“In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered (Luke 2:1).” Anyone who has ever attended a child’s Christmas pageant should be very familiar with this introduction. This is the opening line in the Gospel of Luke’s narrative on the birth of Jesus. Joseph had to return to his family’s hometown of Bethlehem to be counted as part of the government’s census. By happenstance, his fiancé Mary tagged along, went into labor, and presented us with our Lord. The Roman census increased that day by one.
While Christians may fondly reminisce about Linus reciting this famous message in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” they may be less familiar with earlier censuses in Scripture. There’s an Old Testament book many probably overlook because of its mundane-sounding title. I suspect only accountants and math geeks would be excited to turn the pages of a book titled “Numbers.” The Bible’s fourth book (but who’s counting?) earns its title due to what takes place during its pages. Following the exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews wander in the wilderness when they record two censuses. As the sequel to the Book of Exodus, the first count of people occurs while the crowd is still at Mount Sinai. The next time they count belly buttons is about 38 years later when they reach the border of Canaan, ready to enter the Promised Land.
Although a census may not be an exciting topic, there are a number of other issues that seem to draw people to count. Many people are fascinated by Biblical numerology: the meaning of numbers in the Bible. Last week, our congregation discussed the selection of Matthias as the twelfth disciple to replace Judas of Iscariot. Twelve can be found in the Bible 187 times and is said to symbolize God’s power and authority and serve as a perfect governmental foundation.
In the Jewish tradition, the number eighteen is considered sacred. Made up of the eighth and tenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, together they form the word “Chai” – which translates to mean “life.” Jews honor “Chai” by giving gifts in multiples of $18 to celebrate rites of passage, from birthdays to engagements and weddings and the birth of a child.
Another critical number in the Bible is three. It is said to represent completeness. That digit is referenced 467 in the Good Book. Believing in the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we Christians should quickly realize three is a significant number. Jesus foretold he would rise again in three days innumerable times. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane three times before his arrest. Darkness covered the land for three hours as he hung on the cross. You get it: three’s important.
This Sunday, July 10th, three is again a significant number in Good Shepherd’s spiritual life. We worship three times. First, we gather at 8:00 AM for our outdoor (weather permitting) spoken liturgy. Second, we hold our traditional worship at 10:15 AM. Third, we celebrate the Rite of Ordination of Eric Faret to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament at 3:00 PM. Eric becomes the third child of the congregation to enter ordained ministry.
Joining Eric in the celebration will be three church communities blessed to be part of his faith journey. Good Shepherd, his childhood church and field education site; Ascension Lutheran, Deer Park, where he serves as a synod deacon; and Hope Lutheran, Seldin, his internship site, are pleased to give thanks for Eric’s ministry.
Can we count on seeing you on Sunday?