“Bible History: 103! How Well Do You Know Your Bible Rulers and Prophets?!” – Luke 3:1-6†


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2nd Sunday of Advent

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Quote of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer

 

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D. pencilan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

 

The Real and TRUE Santa Claus

 

Santa Claus is also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply “Santa”.  Santa Claus is also known as “de Kerstman” in Dutch (“the Christmas man”), and “Père Noël” (“Father Christmas”) in French. 64680_535815893112792_1263747424_n He is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical, and folkloric origins.  In many western cultures, he brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. 

As you see in the picture of “Santa”, he is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man – – sometimes with spectacles – – wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and.  This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” along with caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s depiction.  This image has been maintained and reinforced in contemporary society through song, radio, television, children’s books, and films.

However, that is not the TRUE “Santa Claus”!! 

The modern “Santa” was derived from the Dutch figure of “Sinterklaas”, which, in turn, is partly based on hagiographical (reverent or saintly) tales concerning the historical figure of a Christian Bishop and gift giver: “Saint Nicholas”.  Greek Orthodox and Byzantine Christian folklore has a nearly identical story, attributed to Saint Basil of Caesarea.  Basil’s feast day, on January 1, is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.

Saint Nicholas of Myra” is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of “Sinterklaas”.  He was a 4th cSaint_Nicholasentury Greek Christian Bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia (now in Turkey).  Bishop Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, and, in particular, presenting three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. 

Nicholas was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity.  In the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Germany, he is still usually portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes.  “Saint” Nicholas is the patron saint of many diverse groups including archers, sailors, children, and pawnbrokers.   He is also the patron saint for two major metropolitan cities, Amsterdam and Moscow.

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas (“Sinterklaas“, often called “De Goede Sint” – – “The Good Saint”) is depicted as an elderly, stately, and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard.  He wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop’s alb and sometimes red sinterklaasstole, dons a red miter, and holds a gold-colored crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top.  He traditionally rides a white horse.  His feast, on December 6th, came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts, and is still called “St. Nicholas Day”.  Saint Nicholas is believed to ride his white horse over the rooftops at night, delivering gifts through the chimney to the well-behaved children, while the naughty children risk being caught by Saint Nicholas’s aides who carry jute bags and willow canes for that specific purpose.

Later, in another location, older images of the “gift-giver” from both church history and folklore – – notably “St Nicholas” and “Sinterklaas” – – merged with the British character “Father Christmas”.  This merger produced a character known to Britons and Americans as “Santa Claus”.  As an example, in Washington Irving’s “History of New York” (1809), “Sinterklaas” was Americanized into “Santa Claus” (a name first used in the American press in 1773); however, this image portrays Santa Claus without  his bishop’s apparel (Can you guess why?!).  So, in Great Briton and the United States, Santa Claus was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.  Washington Irving’s book was a satire of the Dutch culture of New York of his era; and much of this satirical portrait is his joking invention.

With all this information in mind, let’s not forget the REAL HERO of the CHRISTinMASS Season:

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(Information from Wikipedia)

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Quote of the Day:

 

“John the Baptist was supposed to point the way to the Christ.  He was just the voice, not the Messiah.  So everybody’s ‘calling’ has dignity to it – – and God seems to know better than we do what is in us that needs to be called forth.” ~  James Green 

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Today’s reflection: John the Baptist preaches repentance, baptizing in the region of the Jordan.  Ready to get wet?

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(NAB Luke 3:1-6)  1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.  3 He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

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G. Reflectionospel Reflection:

 

This Sunday and next, our Gospel readings invite us to consider John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus.  John the Baptist is part of the tradition of the great prophets, preaching repentance* and reform* to the people of Israel.  To affirm this, Luke purposely quotes – – at length – – from the prophet Isaiah.

**       (The process or “repentance”, and the beginning of “reform”, is a four stage, step-by-step, process:

1)    Acknowledging faults and endeavors to give a lesser good, or something harmful – – IS SIN!
2)    Confessing what you did (or DO), and what you are not happy about.
3)    Believing in God’s IMMEDIATE mercy and forgiveness.
4)     Receiving – – through faith – – the confidence’s in God’s faithfulness to forgive.)

The Synoptic Gospels – – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – – attest to the importance of the baptism of Jesus by John in Jesus’ pJohn_the_Baptist%20imagereparation for His earthly mission.  However, only in the Gospel of Luke, do we see the connection between these two men, Jesus and John, related to their births. The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel contain the “Infancy Narrative”, relating each of their births.  

