I sit in my kitchen, drinking a double espresso, and thinking about the challenges of transition last year. It’s dark outside as I write this in the week of Epiphany. The wise men have made it to the manger, and people worldwide are taking down holiday decorations. It seems like we are always in a season of transition. Some are large and noticeable, like moving across the country or graduating high school. Others are small and dealt with by habit, like preparing for religious holidays and easing back into the mundane.
Starting this Sunday, I will teach a class at my church exploring the Ancient World of the Bible. I am organizing slides, filtering through course notes, and recalling how much of the Bible is missed by modern readers when they do not take the time to understand the nuances of the culture and language of the text. This is a topic about which I am very passionate. Since I have a background in cultural studies specializing in language and linguistics, I am constantly aware of the influence of language and culture on the literature produced by people.
In my first year of seminary, in 2005, a work colleague asked me if studying Greek impacted how I understood the Bible. “Of course!,” I replied with more emphasis than intended. I think I shocked the poor guy. I never forgot that moment because I did start to wonder how my perception of the Bible, my faith, and my worldview would be impacted by studying ancient languages and cultures. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and I can say that my study of biblical languages and related ancient Near Eastern languages has given me great insight into the Bible.
Several years ago, we started a tradition in our home of recognizing religious traditions of Christmas in more specific ways. We explored advent calendars and their significance in counting down to the birth of Christ. We talked about the Jesse Tree one year, where we traced the birth of Christ from the Creation of the world. I began setting out the nativity little by little each Sunday of Advent, allowing the Magi to move around the house via bookshelves and planted pots—an activity the kids turned into a game of who could place the three wise men in the weirdest places until they arrive at the manger on the Feast of Epiphany. I added a Santa Claus figurine to the nativity on the Feast of St. Nicholaus. What used to be Christmas became a season of Advent in our home. Understanding the history and practicing cultural traditions gives us insight into the significance and meaning of religious practices.
Our Magi made it to the manger at Epiphany. This year, they arrived via time-traveling Deloreans from Back to the Future I, II, and III.
Happy New Year from Scholarly Wanderlust!