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I recently read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I’ve read it many times. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Every time I read it, something new stands out. This time I was struck by Paul’s use of the word Christ. He uses that title for Jesus over and over. 38 Times in this short, four chapter book. He uses the word Christ more than he uses the name Jesus.  When we study the Bible, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is “What did these words mean to the person that wrote them?” So, what did Paul have in mind when he wrote the word Christ? What is his concept of Christ?

We have to remember that Paul was thoroughly Jewish. His concept of almost everything was informed and shaped by what we call the Old Testament or, more accurately, the First Testament. The word we read as Christ, comes from the Greek word Khristos, which comes from the Hebrew word khriein, which means to anoint, translating the Hebrew masiah or Messiah. Paul was totally steeped in the Hebrew language, and every time he wrote the word Christ, he was probably thinking of the Hebrew word khriein or masiah.

The picture of someone being anointed in the O.T. is someone having olive oil poured on their head. This was a sacred rite reserved for three types of people: prophets, priests and kings.

The prophet Elisha was anointed by Elijah (1Kings 19:16).

The first priest, Aaron, was anointed by Moses (Exodus 29:7).

King David was anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1,13)

Most of the O.T. Prophets spoke and wrote about an anointed One that was to come. One that would restore peace, prosperity and wholeness to his people, his Chosen Ones. This person was commonly referred as the Messiah.  This Messiah was sometimes referred to as a great prophet, or a priest, or king, like King David.

Most of the post exilic Jews longingly looked for, prayed for, and hoped for this Messiah. Paul was no exception. He fervently and zealously awaited the Messiah and did everything in his power to bring about the soon return of this exalted Prophet, Priest and King.

There was always the questions among the Jews, “When would the Messiah come? ” “What was taking him so long?” What was the cause of his delay? “

 The more zealous of the Jews, like Paul, thought they had the answer.  It was the Jews own fault. The Jews that didn’t take the law of God, or the Torah, seriously enough. They failed in so many areas of keeping the Law.  They were lax in their commitment to and obedience of the Law.  If only these slackers could be convinced or coerced to do better, that would surely hasten the Messiahs  appearance and rule and liberate the people from the despised Roman oppression.

And then there was The Way.  The Way was a group of Jews who proclaimed that the Messiah had come in the person of a man named Jesus. Not only was he the Messiah, but they claimed he was the Son of God.  Blasphemy! Obvious blasphemy!  This Jesus was shown to be a fraud and a heretic and hung up on a cross to die.  The Law said, “Cursed is any man hung on a tree!” This man Jesus was not the blessed Messiah, but a man cursed by God to die a humiliating death. Perhaps if there was one main reason the true Messiah would not come soon, it was due to the rabble called the Way, and Paul set out to do something about it!

He set out toward Damascus to persecute, jail, and maybe kill some of The Way, as those zealous for the Torah did to Stephen, one of the Way’s leader’s.  On the road to Damascus, a strong light and a voice from heaven caused Paul to fall to the ground. The voice called out to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me!”

 Paul said, “Who are you?”

 The voice from heaven basically said, “I am Jesus, the Messiah.”

 After that, Paul’s world was never the same.  It was turned upside down and inside out. Indeed, the Messiah had come. Paul had to admit it. And he was glad. The long foretold  and divinely sent Prophet, Priest and King had truly come.  That fact totally transformed and revolutionized Paul’s outlook and worldview.

Paul’s new mission in life would be to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah, the Christ, had really come to earth to set up a new kind of kingdom, one that gave sight to the blind and set the captives free! Paul could now see the truth and live in true freedom! He was now living in right relationship with God and was filled with joy and peace.  And it was all due to the Messiah, Christ Jesus!

We are in the Advent season. Advent is a time of hopeful expectation. Paul spent the first part of his life in hopeful expectation, waiting for the Messiah to come. He spent the rest of his life rejoicing that the Messiah had come. In this period of Advent, we too can rejoice with Paul and be glad that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, has come, and because of that we are a new creation, living in His love and loving others.

Advent is also a time to remember that we are living in the Already, but Not Yet. We already are experiencing the blessings of being Kingdom dwellers, but the Kingdom is still growing and not yet complete. We already have that peace that surpasses all understanding, but we do not yet have world peace. We already have a new life within, but we are not yet free from pain and suffering; we have not yet had every tear wiped away by the gentle hand of Jesus.

We are still waiting for the Messiah. We are waiting for his return. When he comes he will not come as a baby in a manger, but as King of kings and Lord of lords, coming with the blast of a trumpet on clouds of glory. This time he will not be humiliated and crucified, but will rule with justice and righteousness and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

Maranatha – Come quickly!

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The 2017 Advent season has begun!

Advent is a time of anticipation. A time of looking forward to something unbelievably good. Looking forward to Jesus’ birth. God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God condescending to be with us. Emmanuel.

Honestly, all that doesn’t mean so much to people anymore. Advent in our day and age usually means anticipating buying gifts, going to parties and family get togethers. Things that a lot of people Don’t look forward to. For too many people, the Christ birth event is a minor part of the holiday season, if it exists at all.