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist is presented as THE preeminent prophetic figure who bridges the time before Christ the Messiah Savior, to the first prophet who prepares the pencil-pusher-564x272way for the expected Jewish Messiah, who John the Baptist knew to be Jesus Christ in His saving and redemptive ministry of salvation, not only to the Jews, but also to the whole world.

Just as Luke’s Gospel began with a long sentence (cf., Luke 1:1–4), so too does this opening verse of this section:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:1–2).   

Here, Luke reveals the “calling” of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic calling:

“…the Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert(Luke 3:2)’

This calling of John extends and amplifies similar verses, from the same “prophet” of Old, when Luke reports:

A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his pathsEvery valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made lowThe winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6).

250px-Isaiah_(Bible_Card)This prophet, which John the Baptist is amplifying, is Isaiah:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

In doing so, Luke presents his theme of the “universality of salvation”, which he announced in an earlier chapter – – in the words of Simeon:

My eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32). 

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Luke relates the story of “salvation history” to events in contemporary world history of Jesus’ time.  He is connecting his “salvation’ narrative with the current events happening right in front of their eyes, portraying Jesus in the light of tsistinehese prophetic events.  There is a cornucopia of historic information given solely in the first sentence of today’s reading:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:1-2). 

This one sentence, two bible verses, has seven items of historical and prophetical significance for discussion.  They are underlined above and I will discuss each one individually.

(1) “Tiberius Caesar” (born Tiberius Claudius Nero in 42 B.C.) succeeded Augustus as emperor of ALL Roman territories in 1steve11/people25/134 A.D., and reigned until his death in 37 A.D.   Therefore, his “fifteenth year of reign”, depending on the method of calculating his first regal year, would have fallen somewhere between 27 A.D. and 29 A.D.  Tiberius was one of Rome’s greatest generals.  However, he is remembered as a dark, reclusive, and somber ruler.  A renowned Roman person of influence, “Pliny the Elder”, describes Tiberius as a “tristissimus hominum”, “the gloomiest of men” (Pliny the Elder, “Natural Histories” XXVIII.5.23).   Eventually, Tiberius exiled himself from Rome and left his governments administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous “Praetorian Prefects”.  Caligula, Tiberius’ grand-nephew and adopted grandson, succeeded the emperor upon his death in 37 A.D.

(2) “Pontius Pilate” , mentioned next, was the “prefect” of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D.  The Jewish historian “Josephus” describes Pontius Pilate as a “greedy and ruthless prefect” who had little regard for the local Jewish PilatePicpopulation and their religious practices.  Luke describes Pontius Pilate’s sacrileges behavior:

At that time some people who were present there told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices” (see Luke 13:1).

The slaughter of the Galileans by Pilate is reported much later in Luke’ Gospel.  However, Josephus reports that such a slaughter would be in keeping with the “character and personality” of Pontius Pilate.  Pilate even disrupted a religious gathering of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, slaughtering the participants (Antiquities 18, 4, 1 #86–87).  On another occasion, Pilate killed many Jews who had opposed him when he appropriated money from the Temple treasury in order to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem (Jewish War 2, 9, 4 #175–77; Antiquities 18, 3, 2 #60–62).

(3) Next in descending order of royal importance is “Herod Antipas”, the son of Herod the Great.  Antipas ruled over Galiherodantipaslee and Perea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D.  His official title, “Tetrarch”, literally means, “Ruler of a quarter”.  It came to designate any subordinate prince of the Roman Empire.  

We are now half-way through the first sentence from today’s Gospel.   A huge sum of political/societal/historical information has been given; and there is still more to come.  We need to remember that, when reading Holy Scripture, we should do so while keeping the following four principles in mind:

  • The social and historical circumstances;
  • The relationship between allegorical truths (Parables and other stories) and literal truths;
  • The past and present theological beliefs, their influence on faith’s perspective; and,
  • Application, how this reading applies to me and you NOW, today, – – and in the future.

So, let’s mosey on to the fourth person mentioned in this first verse of today’s Gospel:

(4) “Philip” was a son of “Herod the Great”, as was Herod Antipas.  His birth name was Philip “ben” (son of) Herod.  The Herod family line was partially Jewish.  As a “Tetrarch” over a large portion of territory – – to the north and east of the 552758Sea of Galilee – – from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., Philip had a bad reputation.   

