Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; A Exhortation to take into the New Year

The lectionary for New’s Day references the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 1 to 13, but those last five are kind of a downer, so I am not using them. I have been very diligent most of the time using all the verses, but this time I want to emphasis the “time” and how it apportioned to us.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

And the times we are living in call for strength and fortitude; but I do not say “more” because that implies, and then negates, what our forebearers both generational and spiritual have gone through. Another important consideration is what we do with our time. The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about time do things I would not do, nor advocate that others do. If we spend our time and energy doing negatives, we will have nothing left to do the positives in life. And it is humanity, as a global community that can comfort the grieving, heal the wounds that have been inflicted, mend what has been torn apart, and counter the hate and war in our world. We have been equipped for this by our Lord God.

“O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

In this New Year may we heed the call of our Lord and call others to the Lord so that the world might be reformed according to the law of love that was taught to us by Christ Jesus. Selah!

Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; Calling on the Name of . . . . Everyone!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” ( Galatians 4:4-7)

There are three possibilities of name focus here; there is the name of Jesus Christ, which is the theme of the “Holy Name of Jesus Day”. Jesus as the Son of God was born about 2000 years and five days ago – according to way we celebrate his birth. The story of Jesus’ naming is told with different gospels stories each lectionary year, and each gospel gives a little different emphasis. The focus of each gospel, including this year’s, is that Jesus was named Jesus with all the meaning and portent involved.

But there is also in this passage God named as “Abba Father”. And that name has meaning and portent also. We call on God not as the stern authority of the Almighty but as the gentle Parent that looks on us with love and that we love as a small child loves a parent with condition or hesitation. The gospels also reflect that is the type of relationship that Jesus had with God. And encourages us to have.

Lastly, there is our name. Not the name our parents gave us or the name we have chosen for ourselves, nor even the name that others have for us. No, this name is the name God knows us as, children of the Lord – called by the Lord God into relationship with the Divine. It is because of Jesus – called as he is – that we call on the Lord Almighty as Abba Father. And that the Lord God calls us children of God. I said before, names are important. Names define and imply relationships. And the relationships we have shape our lives.

We are coming to the end of one year, and readying to enter a new year. May the relationships you have with others be joyful and loving. And may your relationship with the Divine, however you name it and define it, be life giving. Selah!

Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; A True Day of Rest

I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their savior
in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”  (Isaiah 63:7-9)

I feel like I am in a transition time tonight. The work week has ended early, a day early than I thought. And I will be having a 4 day weekend and then light duty next week. It feels strange to have so much “down time” coming, and I am having a hard time letting go of work concerns. But work concerns are also concerns for the caregiver who work for me and report to me, and the clients whose care I over see. It feels like a betrayal to them to not go to work for such a stretch of time. Yet I know I need the time off if I am going to do my best work for them.

So as I mulled over all these thoughts I looked through the scripture passages that were available this week, and found the passage from Isaiah 63. It’s not quite a praise passage, or at least not the way I am reading tonight. It seems more of a reflection on the the Lord and what the Lord has done. The Lord looking down on humanity and saying, “These are my people, my chosen beloveds. They love me and I love them. And because of this love I will act for them, in ways that only I the Almighty can.” I would like to think the Lord is looking down on me in that way, seeing me in my concern, care and worry for so many things.

And it occurs to me – if I could only let go of all the concerns and worries I have, pass them over to the Lord, the Divine could deal with it so much better than me. I am made numb with it, but the Lord can act in ways that I could not image or conceive of. So I will try very hard to stand back, lift up to the Lord my cares, and then recount the wondrous ways the Lord has acted and will act. And I am captured by the idea that it is the Lord who does this, the Divine, the God-self and not an emissary or appointee. Neither is it the Lord acting through me, but the Lord directly ministering to those I have concern for. I am not a conduit or a means. That is restful and soothing to me.

May you, beloved reader, feel the Lord directly in your life this season and in the year to come. Selah!

Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; What’s in a name?

The gospel of Luke has an account of Jesus’ infancy that the gospel of Matthew does not include. It branches from when Jesus was just born (perhaps) to some time before the arrival of the wise men. Or maybe Matthew left out this account, or Luke left out the flight to Egypt. The first of months of Jesus’ life are most often seen in hindsight to his later life. Jesus’ birth was significant at the time to only those who were there and witnessed it. The rest of us are dependent on the accounts that come down to us, passing through history, memory, and the oral tradition.