Jesus in the manger has lost it’s luster for a lot of Christians for another reason. It happens every year. It’s not new. We Want New. New electronics, kitchen gadgets, clothes and toys. Christmas isn’t new. It’s the same old thing, year after year. I’m 54 years old. I was raised in a Christian family. I have 54 years of Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2 under my belt. What could possibly be new in 2017 Advent? What is there to anticipate?

With this in mind, I began to think about how Jews might have been thinking around the time of Jesus’ birth. The Chosen People of God. They hadn’t had a prophet speak the Word of the LORD to them since Malachi, 400 years earlier. They had been under the thumb of foreign rulers for about 600 years. So, People Of God, how’s that working out for you?

Some of them probably decided that it wasn’t working and gave up on God, but many were holding on to the promises proclaimed by the prophets that someday a Messiah would come and bring peace and freedom. Proclamations like:

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

 Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

 Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Some of us look forward to celebrating the birth of the Messiah every year. The Jews had been anticipating that day for over half a millenia!

When I think of looking forward to something good, I  think about our family vacation that we took in July. We drove from Oaxaca, Mexico to Brush, Colorado. In May we began planning for the trip, and the anticipation began. Anticipation of crossing the border into the U.S.A. Anticipation of seeing my parents and sister and oldest daughter. People I haven’t seen for over two years. Anticipation of Mom’s great cooking, as well as Taco Bell and Mountain Dew –  food and drink that are not available here in Oaxaca. Normally we would fly to Colorado, but this time we were going to drive, so we were looking forward to close family time (four days in the car) that would include museum visits, tourist attractions and motel swimming pools (Sally and Kelly, my youngest daughter’s favorite). Anticipation of camping in the mountains and seeing a Rocky’s baseball game.

The fulfillment of all of those things was great. A wonderful time was had by all. Heart’s longings were met and we were filled with joy. And that was after waiting a mere three months.

After waiting hundreds of years, the Messiah came to the Chosen People of God, and brought true spiritual freedom to all who would accept him and his message.  Some were disappointed that he didn’t overthrow Roman rule and bring national freedom.  But many more people through the ages have received something greater to celebrate, freedom from sin and adoption as Children of God.  The hungry eat the living Bread and the thirsty drink the living Water.

One of the Advent readings for the first Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 64:1-9.   Verse four says, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

This Advent season I hope we can all find time to “wait for him”. Wait for Him to reveal himself in new and wonderous ways that can fill our journey on earth with happiness.

In waiting for Him, in meditating on Him, we find hope and joy. Strength and peace. Below is a web address for a video meditation on Advent that may encourage you on your journey.

https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/series/liturgical-meditations/

It was getting hot and uncomfortable in Judea.  Not hot as in the physical climate, but the social and spiritual climate woman at wellwas becoming unbearable.  Jesus told his followers that they were heading north.  The Master wanted to get back to his old stomping grounds -Galilee.  Not that he couldn’t take the heat, but Judah was fast becoming a place where he couldn’t help people like he really wanted.  The religious leaders were turning his ministry into a side show, and at this point in his early ministry Jesus wanted no part of that, although it would be hard to avoid no matter where he went, because no matter where he went he healed the sick, the blind received sight, the cripples walked and demons were cast out.  Everyone wanted a piece of that action, and the Master was happy to provide it; happy to make people whole; happy to rejoice with them, although the real wholeness that he came to bring was much more than physical healings.  Deep down the masses were suffering from mental, emotional and spiritual sicknesses.  He especially wanted to bring healing and wholeness to them.  That was another reason he wanted to head north.  He had a divine appointment with a sick woman at a well.

It was not just any woman, it was a Samaritan woman, which meant they must go into the heart of Samaria.  It would be a hard pill for his Jewish disciples to swallow.  They didn’t like Samaritans very much.  It was hard for them to get along.  Hundreds of years ago the Samaritans intermarriage with Assyrians turned them into half breeds and that was something most Jews just couldn’t let go of.  They had so much to learn.  Normally when they traveled north to Galilee they would skirt around Samaria, even though it made the journey longer.  This time the trip would take them through the hated peoples terrain.  So much to learn.

Jesus was smiling as he and his band of brothers crossed the boarder into Samaria.  His followers – not so much.  It was midday when they stopped for a rest at a well outside the little town of  Sychar.  The disciples wanted to push into town and try and find something for lunch.  Jesus told them to go on without him.  “Stinkin’ Samaritans!  Probably spit in our pita bread” one disciple whispered under his breath as they headed into town.

They disappeared over a hill at about the same time that a woman from town topped the hill and made her way to the well.  She was all alone.

She looked down towards the well and was dismayed to see a man sitting there.  While most of the town’s folk went for water in the cool of the morning or evening, she preferred to go at midday.  Even though it was hotter, it was also quiet.  Peaceful.  Her noontime trips for water gave her a chance to be alone with her thoughts, away from the stares of men and disapproving frowns of women.  Oh well, she would just have to make the best of a bad situation.  Something she was used too.  At least this man wasn’t from town; he was clearly a stranger.  Getting closer she saw he was really a stranger.  She could tell by his clothes and facial characteristics that he was a Jew.  “No way!” She thought.  Jews never come around here.

