Celebrating the Baby Born to a Good Jewish Couple

I sang what was for me a new verse to an old hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” last Sunday.

O come, O come, O Adonai, who came to all on Sinai high,
And from its peak a single law proclaimed in majesty and awe
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come O Come Emmanuel NCH
from New Century Hymnal; vs. 3 is where Adonai is used.

It was for me the first time I had heard in church this term for God, Adonai, which I often say and sing during Shabbat services in the synagogue.

As one-half of an inter-faith couple, and as a pastor/theologian acutely aware of the deep links between Judaism and Christianity (links so often abused by Christians and understandably denied by Jews), I am always grateful when a connection between these two faiths I cherish is made.

Research about the origins of the verse (and the entire hymn) revealed that they are based on an ancient seven-verse antiphon that was in use, according to some scholars, as early as the sixth century. By the eighth century, these seven verses, known as the O Antiphons, were in regular use in Rome, as part of daily preparation at vespers for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, each one using a title that the faithful attribute to Jesus:

  • December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
  • December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
  • December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
o_antiphons_advent_4
blueeyedennis-siempre.blogspot.com

Interestingly, some see in the first letters of the titles, taken backwards,  a Latin acrostic, “Ero Cras,”  which translates to “Tomorrow, I will be [there].” But scholars do not believe this was the intention of the original writers.

Moreover, from an interfaith perspective, this interpretation is tricky at best: Jews would never use the term Adonai to refer to Jesus. Thus, although I was excited when I sang this verse in church, I became concerned as I did this research to think we Christians, or some of us, might once again be appropriating, or misappropriating, that which is not ours.

Jewish Jesus
theguardian.com

What is undeniable is that the birth of Jesus is a Jewish birth. He is dedicated, circumcised, in the temple as a Jewish boy/man. He goes to temple at age 12 and converses with the rabbis. He never calls himself a Christian. Nowhere in any holy text do we find an indication that he intended to start a new religion.

I want to think, and pray, more about how to be sure that these Jewish roots are not lost or ignored–certainly at Christmas but also throughout the liturgical and spiritual year of the Church. I want Christians to stop using the Hebrew Scriptures to proof-text why they believe Jesus is the Messiah (and really only value those Hebrew texts that they claim do this).  And please do not read this as an endorsement, or repudiation, of Jews for Jesus (any more than Rabbis engage in the arguments between various sects claiming to be Christian).

At this very moment when Christmas overwhelms our culture–of course, much of Christmas as it is enacted culturally has little to do with Jesus or any other faith–and creates a situation where our Jewish siblings can feel claustrophobic, it is vital that we give thanks to God, to Adonai, for the historic and contemporary ground of our faith in Judaism.

Let us celebrate the birth of this Jewish baby who grows up into a beautiful Jewish man and rabbi, from whom we continue to learn and grow spiritually!

Let us celebrate the One who is with us, and is coming yet again.

The “Naked Saint”–A Model for the “Protestant” Pope

Pope Francis is doing something radical in the Roman Catholic Church: he is encouraging people to have conversations about formerly taboo topics.

Pope Francis thumbs upBy and large, the media focuses on what he says–and what he might be thinking–e.g., will he support same-sex marriage (unlikely any time soon) or change church teaching about divorce or abortion (also unlikely)–rather than what seems to me to be the most important thing he is doing, namely engaging laity to think for themselves. He may be the most Protestant Pope we have ever had!

Of course, theological and ecclesial conservatives are alarmed. They see “confusion” where before there was order.

I have long believed there are two kinds of models for church. They are in some ways polar opposites of each other, and all churches fall somewhere along the continuum between the two ends.

rules must followOne is the church as an ideological institution in which the church, and its leadership, promulgate and enforce doctrines and behaviors. I call this the Rule Church. The other is is church as a gathering place for people who want to receive and share the unfolding truth and love of God. I call this the Free Church. You probably can tell my bias.

feeding-5000
Feeding the 5,000–a model for the Free Church?

No church in existence, or in history, is precisely one or the other. Rule Churches include gatherings of people which at least look somewhat like the Free Church. And the Free Churches have rules and people to enforce, or at least articulate, them.

Right now, the Rule Church known as the Roman Catholic Church is being challenged, not just by lay people and a few unruly dissident priests. Now it is the Pope himself (so far, it must always be a “him”) who is raising questions about the rules and their enforcement (and sometimes the enforcers).

Pope Francis blessing bikers
Pope Francis blessing a group of Harley Davidson bikers

One response to this untidiness is to invoke the historic doctrines, or rules, of the church, and to remind the Pope, and others who support him, that “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.” That is the voice of Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Wisconsin-born prelate recently demoted by Pope Francis.

St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone
St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone

Francis. The name is a clue. This is the saint who gave up worldly wealth and power, stripped off all his stylish clothes and became a Christian ascetic. He got along with those in high authority but at the same time he built the order he founded the way he wanted. He did not seek high office, never becoming a priest. He lived by a few rules, and told others in the order to do so as well. Mostly, they focused on serving the poor and outcast.

In his emphasis on humility and service and love, as well as his willingness to break with authority and custom when it denies life to others, St. Francis seems to me to be the most Jesus-like of all the saints.

Unlike many of his critics, Pope Francis seems to believe the rules exist to serve the people. Perhaps he, like his saintly forebearer, is less interested in power and rules and more interested in service and love.

That sounds a lot like Jesus to me.