by HG Yuhanon Mor Meletius
Bible Study: Luke 1:26 – 38
“There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. (Ps. 19:21).
God has given us a new day. That was his promise. He has said, “Behold I create a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1, 5; Isa. 65:17). Yesterday’s old heaven and old earth is gone. Let us thank God for keeping His promise. It is said, “Remember not former things of old” (Isa. 43:18). But it is also said, “Just remember the former things of old for I am God, and there is no other like me” (Isa. 46:9). We need to distinguish what is not to remember and what is to be remembered. We shall move forward while this struggle of old v/s old is continuing.
In the trainers meet in Samoa in November last, I talked about an event that happened when Mary met Elizabeth at her place in the hill country. Today I wish to talk about an event that occurred few days or a couple of weeks earlier than that. This has nothing to do with me being an Orthodox bishop (people many a time talk about "Orthodox" as a synonym for old. But our Orthodox is with a capital O and not with a small o. We talk about old only in the context of our journey towards what God plans for future). I took this event because today, March 25th, happens to be the day of the feast of Annunciation according to Orthodox Syrian calendar, which also is found appropriate for our theme.
Let me read few verses from the text prescribed for the feast. “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. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33). In this event God is trying to reveal His dream about the child to be born.
Question: Why do we need children? You may get several answers. Some of them could be: To sustain the family tree, to continue the family tradition, to uphold the pride of the family, for you to share your love, a natural outcome of the married life etc. Have you ever thought of the birth of a child as a birth to fulfill God’s purpose in this world?
It is said that Jesus was born in ‘the fullness of time’ and was born in to a particular socio-political- religious situation. Can you think of a serious situation existing now in your community or country which you think God need to do something about?
Can you think of someone born with that purpose of intervening in history and society for God? To me, St. Paul,was born with a purpose ,Mahatma Gandhi was born with a purpose, Martin Luther King I was born with a purpose, Nelson Mandela was born with a purpose, Mother Teresa was born with a purpose, George Washington was born with a purpose. Madam Curie, Einstein, Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, and the list continues. These are some of the people whom we know were born with a purpose and fulfilled those purpose during their lifetime (I wonder whether any one told their parents when they were born that they were born to fulfill the purpose they later fulfilled in their lives?) We need to understand that every one born in to this world is born with a purpose.
Have you ever advised young people while doing premarital counseling that they will have children born with a purpose and who will probably deal with a specific problem in the society as commissioned by God? When a child is brought for baptism do you consider for a moment that this child was born to solve a problem, for God, the society was facing? Do you ever talk to the parents about it?
Simon and Anna recognized God’s purpose when Jesus was brought to the temple to fulfill the religious duties (Luke 2:25-38). Do we, those who are active in the Church affairs and in the leadership recognize the purpose of God in a child brought to the Church? Will you at least wonder, instead of being sure, “what kind of child this will be” (Luke 1:66)?
Jesus preferred to call himself ‘Son of (Hu)man’. Dogmatically when we say that he was fully human and fully divine, with Paul we have to call him ‘the first new human’ (Rom.5:15; 1 Cor. 15:21,22). There was a new beginning in Jesus. To me that means every human child born in to this world is a child of human and hence a child of the ‘Most High’. At the closing of the baptism ceremony in the Orthodox Church, the priest would say in prayer “Lord this child whom you have accepted as the brother/sister of your only Son …”. Every child is a brother/sister of Christ and a son/daughter of the Heavenly Father. Hence God’s dream about Jesus should be the dream regarding every child born in to this world too, and that dream is liberation of creation.
I want to talk about two persons who are related to this event.
One; It was the ‘Angel’ who revealed to Mary of God’s dream about the yet to be born child. The Hebrew word ‘melek’ means ‘messenger’. Anyone could be a messenger and does not have to be a divine personality like one with wings and crown on the head. The root meaning of the word is ‘a deputy’ or ‘one who delivers’ or ‘dispatches’. The idea of ‘angel’ as we understand now in Christian circles was developed in Hebrew thought only very late (Ats 23:8. Scholars believe that this idea developed during the inter-testamental period, especially during the Maccabean period).
It was said that Jesus’ birth was in the fullness of time (Mk. 1:15). There was certainly a socio-religious situation (political included) which made it crucial a time for Jesus to be born. Politically Jews were under the rule of Romans, religiously the priests and leaders misguided the people and all kinds of unholy practices were introduced in to the community in the name of God, socially most of the people lived under severe poverty and oppression. It was to this demanding context Jesus was born with a purpose. The relevance of the birth of any child for that matter is determined by the context to which it is born and the basic mission of the child is to do something about the situation in terms of liberating the people.
