Archive for June, 2012

Convocating

June 30, 2012

I just returned from our polity’s convention, a mix of inspirational talks, voting for officers, and deliberating and voting on various resolutions intended to help guide the governance of our District.  

It was my first time going to one, though I’ve only narrowly escaped it at times over the past 20 years or more. Part of the reason I didn’t attempt to evade this one is that I was being elected to an office (Circuit Counselor) and I felt bad not showing up for my own election.
I have to say, it wasn’t as painful an experience as I had feared.  Discussion was cordial and surprisingly brief.  The oversight of parliamentary rules kept things moving along nicely.  There were enough changes of focus to keep most folks more or less interested.  While there were inevitably parts that were slower and less interesting than others, it was a good experience over all.  
Every three years, we have these gatherings.  Both pastors and a ‘civilian’ (lay) representative from each congregation can go.  If you haven’t done so already, consider it.  It’s a way of helping your congregation, helping your District, and learning more about why our polity functions the way it does.  I consider myself a fairly non-political person, but it was still beneficial. 
Advertisements

Discipline Softly?

June 27, 2012

Since we home school, and homeschooling can be a cause of confusion for many folks who aren’t sure of the law, and sometimes even officials in the social, educational and law enforcement systems, we maintain membership in a homeschooling legal advocacy group, the HSLDA.  While we’ve never encountered any legal problems, there can be misunderstandings and having access to legal counsel is one of those preventative measures we think is worth the small cost.

They send us e-mail updates on homeschooling legal issues around the world, and make us aware of legislation that affects parental rights.  I was notified this morning that Delaware is moving towards expanding their definition of child abuse to include the infliction of pain – meaning that spanking could now be interpreted as child abuse and punishable by law that can include a year or more in prison.  Delaware would be the first state to enact legislation that could potentially criminalize spanking.
I only found one news report on this issue, and the Delaware  legislative web site doesn’t even list SB234 other than as a two year old bill related to recycling.  So I haven’t been able to read the bill itself.  The news report linked to above makes it clear that proponents are framing this bill as a protective measure for young children.  Parents won’t have the legal cover of claiming they were only spanking their child if the child turns up in a hospital ER with serious injuries.  In other words, there’s a perceived loophole that might allow an abusive parent or guardian to escape punishment.  The example used in the news article is pretty extreme.  I wonder if it’s based on an actual event, or just a hypothesized one?
The Deputy Attorney General indicates that the intent of the bill is not to make spanking illegal.  But the intent of the bill doesn’t matter.  What matters is what the bill states.  If the bill states that any form of physical discipline that results in pain is a violation  of the law, that’s what matters.  That’s what a jury will look at.  That’s what a judge will look at.  Not what was the worst case scenario that proponents hoped to avoid, but did mom inflict pain on her toddler by spanking her in the parking lot of K-Mart, where she was reported by a passer-by and arrested?  Was the toddler crying in pain from having her rear end repeatedly swatted?  
I wish I could review the actual language of the bill.  Is ‘pain’ actually a form of abuse?  If so, then why penalize only physical pain?  What about emotional or psychological pain?  Certainly there are abusers who utilize these forms of abuse rather than physical abuse – are they to be let off the hook?  
I despise abuse against anyone – not just children.  But broadening the definitions to include ‘pain’ seems dangerous, and the kind of legal pretext that activist judges and other groups will build on to ensure that their definitions of abuse are what holds sway, rather than popular consensus.  

The Buck Starts Here?

June 26, 2012

My wife homeschools our three children.  Frequently I hear about the lack of interest and initiative from one or another child in relation to their studies.  We have good kids and smart kids, but they’re still kids.  They’d rather be playing video games or frolicking at the beach than hitting the books and doing their lessons.

