres, le contremaître répéta : « Un marteau ! Un marteau ! »

“Hindi ko maintindihan” may sumagot. “Anong sinasabi mo?”

様々な所で奇妙な会話が始まりました。Nigdo se nerozumely. De snakket alle forskjellige språk. Por fin, tuvieron que abandonar la construcción de la torre. Mahirap magtrabaho ng sama-sama kung hindi natin maiintindihan ang sinasabi ng ibang tao.

En almal het uit mekaar gespat. They found people they could understand and moved on to different parts of the world.


One day, the people were working hard. The leaders were yelling commands at the workers. People talked to each other, and they started noticing something weird. They could no longer understand each other.

“Get a hammer!” a foreman yelled.

“What?” someone said. “What are you talking about?”

After seeing a bunch of weird looks, the foreman repeated, “A hammer! A hammer!”

“I don’t understand!” someone replied. “What are you saying?”

Weird conversations started all over the place. Nobody could understand each other any more! They were all speaking different languages. Finally, they had to give up. It’s hard to work together on something if you can’t understand what people are saying.

So everyone scattered. They found people they could understand and moved on to different parts of the world.


The Hebrew word Babel means "gate of God", and it's similar to "balal," which means confusion. 



How did making people speak different languages stop the construction?
Why did God stop the building?
Can you think of any other reasons that He might do that?
Do you think God’s punishment was merciful?


One reason God did it this way was to keep people from getting too powerful. Being united in a cause gives people lots of power. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but when people are united in rebelling against God, that is a bad thing. He made them speak many different languages so that they couldn’t be too united. Only a few hundred years earlier (which to God would be recent), He had sent a flood and wiped out almost everyone because they had become so evil. He didn’t want to have to do something like that again so soon! Even after the Tower of Babel, people got more evil, and God knew that someday He would have to do something about it. He punished the nation of Israel several times. Some of them even went into exile in Babylon. Notice any similarity between “Babylon” and “Babel”? It was probably the same place! Finally, many years later, God did the ultimate act of mercy. Jesus came to earth as a baby. I expect we’ll be hearing more about that later this month.