Friday, December 26, 2014

Two Turtle Doves

A Reflection for the Second Day of Christmas

"On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves…"

Scriptures to read: Psalm 119:33-40; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Galatians 3:1-25; 4:4-7

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW. Today’s Christmas gifts -- the Old and New Testaments -- are foundational. 
Together, they weave the connected and continuing story of "salvation history." It begins with the people of Israel and continues in the Church of Jesus Christ. The contents of the Old and New Testament are authoritative in that we believe no other documents or sources are needed to lead us to faith in God and life in fellowship with God. In fact, most Christians hold that no other sources are, indeed, revelation.

TRANSITION POINT. Christmas is the transition point from Old Testament to New Testament. The ancient anticipations, expectations, and interpretations of the Law and prophecies of a Messiah (Christ) are challengingly fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Many good people were so deeply entrenched in their traditions that they simply could not make Jesus fit into their worldview. Many others -- hungry for grace, liberation, and restoration – in faith opened their hearts to Jesus, in whom they found the embodiment of God’s promises.

ANCIENT ROOTS & REVELATION. The Old Testament was all the early followers of Jesus had. It was the Old Testament to which the Apostle Paul was referring when he said "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16) So, don’t leave the Old Testament out of your study. Read it for all it’s worth, for all you can possibly learn and glean from it. At the same time know that, according to many Christian scholars, much of what the OT points to has been or is being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

WHAT'S A TESTAMENT? Like "covenant," the word "testament" is pretty heavy. It certainly has binding promises and obligations for the parties who enter into its terms. So, when Jesus says to the disciples, as they share the Passover meal together, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (2 Corinthians 11:25), it must have been rather mind-boggling. We are still exploring and living the full implications of the new covenant. Reading and seeking to understand the New Testament, we learn and appropriate the terms of the "new covenant."

LITERAL, NOT LITERLISTIC. One of the things I find most helpful as I read both Old and New Testaments is to try to grasp and apply the appropriate genre (or form) of literature that is being used. We read legal documents differently than we do songs. We understand letters differently than we do histories. We appreciate the difference between a matter-of-fact statement and hyperbole (intended exaggeration). Noting this helps us interpret and apply the Bible more effectively in our lives and world. The fact that we believe the books of the Bible are inspired and useful for "teaching, etc." doesn’t mean we read flatly. To take the Bible literally does not mean we take it more literally than it takes itself.

REIGN OF PEACE. The dramatic diversity of the books of the Bible makes it difficult to find a common thread running throughout. But both Old and New Testaments speak pointedly of the Kingdom of God -- the reign of God as Lord in the lives of people and communities who embrace grace. God’s reign is depicted in the Old and New Testaments as a kingdom of peace. So it is fitting that today’s gifts are depicted as "turtle doves," the dove being the ancient and contemporary symbol of peace, or shalom. The dove is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who brings the Word of God alive in our lives. Embrace God’s gift peace expressed in the new covenant mediated and sustained by Jesus Christ (the "partridge in a pear tree").

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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