The Coming Millennium, Part 2

by Tom Wolpert on September 6, 2017

Theological Foundations of Christian Optimism:

Faith, the Vision, Voluntary Self-Government

The Faith of Abraham

Abraham leaves his tent.

 And behold, the word of the Lord came to Abraham, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then he brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him for righteousness.

Traveling toward a city of peace, holiness and justice requires faith when that city is not visible.  This city of Christ’s love, trust and unity is not visible to us now.  Rather, conflict abounds.   The news seethes with it.  If we cannot see God with our physical eyes, if we cannot see the risen Christ, if we see only little evidence that this Christian society is coming to pass in the real, physical world which we inhabit, upon what do we rely?   Evidence counts, and to earnestly advocate for something unseen requires an explanation and a justification.  Not only current events, but human nature itself, appear to sit ominously in the back of the courtroom, like two adverse witnesses waiting to be called to the stand and give testimony for the other side.

Abraham is our model, the first witness brought to be called for my argument of faith.  There was nothing in Abraham’s life, world, or experience that gave any physical evidence of what God was about to say to him outside his tent.  Look toward heaven was God’s command to Abraham.  There is no record that Abraham stopped to take an opinion poll of his neighbors or consulted the wise men at the gate of the local city.  If there had been an internet, he would not have consulted it for its posted comments on the likelihood of this promise coming to pass.

Count the stars if you are able to number them,  commanded God.  But Abraham could not count or number the stars, and the command was rhetorical, a way of God directing Abraham’s attention to something immeasurably larger than Abraham could grasp or imagine.  Faith begins with an intellectual understanding – God is incomprehensibly larger than we can grasp or imagine.  Look toward heaven while you weigh the evidence.  Our narrow and self-absorbed thoughts are impediments.   God’s abilities, God’s plans, God’s Word, extend magnificently beyond the horizon.  Look toward heaven before you set down a verdict of unbelief, resignation and pessimism.  Our personal preoccupations, resentments and obsessions are blinders, are sand in our eyes.

Faith is a spiritual method, a gift given by God, to apprehend the inapprehendable by means of his Word.  Abraham did not conjure up this encounter to enliven an uneventful day.  Children may play at the seashore of the Pacific ocean, but they do not understand how large the ocean is, unless someone draws their attention to it.  Count the stars was God’s way of redirecting the scope of Abraham’s thoughts.  Are we going to make our way to a city of kindness, justice and joy with our Savior Christ, in this our world of human time and human history?  Before you answer with sarcasm, ‘fat chance,’ count the stars.  We are not depending on our good natures (an arguable prospect at best), we are depending on God’s purpose and power.  The Lord did not say to Abraham – ‘consider what wonderful personal attributes you have’ – and I will not accept a picture of human life that severs God’s power and intention to make human life better from my understanding of what is possible.

So shall your descendants be.  Abraham’s problem with having even one descendant, one heir, was central to his life.  Our problem with creating a city, a culture of joy, a community of unity, of peace, safety, respect, justice, and dignity, which is moving in a positive direction toward holiness, love and righteousness, is central to our lives.   We are similarly situated with respect to our central problem, in some important ways, much as Abraham was with his.  The task appears impossible.  Most of the evidence is pointing in the other direction.  The only weight in our direction, that tips the scales to optimism, is the Word of God.  Candidly, it seems slender.

Abraham believed the Lord.  At this point, Abraham distinguished himself: he rejected the ordinary balancing test of evidence.  He puts God’s Word on the scale, and it overbalanced everything else.  There are analogies to this in the ordinary practice of law.  The standard jury instructions given to jurors by judges in Pennsylvania direct and permit them to weigh the evidence, not by the number of witnesses or the physical amount of evidence, but simply by what they find credible and persuasive, by the weight of the evidence.  One witness whose testimony is credible and persuasive may outweigh a dozen witnesses and a tableful of evidence which are not.  The weight of the evidence is with God, and we accept and cultivate faith to treasure that.  It is the right verdict to reach.

We receive this faith as a gift, since it is spiritual, but we do not arrive at it in a vacuum.  Abraham had a long history with God, starting with the Lord’s command to Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go  to the land I will show you.  Abraham had experienced famine, gone into Egypt, had conflict with and separated from Lot, rescued Lot in military conflict, and had met with Melchizadek, a priest of God Most High.  Abraham had a long walk with God, before he was called to leave his tent and look at the night sky.

