Friday, December 6, 2013

Merry Maranatha

Years ago I had a church secretary who scrutinized my writings for errors. She would find them often enough, even when there weren’t any. In one article I made a reference to Mohandas Gandhi. She corrected it to Mahatma Gandhi. I explained that it was the same guy. Mohandas was his birth name, and Mahatma was the honorific title given to him by his followers. (It means “great soul.”)

For a while I had the habit of ending each newsletter article with the valediction “Maranatha.” She was unfamiliar with the term. So she looked it up in an old dictionary in her personal library. The dictionary reported that Maranatha was an ancient curse found in the Bible, synonymous with Anathema.

She was shocked! She thought that I was cursing the congregation on a monthly basis! And it was probably without the congregation (or me) knowing what I was doing. I explained to her that the old dictionary was wrong. That definition was not based on the most-up-to-date Biblical research.

I assured her that the word was an ancient Christian prayer, not a curse. It was thought to be a curse for a long time because of its close proximity to the word “curse” in the context in which it occurs in the Bible. (1 Corinthians 16:22) But linguists now know that is not the case.

In the New Testament there are a few places were the ancient tongue of Jesus has been preserved intact. Jesus and the original disciples spoke Aramaic. They knew Greek and could read Hebrew (and many even picked up Latin), but the vernacular of the Holy Land was Aramaic. Jesus taught in Aramaic. His teachings had to be translated into Greek when the Gospels were written.

But a few Aramaic words survived in the New Testament documents, embedded in the ancient texts like jewels in a matrix. One of those words is maranatha. It is found only once in scripture, at the end of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. It means either “Come, Lord.” or “Our Lord has come.”

In either case it is the perfect word for the Advent season. The word “Advent” means coming. During Advent we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s first coming as the Christ child born in Bethlehem (“Our Lord has come!”) We also look ahead to when he will come again, the Second Coming (“Come, Lord!) 

Try it out this month. Next time someone wishes you “Merry Christmas!” respond with a hearty “Maranatha!” Then notice the quizzical expression on their faces. I just hope no one thinks you are cursing them.

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