Friday, December 3, 2010

Miraculous Mothers

Y'all remember from last week we almost finished with the prophets; the next book that we're going to look at is the last book of the Old Testament. It's called Malachi; but the prophet's name...Malachi!...isn't Malachi! Ha! I tricked you! No fair! Yes fair, you jumped the gun! Malachi is the Hebrew word for "messenger." Why would a prophet call himself  "messenger"? 'Cause he brings God's messages. Yes. We don't know his you think it might have been Herman? No! Oh.

In Malachi's day, the Judeans were slacking off in keeping the covenant: divorcing their wives; marrying pagan women; and offering stolen, blind, lame, sick or otherwise second-rate animals to God. Instead of acting like Abel, and offering the best...they acted like Cain! Yes, giving God, oh, whatever was on sale. Junk animals. And the priests at the Temple go along with this slackness; they don't care either.

Malachi the messenger scolds them: "I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept any sacrifices from your hand." Oh, dear. As usual God isn't fooled. But if God's children don't want to do the right thing, there are other people who do: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and everywhere incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering." Now, what is the only place God accepts sacrifices? It's a building...oh the temple! Yes, in...Jerusalem! Yes. But Malachi prophesies that God will accept offerings and incense everywhere among the nations, and not just a good offering, but a pure offering. How are they gonna manage to do that? We'll see.

Y'all may remember that Isaiah said that God was coming, and that the people should prepare the way of the LORD. God now has more to say on that subject. Through Malachi, God tells the Levite priests: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple..." So not only is the LORD coming to his temple, but a messenger will come before him to prepare the way. "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire...he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD." Uh-oh...what's the word for purifying gold by burning away its impurities? Purging! Yes, which..hurts! Yes! So when the LORD comes, it probably won't be pleasant for those with, umm, impurities. And God tells us who the messenger will be: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." Remind me, did Elijah die? No, he went to heaven in a chariot. Yes...we'll have to see how this prophecy works out.

That was the last line of the last book of the Old Testament.

Somebody tell me what an iceberg is. It's a big piece of ice that floats in the ocean. Yes, is most of it above the water, or below? Below. Yes. Most of the ice is below the water, and holds up the ice that sticks out. The Bible's like that: the Old Testament is bigger, and holds up the New, which is easier to see. Now that we've learned about the big part, we can move on to the smaller part that sits on top.

So tell me, the New Testament is about...Jesus! Yes, mostly. So I suppose we should start with, oh, the apostles? No, Jesus comes first. So we should start with Jesus? Yes. But Malachi said a messenger would come before the LORD; so let's start with the messenger. I'll be reading from Luke's gospel.

About a year before Jesus was born, there was a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth. Priests could get married? Yes, but remember they were priests in Moses' Covenant, not New Covenant priests like we have now. Was Jesus married? No. Right. New Covenant priests imitate Jesus: they don't get married. Now, Zechariah and Elizabeth were old...and...sad...they didn't have any children!  Yes! Like who? Abraham and Sarah!  Yes, and like Samson's parents, and Samuel's parents, and so on. Well, one day Zechariah was offering incense in the Temple Holy Space, like we do at Mass around the altar, "And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense"...guess who? Gabriel? Yes! "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news." What good news? That his wife would have a baby! Yes! "your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John...he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink..." That's like Samson and Samuel, who also weren't supposed to cut their hair or get married, or have any alcohol. They were "separated ones", you know this [on the board] N-a-z-i-r Nazirites! Yes. "...and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to prepare a people fit for the Lord." And who did Malachi say God would send as his messenger? Uhh...Elijah? Yes. So Zechariah understood that his son would do important things for God, just like Samuel, Samson, and Elijah did, and prepare the way for the Lord in some way. And of course Elizabeth got pregnant just as Gabriel had said.

How long does a baby grow before it can be born? Nine months! Yes. In Luke's Gospel, which I'm reading from, it says, "And in the sixth month," that's when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John [I draw & talk] here she is, she's happy...and here's John upside down in her tummy...

...another woman gets visited by...Gabriel. Yes. "...the angel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named...Bethlehem! no, try again...Jerusalem! Babylon!, no, NO! Stop guessing like monkeys and think: where did Jesus grow up? umm, Nazareth? Yes, "to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was...Mary."  Yes, y'all know all this already. What's this mean: "of the house of David"...that Joseph lives in David's house? He's part of David's family. Yes. Joseph and Mary are descendants of King David. Remember the Jesse Tree...who's at the bottom? Jesse. And next is his son...David, then his son...Solomon, yes. And at the top is...Jesus! yes, and under Jesus is his mother...Mary! Yes. Here's a famous stained-glass Jesse Tree in Chartres Cathedral in France:

The kings run up the middle from Jesse to Mary, and the prophets are on the sides.

