Monday, December 26, 2016

Solving Christmas Mystery 2016

Answer: Isaiah 35:8

"A highway shall be there
   and it shall be called the Holy Way;
 the unclean shall not travel on it,
   but it shall be for God's people;
   no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray." (NRSV)


This year, 2016, is the 200th anniversary of Indiana's admission to the Union as the 19th state.  This 200th anniversary fell on Sunday December 11, 2016, the Third Sunday of Advent.

I was inspired to build Christmas Mystery 2016 around these facts and was amazed to find that one of the scripture readings designated by the Revised Common Lectionary (used by many Protestant churches) for the Third Sunday of Advent included Isaiah 35:8 which begins, "A highway shall be there...."

With Indiana's state motto being "The Crossroads of America," I thought this was especially fitting as the Christmas Mystery verse.  (In the Revised Common Lectionary, the designated scripture readings for Third Advent this year were: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11.)

The Clues:

The images in the photograph on the Christmas card were chosen and arranged to point to the opening phrase(s) of Isaiah 35:8.

Advent wreath:  Three candles were lit on the Advent wreath clearing indicating a connection with the Third Sunday of Advent.

Mug with coaster:  A mug with the Indiana state motto "The Crossroads of America" was prominently displayed on a coaster with a silhouette of Indiana.

Lots of cookies:  I had a dozen cookies made using an Indiana shaped cookie cutter with a blue icing coating and a darker blue icing for the writing.  Four of the cookies had "200th" written on them.  Four cookies had the interstate highways crisscrossing Indiana drawn on them.  And four cookies showed a pathway with arrows (more on this below).   At least one of each cookie could be clearly seen in the photo.

A map of Indiana:  In the lower third of the photograph a map of Indiana is partially seen with the interstate highways converging on Indianapolis being the focus.

My tie:  The tie I am wearing includes multiple images from the state flag of Indiana.

The Tanakh (Old Testament in original Hebrew):  In the photo I am pointing to the beginning of Isaiah 35:8 in my Tanakh.  (Obviously it's impossible to see the text in the photo, so one of the extra clues posted on this website indicates that I was looking at the verse in the Tanakh.)

NRSV Holy Bible:  Beneath the Tanakh is the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) of the Bible.  The NRSV translation of Isaiah 35:8 was the translation in mind for all of the clues.  It turned out that "The New Revised Standard Version" printed on the spine of the Bible was blocked in the photo, so one of the extra clues pointed out that it was the NRSV beneath the Tanakh.

The New Handbook of the Christian Year: An important clue was the book beneath the Advent wreath.  This book, The New Handbook of the Christian Year, has the words, "Based on the Revised Common Lectionary" printed at the top, and those words are (barely) visible in the photo.  Because it was so difficult to make those words out, I explained the cover of this book as an extra clue posted on this website.

The Map of Indiana:

Indiana is famous for having 92 counties.  Going alphabetically, the counties are numbered 1 thru 92,  beginning with Allen County as 1, and ending with Whitley County as 92.  Vanderburgh County is number 82.  These numbers appear on automobile license plates.

It is sometimes said there are 92 natural elements, though that is disputed. Nevertheless, this idea inspired me to initially relabel each county in Indiana with the symbol from the Periodic Table of Elements corresponding to its number designation described above.  For example, Vanderburgh County was labelled with Pb (Lead) because it is element 82 in the Periodic Table.  Initially the map of Indiana had each county redesignated with its corresponding chemical symbol.

To incorporate a clue about Isaiah 35:8 into this,  I decided to take the two opening phrases of that verse, "A highway shall be there,  and it shall be called the Holy Way" (NRSV) and attempt to "sound out" the syllables with symbols from the Periodic Table.

The "sounding out" was done using the following symbols: U HIWY SHAl Be ThEr Nd Uut SHAl Be CAlUut ThU HoLi WY

I then substituted these 26 symbols for 26 of the Indiana counties in the map, being sure that the substitutions were at odds with properly designated chemical symbols explained above.  Also, I placed these symbols in a specific order on the map:  the first symbol "U" I intentionally placed in Harrison County, because that was the location of Indiana's first capital, Corydon.  I appropriately placed the last symbol "Y" in Marion County, the site of the present capital, Indianapolis.

The final result with the 26 symbols in red to "sound out" the verse are shown here.

To recapitulate:  Each county had the correct chemical symbol corresponding to its alphabetical designation, except for the ones used to "sound out" the opening phrases of Isaiah 35:8.

The cookie in my hand: To assist in putting the 26 symbols used to "sound out" the verse in proper order, the cookie I am holding clearly shows a path with arrows indicating the direction to follow on the map for the 26 symbols described above.

The Photo:

Finally, in recent years I have come to admire many of the paintings of Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.  Many of those paintings feature a map in the background with light coming thru a window on the left. (Some people have gone so far as to reproduce the settings of his paintings down to the minutest detail.)  Here I have staged the photo with light coming thru my beveled glass door on the left, with the map of Indiana behind.

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