I find that music can sometimes be so fabricated you can’t touch it. Tracks playing, other people penning the music. Lyrics can be catchy, but still and lifeless, produced in a backroom by someone who doesn’t know the artist or the story that they are trying to sing.
It took several switches today on the radio dial to find a song with some sort of message or purpose. Normally I would usually hum along to whatever Christian music was playing at the time since I had my kids in the car, but today was different. Today I needed more than manufactured fluff.
I got agitated with every rhythm and turned back and forth between the Coffee House channel and Classic Vinyl, but nothing seemed to give way. Usually Paul Simon may do it for me, but not today. No; I needed something much deeper than that…
And so a song came on that I hadn’t heard in awhile, Imagine Dragons’ “It’s Time”, whose lyrics began to remind me of a more complicated time in my life. And although I wanted to turn it off, I couldn’t. Even with the polished track, you could feel and understand the songs depth and overreaching power to remind us that we are who God created us to be.
I wondered if the song wasn’t quite so manufactured, if it was in its most raw and pure form, if it would affect me differently. I quickly found the acoustic version to test out my theory, which quickly proved true. Unadulterated and unfiltered, unmanufactured, imperfect, pure voice and rhythm, I couldn’t help but think that this was such a metaphor for the lives we live. If we could live our lives acoustically, real, no cloudiness, extras, filters, in our purest most honest form, wouldn’t the music sound so much sweeter?
I realized how afraid I was of living like that. Of continuing to expose who I am and how God is changing me. Exposing my faults, talking about my troubles and complexities. I realized just how hard it was to be a raw and honest human.
When you read or listen to the words of those people who you know are being completely honest, it reminds you how hard it was for them and that we are not alone. The song, the writing sounds different, almost uneven and uncomfortable. There are trembling voices, unsteady words, awkwardness and how could you’s. The reality is what makes us uncomfortable, or as Dan Reynolds puts it, “When a song is most honest and most raw that’s when you know you’re doing something right.”
I am terrified. Terrified to just be who I am, terrified I’m not good enough, terrified that maybe I’ll be a terrible failure at Christianity, for the road is oftentimes fraught with rockiness and heartache. I remembered yesterday when I asked God, no, no rather I screamed out loud, “Where the F are you??????”
But I cannot be anything else than who I am. I can’t be a boxed in Christian. I am not a saint. I am just trying to be me.
We all know the story, don’t we? Zacharias (an “official” “ordained-type” priest) goes in his proper time to offer incense within the Temple. The Angel Gabriel appears to him there, announcing the upcoming birth of John the Baptist, along with his role as forerunner and preparer of the way of the Lord.
Zacharias responds, objecting, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” [v. 18] Gabriel then identifies himself by name, and declares that Zacharias will be mute until his words were fulfilled.
Time passes and so things come about. Zacharias regains his voice finally upon naming his son “John” at his circumcision, in response to community objections because this is not family name of their line.
We all know this story, too, don’t we? We see this played out in Christmas pageants almost annually, no? The Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, declares her favored, calms her confusion, and announces that she will conceive the Son of the Most High and name Him Jesus.
Mary seems to respond much as did Zacharias, pointing out a physical incongruity as she says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” [v. 34]
But far from punishing her, as it could seem Gabriel did to Zacharias, the angel answers graciously with not only the answer to her question (that the power of the Most High would overshadow her), but he gives her an additional sign declaring that Elizabeth (her kinswoman) is six months along expecting the birth of John. Their exchange ends with “’nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” [vv. 37-38]
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So, like, am I the only one who ever wondered, “what’s the difference here?”
Zacharias clearly ticked Gabriel off, while Mary didn’t. It’s one thing to point to the “rank order” difference between them. There’s certainly a difference of “graciousness” between them. Lots of flavorful differences, but I always sensed there was more here than that.
And… why should we care? What difference does, or should, it make to us… to you and me… here and now… why these two encounters went the way they did?
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I think the answer to both questions is the same one… “Faith”.
The difference between the two encounters is “Faith”. And the reason we should care, is also “Faith”.
