Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent and a Sense of Scale

Today's first Bible reading doesn't include the last part of Micah 5:4.
"1 But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.

"2 (Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, And the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel.)

"He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD, in the majestic name of the LORD, his God; And they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth;

"3 he shall be peace...."
(Micah 5:1-4A)
I'm guessing that's because we see these verses mostly as they relate to our Lord's birth, about seven centuries later. Folks in Micah's day had more immediate concerns:
"3 he shall be peace. If Assyria invades our country and treads upon our land, We shall raise against it seven shepherds, eight men of royal rank;

"4 And they shall tend the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with the drawn sword; And we shall be delivered from Assyria, if it invades our land and treads upon our borders."
(Micah 5:4-5)
Micah lived around Isaiah's time, a bit over 27 centuries back. Assyria's leaders were trying to unite the (western) world into a single empire, and succeeding: for the moment.

Assyria had invaded Israel back in Menahem's day, and been paid to leave. (2 Kings 15:19-21)

Ahaz had trouble with Assyria, too, of a different sort. He'd seen an altar in Damascus, and been so impressed that he "...sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar and a detailed design of its construction." (2 Kings 16:7-18)

Hezekiah — son of Elah and Abi, daughter of Zarchariah — sorted out that mess: and that's another topic. (2 Kings 18:1 and following)


(From Ningyou, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The mighty Assyrian Empire , from the reign of Shalmaneser III to Esarhaddon's victory over Pharaoh Taharqa.)

Assyria started out as Assur, a Sumerian city-state. They'd been part of Sargon of Akkad's Akkadian Empire, arguably the world's first emperor: I've mentioned him before. (August 21, 2015)

That wasn't where the story starts, of course. I'll skip over the first few billion years after this universe cooled down: it's still cooling, and that's yet another topic. Topics. (October 23, 2015; August 14, 2015; June 14, 2015)

Where was I? Micah, Assyrians, Sargon, the universe. Right.

The first humans — Adam and Eve aren't German — made a profoundly bad decision, and we've been living with the consequences ever since. (September 27, 2015; February 1, 2015)

Later, after we'd started using bronze, but before internally-reflective optic fiber began being replaced by photonic-crystal fiber, Abram moved to land just east of the Mediterranean, had his name changed to Abraham, and that gets me back to Micah.

We don't have many records from the last years of Ashurbanipal's reign. He was the Assyrian ruler after Esarhaddon, we have a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh found in his library, and that's yet again another topic. (November 1, 2015)

I figure that's likely because the Assyrian empire fell apart after he died.

With folks like Ashur-etil-ilani, Sin-shumu-lishir, and Sinsharishkun, scrambling for power; and an environmental disaster in progress; there probably wasn't much interest in maintaining the imperial archives.

Yes, there are worse things than election-year politics.

Empires, Achaemenid and Roman

(From Hansueli Krapf/Simisa, via Wikimedia, used w/o permission.)
(Pārśa, some two dozen centuries after the Achaemenid Empire's heyday.)

Kūruš founded the Achaemenid Empire about a century after Micah's time. He and Dārayava(h)uš brought a measure of peace and stability around the time Confucius was touring China. I've mentioned them before, too. (October 18, 2015; July 3, 2015)

The Roman Kingdom became the Roman Republic, generations of Senatorial mismanagement ended with Julius Caesar, an assassination, assorted warfare and suicide; followed by several centuries of Roman emperors: good, bad, and Elagabalus, and that's still another topic.

A bit over a half-century after Julius Caesar's assassination, folks who looked a bit like me obliterated three Roman legions in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. That's not why there's a decorated tree in the living room, though.

Jesus of Nazareth

My family and I, along with the rest of Christendom, are celebrating Advent.

It's a time when we review events leading up to our Lord's birth: like that prophecy in Amos; and Luke 1:39-45, where Mary visits Elizabeth and John the Baptist leaped in her womb. Elizabeth's that is. (Luke 1:41)

The other Scripture reading, Hebrews 10:5-10, explains in part why our Lord came.

Next Friday, Christmas, we'll celebrate our Lord's birth. A dozen days later comes Epiphany — a very big deal for gentiles like us, or should be. I'll get to that in another post.

The next major celebration is Ash Wednesday: February 10, 2016, this time. That kicks off the Easter season, when we review events leading to our Lord's death.

What really made the surviving 11 Apostles sit up and take notice, I think, were the 40 days after Jesus stopped being dead. It took several meetings and at least one meal to convince them that they weren't seeing a ghost. (October 5, 2014)

That's why Christmas is important to my family. It's when we celebrate our Lord's birth, when the Second Person of the Trinity came into our world as one of us:
"For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
(John 3:16-17)

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep."
(1 Thessalonians 4:14)


That was two millennia back now. The Roman Empire is gone, Egypt's pharaohs are literally ancient history, and hardly anyone talks about Ashurbanipal any more.

But we're still celebrating the aftermath of a messy execution: because Jesus stopped being dead, and offers life to anyone who's interested and willing to join the family. (Matthew 28:5-7; 1 Timothy 1:15-17; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 52, 638-655, 1825)

By any reasonable standard, that is a big deal.

So is trying to live as if loving God and my neighbor, seeing everybody as my neighbor, and treating others as I want them to treat me, matter. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

Jesus may return later today, or we may still be celebrating when the Assyrian and Roman Empires, and whoever was rich and famous during Christmas in the year 2715, seem roughly contemporary.

Meanwhile, as I keep saying, we have work to do. (July 5, 2015; November 30, 2014)

One more quote, and I'm done.
"Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

"What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?...

"...For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, 9 nor future things, nor powers,

"nor height, nor depth, 10 nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:34-35, 38-39)
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