The Letter Q in the Advent calendar encourages us to think about Quirinius, questions, and quiet.
Quirinius (or Cyrenius) is a rather shadowy character found only in
passing in Luke 2. It is noted that he was “Governor of Syria” at the time
Caesar (Augustus) called for a census of all the people who had to return to
their home town to be properly counted. Now the Romans did a lot of counts,
using it primarily for a tax calculation, so that in itself might not be too
puzzling but why did Luke throw Quirinius into the passage when he really
didn’t seem to have much use? Luke wrote his gospel in about 60 CE, not exactly
a first-hand account. Since the years were not numbered continuously but rather
using the number of years of the reign of the current authority in power, Luke
was attempting to nail down the year as closely as possible. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius
was indeed a governor of Syria beginning in about 6AD and could have conducted
the census but Herod the Great died in 4BCE – too early for the two to have
been contemporaries. Did Luke make a mistake and mix up two counts done by
Quirinius at two different times? Possibly. At any rate, Quirinius is part of
the nativity story, even if in shadow and with the scratching of heads. He was
known as a political and military leader, acknowledged by Rome and included in
Josephus’ Antiquities, a history of
the Jewish people. Meanwhile we simply read Luke 2 and go along with it. Still, biblical scholars still search for the
link between Herod, Caesar Augustus and Quirinius which would definitively nail
down the precise year in which Jesus was born.
As with the problem of Quirinius
and the dating of Jesus’ birth year, there are many questions that can come up around the story of the birth of Jesus
as well as the rest of the Bible. Why would people be ordered to go back to
their home town for counting if they lived somewhere else? Was Jesus really
born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem or the other
Bethlehem in the northern part of the country? Were the prophets in the Hebrew
Bible really pointing towards Jesus in their prophecies about a messiah and a
coming king? Where did Cain’s wife come from? There are lots of answers, some more plausible
than others, some so far out in left field that even the longest home run
wouldn’t get that far. Still, people ponder the questions, some coming to one
conclusion or another, some being perfectly content with the ambiguity of not
knowing concretely. Questions are good; it’s a sign that we are thinking about
something and not just accepting everything we are told. Like the media news,
there are two sides or opinions or beliefs – and maybe four or twenty or more.
Questions help us decide which the right one is. Still, as our teachers told
us, the only dumb question is the one that is not asked. God doesn’t mind
questions either, especially when we ask them in prayer, Lectio Divina, study or even just observing life.
Quiet is a word descriptive of Advent, even though there are lots
of sounds that we notice during the season like bells, carols, readings, and a
host of others. Advent is quiet in that usually outside the churches or even
homes where the Advent wreath is found it isn’t noticed by the outside world.
We say it is a time of reflection, meditation and preparation, but unless it results
in acts of charity or love, it really doesn’t show very much. Stores certainly
don’t recognize it; some Christian churches don’t either. The world seems to
want to jump immediately from Thanksgiving to Christmas and then pack Christmas
away about the time the torn wrapping paper is barely picked up off the floor.
Advent gives a time to stay thankful a bit longer, look at the deeper meaning
of what Christmas is really about, and prepare for the entire season of
Christmas – 12 days and not just a single morning or even afternoon. Advent has
lots of joyful noise, like the greetings extended to family who travels from
far points to be together for the holidays, bells ringing next to red kettles,
maybe the crunch of snow as one walks or drives through it, carolers singing
outside the house, and Christmas music playing on the radio or iPod, but mostly
it’s about preparing oneself. That takes a little time and a little doing, but
with persistence, quiet can be found and used very constructively.
Enjoy the quiet of Advent as we
prepare for the exuberance of Christmas. It will be here before long, and we
want to be ready. Some modern-day Quirinius (like the family) may ask us to
return to our home towns to be counted among the gathered relatives, and
questions may pop up that need some thought. Now’s the time for all that to
happen and for us to enjoy it.