Archive for Matisyahu

Advent Calendar Day 8: Miracle

Posted in Music, Religion with tags , , , on December 9, 2012 by bradellison

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai ehad.

In Israel, in the days before the birth of Jesus, the Maccabees earned the liberation of their homeland through blood and courage.  Judah the Hammer reclaimed the Holy Temple from Antiochus Epiphanes, the abomination of desolation against whom Daniel prophesied, and the story is that the insufficient stores of oil miraculously lasted long enough to keep the temple menorah lit for eight nights.

In Jesus’ day this was recent history, and to the subjects of an occupying foreign power it must have been significant history.  Every outlaw, rebel and Zealot guerrilla in the Judean hills could have had the image of Judas Maccabeus in mind, and John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus visited Jerusalem during the festival celebrating the dedication of the temple, what Josephus called the festival of lights.

People say “happy holidays” not because there’s a war on Christmas, but because Christians share this nation and this planet with others, and our brothers of different faiths hold other days holy.  Tonight begins the celebration of Hanukkah, and as we are likewise People of the Book (as our Muslim brethren put it), it behooves us to take a moment to honor Maccabean courage and Maccabean faithfulness as Jesus did when he walked among us, and to celebrate together with our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Shalom.

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Brad Reads the Gospels: Matthew 3:13-17

Posted in Religion with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by bradellison

And now, for the first time, the man Jesus appears on the stage.

13Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

So here we see John directly establishing his subservient position to the Man Himself.  How, he asks, shall the lesser one annoint the greater?  There’s a Buddhist parable about a monkey reaching for the reflection of the Moon in a still pond.  John is the reflection, and the one standing before him asking for the baptism of water is the true celestial glory.

The answer Jesus gives is “because it is right and proper that it should be so.”  The usually-dubious Message transliteration puts it like this:

“Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

Baptism is a symbolic gesture.  Most immediately, it is a washing, living water sweeping our impurities away.  It’s also, especially the way the Baptists do it with the deep-down dunking, a symbolic death and rebirth.  The sign of Osiris Slain, the sign of Osiris Risen*.  The death of the old self, what Saint Paul literally calls the old corpse hanging on our backs, the sinful man, and the birth of the new man dedicated to walking the Way of Light and Truth.

In short, a two-fold reminder to Christians of what happened on Skull Hill, and what happened three days later in the tomb of the Arimathean.  For the Christ Himself, it is a foreshadowing of those things.  Before He can begin His work, he must perform the ritual of cleansing and rebirth (rebirth through water, of course, is also a part of all that Hero With a Thousand Faces monomyth business, as is the passage through the underworld), and it should be done by the Baptizer.  A parallel might perhaps be drawn with the annointing of David the King at the hands of Samuel.

But what’s really interesting is what happens when the Baptism occurs.  The anointing of Jesus comes not just from the hands of John and the sacred waters of the Jordan, but from the fires of Heaven.  And here we see, for the first time, the sacred mystery of the Trinity.  Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the three facets of God, present and unified, but separate, in this one place and time.

The Anointed One having been anointed, only one obstacle remains between Him and the beginning of His work: the Wilderness, and the temptations found there.  Just like in the Hero’s Journey.

*We do not have a monopoly on the idea of the resurrected god.  Osiris, Mithras, Balder the Beautiful, the Green Man, Apollo, Ra…There are many divine figures who have passed through the underworld.  Interestingly, it was Tolkien’s pointing out the way Jesus fit into this mythical structure that really caught C.S. Lewis’ attention.  Lewis talks more on the subject in his various works, and it’s quite interesting reading.  He regarded Christianity as “the myth that was true.”  It’s a conception that dovetails with one of my favorite quotes from the worthy Doctor Inazo Nitobe’s Bushido (bolding mine):

It is with ecclesiastical methods and
with the forms which obscure the teachings of Christ, and not with the
teachings themselves, that I have little sympathy. I believe in the
religion taught by Him and handed down to us in the New Testament, as
well as in the law written in the heart. Further, I believe that God
hath made a testament which maybe called “old” with every people and
nation,–Gentile or Jew, Christian or Heathen.

And of course that’s where the Hero’s Journey bit comes in. It’s all one story, from the beginning of time. Like Roger Zelazny’s Amber, the One True Story casts an infinite number of shadows.

Brad Reads the Gospels #2: Matthew 1:17-25

Posted in Religion with tags , , , , on February 23, 2009 by bradellison

So.  Fourteen generations from Father Abraham to King David.  Fourteen generations between David and the Babylonian Captivity (if I forget thee, o Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I prefer not Jerusalem to my chief joy), and fourteen generations from Babylon to Christ.  There’s something delightful to me about the Bible’s numerology, but I lack the qualifications as a Biblical scholar, mathemetician or magician to really comment on it.

So let us move on to the nativity story.  Such as it is.  Like Satan, the Nativity of Christian tradition is a composite made up of multiple scripture passages and centuries of extrabiblical tradition.  It’s a piece of evolved mythology.  But at the core of the myth is this story:

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

21And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

In case you forgot, Joseph is a son of David.  We also learn that he is a just man, and more than that, apparently a kind man.  Finding himself evidently cuckolded before the wedding itself is finalised, he wants to avoid publicly shaming his betrothed, as opposed to the more usual instinctive response of a man so fundamentally betrayed and publicly humiliated.

That’s when the angel appears.  Luke, the other Evangelist to touch on Jesus’ birth, has it that Mary was visited by Gabriel (who, as I understand the backstory of The Prophecy, was already well into his talking-monkey-inspired war against Heaven at this point, which is kind of odd.  Or maybe it was the Anunciation of a Messiah that would redeem the talking monkeys that finally sent him over the edge and led him to start the Second War.  Anyone know if this is resolved in the sequels?) and warned ahead of time, with parallels to the miraculous birth of John the Baptist who Luke connects familially to Jesus.  But Matthew seems more interested in Joseph, and it’s to Joseph that Matthew ascribes a divine revelation.  And this dream visitation quotes the Prophets, giving Jesus His name (“God Saves,” after the great war-chieftain who led the Israelites into Palestine after the death of Moses) and tying him to Isaiah’s foretellings of a coming redeemer*.

Matthew is also careful to emphasize that Jesus is not the son of Joseph.  He is at pains here to emphasize His divine origins.

And having made that point, he moves on.

Next up: heathen wizards from foreign lands pay homage, and Herod, King of Vichy Judea, commits acts of cartoonish supervillainy!

*Of course, Isaiah too was writing to a specific and contemporary audience, but it’s a poor prophecy that only means one thing.