Back to Mary. Luke writes: "And the angel came in unto her" that's me, I'm Gabriel. [I see a girl daydreaming in the back] I have huge rainbow-colored wings and my face shines like the sun. [I walk back to the daydreamer, get down on one knee, throw my hands out toward her and proclaim] "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women!" Where have y'all heard that before? In the Hail Mary! Yes, the prayer quotes Gabriel. And how does our volunteer Mary feel about this? She thinks it's weird!  Ha! I bet! Genuflecting and saying "hail" is not how you'd greet a girl, but a queen, someone who was superior to you. Luke says, "But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [And I say to my volunteer] "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Wow...Gabriel sounds like Isaiah, when he prophesied, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Now Mary was a good Jewish girl, and she probably knew that prophecy, and recognized Gabriel was quoting from it. How do you feel about having a baby, Mary? I don't know! Right! Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" That's a good, practical question, isn't it, Mary. "And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

Y'all tell me, if it's a hot summer day, and a cloud overshadows you, how do you feel? Good! Why? 'Cause I'm in the shade. Yes, the cloud protects you from the hot sun, and it protects only who's under it. Y'all remember the God Box that the Israelites carried on the poles with the angels on top [I draw and talk], what's it called? The Ark! Yes, the Ark of the Covenant. When they wandered in the desert, a cloud would overshadow the Ark in the Meeting Tent; [draw & talk] we call it the Glory Cloud. The Hebrew word is Shekhinah, which is not the name of a hip-hop star as far as I's the cloud. You don't have to remember that; I just like to say Shekhinah.

In the Bible, Hebrew says "cover" for "overshadow," so when the Shekhinah overshadowed the Ark, it covered it, sort of like the way Elijah covered Elisha with his cloak to show Elisha was chosen and protected. So when Gabriel tells Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," he's reminding her of how the cloud overshadowed the Ark. So here's Mary [draw & talk], that dot is's the Holy Spirit.

OK tell me: here's the Ark with the God stuff in it, overshadowed by the...Shekhinah!, yes, the Glory Cloud. Over here we have Mary overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. What's she got in her? Jesus? Yes, Mary's got not just God's stuff in her, but God Himself. She's got more God in her than the Ark does. Now if the God Box is the Ark of the Old Covenant, what might we call Mary? Umm...the Ark of the New Covenant? Yes, genius! Mary's the New Ark.

Then Gabriel said, "And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son (that sounds like Isaiah, too)...For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." Y'all may remember this Latin phrase: [on the board] 'Fiat lux' from OK, what's 'light' in Spanish? Luz! Yes, and luz comes from the Latin word lux, so lux means...light. Yes. And in Genesis the creation line about light is...let there be light! Yes, so 'fiat lux' means...let there be light! Yes, more like 'let light be done.' In Latin Bibles when Mary says 'let it be done to me' she says, 'Fiat mihi.' [on the board] She uses the same word 'fiat' that God spoke to create light and everything else. Why's that? 'Cause Jesus is like light? Yes, sort of. Sometimes we call Jesus the 'Light of the World.' When Mary says 'fiat' like God did, it reminds me that what she's agreed to, having this baby, will be as significant as God making light, creating the world.

What's this whole story called, when Gabriel announces to Mary she'll be having a miracle baby? The Immaculate Conception? No, that's when Mary was conceived. Think: an announcement...the Annunciation! Yes. What a gimme that was.

Let's remember all those women we've learned about from Sarah and Hannah right up to Elizabeth. Their babies were miraculous in that they were all too old to conceive. And now Mary is also going to have a miracle baby, not because she's too old, but because...she's too young? Well, sort of. She isn't married yet. But she stands at the head of a long line of miraculous mothers, and her baby is the most miraculous of all.

Now Mary's baby is Jesus who's going to grow in her, live in her for 9 months. Baby John has a 6-month head start on Baby Jesus, and Mary decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This visit is called...the...Visitation? Yes. John's getting to be a load, and Jesus is just a dot, so Elizabeth can't get around like young Mary, who can help her out. Luke says, "When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."  Have y'all ever looked at a pregnant woman's stomach and seen the baby moving inside? Eww, gross. That's not gross, it's great! You can see the baby poking its elbows and knees out, it's very cool. People put videos on YouTube of babies kicking their moms from the inside. I bet y'all were all momma-kickers before y'all were born. Your moms know just what Elizabeth felt when John jumped around in her. Then Elizabeth said to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!" Where've you heard that? In the Hail Mary! That's right. The prayer first quotes Gabriel, now it quotes Elizabeth. "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Now who is Elizabeth's Lord? God? Yes, and so Mary is the mother of...God? Yes, that's why we say "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us." But some people say Mary wasn't God's mom, that she was only the mother of Jesus' human parts. But you can't divide Jesus into pieces: Mary is the mother of Jesus' whole person even though that person was God, who created her. We can't understand it: it's...a...mystery! Yes!

About 3 months after Mary visited her older cousin, Elizabeth had her baby, John...[draw] he's swaddled, see? When she and Zechariah took him to the Temple to be circumcised, Zechariah made a little prophecy about John. What's circumcise? It was a ritual for baby boys before there was Baptism. Well, what happened? Ask your parents. Zechariah said, "you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins... And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel." We'll see how John fulfilled this prophecy in a couple of weeks, this is a good stopping point.

See you back here in two weeks! Are we going to have a Christmas party? You mean during classtime? No indeed, but let's all bring fun stuff to eat, we'll have an un-party. And of course I'll see y'all at Mass next Wednesday for the Immaculate Conception. Come tell me hello afterwards and I'll say nice things about you to your parents.

At the top: The Annunciation (1898) by the American artist Henry Owassa Tanner.