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It never dawned on me, until very recently, that Zacharias… even faced as he was with the terrifying countenance of an Angel of God Almighty… doubted the truth of his words. Even INSIDE the Temple, standing next to the Altar of Incense as he offered up incense to God!
All of Gabriel’s words spoke to FUTURE events, not present events. Zacharias was going to have to go from that place, be with his wife in the proper time, conceive John, and watch nature take its course for the next nine months.
But that wasn’t good enough for Zacharias. He says, “how will I know this for certain?” (We know italicized words are inserted by editors.) So he wants to know, right here, right now, why he should believe Gabriel. Waiting apparently isn’t good enough. (We know for certain that the issue is doubt, because Gabriel tells us that.) Zacharias is rendered mute until all was fulfilled “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” [v. 20]
Zacharias needed to know these things were true before he was willing to do his part. Clearly, his part in this miracle would be of crucial importance. It was he and Elizabeth who needed to conceive this child. But before he would go to that trouble, before he would dare go communicate this to Elizabeth, before he would risk Elizabeth’s heartbreak, disappointment, or disgrace… he had to have a sign. He had to KNOW this was true, before he could obey.
Gabriel gives him an unmistakable sign of his authority and power, using his words alone to stop all words for Zacharias until the truth was borne out.
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So what is different about Mary? She, too, asks a “how” question.
The difference is that her question is one of “means”, not “verification”. She was perplexed at the appearance of Gabriel, not terrified. Gabriel declares the upcoming conception, birth, and kingship of Jesus, and Mary does not express doubt at the announcement. Rather, she asks how this is to come about, what is she to do? She knows she is virgin. Is that to change for this miracle? How should she obey the will of God?
Gabriel responds to the “how” of the question… that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” [v. 34-35] (By the way, that word “overshadow” only appears 5 times in the New Testament. Once here; then three times referring to the Cloud around Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in the time of the Transfiguration that came upon (and terrified) Peter, James and John, from which came the Voice saying “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”[Luke 9:34-35]; and third when Peter’s shadow heals the sick [Acts 5:15].)
Unsolicited, Gabriel offers Mary the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary yields unconditionally to God’s will and embraces Gabriel’s words, the hurries off to aid Elizabeth in her first pregnancy. Isn’t it interesting that Elizabeth had only “come out”, publicly acknowledging her pregnancy in the month before Mary’s arrival? No way was Elizabeth going to endure the risk of disappointment had she miscarried, or been merely deluded into thinking she was pregnant. She would not face either the jibes or the condescending looks of other village women as her face began to round and her figure became more full. She was an elder of her town, disgraced by the curse of barrenness perhaps, but nonetheless righteous and dignified of demeanor. She would not be mocked.
But by the time Mary arrives, Elizabeth KNOWS. She knows for sure that she carries life within her. The baby has quickened, and for the first time she has the glorious sensation of life moving inside her as he responds to her motions or sounds around them. No words describe the joy of hugging new life with your very self, as a woman can in this time.
Mary comes, calls out in greeting, and the Holy Spirit already filling John [v. 15] now fills Elizabeth as well, and her joyful encounter with Mary as they attend to one another’s needs for the next three months (Elizabeth’s third trimester, Mary’s first), offers blessing to them both. Even as I type those words, I can only pause and wonder in awe at what those months must have been like. What would evenings have been like in such a home? Zacharias silent (no choice there), Elizabeth growing ever more excited even as getting around gets more difficult and stilted, and Mary finding her appetite less predictable, perhaps napping now and again, and sensing the changes in her body as the Christ waxes in form…
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What does all this mean to us, Gentle Reader?
Well, God does the impossible all the time. For those who are ready and seek Him, miracles are all around.
When they come, sometimes they are hard to believe in. That’s just the truth. But! When one is willing to yield to them, God grants. When one is willing if and only if there is a sign attesting to the truth… well, God accommodates and a sign will be given. We see this over and over again throughout the Scriptures (Gideon, etc.) However, as we see from this text, while faith that may be, it is a flawed sort of faith. (I, for one, have engaged in such flawed faith countless times, so no judgment here!)