Should we pay them to do well on their assignments or tests?
As the author notes, this concept really doesn’t sit well with me.  Is it just jealousy that I wasn’t paid to do well in school?  Is there an intrinsic value to pushing children to develop self-discipline?  Is the threat of punishment (groundings, reduction of privileges, etc.) a more virtuous motivation than cold, hard cash?
At the end of the day, paying students to push themselves to achieve demonstrates more of a desire on our part that students achieve in specific ways then it seems to necessarily aid students in learning or retention.  This is the hunch I found after ruminating on this issue for, oh, at least a good 60 seconds or so.  Paying someone else to do something reflects ultimately on my own sense of priorities, what I consider important and worth doing.  Whether I have been paid to flip burgers or share the Gospel (and I’ve been compensated for both, sometimes simultaneously), it reflects the importance of that particular action to the person(s) paying me.  It may (and ideally should) reflect my own view of what is important as well, but it might not.  I could just be doing it for the bucks.  
When I read the abstract of the study referenced in the blog above, I found the last sentence to be very interesting in this regard.  “Our findings also imply that in the absence of immediate incentives, many students put forth low effort on standardized tests, which may create biases in measures of student ability, teacher value added, school quality and achievement gaps.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, the study doesn’t focus on any long-term benefits to the students for having worked harder to score better on tests on the off-chance or surety of immediate reward.  But it clearly notes that such improved scores mean a LOT to the educational system.  While it’s arguable whether scoring well on standardized tests means much in the long term, it provides an immediate incentive of a different kind to the teacher, the school (and the administration of said school), the school district, purveyors of curricula, and a host of other attendant industries.  
So what is the incentive really doing, and for whom?  It seems at first blush that it’s as much about justifying an educational model as it is about creating long-term success or happiness or whatever for the students themselves.  None of which means that compensating students in some regard may not be a reasonable thing to consider.  But we ought to be very clear on who is paying, and why.
 

Ramblings for 7/1/12

June 24, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: July 1, 2012, Fifth
Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark
5:21-43

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

Lamentations 3:22-33: If
you want to get a true feel for the majesty of these verses, read the
first 21 verses of Lamentations 3. What a study in contrasts! Here
is a man who sees God as set against him, the source of all his
struggles and woes, a relentless enemy that brings nothing but pain
and suffering into his life. Yet it is this man who is able to
proclaim the steadfast goodness of the Lord, to assure others that
the Lord is good, that the Lord alone is the source of hope. What a
powerful call to faith and trust. To see that whatever happens in
our lives, the Lord remains our source of hope and joy – what a
counter-intuitive thing! If the Lord is not these things, who
or what else could we possibly put hope and trust in?

Psalm 30: This Psalm
tracks very well with the themes from Lamentations. The Lord is our
hope in all things and all situations. We see several rises and
falls in fortune in this Psalm. It begins with the speaker affirming
that the Lord has already done wonderful things for them. In
the face of adversity, God came through to deliver the speaker (vs.
1-3). Verses 4-5 are exhortations to worship, to acknowledge that in
each of our lives, God has fulfilled this role of sustaining us in
the midst of adversity. Verse 6 begins a turn – the speaker had
been overconfident in the Lord’s rescue, assuming that because of the
Lord’s deliverance, the speaker’s good fortune could not change. But
he was wrong – that what the Lord gives the Lord can also take
away. In which case, the proper reaction is not to reject the Lord
but to appeal all the more to the Lord (vs.8-10). That so long as we
live, we are able to proclaim the glory of God and to tell of what He
has done for us to others. Verses 11-12 bring everything to
conclusion – regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether the
current adversity is resolved properly, the speaker praises God and
acknowledges that already his mourning has turned to gladness. Not
necessarily because God has already answered his pleas, but because
God is God. God is worthy of praise regardless of our momentary
circumstances.

2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15:
We remember that the Epistle readings for most of Ordinary Time do
not related directly to the Gospel and Old Testament readings, but
rather represent an effort to simply read through large sections of
Scripture consecutively. We return to 2 Corinthians and an
exhortation from Paul to the Corinthian church to be bold in their
giving for the relief of the suffering of the faithful elsewhere. To
frame this encouragement, Paul reports what the church in Macedonia
has done, how eager those Christians have been to share in the relief
of other Christians. Not because they were rich and it was
comfortable and easy to do so, but because even in their poverty,
they wanted to be a part of such an undertaking (vs. 2-3). Paul is
very bold to encourage the Corinthians in their giving (vs. 6ff).
Not because this is required of them (vs.8), but because it befits
their faithfulness. It is a sign of their faithfulness, even if it
is not a required demonstration of that faith. Jesus always serves
as our example in these sorts of matters (vs. 9). We give not
because someone asks us or we feel guilty or compelled to give, but
because Jesus was willing to give all He had and all He was for us.
Compared to this, what are a few dollars given to those in need?

Paul
also clarifies – he is not making a general encouragement for
wealth redistribution (vs. 13-15). We give not out of guilt for what
we have been blessed with, but because there is actual need that
should be redressed. Even when it hurts us to give some, we do so in
mind of the greater need of others. Paul does not rebuke the
Corinthians for their comparative wealth, but this passage as a whole
reminds them of their true wealth in Jesus Christ, which enables them
to be generous with others. I suspect that there are some good
principles for you and I to consider in this respect still today!

