Called by God's name: Isaiah 43:1-7; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

If the political movements of the second half of the 20th century taught us anything, it was that names matter. It matters that a mature African-American male be addressed as “Mr.” or “Sir” and not as “Boy.” It matters that a married woman be free to choose the surname by which she will be known. It matters, because names are more than labels. They express social status and the interrelationship between speaker and addressee. They are freighted with whole worlds of history and culture.

The ultimate why: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

The question arises in some form or another almost every time I teach a course on the Bible: If God knew what a mess humanity would make of God’s creation, why did God create the world as we know it? The question has force for us, as it projects our own experience onto the cosmic screen. I, for one, can testify that if I’d known in advance where some of my life’s decisions would lead, I would have run screaming in the opposite direction. Not so with God.

Mountains and more mountains: Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 3:1-6

Our guide assured us that it wasn’t very far, only about 15 minutes or so up the road. Maybe 20. We were on our way to Bassin-Bleu, one of Haiti’s most magnificent waterfalls. The sight of it, said our guide, would take our breath away. It was early in the morning. We filled up our water bottles, lathered up with sunscreen, topped it off with insect repellent, laced up our hiking boots and hit the trail.

A midwife to all the nations: Luke 3:7-18; Zephaniah 3:14-20

We did a lot of breathing through our teeth: “Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo.” The instructor said this breathing would help mitigate the pain of labor, and it did, until we hit that thing called transition (the most intense phase of labor when even the strongest women momentarily lose faith in their ability to bring new life into the world).