December 5, 2010
Friends, today we light the "Shepherd" candle, or the candle of Peace, as well as our Hope or "Prophet" candle. For purposes of this study, we enter a time for Dreaming. In the spirit of imagination, I invite you to put yourself at a desk in an imaginary TV classroom for a moment. It could be in "Welcome Back, Kotter", "Ferris Buehler's Day Off", or a cool stone room in "Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry." Listen for the teacher…
Okay, class. Open up your Bibles to the New Testament. Does anyone know what the "Synoptic Gospels" are? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? I see the young man in the second row with his hand up. No, Mr. Horschack, they are not where God talks about the Seven Deadly Sins. Sin isn't the same as Syn. That's not even in the Bible. I'm talking about Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Yes, Miss Granger. Please don't have a conniption fit. You're right. The term "Synoptic Gospels" does refer to pertaining to or constituting a synopsis; affording or taking a general view of the principal parts of a subject.
As we are using it here, we mean taking a common view: used chiefly in reference to the first three Gospels (Synoptic Gospels), Matthew, Mark, and Luke, from their similarity
in content, order, and statement. Greek origins, 'Synoptikos'. It refers to the condition of seeing things (optics, seeing) in the same way. It means, further, for our purposes today that it's important to know that the writer of the book of John wrote his gospel from a radically different point of view from that of the other gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke covered many of the same accounts and facts of Jesus' life and ministry albeit for different audiences but John wrote from an entirely different experience of Christ.
On this, the second Sunday of Advent, we come to a time of Dreaming. This is appropriate for we are about to enter upon readings from the most mystical Gospel writer of the four, the apostle John.
Prayer: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Israel! You alone are wondrous. Be our God and redeemer as long as the sun shines and the earth spins. Amen."
John 1:19-28 (New International Version, ©2010)
John the Baptist Denies Being the Messiah
19 Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders[a] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Messiah."
21 They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?"
He said, "I am not."
"Are you the Prophet?"
He answered, "No."
22 Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'"[b]
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"
26 "I baptize with[c] water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:19 The Greek term traditionally translated the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) refers here and elsewhere in John's Gospel to those Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus; also in 5:10, 15, 16; 7:1, 11, 13; 9:22; 18:14, 28, 36; 19:7, 12, 31, 38; 20:19.
John 1:23 Isaiah 40:3
John 1:26 Or in; also in verses 31 and 33 (twice)
The Synoptic Gospels relate the accounts of Jesus' birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection contextualized in the same kind of temporal world in which we live. Here's one way to think about it-If Jesus had been a painter, the first 3 books of the New Testament would give us a complete and comprehensive view of his oeuvre, or body of work. It is as if three very capable and learned art historians, writing from the United States, from France, and from Spain had written in the 1980's about Pablo Picasso's works from 1904 to 1973. John, however, would be more like a combination of biographer, psychic, historian, and mystic who wrote about Picasso's life, thoughts, and influences from the time of the first prehistoric cave paintings to the development of computer-generated imagery.
The apostle John was given insight to Jesus' place in the creation and ordering of the world from the moment God's thought bent to that miracle right up through the time when we would look to the Bible to try to grasp the ending of days. He then tackled the unenviable task of writing about it.
In the very first chapter of John's gospel we are confronted with the same struggle the Pharisees had about the Messiah. John the Baptizer insisted it was not he, and quoted the words of Isaiah the prophet to underscore the difference. Faithful people of the day would have wondered if he was the vanished prophet Elijah, but the John the Baptist denied that, too.
Sometimes, John the gospel writer seems to say, things are so mysterious and incomprehensible that all that we may dream of, the fantastical and the real world intertwined, become so enmeshed that we have a tough time separating the imaginings of our inner mind from the truth that is available for us. God is stable. God is mysterious, but not ephemeral. Even the heralds of Jesus' coming knew dreams from waking life.
Despite the mystery, John the Baptist had a crystal clear view of the coming Lord. It was the One who was present since before the Beginning, and who will be after the End. John the gospel writer and John the Baptizer seemed to have a synoptic view of Jesus.
Prayer: "God of Beginning and End, dreaming seems like something more suited to children whose imaginings take them on flights of fancy, not to adults like me who must confront the reality of who Jesus is. Messiah? Creator? Redeemer? There is no way to know exactly. Help me to have faith to believe he was here before beginnings and will be here after all has ended."
Further Reading for this day:
Psalm 72: 1-7,18-19