Mark 5:21-43:
After last week’s excursion into Luke in honor of John the Baptist,
we return to our primary Gospel source for this year, Mark. The
reading for today is in two parts, dealing with an unexpected healing
and a resurrection. Mark is recounting the works of Jesus in rapid
fire succession. After almost three chapters recounting some of
Jesus’ teaching, Mark returns to accounting for the miracles of
Jesus. Since the beginning of Mark Jesus has demonstrated his
ability and willingness to heal and cast out demons, but this is the
first account of Jesus raising the dead to life. Combined with the
calming of the waves at the end of Chapter 4, Jesus has now
demonstrated his mastery over all the powers that most frighten us –
the natural world around us with it’s unpredictable and devastating
power, evil spirits, sickness and disease, and now death itself.
Jesus demonstrates his power and authority over each of these aspects
of the curse from Genesis 3, constant reminders to us that all is not
as it should be and that none of us are immune or safe from the
effects of the curse.

The
woman in the crowd and Jairus both demonstrate great faith. After
years of suffering, the woman is able to trust that God can heal her
through Jesus. She demonstrates the faith in action of someone well
acquainted with Psalm 30 and Lamentations 3. Her faith remains,
regardless of years of suffering. Her hope has remained in the Lord,
and she is willing to risk severe chastisement (since she is ritually
unclean, being in a crowd and touching Jesus’ clothing are both
forbidden) that the Lord might heal her. Jairus has come to Jesus
despite knowing that his daughter is practically dead. One woman
suffers for 12 years before receiving healing, the girl lives for 12
years before dying and being resurrected by Jesus.

There
are plenty of things we could ask questions about. Was Jesus really
confused as to who had touched him in the crowd? I doubt it. But He
gave the woman the opportunity to present herself not only to him but
to everyone else. He gave her the opportunity to legitimize herself
and to give witness to the Lord’s care and compassion for her even
after her long years of suffering. On the other hand, Jesus demands
that those who know about the girl’s resurrection keep quiet. The
Holy Spirit is working powerfully through Jesus, but it is not yet
time for his suffering and death, and He frequently commands people
to remain silent about the wonders performed through him. Note that
Jesus commands that they feed her – to demonstrate that she truly
is alive and not an apparition.

Our
Lord has power over all things and all situations. Nothing is beyond
his power. We are to rest in this, to trust this. Not simply so
that things will go the way we would like them to, but because there
is no place else to rest. No other source of power or comfort or
hope. No other source of peace in the midst of suffering and loss.
No other source of redress for the wrongs the world and our own
sinfulness inflict on us and those we love. Our God knows us, has
created us, has sacrificed his only Son for us, and has promised us
that whether our prayers are answered as we hope in this life or not,
we look forward to an eternity of joy in his presence. Our prayers
can and should always be tempered with “not
my will be done, but yours”
,
knowing that our God knows what is best more than we ourselves do.  

History Repeating

June 24, 2012

Along with many other religious organizations throughout the United States, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continues to protest vigorously against recent health care reform legislation that requires religious organizations such as schools and hospitals to offer contraceptive and abortifacient services to their employees through their insurance program.  While the government countered with a ‘compromise’ that shifts the official paper trail of who pays for what, the effect remains unchanged.  Organizations that vigorously oppose abortion, birth control, or both are now required to offer those services to their employees via their insurance programs.

This isn’t the first time that the US Government has enacted legislation that has provoked our polity to protest against an infringement of the religious liberties promised in the First Amendment.  In 1920 the issue was Prohibition and the inability of the US Post Office to ship wine, so that congregations in certain areas would be unable to secure sacramental wine.  Our Synodical leadership protested this directly to the President of the United States.  
Thirteen years later Prohibition was overturned.  But I wonder if there were accommodations or exceptions made for religious organizations in the meantime.  Anyone else have time to research this?  

The Lure of Isolation

June 22, 2012

No, this isn’t an ode to introversion, though that is a tempting topic at times for an introvert like myself.

