Before Abraham was, I am.
- John 8:58
uster couldnt wait to take piano lessons. Every Sunday the wide-eyed third-grader stopped by the piano or the organ to watch me play. He was my biggest fan.
Finally, thanks to a generous uncle, the little boys dream came true. How proud he was when he arrived for his first lesson.
It wasnt long before some of the glory had disappeared. Buster didnt seem as thrilled anymore, and I wasnt thrilled with his progress. A few weeks later his mother told me she was stopping Busters lessons because he wouldnt practice.
But, Buster, I told him, I have to practice.
Ill never forget the baffled look on his face, nor his response: Youre kidding.
Buster isnt the only one who thinks there is a magic way to be something without taking the necessary steps, and music isnt the only subject which those who havent taken those steps thoroughly underestimate.
Take faith, for instance. Is it, as the Sunday School chorus exclaims, ...as simple as can be, as plain as A, B, C...? Or was St. Paul nearer the truth when he told the young Timothy to, Study to show yourself approved unto God (II Timothy 2:15)?
I had a Timothy moment a few weeks ago. While planning the music for this Sunday which, in many churches, is called Christ, the King Sunday, I wondered why we hail Jesus as King the Sunday before Advent, just as we are about to spend four weeks waiting to celebrate His birth. I needed to do some studying to understand what seemed to be a reverse chronology in the life of Christ.
As often happens, one question leads to another. This time it was the memory of that strange statement Jesus made to the Pharisees, Before Abraham was, I am (John 9:58).
Learning what Jesus meant by those words helped me understand why church liturgists feel justified in mixing up their tenses about today.
Jesus and the Pharisees were having one of their arguments. At least the Pharisees were arguing; Jesus was merely pressing a point to those more interested in hanging onto their misconceptions.
The Pharisees thought they had both their heritage and their expectation of a Messiah already figured out. They were descendants of Abraham, and the way they saw it someone who claimed to be a fellow descendent, but didnt parrot their own ideas, must be living a lie, or worse. Maybe he was demon-possessed, a child of Satan. Surely, such a person couldnt be the Messiah.
But thats just who He said He was, and why He told them His heritage was important, too: If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me (John 8:54). When they still didnt understand, He ended the debate with the startling claim that He had been alive since before Abraham, the Father of the Jewish race, was born.
They didnt get it - ever. His crucifixion a few years later would happen partly because the religious leaders never accepted He was who He said He was.
ternity is a difficult concept to grasp. We can understand everlasting, from here on, but we know nothing about from here back. Unlike earthly descendants of Abraham or anyone else, Jesus is eternal: life in both directions. Thats why He could claim to be King before He humbled himself and became a servant in human form (Philippians 2:7-8), and before He also came to be the Savior of those from any heritage who believe He is - all tenses - who He claims to be.
May we enter the Advent season singing: Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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