Luke 1: Jesus and John
Sunday morning worship, November 25, 2018
I’ve had this book for a long time. On the inside cover it says, “To Scott and David. Christmas 1959. Mom and Dad.” It’s called “The Rainbow Book of Bible Stories” and it was published in 1956. Please, get comfortable in your pew and imagine yourself, whether it was ever true or not, anywhere from one to four years old sitting in a favorite place, next to your mom and dad or any mom and dad you want to imagine. That place may be on their lap in a comfy chair. It may be between both of them on the couch. It may be with a bunch of brothers and sisters snuggled in a big cozy bed. But wherever it is, feel the warmth and the love. Open your mind and let it wander to some sacred place as they begin to read…. (p.229).
Back in 1959 every toy and book a person could imagine hadn’t been invented or imagined, written or made yet. Children were treated a little more as little adults than they are today instead of having everything age appropriate. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing I don’t know, but not being able to read this book made me bug dad and mom all the more to read it to me. Maybe it was just being close to them that really mattered. But written in the table of contents in pencil around all the Abraham stories is the word “Monday.” Next to Joseph’s stories is “Tuesday” and “Wednesday.” Gideon is grouped on Thursday and Friday. Whether every story was ever read to me or not I couldn’t say, but I can only guess or want to believe that those precious times filled my mind and heart with dreams of what might someday be true of me.
Today’s children can find every genre of story available almost at every whim. Cable and the internet routinely provide access to books, movies, videos long and short, music, and whatever media form is desired whether a child is at home, in the car, in a restaurant, or even walking down the street surrounded by their friends. But not every child has that same 24-hour access to a parent’s or grandparent’s lap or favorite, safe, warm, and cozy place. However or why-ever it happened I may never know, but those stories weren’t make-believe to me. They weren’t even “once upon a time.” They were real. I believed the same super powers those people had were within me, too. Although the day came when I couldn’t wait to buy my next 12-cent Dell comic book, those comic book heroes had nothing on my Bible heroes.
Consider these super powers for a moment. Aquaman debuted in November of 1941. He could breathe underwater and control fish. Most of his wartime adventures came against Nazi ships and other wartime enemies. Now compare those adventures to Jonah’s. Jonah lived 3-days underwater in the belly of a fish. It’s not too far of a stretch, if you leave God out of the equation, to imagine Jonah breathing underwater, summoning a great fish, and directing that fish to take him to the shores of Israel’s greatest enemy. (Please note: all references to the super heroes adventures have been taken from various Wikipedia articles.)
Consider the Flash. The Flash first appeared in January of 1940. The original Flash was a college student who gained his speed through the inhalation of hard water vapors. Think of WWII and the role heavy water played in the development of the nuclear bomb. Now compare the Flash to Elijah, again leaving out the role God played. Elijah said it wouldn’t rain again until he said it would rain. Elijah said it would rain and it rained. But then Elijah felt threatened by Ahab and Jezebel. 1 King 18:45f says Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot and then continued to run for about 100 miles. After being feed by an angel Elijah traveled anywhere from about 200 miles if it was a straight walk to around 400 miles by ‘published roads’ climbing 7000 feet to the summit of Mt. Sinai, traveling about 40 days without eating (http://thebibleforstudents.com/i-kings/18-19).
Consider Superman. His creators were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both children of Jewish immigrants. The bulk of the early comic book industry was created by Jewish people.1 Superman first appeared in comics in April of 1938. Germany invaded Poland to begin the European part of WWII in September of 1939. The Germans had Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch (German for "Beyond-Man", "Superman", "Overman", "Superhuman", "Hyperman", "Hyperhuman"). Now the Jews had Kal-el, Superman’s real name. El is one of the Hebrew names for God. We’ll return to Superman’s story in a moment, but for now let’s consider some of Superman’s powers.
Superman had X-ray vision. Elisha in 2 Kings 6:15f is able to see things that no other human could see. Elisha saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire” and then was able to strike Israel’s enemies blind so he could lead them where he wanted. In so doing Elisha was able to stop the Arameans from raiding Israel. Superman had superhuman hearing. In this same chapter Elisha could “tell the king of Israel the very words you [the king of Aram] speak in your bedroom” (6:12).
We’ve already talked about Elijah’s superhuman speed in outrunning horses and running for miles and miles. How about Superman’s super breath? Ezekiel prophesied to the breath saying, “Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.” When Ezekiel said these words, breath came into a “vast army” and “they came to life and stood on their feet” (Ezekiel 37).
Superman could fly. In Acts 8:39, Philip disappears from the waters where he was last seen baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch and suddenly appears at Azotus. Scholars guestimate this distance at 30 kilometers.
Superman’s strength is matched first by Jacob. On his way to Laban’s to look for a wife, Jacob encounters a significant group of shepherds waiting by a cistern to water their sheep. The cistern is covered with a giant rock insuring that no shepherd can water their flocks without others present, insuring enough water for all. “When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep” (Genesis 29:10). That’s one way to impress a future wife!
Consider Samson’s feat in removing the gates from Gaza’s wall. “William Barrick computed the weight of the gate and posts to have been between five and ten tons. And Samson carried the gate to Hebron, which was 36 miles away and 3,200 feet higher in altitude!”2 Add to all of these: Moses lifts his hands and the Red Sea splits in half. Moses lowers his hands and the sea destroys his enemies. Elijah rides a fiery chariot into the heavens. David slays a bear, a lion, and a giant with little-boy weapons.
Now let’s get back to Superman’s story. Kal-el comes from another planet to earth and is raised by non-descript parents in a rural setting. Jesus is raised in the backwaters of Nazareth by non-descript parents. Superman, once fully grown, leaves his family and fights for “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Jesus leaves home and is Truth, proclaims justice, and is the Way. Villains continually hold the weak and innocent captive forcing Superman to submit for a moment in order to save the weak and innocent. Satan holds all of mankind captive in sin and unable to free themselves from sin’s grasp until Jesus submits to death in order to offer salvation to all. Superman eventually desires friendship and finds it in the Justice League composed of the aforementioned Aquaman and Flash as well as Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman. Jesus, in His mission, is subsequently joined by 12 Apostles and a group of women followers.
Why have I shared all of this? I believe the Bible is more real than any of us realize. Both hidden and obvious in all of its pages are stories that stretch our imaginations and fuel our dreams. When we contemplate all God has done and given us, all that He has already revealed of Himself and some of what is yet to come, it dwarfs the “magic of Christmas” as we’ve come to celebrate it today. When we read Bible stories to our children in those warm, safe, and wonderful places, we fill their minds with untold dreams and stories of lives yet to be written. Guess what else excites me and why I share all of this?
The real super hero is the Creator God of the Universe and He’s my Father! All of those stories are about real people who without God had none of those super powers. Super heroes got their super powers mostly by accidents. Bible heroes were chosen by God. Maybe, just maybe, someday God will grant me a temporary super power and some wonderful kind of story can be written about me, too! Maybe God will choose one of you and I’ll be the friend of a real-life super hero!
My very real prayer for this holiday season is that we will open our hearts and minds to yet-to-be-written tales God wants us to write in the days we have remaining. Hold onto your dreams. Ask God for new ones. As you contemplate the wonder of the Creator God of the Universe becoming a human, as we once again tell the stories of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Zachariah, Elizabeth, John, the shepherds, the wise men, Herod, the soldiers, and all the rest, open wider. Feel the wonder of the true-life Christmas story and be inspired. Then share that wonder with another future dreamer and let the stories continue to be written and continue to be told.