There is no substitute for personal experience of Christ, and that, over an extended period of time.  I have been a Christian, a believer, for over thirty-five years.  I have been walking with Christ, not without ups and downs, not without good days and bad, over this lengthy period of time.  I do not weigh the evidence by the number of witnesses, or the size of the stack of the documents on the evidence table.  The daily news cycle is not the right way to evaluate our future.  Christ is a witness to our future and his testimony is certain and trustworthy.

God spoke astonishing words to Abraham: So shall your descendants be.  My explanation, my justification, for steel-plated optimism is that Jesus Christ says so. We will be astonished – astonished by God’s acts, astonished by what we can achieve under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has given us the Lord’s prayer  –Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.  He has given us the Great Commission  – Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.   I do weigh the evidence; everyone should and must.   The testimony of this one witness, Jesus, is more persuasive than the contrary evidence which is daily presented in the other direction.  It is not a conclusion lightly reached, but once reached, it is clear and convincing. The witness on one side overwhelms all the witnesses on the other side.  In imitation of Abraham, I believe the Lord:  God directs my intellect and attention to what He can do, not what I can see.

Doubts.  Habakkuk hears the reproach: where is your God?

Doubt appears as an obstacle in different forms, a companion whom we send away often, but who, apparently, never loses our telephone number.  Whether we are conducting or ignoring an inner dialogue between faith and doubt, there are other facts to consider: we serve a living God, and receive a living Spirit.  The slow organic growth of the Holy Spirit within us is like a set of vines, crossing over doubt and the other obstacles to our spiritual growth.  Faith and our character grow and we overcome the immediate obstacle, relying on the Spirit growing within us.  Further along the path, circumstances push us into another confrontation with doubt, reviving the same interior dialogue. We require an optimism that is not rattled at the first sign of distress.  The exploration of the faith necessary for our pilgrimage requires another witness.  I now call Habakkuk to the stand.

Habakkuk was a prophet of the Old Testament.  He lived at a time of considerable turmoil, violence, and moral and spiritual decline.  Possibly it was a time like our own.  Events around him gave rise to questions in his mind, and they became questions not only directed to God, but questions about God.

Habakkuk’s Questions

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, Violence!  but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?     

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence are before me;     

there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous,  so that justice is perverted.

That is a severe set of questions.  To say that the Lord does not listen or save, tolerates wrongdoing and the paralysis of the law, to permit the perversion of justice, is to entertain doubts about the very existence of God.  Underneath this set of questions, Habakkuk is hearing the voice of doubt like an angry, indignant prosecutor:

“Where is your God?”

Habakkuk’s faith is on trial throughout his book and possibly, throughout his life.  Doubt will return to play the part of a clever and unctuous cross-examiner, full of questions:

“Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Habakkuk, there is no God?

“Or at least, that He does not care about justice or human affairs?”

“Isn’t it true, your prayers are a waste of time?”

Habakkuk finds it difficult to answer.  These were his own questions to God.

Doubt steps confidently across the courtroom, to approach Habakkuk, seated in his witness chair.  The questions come in rapid sequence.

“Would I be mistaken, O man of Israel, in believing you are self-deluded?”

“Admit it, you wait for someone who does not exist?”

“Or at least, never appears or acts?

“To do something about justice, about the violence?”

“Something that will never happen?”

“Perhaps you are thinking, to take matters into your own hands?”

Habakkuk has no immediate answer.

Doubt turns, to direct another question rhetorically to Habakkuk, but actually addressed to the jury.  It won’t matter how Habakkuk answers, which is the essence of all good cross-examination.

Where is the wisdom in that?”

Dealing with this was central to Habakkuk’s faith.  Shedding this cross-examiner from our journey is no small task either.  Doubt’s last question is easy to anticipate and is no question at all:

˜This is reality, Mr. Habakkuk. Violence.  And retaliation. Why won’t you accept it?  It is the way of the world.”

Doubt’s closing argument is one all Christians face, striving to maintain and act on their faith, in the teeth of contrary facts and circumstances.  The caustic and cutting edge of doubt’s summation to the jury is intended:

“Habakkuk won’t listen, but I know you will.  This is reality, brother. A reality that everyone else in the world accepts –  everyone, apparently, but Habakkuk.  This is it, sister.  It’s all about the muscle.  Accept it.  Your God has not acted, and has not appeared.  The violence drags on. Why drag around your religious folly any longer?”