He married “Salome”, who was a member of the Herodian dynasty, as he was.  Thus, Salome was his niece.  She will become more well-known in connection with the execution of John the Baptist (cf., Matthew 14:3-11).

It is known that Philip the Tetrarch rebuilt the city of Caesarea Philippi, calling it by his own name to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the sea-coast, which was the seat of the Roman government.  He died in the year 34 A.D. (only one year after Jesus’ Crucifixion and death).

(5) “Lysanias” is an aloof character in history and in the Bible.  Nothing is truly known about him other than He is believed to have been Tetrarch of “Abilene”, a territory somewhere northwest of Damascus.

After situating the call of John the Baptist in the time of the “civil rulers” of Jesus’ era, Luke now goes on to mention the “religious leadership” of this same time period.

(6) “Annas and Caiaphas” were the “high priests” at the time of Jesus’ public ministry.  “Annas” had been high priest frhigh priestsom 6 A.D. to 15 A.D.  After being deposed by the Romans in the year 15 A.D., Annas was succeeded by various members of his family and eventually by his son-in-law, “Caiaphas”, who was the Jewish high priest from 18 A.D. – 36 A.D.  Luke refers to “Annas” as “high priest” at Jesus’ time of public ministry, possibly because of the continuing influence of Annas or because the title continued to be used for the past-high priest’s.  According to John’s Gospel:

The band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus, bound him, and brought him to Annas firstHe was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.  It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people” (John 18:12-14). 

We finally get to the seventh – – and main character – – of this first verse, “John the Baptist”.  He is the true predecessor and herald of Jesus Christ. This is the one about whom scripture says: john-baptist-001

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you” (Luke 7:27).

John the Baptist was God’s chosen transitional figure, inaugurating the period of “the fulfillment of prophecy and promise”:

“The child [John the Baptist] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80).

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The last aspect I wish to discuss in regard to this lengthy first verse is about “the Word” coming to John:

The Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:2).

Luke, among the other New Testament writers, is alone in linking the preaching of John the Baptist as a true “calling” from God the Father.  Therefore, Luke is thereby identifying John with the prophets of Jewish Holy Scripture – – our Old Testament – – whose own individual ministries also began with very similar calls.  Luke amplifies John the Baptists calling however.  In later verses from Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist will be described, by Jesus Himself, as “more than a prophet”:

“Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I [Jesus] tell you, and more than a prophet (Luke 7:26).

Wow!! Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, his brother Tetrarch Philip, Tetrarch Lysanias, High Priests Annas agods-redemptive-plan1nd Caiaphas, along with John the Baptist are all truly historically correct people.  All had important roles in the salvation mission of Jesus Christ among His Jewish Brethren AND His Roman neighbors.  Some roles were more pronounced and more important than others.  Some roles were to be truly cruel and callous in fact, but they ALL hold a place in the historically REAL redemptive mystery of Christ dying in order to save us from Adam’s and Eve’s sins.

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Let’s go on with the rest on today’s story (which will not be as long as the first part).  John travelled throughout ALL of Jordan, acting out and living out his special mission:02advientoC2

He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

John knew his role in Christ’s plan; he knew he would be the predecessor to herald – – to proclaim – – the messiah’s coming, with an enthusiasm and excitement only he could harbor and exhibit.  Also, he knew his mission of baptizing and preaching forgiveness made him a strong focus and religious figure in his 1st century society.  John probably also knew the religious authorities would recognize the prophets meaning of his beginning at the “Upper Jordan River”.  This is the exact location where Joshua led the Jews out of the desert, across the Jordan River, into the Promised Land, thus initiating a new phase of prophecy and promise “fulfilled” (cf., Joshua, Chapters 3 and 4)!  Moreover, with pious humility, John the Baptist still knew God’s royal role was NOT for him, but for the one coming AFTER him:

“John heralded His {Jesus} coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I amI am not He.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet’” (Acts 13:24-25);

What did John the Baptist mean by his preaching of repentance and forgiveness?  Well, I believe he was (and still is) calling for a change of heart and conduct in one’s life – – a “true” conversion.  He is insisting that everyone continuously turn from a life of rebellion to that of obedience towards God the Father – – on a daily, even hourly basis!! 

John, being a strongly pious Jew, was very familiar the expectations found in Jewish apocalyptic writings: God’s kingdom was to be ushered in by a judgment in which sinners would be condemned and perish.  This was also THE expectation shared by John the Baptist.  

