Christmas 2015 – The Psalm Passages

The Psalm Passage – The Week of Christmas: The Lord that has come

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.
Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God. For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.

The Lord loves those who hate evil;he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!” (Psalm 97)

This psalm reminds that while Jesus came as an infant child, that was not his true Divine nature. I had emphasized the baby Jesus, because that is one of images that comes to us at Christmas. But I do know that the shepherds and the wise men did not come to worship and pay homage to a mere human child. This was the beginning of something that would change humanity forever. And this psalm passage reminds us of that.

The innocence of childhood gave way to the purity of adulthood for Jesus. We as fallible humans leave behind that innocence to enter adulthood where we are accountable for what we do, and the mistakes [ie, sin] we make. All our decorations, garlands, present-giving, feasting and celebrating will not change that. Only the gift of salvation that God blessed us with and Jesus Christ brought to us will. So we all do well to worship the Child that brought this in a way that we can understand and an example that we can strive to follow.

 

 

The Psalm Passage – The First Sunday After Christmas: Praising God

When our Lord has come, after our Lord has come, there are several important things we need to do. First, foremost the day after Christmas, praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 148)

Then we need to believe; believe that the tiny child born in Bethlehem is Christ our Lord, and the only hope for our salvation and redemption. And on believing, follow Christ our Lord. And when we error and stray away, confess, take on penance, and receive forgiveness. This will be our focus during this lectionary year.

This Christmas season may you, beloved reader, come to know our Lord Jesus Christ anew. And may the coming year be a time of blessing and a season to know the forgiveness of our merciful God. Selah!

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Christmas 2015 – Gospel Passage

The Gospel Passage – The First Sunday After Christmas:

Many years have passed since Jesus’ birth, although the gospel of Luke skips over those years. That is partly why I decided to wait until later in the morning to post this; although you may be reading it one after another.

In any case, Jesus has grown into a teenage boy – in his culture maybe closer to manhood, because the period of time being a child and being an adult was shorter than it is now. He and his parents have been going to Jerusalem and it was probably a familiar journey.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.” (Luke 2:41-42)

From what is written in the gospel of Luke we can assume that they traveled in a group, and that Jesus was with friends and relatives and not by his parents side.

When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.” (Verses 43-45)

Those of us who are parents can relate across the years and the cultural span to what Jesus’ parents must have been feeling. Danger is danger no matter the time and place. And while the journey to and from Jerusalem was familiar, there was good reason to travel in the safety of a group. And the city of Jerusalem was a large place with many dangers lurking in dark corners.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” (Verses 45 – 51a)

This, I think, was the first phase of Jesus’ journey towards being our Lord and God. While earthly and human concerns were important to him, they did not bind him and hold him as they do us. Jesus came to earth with a purpose and mission. And nothing would dissuade him from it. We see that when Jesus starts his ministry.

His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (51b-52)

And again, Mary ponders these things. I can imagine her thinking, “My son is different from other children. His birth was heralded by angels; and many people came to see him from close by and at a distance. His life was in danger at a young age; but danger does not seem to phase him. How long will my son be just “my son”?”

As Christmas Day turns to the day after Christmas and then to the Sunday after Christmas, so we turn our attention from Jesus as a baby to Jesus our Lord. And we will, I hope and pray, discover for ourselves who Jesus is to us, and that means in our lives. Selah!

Christmas 2015 – The Gospel Passages

The Gospel Passage – The Week of Christmas: Jesus is here!

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.
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.” 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 2:1-20)

I wish you could see, beloved reader, the “full-stage” production I see in my mind when I read this passage. At all the appropriate moments a choir breaks into songs such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, “Away in a Manager”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, and narrator guides the watcher/listener throughout.

I love Christmas time with all its decorations, colors, songs, and celebrations. I love especially the gospel of Luke’s telling of the story. What I like best about the Luke story is the line buried in all that “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” I do not know if that is something writer of the gospel of Luke actually knew (and how it was known) or if it was just something that was attributed to Mary. But it always made me fill some kinship to Mary, because I am a ponderer too.

May you, beloved reader, ponder on the story of Jesus’ birth. And may your thoughts of wonder and joy carry you through the Christmas season. Selah!