But Habakkuk, perhaps rousing himself from his inner thoughts, answers out of turn:

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will look forth to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer as to my reproach. . . .

Habakkuk, reproached fiercely by doubt, and seeing the surrounding violence most clearly, looks to God.  He waits for God on his watch, in his tower, for an answer to his questions, the answers he wants to give to his own doubts.  If we are to journey to a better city, we will necessarily cross the same arid ground.  The cross-examination of doubt is scheduled for our day in court as well.

An implied question emerges most unexpectedly: What kind of man are you?

The answer God provides addresses Habakkuk’s problem at its core:  the just man shall live by faith.   Habakkuk is presented with a choice – and, unexpectedly, it turns out to be a choice about Habakkuk himself.  In a sense, God returns a question for a question.  Habakkuk has been challenging God with questions.  God’s question in return is: what kind of man are you?   Because God’s answer to Habakkuk points decisively in a new direction:

The just man will live by faith.

When we meet the arid ground, when we meet the cross-examiner doubt, God does not pick us up out of the fray to rescue us from the difficulty.  He asks an entirely unexpected question. It is like a question from a judge, who has been sitting quietly, listening to the examination of the witness, and suddenly interjects a questions of his own to the witness:

What kind of man are you?

Because we are now instructed by the court – the just man will live by faith.  We make a choice here.  Faith is a choice as well as gift.  When we make the choice, we are saying something crucial about ourselves, about who we are.

Habakkuk made his choice.  He decided that he was a just man, not a violent one.  Whether some or many of his Jewish countrymen are violent doesn’t matter.  Whether the Babylonians which will attack them and take them into captivity are much more violent still, doesn’t matter.  Habakkuk will not be violent.  In making this choice, he opted for a life of faith.

God answers Habakkuk’s questions with a statement about faith and who has such faith.   Habakkuk was lifted by a spiritual gift that has reverberated through the ages.  The Apostle Paul will anchor his Letter to the Romans, and his entire theology for the evangelization of the Gentiles, on this point.  Martin Luther will anchor his entire theology to justify his declaration of spiritual independence from the Catholic Church of his day, on this point.  The just man will live by faith.

Habakkuk knows the Babylonians are coming because God shows it to him.  The consequences will be enormously destructive everywhere, and devastating for the people of Israel.  The problem of local violence by his fellow Jewish countrymen will be completely eradicated by God, but not in a way Habakkuk ever contemplated.  Habakkuk is shocked by the power of his vision from God. I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.  This tidal wave of Babylonian destruction will sweep over Israel as well.  Habakkuk then records a statement of faith that has no parallel.

Habakkuk gives his testimony.

 Though the fig tree should not blossom

And there be no fruit on the vines,

Though the yield of the olive should fail

And the fields produce no food,

Though the flock should be cut off from the fold

And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the Lord,

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hind’s feet,

And makes me walk on my high places.

So Habakkuk concludes his testimony.  Now he walks on high places, but not places conveniently removed from the strife of living in this world.  Habakkuk testifies to the path that we walk but can’t see, to an unseen city we both build and wait for.   If we are going to get somewhere, spiritually and in terms of our society, our relations with each other, this is a bridge we have to cross.  Faith, the assurance of God’s action in the world, is the separation worked by the Holy Spirit – we separate from the world’s numb unbelief to travel to a place that God calls us.  We will answer the question: Here. Right here.  Here is our God. The justice and peace of our city will be answer enough to any doubt.


Another witness to faith.

Different people provide examples of faith. I have another witness to introduce. You are familiar with this witness and her story already, so I will keep my questions brief and to the point. As well-known as she is, her testimony of faith is unforgettable and instructive. Her public story began with startling miracles and, soon thereafter, dangerous threats to her life and her child. Her story would pass through a sword which pierced her heart with grief. Her faith would emerge on the other side of that grief, stronger than ever. I do not want to pray to this woman – I want to pray with her.

The direct examination of Mary:

Question: Thank you for joining us, Mary. Would you identify yourself?

Mary: I am Mary, wife of Joseph the Carpenter. I am the mother of Jesus, our Lord.

Question: At the time of the events we are reviewing here, were you married to Joseph?

