December 15, 2018

The Meaning of Christmas


“You tell him,” Rick chuckled. “You tell him just like you told me.”

Josue was somewhat reluctant to take on the chore. “That was over 30 years ago,” he said. “I’ve forgotten what I told you.”

“But you did a great job. Tell him about the real meaning of Christmas.”

Josue thought for a moment and then nodded his head. “OK—,” he sighed. “I’ll talk to Ramon.”

The two girls giggled. This was a big deal. Ramon had been asking for all sorts of things he wanted for Christmas. They were sure he would be disappointed. Rick called Ramon.

“Ramon. Ramon come sit with your grandfather. He has something to tell you.”

Rick turned to the girls. “And you two scoot. This is between Ramon and his grandfather.”

Adonica and Serafina giggled again and left the room. Rick winked at Neema and they went into the kitchen. Alone in the warm living room with seven year old Ramon, a crackling fire in the fireplace, the delightful scent of a Christmas tree, and the glow of Christmas lights, Josue began to talk about Santa Claus—just as he had when Rick was Ramon’s age. He hoisted Ramon onto his knee and put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. With great affection he carefully explained the true meaning of Christmas. Josue started by explaining the significance of the service they had just attended. He went on to talk about the spiritual value of Christmas, and how the birth of Jesus changed the world. Josue finished by telling his grandson the truth about Santa Claus. After he finished he asked Ramon: “Do you have any questions you would like to ask me?”

“No…   I understand.”

“You mean, it’s not a surprise?”

“No. I know all that stuff. I just wanted to see what you would say.”

..............
 
From “The Angels’ Footpath”
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December 14, 2018

The Betrothal of Mary and Joseph


In this culture, at this time in history, starting a family (preferably a large family) was anticipated and required by the customs of the community. As soon as a boy could be a father, he joined the men of the community in religious services and he was expected to perform all of the duties of a man. As soon as a girl could be a mother, she was obligated to start a family and assume the role of being a good wife. Although the betrothal (engagement, promise, or pact) between a boy and a girl was often made over a year before the expected marriage, it could happen within a month or two of the wedding day.

Parents played a key role in the selection of a suitable mate and the betrothal process. In our story, Mary is ready to have babies. It is time to formalize the betrothal.
.......................

September 6 BC.

Cooler weather had returned to Nazareth. September also meant more rain, usually in the form of a light mist. Cool autumn air swept through the house. Mary was busy with morning chores when she heard the front yard gate close with a clatter. Curious, she looked out the small kitchen window to see who was coming to the door. It was Joseph the carpenter’s son. Tall, serious of demeanor, he ambled through the courtyard, carefully avoiding the chickens and clutter. Mary’s heart leaped with delight. To her, Joseph was strong, handsome, 15, and ready to marry. Joseph came to the entryway carrying a chair. But before he could knock, Mary had already started to push the heavy wood door open.

Startled, Joseph took a moment to collect his thoughts. His eyes conveyed a hint of self-conscious affection.  “Good morning, Mary,” he said politely “we have finished the chair your mother wanted.”

Although he offered the chair to Mary, he never stopped looking into her eyes. He was looking for some sign of a connection. Mary blushed slightly, smiled, and took the chair from him.

“Come in, I’ll find mother.” She put the chair down next to a roughhewn table and disappeared down the narrow hall that separated the big room from the bedding rooms to find her mother, Anne.

Mary’s mother was very pleased the chair had finally been delivered. She came into the room and gave Joseph a big friendly smile as she dug into a ragged goat skin purse for a few coins.

“How is your mother this morning?” she asked as she handed the coins to Joseph.

Joseph looked uncertain. “She is fine, I guess..... She went with my father to glean the grain.”

He again looked intently at Mary. Entranced with his attention, she was unable to prevent the slight crimson color that again graced her cheeks.

 Mary’s mother understood what was happening between them, but for the moment she chose to pretend she didn’t notice the exchange of sensual excitement.

 “Say hello to Jacob and Ruth for us. We will see your father and mother at the Temple Saturday.”

Anne briefly looked at her daughter. “Say goodbye to Joseph,” she said with some amusement “and come into the back with me. We have much to do before your father returns.”

Joseph turned to leave. As he did so, his hand brushed Mary’s arm. The emotional response was instantaneous and exciting for both of them.


***


October. Jacob watched his son lay out the cutting plan for the timbers on the floor of their little shop. He was proud of his son’s skills. Joseph will be a good carpenter, he thought. He will pass his skills on to his sons; just as I have done for him and my father Mattan did for me. Watching Joseph work, Jacob was suddenly overwhelmed with a singular idea. It was time for Joseph to have a family of his own. I have been in denial, he reasoned, I didn’t want my son to grow up. Jacob suddenly felt a surge of guilt for his lapse of judgement. It is time for him to consummate his betrothal to Mary, he decided. Jacob abruptly moved to act on his decision.

“Joseph,” Jacob said loudly “I am going into the house to have a talk with your mother.”