This little article from National Public Radio’s web site caught my eye as I was trolling for blog fodder this morning.  There are lots of aspects to the author’s disclosures that generated thought.  But most of those thoughts seemed like a rather predictable backlash of the old against the new.  These kids and their invisible music catalogs!  How can you call it your collection when it doesn’t really physically exist?  
She talks rather non-chalantly about the very real possibility of losing all of her music due to technical failure of one sort or another.  But that’s really no different than a house-fire melting all your LPs, or having a cassette tape get stretched out and mangled by an errant tape deck, or finding out that your wife has been selling off random sections of your CD collection at a garage sale while you weren’t looking.  Things happen, and loss is one of those things regardless of the form it takes.
What strikes me more is the focus of the article at the end.  “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want, and how I want.”  That reminded me of a t-shirt I had seen advertised the other day – this one.  Ms. White opines that hopefully artists will get more of the revenue from customers downloading (legally) their work.  But when their experience is that most music is available for free somehow, is this really honest?  What does the person wearing that t-shirt think of Ms. White’s practice (as opposed to her wishes)?
What doesn’t get a lot of play in the debate over music formats is the artistic process itself.  If albums/CDs/collections of songs linked together in some fashion are no longer the artistic model, what does this mean for the musicians who create songs and collections of songs?  Granted, not every artist approached a single album or collection of released songs as an artistic whole.  I’m sure many – perhaps most – musicians are simply trying to get enough stuff together to release based on their promises to their labels.  Maybe that’s a bad assumption based on my musical illiteracy.  
Artists are pretty forthright with their assertions that art has meaning and value and therefore deserves compensation (see t-shirt above) – by taxpayer dollars if necessary.  Some artists stretch this to a sense of entitlement – you must support me because what I’m doing is important and valuable to our culture, even if you personally detest it.  The Robert Mapplethorpe exhibits of  the late 80’s/early 90’s come to mind.  
But in the realm of music, the customer is demanding that the artists conform to his or her own preferences and needs.  The music must be cheap, must be available in any format, and implicitly is therefore removed from any larger context beyond the customer’s taste.  Visual artists carefully construct the context for their displays and showings in galleries and other venues.  The album is  the musical equivalent of that – even though the user has always been free to isolate particular tracks that they liked and ignore others.  But there was a continued awareness that for better or worse, that one song was part of a larger whole, and perhaps drew meaning and purpose from that position in the larger whole.  The individual song could be free to say certain things in a certain way because of the context it was in, even if people chose to ignore that context.  The artist could still point to the album context as a means of explaining aspects of the single track.
That seems to be rapidly disappearing, and I wonder how many musicians think of this as a bad thing?  Is it a bad thing to have your artistic format defined by your customers?  Is this an affront to the creative process?  Is it a greater or lesser affront than having a music label insist on a certain minimum (or maximum) number of songs for a particular album?  While much has been made of artist compensation in all of this talk of evolving formats and markets, what about the issue of the creative process of the artist?  
It seems that the logical direction of the trends that Ms. White indicates in her article is for artists to focus on creating individually-appealing songs.  Each song becomes a mini-album of sorts, the exclusive creative focus, an independent economic unit as well as a more independent artistic unit.  Will it even be possible for artists to insist that certain songs must be purchased and downloaded together because that’s how they function artistically?  Is this a curtailment of the freedom Ms. White demands?  Lord knows there are plenty of albums and CDs that I bought in high hopes based on a single song, only to discover the rest of the songs were awful.  But if I respected the artist enough, I was willing to take the risk.  Is that risk even necessary any more?  And if not, what about the risk of not discovering compelling music by accident, buried in between popular tracks on a CD?  
This issue of creation vs. consumption is something that I consider in my vocation as pastor as well.  It’s a popular trend for pastors to upload audio or video tracks of their sermons to YouTube or for download on their congregational web site.  There are any number of reasons why someone might choose to do this, and I certainly might choose to do this someday as well.  I haven’t thus far for various reasons.  I don’t think I’m a stellar preacher, for one.  Secondly, sermons (unlike music?) are created for a very specific audience.  They have a very particular context and not everything that gets said in a single sermon to a specific congregation will make sense to someone who isn’t part of that congregation.  Thirdly, this context is freeing for me (and hopefully the congregation as well!).  I can say difficult things if necessary, because I have a larger context of experience with the congregation.  And if some of my sermons are less than stellar, I am afforded a certain level of grace from my people because they know that sooner or later one of them will be a bit better.
I don’t feel that my congregation should have the final say in the format of what I create, while at the same time acknowledging that there are very real expectations and constraints that I agree to abide by.  Switching to 45-minute sermons every week would be ill-advised, and I know that.  But if I really felt it was necessary, would I have the courage to make that switch, despite knowing that my ‘customers’ would prefer it otherwise?  Can art really be conceived of apart from the customer?  
Thanks to Ms. White for making me feel old and getting me thinking this morning!  

