Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Bethlehem Code

The real secret code that largely goes unnoticed by many Bible believing Christians is the Bethlehem code. The subtle message that is written into the New Testament that points to where the Risen Christ may be found. I say it is secret because it clearly was written into the text of the New Testament but those who read the Scriptures only literally can totally miss it.

Consider for starters the Gospel of Luke, we all know the story at the beginning...the annunciations to Zechariah and Mary and Mary gives us the first hint of the "secret" when she proclaims "He has shown the might of his arm dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty,"(Luke 1:51-53) Zechariah in his prophetic utterance further gives us a clue, "by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1:78,79).

Think of the themes hinted at in both of these canticles, the lowly understand a message that those in power totally miss, their hunger is filled, and those who sit in darkness are given light. Again for someone who sees these as clues that point us to a message that is about to be revealed to us, a secret message, we have only to look a few verses further for the first big revelation.

In Luke 2: 8 immediately following the birth of Jesus we read about shepherds keeping "night watch" over their flocks, literally a people "sitting in darkness" who have an experience of "the glory of the lord shone around them"...they are told by the angels who appear to them that this will be "a sign" to them.

Let's stop there what exactly is a sign? It is not an end in and of itself but rather points to a greater reality. What is the sign they will witness? They are told that they will fine an "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." A manger is a feeding box (as one poor translation of Scripture once actually translated it) for animals. We are told that it is a "sign", what they witness there points to something beyond their experience of the birth of Christ to something else.

When the angels leave, the shepherds look to one another and say, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." The key phrase here is "Bethlehem" which literally means "house of bread". "Let us go to the House of Bread to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."

All of this is how the Gospel of Luke begins... how does it end? The Risen Christ joins two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They do not recognize him. He opens the Scriptures to them. They invite Him to stay with them. He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, gives it to them, then physically vanishes from their site. Luke tells us quite blatantly, for the really dense reader, that they recognized Him in the "breaking of the bread". Where are we to find Jesus this day? In the bread that is broken in the Eucharist!

I'll be preaching a mission on the "Bethlehem Code" in suburban Chicago from Nov. 30- December 3rd. If you are in the area feel free to join us!