But there’s another kind of faith. There’s a faith that takes a truth on the authority of the speaker, and simply says “Yes!” before it asks “How?”
There, I think is both the difference between the two Gabriel missions, and the significance to us today.
Zacharias wanted proof before he would act. Mary was willing to act before any proof was offered.
Both were engaged in astonishing blessing and miracle. Zacharias just had to go about it with a bit more inconvenience. That and, frankly, their lingering doubts certainly would have robbed him and Elizabeth of months of joy and consolation.
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The Holy Spirit, the overshadowing Power of the Lord Most High, certainly wins out in every miracle. Let us simply say “Yes!” first, ask “How?” afterwards, and watch events unfold!
And – as sometimes I do – browsing the first few blog posts at “brunette’s place” turned into a good old read and click to follow her blog. Here is why …
There is much written about global politics and the “war on terror”. But I think “brunette” captures something very special. Something very good. Something of what I know my God wishes for us all. Something universal and timeless. Something too good not to share.
And I hope you agree ((hugs))
(and – as usual – likes and comments are disabled here, please add any thoughts under BK’s (aka FTKT) lovely post – thank you)
So it’s fair to say that’s it’s been a rough couple of weeks for the UK. And I have to say that I’m so thankful to live in a country with decent gun control laws.
“Terrorism” has been something I’ve been aware of all my life. We were dealing with it long before September 11th 2001 before a certain American made it purely to be synonymous with “Islam”. Some of my earliest memories are of the Lockerbie bombing on the news and being evacuated from shopping centres because of IRA bomb threats. My friends who grew up in Northern Ireland have even more memories of what “terrorism” meant. Bombs and checkpoints were just part of daily life there for a long time.
I saw on social media before news officially broke that something had happened in Manchester. My friend posted a warning telling everyone to stay out the city centre because…
THE Answer. You know… THE ANSWER. Like the Answer to The Question. The Great Question. The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!
For those of us who are Douglas Adams fans, we know how he dealt with the Question and the Answer… thus:
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Well, this has never entirely satisfied me, though I applaud Adams’ willingness to take on the subject. Libraries for centuries untold have been filled with the efforts of sages to solve the Mystery of Life. And, while my conclusions may well differ from Sage Adams here, I must say that a lot of my cogitation shares some strong commonalities.
So, here and now, I’d like to submit my own, subjective, non-scientific, anecdotal, take-it-or-leave-it-as-you-please, contribution to…
The Answer… to Life, the Universe, and Everything…
It is… 3 x S (Read as: “Three times S”)
[Consistent with the style of Adams, we will first describe the Answer, and then consider… What is the Question?]
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S1 = “Superabundance”
The First “S” is “superabundance”, the provision for needs vastly beyond the degree of need. Quantity, quality, diversity… so overwhelming that the result is not merely satiation and satisfaction, but actual delight. Take the Garden of Eden, for example… all the foods available there, all the grains, grasses, fruits, vegetables. The delight and companionship of animals of every description. The mist of the morning, the clarity of the stars, the cool of the evening, the wonder of the sun and moon. Or Psalm 23, being led beside the still waters, sitting at a prepared table, being comforted.
This is to be free of need, and free of greed.
Could it be that the very first requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be free of need?
S2 = “Safety”
The Second “S” is “safety”, the protection from or absence of anything that could threaten or cause harm. Was there anything unknown in Eden to be afraid of at the start? It has never ceased to amaze me that God set man to nurture and tend the Garden (often super-interpreted to mean “God sent man off to WORK, first of all!”… but… what was the “work”? He was assigned to do two things… tend/serve/nurture… and protect/hedge about. But, what did Adam need to DO? Mist rose in the morning to water all, the soil was rich with the vibrancy of pure primal life, there were as yet no “weeds” or “bad plants”, nor any pests or predator bugs or animals. A Garden initially arranged and landscaped by God wouldn’t require a lot of transplanting and corrective design. All that “sweat of brow” and “thorns and thistles” thing came AFTER the fall.
This is to be free of threat, and free of fear.
Could it be that the second requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly safe and free of fear?
