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A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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The Bible talks a lot about sacrifice, about waiting and hoping. But lately I’ve been thinking about how it talks about rewards and reaping and feasting. I don’t have any specific questions except: what do you know about those?

 

UNFURL: “…he bore a tall staff, as it were a standard, but it was close-furled in a black cloth bound about with many thongs. ‘It is a gift that I bring you from the Lady of Rivendell. She wrought in secret, and long was the making. But she also sends word to you: The days now are short. Either our hope cometh, or all hopes end. Therefore I send thee what I have made for thee. Fare well, Elfstone!’ ”

“Behold! Upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold. Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor…” – JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King

 

FRUIT – “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who ABIDES in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

 

FULFILLMENT – “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.” – Psalm 145:19
“For I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:16
“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13

 

REAP – “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.’ – Psalm 126:5-6
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” – Galatians 6:9

 

PERFECT – “YHWH will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O YHWH, endures forever; do not forsake the works of Your hands.” – Psalm 138:8

 

BURGEON – to begin to grow, as a bud; put forth buds, shoots, etc., as a plant. (dictionary.com) “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord YHWH will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” – Isaiah 61:11

 

FINISH – Jesus is the finisher. He does finish. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:6

 

CULMINATE – “And the 2nd day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. So they did 6 days. But it came to pass on the 7th day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city 7 times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city 7 times.

And the 7th time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!”… So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

Joshua 6:14-20

 

CONSUMMATION – completion. perfection; fulfillment. (dictionary.com)
Not an ending, though… Sometimes completion is a good place to start. Congrats to my cousin and his new bride!

JUBILEE – “His deep desire was for forgiveness; He longed to see their liberty & His yearning was embodied in the Year of Jubilee. At the Lord’s appointed time His deep desire became a Man, the heart of all true jubilation & with joy we understand: in His voice we hear a trumpet sound that tells us we are free! He is the incarnation of the Year of Jubilee.”

“And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.” – Leviticus 25:10

 

FEAST – “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end.” – Exodus 34:22

FEAST – “And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees… And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” – Isaiah 25:6, 9

FEAST – “Then he said to me, Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ And he said to me, These are the true sayings of God.” – Revelation 19:9

 

CELEBRATE – “Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps.” – Nehemiah 12:27

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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God gave gifts unto men.  Through His Spirit, He empowers His Church to grow into unity and the maturity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus promised the Spirit would guide us into all truth.  Paul specifically lists teachers among God’s gifts to the church.  Timothy Keller is such a gift.  (Actually this is the only book I’ve read by him, so I can’t vouch for anything else.) 

 

Do you read through the Bible and wonder what significance a fact or story had that God included it in His unperishing Word?  Do you ever find yourself astounded by discovery as you read, seeing depth and import in the passage that you never saw there before?  I love to find a teacher or author who has been granted insight into a part of the Bible that had always seemed way over my head (or beneath my notice).  Whether in only one chapter of all the books they’ve written, or but one exposition they gave aloud to a congregation or conference, I feel like jumping up and down, thanking God for this gift that draws me closer to my Savior. 

 

In Prodigal God, Timothy Keller blends a big-picture view of redemption and the Bible with the drama of one of Jesus’ most famous parables.  This is one of those rare books where I don’t feel like quoting or underlining, because entire chapters would be quoted and underlined.  One of the most moving points of the book is simply the title.  In the introduction, the author explains himself.  We often refer to this parable as the Prodigal Son – but Jesus specifically introduced it as the story of two sons.  Prodigal is a true description of the younger brother, who got all he could as soon as he could and spent it with equal recklessness and extravagance.  When we call the Father prodigal, we are talking about a whole different kind of spending.  He spent all He had on us, to find us and bring us back, and to welcome us into His love.  To be so extravagant also makes the word prodigal true of Him.  And how can any of His children be unmoved by His sacrifice? 

 

I met my God in this book, not for the first time, but oh, He was there!  His image sparkled as I read through descriptions of the commonly described “sinner”, the younger brother, to the older brother whose heart is equally proud and rebellious, but who is trying to use God and goodness for his own ends, to the older brother that should have been, the missing character from the pattern of the two preceding parables in the trilogy.  Who was seeking and saving the lost?  Is forgiveness really ever free? 

 

After forgiveness, what then?  What was God’s design for living as His children?  Timothy Keller spends the final chapter of The Prodigal God talking about feasts.  Jesus’ first miracle, a sign of the purpose of His ministry, is a (wedding) feast.  The night before He was betrayed, Jesus ordained a new feast for His followers as a remembrance of Him.  The close of this church age is a (wedding) feast where the Church is reunited with her Redeemer.  And eternity is something of a feast, living in the presence of God and eating of the tree of life.  Once again emphasizing relationship, this chapter presents salvation as “taste and see” believing that is lived out and continued in gratitude and celebration of the grace of God.  As anyone knows, celebration is not to be done alone.  In fact, quoting CS Lewis, Timothy Keller makes the point that relationship with God experienced in community brings out more of God than you could experience on your own.  Therefore the final challenge of Prodigal God is for you to invest in a gathering of believers with the same love with which you compassionately seek those who are lost, desiring them to share with you in the Father’s love. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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You know if you’ve been reading since I started, or if you’ve known me even longer than that, that this post is not new material. But I know my readers don’t click on links, especially inter-Lady of Longbourn links, so I am making this very easy for you and reposting my inimitable Thanksgiving delight:

Turk – Middle English, from French Turc, from Middle Latin Turcus, from Byzantine Greek Tourkos, Persian turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean “strength” in Turkish. Young Turk was a member of an early 20c. political group in the Ottoman Empire that sought rejuvenation of the Turkish nation.

turkey – 1541, “guinea fowl” (numida meleagris), imported from Madacascar via Turkey, by Near East traders known as turkey merchants. The larger North American bird (meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe, by way of Africa and Turkey (Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in Eng. for the same reason). The word turkey was first applied to it in Eng. 1555 because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl. The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 (when Henry VIII dined on it at court). Turkeys raised by the Pilgrims were probably stock brought from England. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning “inferior show, failure,” is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the image of the turkey as a stupid bird.