All Consuming

June 20, 2012

I stepped out of the townhouse this morning and back into the coastal June Gloom of our seaside town.  A few meters away cars and trucks raced busily on their way creating a dull roar that ebbed and flowed like the tide a half mile the other direction.  So much pushing and pulling on this narrow collection of dry-land crumbs.

In the room above, a man is dying.  A man who has had his share of ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and disappointments.  A man who served his country, served his family, and is waiting to be served his final notice.  In that bright little room a daughter worries and dabs at tears.  A light window covering flaps out into the room on puffs of air outside.  A television plays mutely across the room.
At times the incongruity can be jarring.  Moving back and forth with just a few steps between life and death, sorrow and business-as-usual.  On the small cul-de-sac outside the townhome nobody knows that a man is dying.  A World War II veteran who spoke incessantly of his years of service in the South Pacific, who was rightfully proud of his service as a Marine.  A woman cleans up yard debris across the street.  I walk to my car already turning up the volume of my cell phone in case I receive a call.
We rage against death.  Ignore it.  Deny it.  Expend our time and money and energy to put it off as long as possible.  We rage against it and perhaps we rage against the perceived injustice that even though we die, the world continues around our cooling corpse.  Business-as-usual.  Tides pushing and pulling against billions of lives scrabbled for in greater or lesser degrees of affluence on crumbs of dry land.  If all of it were ending together I think it might be easier to bear.  But the idea of being gone and missing out seems almost too great a weight to bear.
But these are the vanities of the living.  And some of that vanity tarnishes and is stripped away in the exhausting process of living.  The man in the room I’m driving away from in a seaside down on the edge of a continent that is a small portion of our earth which is one planet of several in our solar system which apparently is a mere speck on the cosmic map itself, he didn’t seem to be too worried about what would be happening after he died.  His mind was already waiting for a bus to come and take him to see the brothers and sisters that had died before him.  His focus was on getting enough breath with the help of the oxygen tank connected to his nose by a frail, nearly-invisible tube.  
If there was vanity being bruised and offended, he didn’t let on.  He just has a bus to catch, and that’s all he’s able to think about.

Dig It

June 19, 2012

Have St. John the Baptist’s bones been discovered?  At least some of them?  National Geographic reports that some people believe just that.  

I particularly liked the small bit about the fact that if these were John’s bones, then we’d have genetic information about Jesus, since John was Jesus’ cousin.  However we don’t have any of Jesus’ bones to verify this hypothesis with.  
Nor are we likely to
Once again – the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a peripheral to the faith, an abstract corollary to some internal sense of ‘rightness’ with the Bible.  The bodily resurrection and ascension are the cornerstones of the Christian faith.  This is really good news for Christians.  But not very good news for folks hoping to make genetic investigations into Jesus of Nazareth.

A Lot of Spare Time

June 18, 2012

Are you a fan of the movie Blade Runner?  This is kind of cool.  Somebody has recreated portions of the movie using water color paintings.  You have to be familiar with the movie in order to fill in the visual blanks of what is happening.  This must have taken quite a bit of time to create!

Ramblings for 6/24/12

June 17, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: June 24, 2012,
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Isaiah 40:1-5; Psalm 851-6)7-13; Acts 13:13-26; Luke 1:57-80

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

This Sunday is traditionally observed
as the Nativity of John the Baptist. As such, the Gospel reading
shifts to the book of Luke for having the most information about the
birth of John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said in Matthew 11:11
“…among those born of women there has arisen no one greater”.
The observance of this feast day is one of the oldest celebrations in
both the Eastern and Western Church, and used to be prepared for with
a fast. Note that this observance falls six months previous to
Christmas and the Nativity of Jesus. Tradition holds that John was
roughly six months older than Jesus.

Isaiah 40:1-5: As
typical of many prophetic passages, these verses can have many
meanings. In the shorter term, they may have called the people of
God in exile in Babylon to the hope that they would one day return
home to Jerusalem and Judah. Much of the language would be
understood as hyperbole and metaphor for the celebration on the day
(that did come, under the Persian rule of Cyrus) when the exile was
ended. The words also point forward prophetically to the return of
our Lord, when He will return to speak these words authoritatively
and finally to his creation, and the language will not be hyperbole
or metaphor any longer but full and complete reality. Nothing will
stand between the Lord and his people.