Mary: No, we were betrothed to each other, in preparation for marriage.

Question: Where was that?

Mary: We lived in the village of Nazareth, in Galilee. In the nation of Israel. Under the rule of Rome, and their Caesars – and their governors and their appointed kings, their rulers and administrators and soldiers.

Question: About when was that?

Mary: When Caesar Augustus ruled Rome. In Galilee, we were under the governor of Syria then, named Quirinius.

Question: What was the general situation like, in Israel?

Mary: We were not rich. We were humble. We were religious and observant of the Law. Some of my family lived in the hills and were very poor. People looked down on us – we had been conquered. We were a subject nation of the Roman empire. Before that, the Greeks ruled us.

Question: Did you encounter Roman soldiers?

Mary: In town we did. Many Roman soldiers held us in contempt. They scorned us because we were poor. They hated and resented us for our religion. If we got any money at all, and a Roman soldier found out about it, he might take it from us. They would accuse you of something as an excuse. If he didn’t take it, a tax collector did. The soldiers weren’t all like that, but enough were. The idolatry of the Romans was offensive to us. We hated their symbols and insignias, their declarations and their commands, and their arrogance.

Question: People didn’t like the Jewish tax collectors who collected for Rome?

Mary: They were hated. They kept half of it for themselves. Everyone thought them traitors.

Question: How old were you at that time?

Mary: I was a teenager, not yet 18 years old.

Question: Did you have family in the area?

Mary: Yes, including my relative Elizabeth. But she was much older than I was.

Question: Did you know that Elizabeth had become pregnant?

Mary: It depends. What time are you asking about?

Question: We’ll talk about that. Did you have an unusual visitor? At that time?

Mary: Yes, I did. An angel. Until the angel appeared and spoke to me, I did not know Elizabeth was pregnant. I found out then that she was about six months pregnant.

Question: Was anyone else around when you received this visit, this appearance from an angel?

Mary: No, I was in my father’s house by myself.

Question: When this angel appeared, what was your reaction?

Mary: I was very startled, and fearful. Amazed, and puzzled.

Question: How did the angel look?

Mary:   Can you ask? This was an angel. Beautiful. Glorious. With shimmering brilliant white garments. Spiritual. Otherworldly. Powerful, with authority. Fearful.

Question: How did you react?

Mary: I was overwhelmed. Afraid.  Curious. As I said, puzzled.

Question; What happened next?

Mary: The angel spoke to me. He said. “Rejoice, highly favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Question: How did you react to that?

Mary: It was puzzling. Rejoicing was not my first reaction. I was overwhelmed.

Question: Did he say anything else?

Mary: He said, “Blessed are you among women!”

Question: How did you react?

Mary: I was troubled by his words. I did not understand what he meant. I did not understand what kind of greeting this was. It was an overwhelming appearance. His presence overwhelmed everything else.

Question: Did he say more, or explain?

Mary: He said, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.

Question: What was your reaction to that?

Mary: I was less afraid. It wasn’t just the words, it was also his tone. It was peaceful. It was reassuring. The Holy One of Israel had sent His angel.

Question: Can you explain more about the tone?

Mary:  The angel wasn’t angry with me, He wasn’t going to hurt me. It didn’t seem like I was in trouble. Rejoice, blessed, favor – those are good words. Even if I didn’t understand them. These were the words of the Holy One – the Lord our God, the one God we worshiped in Israel. I heard his words.

Question: You were concerned you were in trouble? Did you often get in trouble?

Mary: No, not at all. The rules were strict in our house. We observed the Law – the Holy Law of Moses. We observed the customs of the elders. That is how we lived, and what we lived by. But I was a teenager. I was young, and when you are young, that’s the first thing you think. Perhaps I have done something wrong – that’s why I’m being spoken to by someone in authority.

Question: Did the angel say more?

Mary: Yes. He said this. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and you will call him Jesus.”

Question: How did you react to that?

Mary: Well, that was most surprising! And I was being told to name him – Jesus! Also, everything was happening quickly. I didn’t have time to react to each statement.

Questions: Was that surprising, his name?

Mary:  That was surprising – naming a first-born son would not be something I declared or announced. Those are the decisions of a husband and his family, or both families, in our custom, not the decisions of a teenage bride. Even Zacharias had to explain why he wanted to name his son John, because it wasn’t a family name. We took these things with great seriousness. Names were not trifles.