“My dad was asking, so I looked it up. The reason we have a bird and a country with the same name (and the slang use for a stupid or goofy person), Turkey, is as follows:

1. Turkey is named, obviously, for the Turks, and Turk is a Persian word that referred to a nation somewhere when Persia was still a big thing. In Turkish, the word “turk” came to mean strength.

2. Turkeys are native to two parts of the world: Madagascar and the Americas. Way before America was discovered by Columbus, merchants imported turkeys from Madagascar to Europe, by way of Turkey (which wasn’t called Turkey then). Since the Turks were the salesmen in the middle of the trade route, the birds came to be named after them. Aztecs in America also bred turkeys.

3. Once America began to be colonized, esp. by the Spanish in the south, conquistadors sent turkeys over to Europe. The name “turkey” wasn’t applied to them until after this, and the name originated in Europe, where people figured out the two species were similar.

4. One website I encountered suggested three other ideas for where turkeys got their names, but I found them unscientific. Since they were still entertaining, I’ll give them to you.

  • You have probably heard that American Indians were called that because Columbus landed here and thought he’d reached India. Thinking this, and seeing the plumage of native wild turkeys, Columbus may have named them the word for peacock in the tongue of India (where peacocks were found), which is “tuka”. Sounds similar, almost, but it doesn’t convince me.
  • Native Americans (before they knew they were supposed to be Indians) called the birds “firkee” which, as I’m sure you can hear in your head, sounds a whole lot like “turkey” basically, just change one letter, and that has happened converting English to English, let alone foreign languages. Actually, if you go to Africa, our translations of the words we hear there can be quite different from others who visited. It depends on the ear gene you inherited or something. = )
  • When turkeys are afraid, they make a sound as they run, not a gobble, but “turk, turk, turk.” This does not mean that the Ottomans are chasing them. That’s just what they say. Hmm. Maybe that’s where the Turks got their name, though? I won’t go there, at least not yet. Ok, I’ll make up a story that will be found in #5.

5. There once was a man from the region east of Anatolia, which was east of Greece. I think it was also west of Persia and south of Russian and north of Africa and southwest of… never mind. He liked to travel, so he sold all he had, took his three sons, and sailed to a little island SOUTH, called Madagascar (actually, I don’t know if that was it’s name then, but since you probably don’t know what its name was then, it would be useless for me to waste time finding out and using it, since you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. On a similar note, Anatolia is the region known in the Bible as Asia Minor and on your most modern map as Turkey). While he was vacationing there on the beach, he feasted on a native bird similar to the pheasant. It was so delicious, that he wanted to take some home. So when he finally got tired of all the sun and cannibals, he and his two sons (guess where the other one went) packed up along with some of the birds and sailed home. He threw a coming home party, and all of his neighbors loved the poultry he fed them. They wanted to know what it was and how to get some. This man from the region east of Anatolia was poor after being gone so long without working, so he decided this would make a good business. A sign was soon seen in front of his house reading (in what language, I’ve no idea; it probably doesn’t exist anymore) “Poultry for sail. Taking orders.” (ok, so he couldn’t spell sale, but he wasn’t in the sign making business, so it didn’t matter.) All of his neighbors signed up for at least a week’s worth, and prepaid him. His sons went with him to brave the cannibals and collect a supply of birds to bring home. The first trip was successful, and eventually they made friends with the natives, who agreed to breed the birds for him in recompense for the loss of his third son. It became quite a thriving business, and a few of the enterprising neighbors also got involved. They built boats and began shipping the birds also. The delicacy became famous all over the known world, even Persia. To get the birds up to Persia, the men from the region east of Anatolia herded them north and east. Birds are frightened easily, and herders scared them into running the direction (hopefully) they wanted them to go. Coming into Persia, they always had a big welcome, because the noise of the birds could be heard miles or at least yards, meters, cubits or whatever they used back then away. People who were especially fond of the meat would chant as the herders entered the city, “Turk, turk, turk!” Later when these men no longer herded birds, but men instead, the Persians ran in fear, screaming, “turk, turk…” The men took up the name, and it came to be a chant of their strength. Back home, they reminded themselves of their strength (for pride accompanies power) by calling themselves Turks. The birds they kept and sold couldn’t keep their name of turk, since it meant strength now and the birds were stupid, not strong. They were called turkey. This term was also used as a nickname for those among the Turks whose behavior resembled the turkey’s. In Europe the names caught on, and they passed it to America, where a bigger version of the bird was bred by scalpers, not cannibals.

*I must inform you that although some parts of this story are factual, a whole lot is fictional. Please do not include any of the information found in #5 for a scientific report or to attempt to astound your friends with your incredible knowledge. = )”

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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