Christmas 2015 – The Epistles Passages

Today we are looking at the two Epistles Passages; the passage from Titus is part of Proper II, the portion of the lectionary for Christmas. The passage from Colossians is for the first Sunday after Christmas.

The Epistles – Week of Christmas: We need Jesus

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

While it references the salvation we receive through Jesus Christ, it does not speak directly to the nativity. It does touch on the theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness, but I do not think Proper II (or any of the Propers) ties itself to any certain lectionary year. At least I am hoping not because I would dislike misrepresenting the lectionary cycles. But . . . I digress.

We need Jesus Christ’s birth in order to have all that the passage from Titus promises. It is because that is how God designed it; not that we would have a Messiah and Savior that comes complete and fully grown but having no connection to humanity. (By now I assume you have read my two postings for Dec 19th.) God designed and planned for a Savior who was well steeped in humanity but did not have the sinful and fallible nature of humanity. The writer of Titus (which is actually a letter to Titus, but apparently widely shared) talks about “the goodness and loving kindness” appearing, but it was not a sudden appearance; rather it was a growing realization of a different way to live and relate to one another and to God.

The Epistles – First Sunday After Christmas: Our actions in light of Jesus Christ’s birth

In the letter to the Colossians (which is the Epistles passage for the first Sunday after Christmas) the writer of the letter to the Colossians (who is thought to be the same writer of the letter to Titus) outlines how believers of both the baby Jesus and the risen Lord should act.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)

This passage too has within it the theme of forgiveness – not surprising since it is a major theme. It will be interesting to see what how the passages during year C frame and highlight the themes of confession, penance, and forgiveness.

But for now, we are coming closer to Christmas. Think, beloved reader, of all the preparations and planning that go into a birthday celebration. For that is what Christmas is; God gave Jesus as a gift to the world. Jesus gave us the gift of . . . well, the gift of himself and the God-self. What gift will we give our Lord and each other to celebrate this?

May your coming time of celebration be filled with love, laughter, and joy! Selah!

Christmas 2015 – The Old Testament Passages

The timing this year of Christmas, beloved reader, makes the passages of the Revised Common Lectionary, tumble one over the other. Friday of this week is Christmas, but Sunday is already the first Sunday after Christmas, and there are multiple sets of passages. Last year for this period of time I chose Proper I as the source of passages for Christmas; it was a “leisurely” stroll up to Christmas Day. This year I decided to move on to Proper II (and next year I will look at Proper III).

But what to do? Focus only on the scripture passages for Christmas and neglect the pattern and rhythm? Or gloss over (if one every could) the Christmas passages and pick up after Christmas but before Christmas ever happens? No, I thought, there must be a better way. And so there will be. I will look in turn at each set of passages from the four readings that are supplied. Today, is the Old Testament. And we will see what interesting contrasts and comparisons arise!

The Old Testament Passage – Week of Christmas: The Lord Comes

Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent.
You who remind the Lord, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts.

Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples.
The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord”; and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” (Isaiah 62:6-12)

Some of this passage calls to mind Jesus entering Jerusalem; some of it calls to mind what John the Baptist did and said in proclaiming Jesus. But not much of it calls to mind the birth of Jesus. So it is an interesting passage to use in Jesus’ nativity. The focus is on who Jesus will become and what he will do. But right now in our nativity story Mary and Joseph are still journeying to Bethlehem. What Jesus will be and what he will do is far ahead – farther ahead than the stable. And that seems to Mary and Joseph so far away. Long in the preparing and anticipating.

But God knew the plan, just as the writer Isaiah says that during his time God had planned renewal for Jerusalem. God knew how it would unfold, and that what had been lost by God’s people would be restored. And God knew what Jesus was ordained to do, and what Jesus life would mean to the world.

While we journey forth . . . to what we may not know, God knows and has laid out the journey before us. As the days unfold leading to Christmas, may you be blessed on your journey. Selah!

The Old Testament Passage – First Sunday After Christmas: The Lord has always been making preparations

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.” (I Samuel 2:18-20 )

Can you imagine Samuel growing up in the temple? Can you picture him at ages 4, 5, 6 and 7 growing more each year? Surely no one knew what Samuel would become; yet by faith his mother gave him up to the temple. And by faith Samuel grew into the man he was ordained to be.

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (Verse 26)

The Lord plans, and the Lord’s plans grow to encompass more and more. What starts as small beginnings grow into missions and purposes that amaze humanity. Small Jesus grows into the Messiah. Small Samuel grows into the prophet Samuel that brings forth the nation of Israel.

We are being prepared, beloved reader. Each day . . . each week, month and year . . . . we grow in wisdom and understanding picking up more of the plan and mission that the Lord has for us. Let us rejoice that we are part of the Lord’s plan, and may the Lord bless us and empower us to complete the destiny that is laid before us. Selah!

Fourth Week of Advent – Christ now; but who then? And what of peace to all humanity? (The Old Testament Passage)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,

in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:2-5a)

It was “foretold” that the baby Jesus would be born of Bethlehem. A minor city at that time, but one that was important in olden days. It was the city of David; but David was long gone and his kingship a memory only. Many things in the Old Testament “foretell” things of Jesus. But this foretelling is seen in the “hindsight” of Jesus’ coming, and all that Jesus was. What might the writer of Micah been thinking about when he wrote this; was he thinking of Jesus? It is puzzling because Christian commentators take verse 5b as figurative – that is, that we evil comes against God’s people, God will provide or has already provided a remedy in Christ. Verse 5a is literal; 5b is figurative. Wish I could talk the writer of Micah.

You see, beloved reader, the Jews were not expecting the type of Messiah that Jesus Christ was. They were expecting the type of Messiah-leader who would help “If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers.” (Verse 5b) So Jesus coming to the world as a baby was not the type of kingship that the Jews of that time expected. And I suspect, gentle reader, it is not the type of kingship many people today would like to have from their God. Let me dip my “pen” into political ink for just a moment; it seems many people what a God who will punish those who they see needing punishment, and be hostile against those they feel are the “them” that the “us” need to repeal and resist. I could go on, but I think (I hope) you understand what I mean.

We are in the last week of Advent, and the last day before we delve into the week of Christmas. Throughout the history of humanity the days and season of Christmas is when we set aside our hostilities and reach out to all humanity in peace and harmonious accord. I hope and pray that it is no different this season. May it be so in your part of the world. Selah!

 

P.S. I wrote a companion peace to this posting  on my other blog, Pondering from the Pacific. You can see it in about 10 minutes after this one has posted. The Christ who was born from a God of Peace, Love, and Compassion

Fourth Week of Advent – Preparing, and being prepared, for Advent (The Gospel Passage)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

You need to understand, beloved reader, what is meant “in those days.” Elizabeth’s, the mother of John the Baptist, pregnancy was firmly established. And Mary had just found out that she was pregnant – a very different type of pregnancy than her cousin Elizabeth’s. One that confused her and concerned her because unlike her cousin she was not married and had not tried to conceive. The conception was placed upon her, and while she willingly accepted it (“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. “ [verse 38b]) it still would be a difficulty and an embarrassment. But when Elizabeth greets her will understanding and enthusiasm, Mary’s fears were vanished. And the writer of Luke gives to her a “Song of Praise.”

And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 46-55)

I have at other times and on other occasions commented on the likelihood or unlikelihood of these being Mary’s (or Elizabeth’s) words. But during the time of Advent is not the time to stand on such ceremony. Who of us have been so blessed or called upon by God to be part of a divine plan? And who knows what we might say or reflect on such an occasion?

But really, is it so out of our experience to be part of God’s divine plan? Are we not, as followers of God, part of God’s divine plan? All of us have an important role in bringing God’s message to a hungry and needy world. Or living out the example of Jesus Christ to a world that is sorely in need of love and compassion. We may not carry a messenger of God or the child of God in our body. But God and Christ can be in our soul and spirit, and that alone might cause us to speak forth or act in ways that seem beyond ourselves. Indeed, I sometimes have that feeling when I sit down to write to you beloved reader, that something beyond myself is guiding and inspiring my words and writings. It is not so strange. It is not beyond the human experience to be used by God. And perhaps that is part of the mystic of Advent; that we are prepared and drawn into God’s divine plan.

May this Advent, beloved reader, be filled with God’s blessing for you. And may you be filled with God’s blessing. Selah!