Question: So the angel told you to name him Jesus?

Mary: Yes. It was not a family name. My son – his name Jesus – his name is holy. The Lord, the Holy One of Israel, had sent his angel to tell me. That day I told Joseph. Then Joseph told his family. When the time came to name him in the Temple in Jerusalem, Joseph announced it, as was his right.

Question: What else about your reaction?

Mary: I was instantly overjoyed. I felt a great sense of joy, more than I can explain. I was going to have a son! That was great news!

Question: What else did the angel say?

Mary: The angel said, “He will be called great, and will be called Son of the Highest.”

Question: Did you understand that?

Mary: No. Not beyond the joy and pride I was feeling. But it elevated my soul beyond words. I felt overwhelming joy. I was being lifted, lifted up to God. Lifted up by God, on a river of joy. I can’t explain it. My emotions were very strong. As if I were on a mountaintop, with the Lord, the God of Israel. Or like Moses in the desert at the burning bush.

Question: Did the angel say more?

Mary: Yes. He said, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Question: What did you think of that?

Mary:  Well – it was happening quickly. I just rejoiced to hear it. It meant deliverance! The Lord was delivering Israel! I thought about it more later.

Question: Later on, did you have any additional thoughts?

Mary: When I was absorbing it all in my mind, reviewing it, then I thought – the Son of David! The Messiah! To deliver us from the Romans. Everyone said it was going to happen. Now it was, because the Lord was going to use me! So then I thought I understood what the angel was saying. My son was going to be the King! Like King David. To deliver us from Rome and set up our own nation, independent and free, worshipping the Lord our God, the God of Israel, in our Holy Temple. No more Roman soldiers, or governors, or taxes or tax collectors. No more being spit at by the Roman soldiers. No more hiding money from them. Our nation, our worship, all restored. Our Holy City Jerusalem, restored and free. For the glory of Israel and a light to the Gentiles.

Question: You thought all that?

Mary: Yes, but as I said, later, after the angel left. There was nothing else people talked about in those days. The men prayed every Sabbath for the Son of David to appear and deliver us. You learned it about from the time you could totter around a courtyard. It was the air every Jewish child breathed. We were waiting for our King to appear, to drive them out, the hated Roman soldiers and their army. The Roman soldiers knew we were waiting for our King, and why. They resented us fiercely. It was not a happy situation.

Question: Anything else?

Mary: I thought for a moment. I had a question, a very obvious question.

Question: A question for the angel – and what was your question?

Mary: I asked the angel, “How could this be? How could I have a child? I was a virgin.” I had had no relations with Joseph or any other man.

Question: Please continue. Did the angel answer your question?

Mary: Yes. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Question: How did you react to that?

Mary:  I believed him. I believed everything the angel said. I was overwhelmed with indescribable joy and peace. Beyond any explaining or describing. I felt lifted up 100 times higher, higher than any mountain in the world. It was beyond understanding. My joy was unspeakable. I don’t have other words to use. My soul was exulting. Everything in me was praising God, the Lord God Almighty of Israel. The God of our fathers. Our prayers were answered.

Question: Was there a more personal element also, in your feelings?

Mary: I had some fears too, some insecurities about the planned marriage to Joseph, although I knew him to be a good man, an observant man. Our family knew his family. My own prayers were answered. I had many questions about the future. I was a young woman capable of strong emotions – many questions and many thoughts – sometimes that was good, sometimes it need some restraint.

Question: Was there more?

Mary:  Yes. There was more. The angel said –

Question: Before you go on, do you know that name of this angel?

Mary: Yes, Gabriel. The angel never said his name to me, but I found out when I talked to Zachariah and Elizabeth. You know Gabriel appeared to Zachariah in the Temple, when he was burning the incense.

Question: Yes, we are aware of that. Although his reaction to Gabriel’s words was not identical to yours. In any event, please continue.

Mary: Gabriel said, “Now indeed, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age, and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.

Question: And that’s when you found out about Elizabeth, that she was pregnant?

Mary: Yes. And I was so glad to hear that. Elizabeth felt disgraced, about not being able to bear children. Our numbers were slender. We wanted children. We knew how long she had prayed to conceive.

Question: Then what did the angel say?

Mary: Then Gabriel said, “With God, nothing is impossible.

Question: You understood that to refer to Elizabeth?