S3 = “Significance”
The third “S” is “significance”, the sense that one is meaningful, important, and treasured to at least one other person. In the Garden, there was first… Adam. Adam and God, there they were. Made in God’s image, male and female, Adam and Eve created in God’s own image. Given free reign of the Garden. Able to eat of all but one tree. Naming each animal as presented by God. Called forth to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Important to God, you think? Significant? Treasured? Or as in Psalm 23, sitting down at a table prepared for man by the Lord in the presence of enemies? Head anointed with oil? Cup running over? To dwell in God’s house forever?
This is to be acknowledged, important, treasured. This is to be free of the all too common fear that we and our lives are meaningless, that we are but cattle in a herd, a nameless cipher among a crowd of equally insignificant parts.
Could it be that the third requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly significant and treasured?
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As I pondered these potential “Answers”, and began to focus on the “Question”, I realized that this is a bigger answer than I can even define. This seems to hold true on every scale, in every application. Countries, races, kingdoms, empires go to war over a lack in one or another of these. Wars and genocides happen when a people gathers strength in order to meet what they consider a “need”, or a “threat”, or the hunger for “prestige”. States go to civil war for what seem to be the same reasons. Families feud, political parties wrangle, and individuals fight, maneuver, argue over these same perceived places of emptiness.
What to do? How do we promote joy, happiness, peace… “Wholeness” and Love?
Each of us have our own piece of Kingdom, our own relationships, our own sphere of influence. Whether this is community, home, workplace, church, or even one relationship at a time…
We know we are to “Love”, but that often breaks down at the “How do we do that?”
What if we try these three…
That every encounter be nurturing, meeting what need stands before us in the moment? Often the need is just some time and attention. Perhaps it is a meal, or a cool drink of water, or a gentle touch, or hug. (Obvious professional cautions apply, depending on the nature of the relationship.) Sometimes, the need is just silent presence.
That every encounter be safe, free of fear? Not just fear of physical harm or danger, but fear of being made to feel bad. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed or made to feel small or wrong. What if in each moment, someone felt their burdens lightened in your presence, rather than made heavier?
That every encounter be important and significant? That in the moments of interaction, the other person, group, party, were treasured as relationship to you? As if they were treasured by God Almighty? What if no one were an “interruption” or an “annoyance” or a “burden”, but rather they were a blessing to you as you are meant to be to them?
What’s the question, then?
What if the question is, “How has God always intended us to relate to one another?” What does it take to live a blessed joyful life? The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything…
And, how do we bring this about in our homes, our days, and our churches?
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3 x S = 42?
Maybe so. I just ponder these things now and again…
Grace to you, Gentle Reader! Bless! — The Little Monk
One day a lady walked over to me after church. She did not introduce herself. I didn’t know who she was. I recognized her as the blonde lady who sits in the back, the one who wears fancy suits I’d never wear, and comes to church every week by herself.
She had a question for me.
“Do you have any needs?”
I didn’t know how to answer this question. The kids were asking about their donuts when I started saying something like, “Um, well, camp just had a work day, so that was good. There were lots of people here to help get things ready and cleaned up for–”
“No”, she cut me off, “That’s not what I meant.”
Dad takes the kids to the donut line.
“I mean family needs.”
Apparently she’d been hearing this nagging voice in her head telling her to go talk to me. She’s afraid I’m going to think she’s crazy, and I assure her, in no way shape or form…
Among many Christian discussions today there is the atmosphere of legalism: One points out the Greek meaning while another suggests the Hebrew and still another indicates the etymology of the Latin. The end result is that fellowship opportunities turn into more or less games such as the tv show of Jeopardy.
This is not how it should be. Jesus did not present himself as an attorney. Too, all we are to present is the simple message of the Gospel, not some complicated maze where only the super educated can understand.
Last, the message of the gospel would much easier followed if the message was representative of what Jesus actually did and then commanded us to do.
Too feed the poor, assist the homeless, those in prison and to help orphans and the widows and to love our neighbor is not an intellectual endeavor, but an endeavor of doing, one of…