The Church is the messenger of God in this world. Because it was to the Church, Jesus had commanded; “Peace to you, as my Father has sent me, I also send you …” (John 20:21). To every couple joined in holy matrimony, the Church, the messenger – the angel – of God, need to talk about the dream of God regarding the future generation from them. Because every child is to involve itself in re-establishing the throne of David and the house of Jacob in this world.
Prophet Isaiah goes to Ahaz king of Judah at a critical juncture in the history of Judah to announce the birth of a child (7:14ff). The the socio-political context of the announcement is clearly given in the first 13 verses of the chapter. Gospel writer Matthew relates this event with the announcement of the birth of Jesus, of course in his own way (Matt. 1: 22ff). The comparison talks about the fact that each child is born to this world with a message from God and that message shall always be a message of historical intervention of God through the child.
The role of the Church in terms of caring for children begins even before they were born (In Orthodox Church, we not only remember in prayers the departed and the living, but also those yet to be born). Preparing the parents for child birth also involves of talking about God’s dream and about the specific socio-political and religious context to which this child is to be born and which God wants to address through that birth. Since God sees people even before they were formed in the womb (Isa. 44:2,24; 49:5; Jer.1:5; cf. Jn. 1:48 – Jesus seeing Nathaniel), the Church also need to see them well before they are born.
The second person in the list is Mary the mother of Jesus. I just wonder whether she was really prepared for a child at the time of annunciation (It is not the parents who decide when they should have a child. I have confronted several parents who were married for several years and having no children though medically they were certified all right. Sometimes children are born when the parents did not want one. Birth of a child is not completely under the control of the parents). But Mary any way accepted the invitation to be a single parent whose child will address the socio-religious question the people were addressing at that time. Sad enough, things were not at all easy for her. She did not initially understand all what it meant to be the Son of the Most High. On the one hand she goes through a series of troubles caused by the birth of the child, and on the other hand slowly understands what was God’s purpose with her son. It was an eye opener for her when she confronted her son in the temple sitting with teachers and leaders of the community asking them and arguing with them (Luke 2: 49 And He said to them, “ Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? ” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them).
Slowly Mary accepted the content of God’s purpose in Jesus. And she followed him as a shadow without interfering in his life so much but providing moral support. That helped her walk all the way as far as the foot of the cross and establish a new and unique kind of relationship with John with the help of her son (John 19:25-27 I get so fascinated by this event of Jesus establishing a new relationship between John and Mary).
My question under the circumstance is, how much trouble the parents of our time would take to understand the purpose of God regarding their children? Most of the time what I see is, without seeking God’s plan, parents making plans for children and asking for God’s blessings and help to work out that plan. This plan, unfortunately in most cases, will be guided by material gains and hence contrary to the plan of God.
Again I would ask, if at all they understand the plan of God, how much trouble the parents are ready to take on themselves to make what the child should become according to God’s plan? This is why, for me, the world, though has considerably developed materially, has not spiritually developed or gone very far in terms of relationships.
My question before us, the so-called Church leaders, do we ever counsel the parents to listen to the voice of God under the given socio-political- economic situation, to analyze the situation and prepare their children to be a missionary in this world? Will be ever truly become a ‘messenger’ or ‘angel’ of God?
Let me say it once again, no child is born in to this world without a purpose. There are no by-products in God’s creation, there are no accidents in the birth of a child. When he says ‘let there be light’ there occurs light, nothing more nothing less. What is created by God shall always, as in the beginning, be functionally good. The tree in the middle of the garden was functionally good until human misunderstood it’s purpose and made it simply an object of their greed. This was a violation done to that creation of God. We are committing violation against the children when either we make them an object of our pride and greed or when we think we have to discipline and make them what we think they are born for. We need to say sorry to God and to them.
The Church need to explore in to the mind of God and see His purpose in the life of every child born in to this world. I think our Sunday School and catechetical programs should, instead of making the children learn few biblical stories and history lessons by heart, train them and the parents to explore in to the mind of God to understand His purpose with the child and to create a favorable atmosphere where the child can grow in to its fullness and fulfill God’s purpose in the child’s life. Because God has plans for the child, that child is already in the world of God or in the mind of God. We do not have to, on our part as a project welcome that child in to the Church which is the community of God. Hence, ‘Welcome Children, Welcome Jesus’ is understood by me as ‘I some were on the road put myself outside the community of God and now I am welcoming both in to my life’ (this is the theme of the project which Council for World Mission is working on).
We need to ask God and the children pardon for what we did to God and to the children in terms of not understanding the purpose of God in the life of the children or in terms of misunderstanding our crazy purposes as the purpose of God and trying to mould the children accordingly. Let us turn around and walk in the right direction.
Source: Council for World Mission. Workshop on programs for the coming years on “Caring for the Children,” London, March 25th 2010.
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