Mary: To Elizabeth, and to myself. And to us, the people of Israel. We were being freed from Rome. As impossible as that sounded, because no one had defeated them. No one had freed themselves from them. Rome, mighty Rome, and its great Caesars, its generals and its armies and its centurions and its tax collectors. And the wicked kings they installed in power over us. The violence and persecution we were subject to. All were going to be swept away, by my son! The new King! Our prayers were being answered. After hundreds of years. Righteousness was going to prevail. Justice would be restored. I believed the angel, to the depth of my soul.

Question: Was there more?

Mary: Yes. There were a few moments of silence. Gabriel and I, standing together in my father’s house, in peace. I was thinking this over, pondering it. Everything was still. I had so many thoughts in so short a time. It seemed timeless. Nothing was moving anywhere. Then I spoke.

Question: What did you say.

Mary: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord! Let it be unto me, according to your word.”

Question: Words that have inspired many! Why did you say that?

Mary: I believed him. I was willing for the power of the Most High to overshadow me. My heart was ready and willing. Ready to conceive my holy child, Jesus. Willing, for the King of Israel to appear inside of me! Ready to bear a son. Ready for the victory that the Lord would give! To save the House of Jacob, and restore us, like the days of old!

Question: You said, “Behold! The handmaid of the Lord!” Mary, if you would, permit me to explore that. You have described yourself as very young at this time?

Mary: Yes.

Question: And you described the angel Gabriel as how?

Mary: As I told you. Beautiful. Glorious. Brilliant.

Questions: Overpowering?

Mary: Yes. Until he told me not to be afraid, I was afraid of him. You would be too.

Question: How is it then, that you were confident enough, or secure enough, to give instruction to this great angel?

Mary: Could you repeat your question?

Question: Yes. Here you are, a teenager. You are greeted, no, visited by a great angel. Then, after a conversation, you essentially give this angel, Gabriel, a directive – am I correct? ‘Behold, the handmaid of the Lord!’

Mary: I guess you could call that a directive. I wasn’t thinking about it that way. I wanted to be obedient to the Lord, to be worthy, to be willing.

Question: But that’s what it was, wasn’t it – a directive? You told him what he ought to do. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” I don’t think that’s very commonplace for teenagers to do, do you? To give directives to great angels?

Mary: I wouldn’t know.

Question: Just for good measure, you added in: “Let it be unto me, according to your word.”

Mary: Well, yes.

Question: Why did you add that?

Mary: I was obedient to God and said it plainly. I accepted and believed. I was willing. It was the declaration of my soul. The Holy God of Israel had visited me, a nobody, a Jewish girl in a town in Israel, under Roman rule. I wanted to declare my faith. Like King David, in the Psalms. I was giving myself to the Lord, his servant forever. And I believed the angel Gabriel. Every word. I required no further sign or proof, or demonstration from him to believe. My heart was ready.

Question: Yes. What else were you feeling?

Mary: I was greatly honored. I felt a sense of great dignity. I was being used in God’s purpose for my nation, for my people. I was instrumental in God’s plan for the whole Jewish nation, for our Temple, for our City, Jerusalem, to deliver us from our enemies. The mercy of the Lord is great. To deliver and save us from those who looked down on us.

Question: Did you also feel a sense of dignity, because of your faith – your faith in God?

Mary: Yes. That would be fair. I felt a sense of dignity, because of my faith in God. I had that faith from my earliest childhood. The Law and Prophets, and the customs handed down to us, were our life.

Question: And still have that faith, which you had even though you were so young, a teenager?

Mary: Yes.

Question: And had that faith throughout your life?

Mary: Yes.

Question: Even when you watched your son Jesus being crucified?

Mary: A sword of grief pierced my soul on that day. No words could describe that grief or pain. The darkness of the sky was nothing as to the darkness I felt. It went down as high as I had been lifted up, so many years before. But yes, my faith persisted. I never surrendered it.

Question: And, if I understand – you felt dignity, because of your obedience?

Mary: Yes. I was obedient to God’s purpose for me. That purpose was joined with our whole nation. It was our purpose, my purpose, joined with Abraham and all the prophets. And God’s purpose for my family, and all of us who obeyed and feared God. We were being restored, to holy and right worship, in our own land, under our true King, Son of David, Son of the Most High.

