No Room At The Katalyma

nativity+angel+1+001-1Poor Joseph and Mary. No room at the ________.

Hmmm . . . how ’bout katalyma? It’s a Greek word, but I’d wager you’ll do a pretty good job of filling in the blank based on more commonly used English words. After all, Joseph and Mary are one of the most famous couples in history. Right away you know this is the Christmas story. Right away, you know it’s a reference from either Matthew or Luke’s Gospel.

(It’s Luke 2:7, for those, like me, that are never 100% sure about the distinctive settings of the two Christmas stories. I usually sneak a scriptural peek to make sure, for example, that the shepherds only appear in Luke and the Magi are Matthew’s special guests.)

How would you express katalyma in today’s English? There was no room at the . . . Motel 6? What about The Four Seasons? Why not the BB&B (the Bethlehem Bed & Breakfast)? Couldn’t the word translate to “the family room with a convertible sofa?”

A likely answer could be: “Poor Joseph and Mary. No room at the . . . inn.”

I’d certainly give that answer, but it’s probably better to translate katalyma as “the lodge.” However, ye olde King James Version (KJV) from the 17th Century and the 20th Century’s New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) read “the inn.” Who wants to argue with the King of England, anyway? Continue reading →

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Luke 1:47-55  – The Third Sunday of Advent – for December 15, 2013

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:47)

DespairI can’t read.

I can’t write.

But I can listen . . . and remember.

I left my home and village to come to this place. Here, my family welcomed me, and their presence—along with food, shelter and other kindnesses—has made me feel safe.

Except, I don’t feel safe.

Alone at night, I light a lamp. Then two. Then three. But it’s not enough. I could light a thousand more flames and this room would still feel shrouded in darkness that has nothing to do with the night.

My mind is troubled.

And yet my soul sings with joy.

How can this be? How can I lay awake, unable to sleep, thoughts racing about all the doubts I have, all the terrible things that could happen and all of the ways the future will never be what I want and still I feel . . . confident?

I repeat the words I remembered and treasured:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

I do not speak them above a whisper, for I don’t want to wake the rest of the house. It’s enough these three lamps might be seen, might cause my cousin Elizabeth to come in and ask me again—for the hundredth time—how are you doing? Is there anything I can help with? Are you sure you’re fine?

Of course I’m not fine.

She knows that. If I were fine, I wouldn’t be here.

I repeat the ancient words again. The priest back home, who probably didn’t know I’d been secretly listening as he read from the wrinkled scroll in the synagogue, called them Hannah’s prayer. Did Hannah know how to read? Did Hannah know how to write? Like me, did she feel foolish or useless? Or did she only know how to trust God and believe that her child Samuel would be the one that God sent?

I repeat Hannah’s words again. Continue reading →

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Death Cackles

Luke 23:33-43  – 26th Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday – for November 24, 2013

“He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

i-love-jesus-pumpkinIt is November. Isn’t it?

When they came to the place that is called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals.

The summer heat in Fresno has booked a flight to Australia, but the Central Valley has yet to flaunt its (in)famous wintry fog. It’s a transitional season, the peculiar time when the oranges on the citrus trees still have traces of green and the green foliage on the deciduous trees are tinted orange. Autumn shrugs its shoulders and the leaves drop like dandruff. In every neighborhood, pumpkins anchor doorsteps. They once starred in Halloween and now remain, anticipating Thanksgiving. It’s a restless threshold time. We wait . . . for thick fog, for raking leaves, for fresh snow in the mountains and for the coming of Advent and Christmas.

The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him some wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

Reading the lectionary in November always seems unsettling. Just when you’re creating your grocery list for Thanksgiving or you’re dreading that it’s your turn to host the family Christmas gathering, Jesus arrives. He’s not the cuddly infant, but the battered Roman criminal nailed to a cross. Ordinary Time limps away; Advent hasn’t yet begun. In between, we are dragged toward the place called the Skull, and “suddenly” Jesus hangs between two criminals.

This brutal scene from Luke’s Gospel could be ignored. Indeed, these seasonal transitions are easy for many folks . . . just let the Halloween pumpkins linger for Thanksgiving and then scoop out the gourd’s innards for fresh pie at Christmas dinner. Easy as 1-2-3, right? (Well, easy except for those darn goopy seeds.)

Exchange the supermarket’s pilgrim and turkey posters for Santa and his reindeer.

Let Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby start crooning carols in the malls to encourage shoppers to buy early and buy often.

Yes indeed, it’s ye olde seasonal switcheroo. Again, easy.

The cross-bound, broken and bloodied Jesus? Hmmm? Not so easy. Continue reading →

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