In between, these words can apply both
to John the Baptist as the precursor of the Messiah, as well as the
Messiah himself. Both came preaching repentance in advance of the
arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this sense the words remain
prophetic as well as realized. Just as the exiles received these
words and saw them fulfilled, the hearers of both John and Jesus
received their respective words and in the receiving, were witnesses
to their fulfillment. It isn’t that just one day the glory of
the Lord will be revealed – that glory has been revealed in
the person and work of Jesus Christ, to which John pointed.

Psalm 85: A beautiful
Psalm of hope and trust as it asks for the Lord to turn with his
favor once again on his people. The first seven verses recount
God’s graciousness and turning from anger in the past with his
people. The first three verses likely look back to the Exodus event
and God’s salvation of his people from slavery in Egypt. Verses 4-7
indicate that God’s displeasure with his people has returned – not
without reason, though that reason is not explicitly stated. This
Psalm is not arguing with the injustice of God’s indignation, but
rather asking him to relent from it according to his primary nature,
that of mercy and forgiveness, not of wrath. The end of the Psalm
looks forward to what things will be like when the Lord’s indignation
is removed and He returns his love and favor to his people. This is
what the Messiah brings in his death and resurrection. We do not
enjoy it in full just yet, but we are called to faith and trust that
the day of that enjoyment will come, and is drawing closer.

Acts 13:13-26:
Paul’s discourse here is one that recounts how God has always
worked in history to provide gradually better and greater answers to
the needs of his people. He begins with the patriarchs and Moses,
but doesn’t name any of them. Then he names Samuel as the one who
pointed the way to Saul, the first King of Israel. This first king
gave way to David, the ideal king of Israel. David in turn has given
way to Jesus, but just as David had precursors in Samuel and Saul, so
Jesus has a precursor in John. The role of the precursor is to
direct those who know them or have heard of them away from themselves
and towards the greater one who is following. This is John’s role,
to deflect the attention and glory that people would have given to
him, and to assure them that he is not the proper object of their
glory. But the one who comes after him is worthy! This was the role
John the Baptist played in a long line of prophets and those pointing
towards the anointed of God.

Luke 1:57-80:
Luke’s parallel birth narrative (Elizabeth & Mary; John &
Jesus; Zechariah and Joseph) reaches its first conclusion in the
birth of John the Baptist. These verses emphasize the impact that
John’s birth – along with the attendant muteness and sudden
restoration of voice to his father Zechariah – had on the people of
Judea. Before his birth, John was causing people to marvel and
wonder at what God would do through this person!

This culminates in Zechariah’s beautiful prophecy. While any father
might be justifiably proud of his child and see that child –
particularly one that has come so unlikely and at the advanced age of
his parents – as the zenith of God’s grace and mercy, Zechariah
understands the role that his son will play as the forerunner of the
true zenith of God’s grace and mercy, the Messiah.

Zechariah’s prophecy links the coming Messiah to the Old Testament
prophecies and the workings of God throughout the long history of his
people. God is not doing something new in Jesus, but rather is
continuing the work He has been doing all along. He is fulfilling
the promises that He made to the patriarchs and the people of God for
thousands of years. This fulfillment is as dramatic as the sunrise
that casts out darkness and fear and enables people to walk
confidently.

John’s
role is confirmed throughout Scripture as the forerunner of the
Messiah. All of the references to him in the New Testament make very
clear that this was his role and no more, testimony to the
inclination or confusion of people early on to think that John the
Baptist might actually be
the Messiah. But from his day of birth on, it was understood that
this was not his role or identity. But rather he would point the way
to the one who would come after him.

As
Americans, we might be inclined to feel sorry for John. We’re taught
from an early age that while there is honor possible
in every role and duty, the greatest honor is reserved for those who
are in the spotlight. Nobody pays much attention to the second
string quarterback. Second chair violinist is generally ignored
compared to first chair. The star of the show is the most important
one, not the understudy. But in all depictions of John and in John’s
account of his own work, we see clearly that what brings glory to God
is when each of us functions in our proper role, rather than seeking
to usurp the role of another for ourselves.

John’s father and John himself both understand the important role
that John plays in the fulfillment of prophecy and the unveiling of
God’s Messiah, even though John is not the Messiah himself. Each of
us could undoubtedly benefit from approaching our own lives
similarly, giving glory to God for the unique role that we play
whether as the star of the show or a supporting cast member!