Joseph looked up, absently nodded his head, and went back to his work. Jacob left the shop to find Ruth. He found her in the garden laboriously removing the stubborn weeds.

Jacob had to dig a bit into his subconscious mind to find the courage he needed. This conversation was long overdue.

“Ruth, my dear sweet wife, it is time we had a little talk about Joseph.”

“Yes Jacob,” she responded with a little smile. She already knew what he wanted to talk about. Like millions of mothers before her and millions of mothers who were yet to come on this earth, Ruth and Anne had decided over a year ago who the bride should be: Mary.


***


Mary loved the synagogue services. Unlike most of the other women in Nazareth, she had taught herself to read and she had been through Torah so many times, she could repeat some of the passages from memory. Mary embraced God with deep conviction and she engaged him in prayer at least three times a day. For her, God was a real person, a close friend, and a protector.

Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath (Day of Rest), begins on Friday evening and concludes on Saturday evening. After the service on Saturday afternoon, Mary looked for Joseph as soon as she left the prayer area. And there he was. Her heart leaped with a thump of joy. As soon as he saw her, it was obvious he was just as pleased to have a few moments with her. Smiling, he walked over to where she and Anne were standing.

“Where is Joachim?” he asked.

“My father is over there,” Mary said pointing to a group of men. “He is talking to the other elders.”

Joseph looked self-consciously at Anne. “Is it alright if we take a little walk?”

Anne could only gently smile her approval. Mary took Joseph’s arm and they began to stroll together toward Mary’s house. The thrill of their love for each other was obvious.

Upon seeing Mary and Joseph walking alone together, Joachim quickly left the other men to join his wife. He was nervous about his daughter’s affection for Joseph. He and Anne had been childless until an angel came to them one evening with a message.

“You shall be blessed with a baby girl. Give her the name of Mary, and raise her in the ways of the Lord.”

Overjoyed by their good fortune, Joachim and Anne carefully followed the angel’s instructions. They raised Mary according to the laws of their faith, and two years later, they were blessed with another baby girl whom they named Salome.

Joachim was clearly concerned. “It is forbidden for a woman to be intimate with a man until after they are married. Are you not worried about their growing passion for each other?” he asked.

“Joachim my loving husband, do you not remember how we were just a few years ago?”

“But I do not recall my birth.... or your birth.... being announced by an angel.” Joachim responded.

Anne turned and placed her hands on his shoulders, and then around his neck. She gave him a warm loving hug.

“It is time,” she said, “It is time for you to have a talk with Jacob.”

......................

From my novel “Am I Your Son”
Christian Theology for the 21st Century.
The physical and the metaphysical were both created by God.
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December 12, 2018

The Holy Spirit in Christian Tradition


Although referenced many times, the Christian New Testament does not tell us much about the nature of the Holy Spirit, preferring instead to focus on God as the Father and Jesus as the son. It’s difficult to tell if early church scribes understood the nature of the Holy Spirit. References do not give us a clear differentiation between the nature of the Holy Father and the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. For the casual reader, God and the Holy Spirit appear to be interchangeable descriptions of the same being.

Although New Testament Biblical authors clearly believed the Holy Spirit exists, it was up to early Church authors to gradually create a description of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle’s Creed simply states “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” The authors of the Nicene Creed, however, gave us a more descriptive interpretation of the Holy Spirit:

“We (I) believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.”

The early Church believed the Holy Spirit (sometimes identified as The Holy Ghost) is the Lord, is the one who gives life, and proceeds from (continues or perseveres with) the Father and Jesus. The Holy Spirit, the Father, and the son (Jesus) are to be worshiped and glorified. The Holy Spirit communicates with (and through) the prophets who speak (or teach) what they have heard from the Holy Spirit. The word “Holy” means the Spirit is blameless, without fault, and without sin. The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom.


Ron

From Chapter Six of   “Summa 21”
Christian Theology for the 21st Century.
The physical and the metaphysical were both created by God.
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December 10, 2018

Mary and The Centurion

For weeks, I researched any scrap of information I could find about Mary, the culture in which she lived, and the historical circumstances surrounding her life. She was forthright, virtuous, intelligent, and self-educated. Unlike 85 percent of her peers in the tiny village of Nazareth, Mary could read. Mary was also very confident in her beliefs and had a singular devotion to God.

This is the opening scene from my novel “Am I Your Son?”  I wanted to show Mary’s incredible poise and maturity, as well as her complete faith and trust in God.
..........

July, 6 B.C.

Unaware of the approaching soldiers, the lovely young girl concentrated on her task, carefully filling the waterskin with as much water as it would hold from the community well. There were four of them, rough barbarian mercenaries from the garrison at Capernaum. When she bent over the wall of the well to finish her task, one of the men quietly crept up behind her. Shameless, evil and full of lust he leered at the helpless girl. Rape was a common form of amusement for these men and it reinforced the dominance of Roman oppression.

