Thursday, December 21, 2006

Swaddling and Sore

The biblical scholar in me knows better.

The King James Version of our sacred canon is rife with problems, too many to count really.

In fact, I wasn't even raised on it too much. The Revised Standard Version was the text my father used with great zeal, not unlike how I have sought to champion the newer translations of our time.

But there are some texts that, while my head knows and can exegete them one way, my heart knows them another.

One is Psalm 23. It is a remarkably pastoral psalm, and I can teach it from the NRSV perspective with great confidence (thanks to Walter Harrelson, my Hebrew Bible professor, otherwise lovingly and fearfully known as "Yahweh"), but when my heart is broken, or in need of care, or, when I'm with those who are unsure if they will even have a tomorrow, there is only one version emerging from the heart -

Psalm 23
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The same can be said of the Christmas Story found in Luke 2. Yes, I know the textual problems. But what my heart learned as a boy, and what the text says in the more contemporary settings are too divergent.

For this particular Advent, and, as it transitions into Christmas, my heart leans toward ancient words. And, even if problematic, I get it. I understand the problems, but that does not negate the overall truth.

The NRSV reading of Luke 2.7-9 says:

Luke 2.7-9
7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

The King James -

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

Whatever it is you think or feel about these texts, I wonder what being "sore afraid" in the presence of God looks like anymore. See, the Good News of Jesus birth was good news only for those who longed to be set free - from oppression, from their sin, from the principalities and powers that marginalized.

But the Gospel is bad news for everyone else.

The time from reckoning has come. The Realm of God is begun, and it has in all things, a helpless child born to a young, unmarried woman, in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem? Are you kidding me? Can anything good come from there?

One of the great problems we have with Christmas is that we've lost our capacity to be "sore afraid," as were the shepherds, until - the first Christmas greeting was offered by the angelic hosts, "Do not be afraid."

The collision of the Divine with the world should make us quake in our boots still.

Does it for you?

Does the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes still make you sore afraid?

The day it doesn't anymore, I'm in trouble.

No comments: