REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Our Lord says, “It is done”

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Reference: Revelation 21:5-7)

It is done. All the prophesies and foretelling has come to fruition. The holy child is laying in the manager, and Mary and Joseph are keeping watch over their sleeping child. The shepherds are coming, and the Wise Men will be following shortly after. The songs and praises of the from the heavenly choirs still ring in the air. And the star of Bethlehem shines on.

It is done. The weeks of shopping and wrapping are over. The Christmas feast is planned and ready to be laid on the table. Friends, neighbors, relatives and honored guests are congregated at tables and in living rooms across the country. Children of all ages are being watched over as presents are unwrapped, oohed and aah-ed over, and enjoyed. And the Christmas decorations twinkling brightly in households across the globe.

It is done. God has sent to us a means for salvation. God’s love has been made manifest in a way that cannot be ignored. And it will not be. It has not been. I doubt there is anyone on any continent that does not know about the Christian faith, even if it is not a faith they profess.

But in a way, it is just the beginning. Soon the new year will be coming. New hopes and new possibilities. Just when you think things have come to an end, they have a habit of beginning again. The writer of Revelation says that the Lord is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. The Lord was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.

What God made manifest over two thousand years ago, we can began telling, believing, and living again and again. The Promise that came through the life and death of Christ will always be renewed. We have been and will be again, children of God.

May this day and this season find you with friends and family, loved ones all. And may the Christ who was born this day many lifetimes away be born in you anew in the coming year. Selah! And the merriest of Christmases!

 

Week of Christmas, Proper II: Come see what we have waited for!

Today’s scripture passage is taken from the grouping of scriptures in Proper II. The other scriptures are Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, and Titus 3:4-7 – all good scripture passages. But I have chosen the Nativity story.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)

When I think on this passage, the first thing I think of is Mary giving birth in an unfamiliar town in rough and unwelcoming conditions. The event she had been waiting nine months to come to pass was here. Giving birth is not easy; and certainly not easy when you are young and away from home. The book of Luke makes it sound so easy; it was time, she gave birth, and wrapped him as was the tradition. And then I am sure she looked at the child she had been waiting for!

Our wait, beloved reader, has been much easier. Oh, we say it is hard to wait. Especially after so much hurry and preparations. It is my hope that now that the waiting is just about done that we will take time to consider, and appreciate, what we have been waiting for.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

The opposite of waiting, beloved reader, is not being aware of what is coming to pass. There was a time, a couple thousand years ago, when people lived without knowing Jesus Christ. (Of course, in a sense, there are still people in this day who do not “know” Jesus Christ.) To them there were all types of people (Jews, Romans, Greeks etc) and each group had their own God and worship practices. Little did they know that the coming of the child, this Savior Messiah was to change forever they way people believed.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:13-20)

Suddenly! The wait was over! In one instant everything changed! The shepherd saw it. The wise men saw it. And from that point on, people who saw, meet, and came to know Jesus (int all sorts of ways and meanings) saw that things had changed.

But, you may say, it is the same decorations, the same celebrations, the same traditions from year to year. What has changed for us? Indeed, beloved reader, what has changed for you? We have “waited” through four weeks. Has anything changed? That is the challenge. To not just go along in our same old paths, doing the same old things, but to find fresh and new God and Jesus Christ in our life and in our world.

This season of Advent and Christmas has been the opportunity to see things new and fresh, to renew and recommit yourself to our Lord God who so desired that the world knew their Lord that God sent the God-self as a child into the world.

I wrote this to be posted the day before Christmas so that you might be reminded of what the waiting has been for. It is my hope and prayer that the actual day of Christmas will be filled with the joy and love of family and friends, and the presence of God and Jesus Christ in your hearts and spirits! Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Celebrating the infant Jesus and looking forward to the Lord’s return

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Reference: Revelation 21:2-4 )

There may be thematic appropriateness for these verses being used for this day, the day of Christmas Eve. (Five years ago I was more sure than I am now. This actually a re-working of my thoughts from December 24th 2009.) According to anecdotal stories, Jesus was born early Christmas morning when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. This same light could be re-imaged as the light of the new Jerusalem. And these verses also talk about the Divine coming to humanity again as it happened that early Christmas morning – the infant Jesus born in a stable growing to be the Messiah that these verses say said will come again along with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, these verses could be a good fit for a Christmas Eve day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

It is intriguing to have juxtaposed the coming of the infant Jesus with the coming of the Holy City as a bride to the now grown Christ – if it were not for remembering that the coming of God and Holy City in Revelation means the end of this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God in these verses is the time of judgment. If only one could forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

The world forgets however, at its peril, that the coming of the baby Jesus started a chain of events that the world has not yet seen through to completion. The coming of the baby Jesus is a soft and pastoral scene. And the final day of God when the new Jerusalem, the purified and Holy City, comes down is a day of joy and looking forward to a new way. But in-between there is still mourning, crying, pain and death.

I think this is why, beloved, during Christmas we are encouraged and we encourage others to set aside animosity and hostility, and to focus on love and compassion. It has been a time when nations lay down their military arms and remember our connection to one another. We remind ourselves and others that God sent light to the earth in the form of the baby Jesus. And that some day the Lord will return to complete what was started so long ago.

But that day, I do not think, is this day. This is a day spent waiting for Christ Jesus, who in his tiny hand is clutching hope for the world. May you spend Christmas Eve in joyful wonder and hope, with family and/or friends waiting for our savior to be born anew in our mourning and pain filled world, and in our hearts. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . But can we not find reward in the here and now?

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 2:42-47 )

Five years ago I “passed” on this scripture passage, choosing not to comment on it but instead leave it for my writing partner. This year, as I am the only one writing, it falls to me to comment on this. The historic Anabaptist quoted/excerpted for this day would tell us, as he told his wife, “Thus, my dear wife, follow Christ, and take up your cross with patience and joy, and follow Him all the days of your life, for He had to suffer so much for our sakes, to save us. Therefore let us suffer for His sake; since it is our hour, let us joyfully contend for the crown of life, which is prepared for us and them that fear and love the Lord. Hence let us be satisfied in Him, and take our cross upon us with joyfulness and patience, and wait with firm confidence for the promises which He has made us, and that we may be crowned upon Mount Sion, and adorned with palms, and may follow the Lamb. 2 Esd. 2:42; Rev. 14:4.”

Most of the rewards for the pious seem to come at this end of this world, or at least at the end of their lives. There does not seem to be much “reward” bestowed during this life, or during our lifetimes. And I have to wonder, does every believer consider it to be this way? That rewards from the Divine come only after death or after this world has passed away? It seems a lot to ask to wait.

And I don’t mean that in a whiny impatient way. What I mean is, is there no reward in this life for following God and Christ? Don’t we or can’t we find reward in doing what Christ models and God asks of us? Is it not enough to know one is following God and Christ, or does there have to be a “reward”, a “carrot” dangling at the end of a Divine stick? Does humanity have to have a solid reason for being righteous?

Beloved, I am often dismayed at this “modern” world; but then I am also often dismayed at what the world was like decades and centuries before. I constantly see being kind and caring as a deliberate choice, and chose to be that one on most all occasions – after all, no one that is human is perfect. But altruism is a choice that I consciously make, for reasons that are my own and do NOT depend on getting some reward at the end of this world, or even at the end of my life. And while it is nice that the “pious” are rewarded, my actions that have their foundation in my Christian faith are not dependent on a reward.

May you beloved make good and authentically Christian choices, for whatever your reasons may be. Selah!

Week of Christmas, Proper I: What have we waited for?

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

The Revised Common Lectionary does not differentiate between years A, B, and C for the readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are, however, three different readings (called Propers) that can be used for these days. I have chosen the scripture passage for today from Proper I. The other possible passages were Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14 & 15-20.

Why this one then? It accesses an old theme for Advent – coming out of darkness and unknowing into light and illumination. Or, more keeping with the theme of Year B, having been lost but finding one’s way back out of darkness into light.

“You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” (Isaiah 9:3-5)

The writer of Isaiah was writing for and about a people who had suffered. Who had lost their homes and their way of life. And when this suffering came to an end, there was great rejoicing. The people praised and celebrated their deliverer. Praise and poems were written in remembrance, sometimes to be used against the day when suffering came again. To remember that suffering and oppression does not last forever.

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

It seems natural to think of this passage as foretelling the coming baby Jesus, and Jesus the Messiah. But when the writer of Isaiah wrote this, Jesus’ coming was far off in the distance. A distant hope born of dreams and aspirations of a desperate people. Some commentators say that this passage was to foretell the coming of human and purely mortal deliverer. And from an understanding that human endeavors and military might would secure the people’s freedom and fortune.

What do you wait for, beloved reader? What do you need deliverance from? We humans often do not know what we need. We want and want. We claim to suffer in varying degrees. We think we know what we need, but often when we have that we discover that we need something more or different. And with each round of suffering and misery what we believe would end it changes each time.

When we suffer, we may very well feel that we live in darkness. A deep darkness that takes away our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I believe we are living in such a time. We need to remember – maybe remember again – that the light did come. In the innocuous form of a baby. What this baby grew to be was not what we may have expected. But I believe it is what we need.

May you beloved reader see the light coming and may you celebrate it in your life with joy and thanksgiving. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Those who remain patient and righteous

You have said harsh things against me, says the LORD . Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. They will be mine, says the LORD Almighty, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Reference: Malachi 3:13-18 )

There are several parts to this passage, and it is confusing that they all seem to run together. First, the Lord (through the writer of Malachi) has complaints concerning the way some people talk about the Lord. However when challenged on this they claim not to have spoken against the Lord. But, the Lord counters, you have spoken unfairly and further more claim that the Lord has treated you unfairly. Second, those who truly fear the Lord prayed to the Lord and the Lord heard them. To them the Lord promises that the Lord cares about them and reward them for their faithful belief. Lastly, the Lord says it will be easy to see who is considered righteous before the Lord and who is judged and being wicked.

In reading this passage I can catch a hint of what could be labeled historic Anabaptist thinking. That those who are not practicing correct belief in God seem to be getting away with it for the time being, but their wrong belief will catch up to them. But God has heard the faithful, and they will be rewarded.

It seems to me that one definition of “pious” that can be drawn from this is someone who believes in God despite things going against them; believes that God will at some point claim and reward those who have remained faithful; and that some day it will be easy to tell who is righteous and who is not. As I have said before, it is a matter of being patient.

May you beloved be patient in the Lord and believe that the Lord will reward such patience and righteousness in the fullness of time. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . By way of the self-understanding of the “pious”

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer. To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD , who has compassion on you.“ (Reference: Isaiah 54:7-10 )

The writer of Isaiah at times seems to take great liberties in personifying God. Five years ago my writing partner at the time said he was uncomfortable with the image presented in this passage of Isaiah. [December 21, 2009] God abandoning the Lord’s people? Becoming angry and hiding the Divine Face? And my writing partner correctly reminded our readers that God did abandon the Lord’s people again after this writing.

And argument could be made that the Lord’s people abandoned God, so their punishment of being abandoned, and then being abandoned again might be considered a deserved one. But this brings to mind a wrathful God. The wrath of God is a frequent image in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it is a kinder and gentler God that has sent Christ. I have heard or read several different theories as to why this is so, and known of them really satisfy me. I have my own idea . . . of course. Well, actually it might be partly mine and partly from other people who have expressed the same discomfort.

The historic Anabaptists did not seem to have any discomfort with this image of God. G. Kleermaecker, wrote about it saying, “Therefore, my dear sister in the Lord, though our God does now hide His face from us for a little while, yet will He gather us again with everlasting kindness, as the prophet says: “I will lead you into mine house, and give you a place within my walls, and a name better than of sons and of daughters; yea, I will give you an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Yea, he will lay our stones with fair colors, and lay our foundations with sapphires, and will make our windows of crystal and our gates of carbuncles.” Isa. 54:7, 8; 56:5; 54:11, 12.” It is for this reason, I image, this passage is placed under the theme of “Reward of the Pious.” A theme title such as “Reward of the Patient” might be just as appropriate. If the historic Anabaptist believes that their persecution comes about because God’s face is “hidden” from them, then they might well believe that in time and/or through their death, and if they maintain their devote faith, they might see God’s face again.

But this explanation does not satisfy me any better than any other I have heard. Does this mean that God has hidden the Divine’s Face from those who suffer; but those who are doing well, and safe, and are prospering enjoy the full revelation of the Divine’s Face? You see the problem beloved.

I just don’t know about this God that the writer of Isaiah is personifying. And that is just it, beloved. We are reading the Old Testament writers’ theories and personifications of God. It is being interpreted by human perception through the lens of trying to make sense of what is happening to God’s “chosen” people. I believe it is an erroneous perception that if the people of God are suffering, it must be because God has allowed them to suffer or is setting them up to suffer.

I believe that the faithful will be rewarded; and by a God who has seen and felt every day of their suffering. I do not believe God has ever hidden the Divine Face, but that we have let things block and blind our sight so we cannot see God’s face. And sure, God gets angry about it. What loving Parent or Spouse would not? Your reading of these passages from Isaiah and other parts of the Old Testament may differ from mine. And I welcome your thoughts, ideas and reflections as always. Shalom for your day.

The Fourth Week of Advent: We Think of Mary While We Wait

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27)

I have often wondered what Mary was like. Scripture seems to indicate that she was quite young, a young woman or perhaps not yet out of what we would call adolescence. But I think she would be what we now call a young persona with an old soul. Or maybe it is the way the writer of Luke portrays her as.

 

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:28-29)

Why, she might have wondered, am I favored. And who am I that the Lord is with me? Do I want to be favored by the Lord, because I have heard the Lord’s favor is not always an easy thing. And if the Lord is with one, that might mean that great and weighty things are asked of a person of God. She might have thought and remembered all of the people in the history of the Hebrews/Israelites whom the Lord was with and favored.

 

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

It is very likely with these words from the angel that Mary was afraid. And perhaps what was to come was punishment. But the angel assures it is not punishment but favor and blessing. But Mary, being pragmatic in her nature as well as mature in her understanding wants to make sure she is understanding this, and that the angel has the correct person.

 

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:34-36)

Mary might have thought, it is what it is. And I will accept what God gives. And I will count it as a blessing, as I am sure Elizabeth does. A baby? A son! But a son who is the Son of God?!

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:37-38)

 

Would the virgin Mary have had such “chutzpah”? “Chutzpah, a find Yiddish word that means daring and audacity. But you would have to have such a personality to follow your husband across many miles when you were very pregnant. Or to face public scorn and judgment over a situation you had no control over. What ever Mary was, and however she is portrayed by gospel writers, theologians, and commentators such as myself, she has a pivotal role in the story of baby Jesus.

Imagine, beloved reader, all things she must having been thinking in the months leading up to Jesus’ birth. She is a very good model for patience and faithful endurance not only for the Advent season but for all times of the year. May you say with Mary, “Here I am Lord, your faithful servant. May all things in my life be according to your Word.” Selah!

 

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . They are not forgotten

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Reference: Isaiah 49:14-16 )

[Look out, beloved. I am “preaching” today!]

This is a hard truth, beloved, whatever century and era you live in – children of God suffer in this world. It was true in the time of the historic Anabaptists, and it is true now. But what one has to remember, beloved, and cling to with all one’s might when suffering comes to you – all of humanity and all of creation are children of God. So if you say that those who you would number amongst the “faithful” (meaning those of your own faith group, cultural group ethnic group etc) suffer, remember that others who YOU would not number amongst God’s faithful suffer also. We all suffer. We all are Zion who says “the Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” The Lord says to all of us . . . the historic Anabaptist, the magistracy of the 1500’s, the faithful of North America, the faithful of Europe, the faithful of Asia, the faithful of Africa, the faithful of South America, and every one who all the “faithful” would not consider “faithful” . . . all of us! The Lord has said “I have not forgotten any of you. Throughout history and time. Not one in any nation of the world now, nor in the past. I have not forgotten any of you. Each of you are precious and engraved on the palms of my Hands. You are ever before me!” Each of us, beloved, is a child at the Lord’s breast and has been borne of God’s image. Selah! What we may have forgotten – that we are all children of God – the Lord has not! Amen!

The Fourth Week of Advent: We Pray While We Wait

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)

I am not quite sure why, but the writer of Romans sometimes writes in a rather confusing style. Very poetic, but confusing. My whole reflection today might just be an unpacking and explanation of what he is saying.

This is the last section of verses in the book to the Romans, so this is the concluding and closing remarks of the writer. The writer of Romans (or to be more concise, Paul) is identifying that it is God who can and does make believers stronger in their faith. Along with God, Jesus Christ also strengthens and directs believers in faith and worship. For a long time it seemed as if the message and word of God was mysterious, but now it is being proclaimed clearly and for all people. And because God and Christ have done these things, Paul says, theirs is the glory and honor forever.

For generations and generation people have prayed to God, and hoped that God heard their prayers. And they hoped that they heard the word of God correctly. When Christ came no longer did humanity wonder if God heard them and if they heard God correctly, because God-in-man Jesus was there among them. And in a way that humanity could feel reassured that God-in-man Jesus would understand them, because Jesus had grown up among them and shared in the experience of maturing in God and understanding. What had been unknown about God was made knowable through Christ. And Paul’s prayer, while dense in its wording, reminds his reader of that.

If before, through the words of the prophet, God’s people knew in part who they were praying to, when Jesus came to the earth they (and now we) can understand and know even more fully the God we pray to. And Paul’s hope and admonition has spread – through people of faith who have gone before us, we can understand through their writings and experience even more fully who God is. This is the God we pray to, and the God who heard the prayers of the people answering those prayers through the baby Jesus.

May you, beloved reader, pray to God this Advent and Christmas season, seeking God and seeing God through the coming of Jesus. Selah!