Question: These are the feelings which gave you the confidence to respond as you did?

Mary: Yes. My faith was fixed in the Lord, the Savior of Israel. God was helping his servant Israel. The Lord’s promises were being answered, after such a long time.

Question: You had been waiting long?

Mary: Yes. It was what we were all waiting for. As the Lord God had promised to the prophets, to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. We held onto our faith all through the years. We never abandoned it, no matter how we were conquered. We didn’t abandon it when we were taken into captivity hundreds of years before, taken into captivity to Babylon. We didn’t abandon it under the Persians. We didn’t abandon it when we were ruled by the Greeks. We didn’t abandon it when we were ruled by the Romans. A long, long wait was coming to an end. The Messiah was coming. To deliver us from the hand of those who hated us. I was going to have a son. I was going to be married to Joseph. I was overwhelmed with joy. It took possession of my soul and my heart and my whole being.

Question: And that joy and dignity gave you the composure to answer as you did to Gabriel?

Mary:   My dignity wasn’t what I was thinking about at that time.   But yes, among my other strong feelings, I was feeling that as well.

Question: Then what happened?

Mary: Gabriel left me. I was amazed. As soon as I could, I told Joseph. It didn’t occur to me when I told him, that he might have any questions about it. I was overwhelmed, floating with joy. The questions that Joseph had privately, that he thought about privately, were resolved later. My husband turned out to be as much a dreamer as his namesake, Joseph in Egypt. When angels spoke to him in dreams, my Joseph believed. He was quiet. I wish there were more of a public record of his obedience.

Question: Res ipsa loquitur.  His actions speak for themselves. Did you leave your father’s house after this visitation?

Mary: I soon made the trip to see Elizabeth, in the hill country of Judah. In the house of Zacharias. I stayed there with her for about three months. Some of that has been recorded. Do you want me to describe it?

Question: I think we have reviewed what is essential. Anything else about your interaction with Gabriel that you would add?

Mary: Only – when I visited Elizabeth – by that time, I had the opportunity to think it over, to ponder it. I  reviewed all this, the angel’s words, in my mind. My soul magnified the Lord, greatly. Greatly. It was a great victory for all of us.  We had been pushed down and walked on for so long.  My son was going to be the King of Israel, rule over the House of Jacob, free us all = and be a light to the Gentiles.  My spirit rejoiced in God our Savior.  Even as Gabriel was standing there before me in that brief respite of silence and peace in my father’s house, I felt all that.  I felt it when I saw Elizabeth and her child John leaped in her womb for joy.  I feel it now.  Our faith in the Lord, the God of Israel, was rewarded, is rewarded, will always be rewarded.  Our prayers were answered and always will be. My faith has been rewarded beyond my wildest measure or imagination.

Question: Thank you, Mary. Respectfully, I have nothing further.

Mary: You are most welcome.

Question: Well, wait. I do have something else. When you went to Elizabeth’s house, you made a declaration, a statement of faith, didn’t you?

Mary: Yes, I did.

Question: And we know it as the Magnificat, your song of praise. I’ve read it over many times, I almost know it by heart. Would you kindly recreate it for us now?

Mary: Would you like to recite it with me?

Question: Yes, I would.

Mary and Questioner (and all who fear and obey God are invited to join):

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.

Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me.

Holy is his name.

His mercy is on those who fear him, from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm.

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things.

The rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.


Martin Luther; Direct and Cross Examination

I next call Martin Luther as a witness as to four elements of the life of faith: approaching God and the interior spiritual life; relations with other Christians; relations with Christian and secular authority; and relations with other religious groups. The strength of Luther’s faith is without question; the consequences of his witness continue to this day. His shortcomings have had consequences as well. In presenting his witness to Christian faith, both my direct examination and a skilled cross-examination are essential. In order to conduct the cross-examination, I have requested that Erasmus, the 16th century Catholic, Christian humanist, conduct Luther’s cross-examination. Both re-direct and re-cross will be permitted. You will be the judge, to decide whether or not a sufficient groundwork in faith has been laid, so that we may proceed forward.

The end to be sought is Christians receiving and creating a different kind of society and interacting in extraordinary ways, characterized by peace and mutual bonds of respect and love. There are some problems to be solved in arriving at this city, and some tools to employ to build it. Martin Luther, and in his own way, Erasmus, by virtue of his questions, will elaborate.



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