JohPrepareTheWayn the Baptist (and Luke) were well-versed in Prophetic literature, especially those of Isaiah:

As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”’” (Luke 3:4).

This verse from Luke, in today’s reading, is nearly identical to a verse found in the Book of Isaiah:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORDMake straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3–5).

Isaiah is actually describing the return, to Jerusalem, of the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity.  The language used by the prophet Isaiah is figurative, describing the route the ex-exiles will take home.  In this allegorical description,captivity “the Lord” leads them, so their route lies straight across the wilderness rather than along the well-watered routes usually followed from Mesopotamia to Israel.  Luke, in his Gospel, parallels this allegory, symbolizing his verses to represent the witness of John the Baptizer and his mission to that of Jesus’ redemptive mission of salvation for ALL.  John is leading the Jewish faithful across the dangerous wilderness, both physically and spiritually, to that of the true Savior Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ.

John’s Gospel, unlike Luke, even goes so far as to not only imply this mission, but also to say it desertwww_washington_edunewsroomdirectly:

“He [John the Baptist] said: ‘I am “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”’” (John 1:23).

The last two verses continue this allegorical, symbolic, description which Luke is borrowing from Isaiah:

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6).

Again, Luke’s words are nearly identical to Isaiah’s:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3–5).

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I. summarize titlen today’s Gospel we note Luke’s attention to political and historical details.  Luke shows that “salvation” is for all people and is situated in world events.  Therefore, Luke lists the political and religious leaders at the time of John the Baptist’s appearance in the desert.  “Salvation”, for Luke (and me), is understood as God’s encroaching into this political and social history, and working Salvation2intimately from within this historical background.

John the Baptist stood at a pivotal juncture in the history of God’s dealing with His “chosen” people.  He was responsible for bridging the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets whose mission was to point the way to the Messiah Savior.  He is also the first of the New Testament “witnesses” AND “martyrs”.  John was a “prophet” – – a “called spokesman” – – for God Himself, and was the preeminent “Servant of the Word”, Jesus Christ – – the true “Word” of God who became flesh for our sake and for our salvation (cf., John 1:1).  

John the Baptist’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of our present Advent season.  As John’s message prepreparepared the way for Jesus, we too are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming.  We respond to John’s message by repentance and reform in our daily lives (hopefully).  We, as John the Baptist was, are also “called” to be “prophets” of Christ, announcing and witnessing by our personal and public lives the coming of the Lord, just as John did in his life.

We know that during the Advent season, we celebrate the promise of fulfillment in the coming of Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) manifested in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ AND in His return in glory at His second coming (the Parousia).  We see so much around us – – and within us – – contradicting the “selfless love” of the infant Jesus Christ.  We see so much in this world contradicting the authority of the Universal “Christ the King”.  At the same time, we also want so very much to experience the “fullness of this fulfillment” – – Christ Himself – – and to see the salvation of God the Father as well.

Let’s joyfully remember the Apostle Paul’s faith, and how it can encourage us: t_1cb51300-5993-11e1-bb75-053d1da00004

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Although we cannot achieve this completion on our own, we can join in Paul’s prayer:

That your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philipians1:9-11)

May our EVERY thought, word, and deed “witness” to Jesus Christ as we prepare for Christmas and for ALL times.  Let’s keep Christ in Christmas – – CHRISTinMASS!!

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Durin. conclusiong the season of Advent, we choose to add many activities to our schedules in order to prepare for our Christmas celebration.  John the Baptist reminds us that our “repentance” is another way in which we can and SHOULD prepare for the Lord’s coming – – as significant and substantially a vital part of our celebration for each and every Christmas Season.  Parish communities often offer a communal celebration of the prioritiesSacrament of Reconciliation during the Advent season.  You can choose to participate in the communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or you can seek out this Sacrament on an individual basis.  Whichever you choose – – DO IT – – please!!!

Reflect on how John the Baptist called upon the people to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance.  On a nightly (or daily) basis, in a peaceful and prayerful area (perhaps near the Advent wreath), pray silently, asking God to forgive your sins.  Then, finish by praying your own version of the “Act of Contrition”.  (If you do not know one, you can use to old “tried and true” version below. 

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Reflection Prayer: 

 

Act of Contrition

 

“My God377983_10150459373288643_96426468642_8348446_1692711191_n, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.  Amen.”

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