Headlines from First Thoughts

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pairing up to Believe #Advent

Some stories are meant to be together. At night, a bedtime story is shared between two people. In counseling, the minister and the client share confidential stories. Conference calls just are not nearly as personal as one voice speaking to another. In the same way, Luke tells the story of Jesus through characters paired together, some side by side, others in conversation. One character parallels another. Disciples go out two by two; two disciples walk on the road to Emmaus. In the drama of the nativity, the story happens in pairs of people who anticipate, teach, and demonstrate how to believe.

In Luke's account of Jesus' birth, you can find plenty of literary features. There are four hymns and two annunciations, two births, and two circumcisions. The characters are also paired together uniquely. They form doublets, running parallel to one another for readers and listeners to compare and contrast. Zechariah and Joseph are two fathers who perform their parts silently. Two mothers rejoice and sing the news: Elizabeth and Mary. The birth of two sons runs parallel to each other. The birth of John the Baptist anticipates the role of Jesus. Two sets of messengers spread the news: angels and shepherds. Two witnesses around the temple offer instructions, blessing, and warnings when they see the child: Simeon and Anna. 

One of the first artists to depict this motif was one of Leonardo da Vinci's students, Jacopo Pontormo. In his painting for the atrium of the SS. Anunziata in Florence, Italy, he paired Elizabeth and Mary with Joseph and Zechariah. These mothers and fathers (and their sons), bear the promise first described in Malachi. The messiah would "turn the heart of fathers to their children and children to their fathers." (Malachi 4:6). Luke elaborates a bit on that prophecy and states more directly that this would turn "the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).

These doublets will shape each of my messages in Advent. We will compare and contrast these characters to prepare our lives for the coming of the Lord. We will look at their attributes, habits, attitudes, difficulties, and emotions. By doing so, we close the gap between the strange world of the first century and our world. We realize that through their emotions, frustrations, and fears, we share a life that was not meant to be lived in isolation. We live out the coming of the Lord with friends, parents, children, and messengers learning how to believe. Through the message of Advent, God invades each person's life and works in miraculous ways, especially when we share the story with someone else.

Above: Pontormo. Visitation. 1514-16. Fresco. S. Annunziata, Florence. 

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