Lowering her water jar into the well, she was surprised that this strange man spoke to her.  This Jew.

“Will you give me a drink?” He asked.  On the surface it seemed a simple question.  He was thirsty and she had water.  Beneath the surface it was extremely bizarre.  Most Samaritans knew that Jewish men thanked God everyday that they weren’t born gentiles, women, or dogs, and while she wasn’t a dog, she was clearly a woman, and probably considered worse than a gentile.  If he drank from her water jar, she knew he would be considered “Unclean” in polite Jewish circles, whatever “unclean” meant.

When Jesus asked the woman for a drink, he seemed to have twinkle in his eye, as if he were playing some kind of game where he had made the opening move, and now it was the woman’s turn.  She decided to play along.

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.  How can you ask me for a drink?”  Two can play at this game, she thought.

She was taken aback at his reply.  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is asking you for water, you would ask him and he would give you living water.”

She had no idea what He was talking about, but she like the sound of “living water”.  She replied, “You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is very deep; how are you going to get this living water?”

Jesus looked into her eyes and explained to her that whoever drinks water from this well will be thirsty again.  But whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again.  In fact the living  water I give will well up within and streams of water will gush out leading to eternal life.

Jesus has said a mouthful, overwhelming the woman’s ability to take it all in.  But the phrase, “never thirst again” caught her attention.

“Give me this water to drink so that I won’t have to come here everyday to draw water.” She replied.

Jesus decided to go deeper to help her understand what He was really talking about.  “Go get your husband and come back to me.”

Husband? Husband!  What did having a husband have to do with living water.  She thought of the five husbands she had had.  All the dreams and hopes that came with each wedding, and all the heartache and pain that came with the end of each marriage.  She had finally given up hope of finding any fulfillment in the institution and settled for just living with a man.  At least she would have a roof over her head and food in her belly.

She thought of the strange man’s request again and something began to rise in her.  A strange mix of self pity and anger.  She didn’t know what to say.  She was getting uncomfortable with this man and his words.  Hoping to brush him off she simply told him she had no husband and turned back to her water jar.

His next words struck her hard.  “You’re right.  You have no husband.  You have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband.  You have certainly told the truth.”

This man was really starting to get on her nerves.  She felt shocked and ashamed.  How could he possibly know about her past.  What business was it of his?  She certainly was not going to discuss it with Him.  She hastily changed the subject and decided to discuss religion.  That should definitely get this Jewish guy going in a different direction.

“Wow, you must be some kind of a prophet or something.  I know you Jews think Jerusalem is the place to worship, but our ancestors worship at this mountain”, she said pointing off to Mount Gerizim.”

Jesus spoke gently to her saying, “Jerusalem is the correct place to worship.  Salvation comes from the Jews.  But that’s beside the point.  A time is coming, and the truth is, the time is now, that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  God is spirit, and his people must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Again, the woman was somewhat overwhelmed by the the man’s words.  They sounded nice, and at least he didn’t bring up her husbands again.  Both the Samaritans and the Jews were looking forward to a time when the Messiah would come and make things right in the world.  That was always comforting to her.  She often imagined herself talking with the Messiah and having him resolve all the religious struggles she had within; heal the spiritual sickness she often felt. Not to mention all the personal issues she was dealing with.  She blurted out, “some day the Messiah will come and answer all our questions.

Jesus answered her saying, “I am the Messiah.”

Wouldn’t you love to know what became of the sick woman at the well?  All we know is that after Jesus proclaimed he was the Messiah, his disciples came over the hill with some food and the woman hurried off.  She forgot her water jar and went into town to tell the people of a man at the well who told her all about her life.  She also asked, “Could this be the Messiah?”

Did she believe he was the Messiah?  Did she she drink deeply of the “living water”?  Did she go on to live a life peace and joy?  Of fulfillment and wholeness?  Was she able to bury the demons of her past?  Or did she dismiss the stranger at the well as a crazy person who was just yanking her chain?  We don’t know.  I think that’s the way John wanted to end this saga of the woman at the well.  John also mentioned in his gospel account in chapter four, that many Samaritans came out to give Jesus words a listen, and that they asked this JEW to stay with them a few days, and that many believed.

Why did John write this story that the other gospel writers did not include in their books?  Why did John write any of the stories that he wrote?  He says in chapter 20 that these things were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you might have life through his name.  What does it mean to drink the living water that Jesus offers?  It means to believe!  How about you?  Do you believe?

*****          *****          *****          *****

From time immemorial men have quenched their thirst with water without knowing anything about its chemical constituents. In like manner we do not need to be instructed in all the mysteries of doctrine, but we do need to receive the Living Water which Jesus Christ will give us and which alone can satisfy our souls.

 Sadhu Sundar Singh

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