The soldier scratched his dirty ragged beard and waited for her to turn around. Unaware of the man behind her, Mary pulled the heavy waterskin out of the well, positioned the leather strap around her shoulder, and turned to go home. A sudden wave of shock and terror swept over her when she saw the soldier. Mary screamed.

“Well,” he jeered, “look who came out into the sunshine­­– a flower to be plucked.” He seized her by the arms and roughly pulled her toward him. Then he brutally pulled on her dress. Her sash fell away. The waterskin fell to the ground, spilling its contents over the rough stones that circled the well. Mary desperately tried to push him away. Run, she thought, I have to get free of his grasp and run. But the man was much too strong for her. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her toward him. Mary began to pray, Dear God, please help me. Please help me. 

The soldier was about to force a brutal kiss on his victim when a very loud voice rang out: “Stop! Stand and face me!”

Bewildered, the frustrated soldier abruptly turned to see who would be dumb enough to interfere with his moment of pleasure.

There he was; a very young Centurion, handsome, regal, well-armed, sitting upright on a magnificent white horse; very confident of his position over these rabble. The mercenary scowled with disgust. Upset over the loss of his lustful conquest, he briefly thought of attacking that wimp of a Roman. He could easily kill him. That would end his damn superior tone. But he quickly abandoned the idea. With a horse and armor like that, the Centurion was obviously well connected. If he killed the Centurion the Romans would hunt him down like an animal and torture him to death. The angry soldier muttered to himself in anger, but then smiled at the Centurion.

“Yes sir,” he submissively called to the Centurion, “I was just helping her with the waterskin.”

The Centurion didn’t buy the soldier’s lie. “Assemble with your Quaternion and go about your business,” he commanded. There was a firm tone in his voice. Young or not, he was used to being obeyed. The soldier shrugged with obedient resignation and motioned to the other three men. The soldiers reluctantly joined together and trudged off toward Sepphoris. 

Before they disappeared over the hill, the soldier briefly turned to look back at Mary and the Centurion. He thought to himself I’ll find a way to get even with that little pup of a Roman!

Still shaking with uncontrollable fear, Mary quietly bent down to pick up the waterskin.

“Here, let me help you with your errand,” the Centurion called out as he laboriously dismounted from his horse. He had obviously been in the saddle for a long time. The young man stretched, adjusted his tunic, and walked toward the well. When he reached Mary, he gently placed his hand on her trembling shoulder and looked deeply into her eyes. “Do not be afraid,” he said softly, “I will not hurt you.”

Still shaking with the fear of being raped, Mary could only manage to acknowledge his words of assurance with a small smile. She suddenly felt very weak and nervously sat down on the wall of the fountain. The Centurion cautiously sat down beside her, but said nothing. He looked at her again with sympathy. Mary was a beautiful girl, graceful in form, and gentle in demeanor. There was a special purity about her that troubled the young man. He did not understand why, but she impressed him as being very different from the other women he had known. After a few moments he stood up, gently took the waterskin from Mary’s hands, and carefully dipped it into the well water. Once filled, he handed it to Mary.

“I’ll walk you home;” he said “to make sure no one else bothers you.” In truth, he felt a need to be close to this lovely young girl. Thoroughly captivated, the Centurion turned to pick up the reins of his horse. If there is a Jew who could take my heart, he thought, This is the one.

The Centurion motioned for Mary to lead the way. As they walked along the dusty street toward her house, she gradually regained some of her composure. Mary even smiled when she spotted two neighborhood women looking at her and the Roman in awe. What must they think? she wondered. 

“What is your name? the young man asked.
“Mary.”

Desperately trying to engage her in a conversation, he repeated Mary’s name.

“Mary of Nazareth.” He was suddenly at a loss for words. He tried again to say something relevant. 

And how old are you?”

Mary sensed his unease. “I am just 14 of years,” Mary replied “And how old are you?”

“Seventeen,” he quickly answered, “my father is a Tribune in Alexandria. I just came from Alexandria to Caesarea by ship.”

“And where are you going?” Mary asked politely.

 “I’m on my way to Sepphoris to survey Herod’s military garrison. The Tribune in Caesarea asked me to inspect Nazareth on my way.” 

There was a long pause as they walked along. Then he said in a quiet voice:  “It’s a good thing he did, Mary”

Mary briefly turned to him and acknowledged his help with a gentle smile.
“Thank you for your compassion.”

She paused and looked away again.
“And do you have a name, Roman?”

“Maximus,” he answered. “My family is well known in Rome.”

They arrived at the gate that led into Mary’s house. The Centurion didn’t know what to do, so he just self-consciously extended his hand. Mary adjusted the strap on the waterskin and gracefully took his hand in her fingers. Gently squeezing it she said softly “Thank you, Roman.” 

Mary turned and walked through the gate, closing it firmly behind her.

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From my novel “Am I Your Son”
Christian Theology for the 21st Century.
The physical and the metaphysical were both created by God.
.