This passage from Luke takes up from just after the heavenly chorus, out on the hills and fields surrounding Bethlehem.

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 2:15-20)

I can imagine a young woman, who most probably according the the tradition of the time, was quite sheltered and had not experienced much of the wide world. She became pregnant without “knowing a man”. She delivered a child without any one with experience to help her. And she was sought out by many people, and much was made of her child. Pondering must have helped her take all this in and process it. As did the customs of the time.

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Verse 21)

This passage from Luke is part of the 4 sets of scripture that comprise the Holy Name of Jesus Day. Those passages center in names, naming and being named, with Philippians 2: 11 the verse “ . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Names are important. If I may bring in a bit of contemporary culture, I am reminded of some of the books in the Harry Potter series, where Voldemort is called “he who shall not be named” – if I am quoting it correctly. The idea was, I think, that naming him gave him undue power and influence over the speaker, or called to mind the horrors that he had done and inflicted. But not naming him also gave him power – avoidance, fear, and awe. In the Jewish tradition the name of God is also not spelled out completely, the idea being that it is too sacred to be written out or said aloud. And yet Jesus called God “Abba Father” – a child’s name for the male parent.

We who espouse strong and deep belief in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are careful how, when, where, and why we use those names. Names are important. But just as important is to call on the Divine, giving the God-self the name that fits our needs and believe. Let us not avoid using the proper names of the Divine, nor neglecting to call on the Divine. Jesus came to earth for many reasons, and one of which was to fully define and fulfill the name of God. Selah!

Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; Decisions, decisions, decisions!

There seems to be a wide variety of celebratory days for the week following Christmas. I guess having Christmas on a weekend, and a Sunday no less, tends to bunch up the occasions. So I am left with the task of which to choose. Should it be a “normal” Sunday? That would mean we look at Isaiah 63, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2 and Matthew 2. If I choose Holy Name of Jesus day we would look at Numbers 6, Psalm 8, Galatians 4 and Luke 2. And if I choose New Year’s Day that would mean Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 8 (again), Revelation 21 and Matthew 25. The different choices whirled around in my head!

What seemed evident beyond a doubt was that I was going to need more days! So, I decided I was just write a lot, filling days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, picking passages that seemed to fit well and carry us into the New Year.

Now after they [the Wise Men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (Matthew 2: 13-15)

I decided for today we would continue the story of Jesus’ birth. After my recent admission [see December 20, 2016 ] that prophecy from the Old Testament really can point toward happenings in the New Testament I am content to let stand that God’s son was called out of Egypt.

This was not the first time that Joseph was given guidance and direction. When he found out Mary was pregnant, and not by him, he thought to quietly just not marry. But a dream and an angel let him know to proceed with their plans. That Mary was pure and innocent, and being used by God for a fantastic purpose. Praise God that Joseph was open to receiving Divine guidance and direction.

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Again, with this prophecy from the Old Testament being fulfilled in the New Testament! But what is a person to do? The Christmas season is filled with prophecy fulfilled. God’s plan is being carried forth. But . . . in a unique way!

“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (Verses 19 – 23)

And again, Joseph is instructed by a dream and an angel – seems to be quite a pattern. I have to wonder if that was a pattern and a blessing that Joseph had all of his life. That would be quite a benefit in parenting; especially a Son of the Divine. Or perhaps it was exactly Joseph’s being open to hearing God and angels of God that made him qualified to raise Jesus. Sounds like God was doing some prep work for the coming of baby Jesus, designing a family where Jesus would be nurtured from infancy on up.

What I take from all this is (besides prophecy does come true and what is spoken in one context can fit in another) that if we are unsure of what to do or if calamity surrounds us, or if there are many options and we are not sure what to do – all we need to do is look to God. And actually, on the day I sat down to write this, that was a message I needed to hear and take into my heart! How’s that for scripture from long ago informing our present!! Selah!


Week Leading Up to Christmas: The Psalm Passage Year A – Christmas Eve; gentle night leading to glorious day!

Seeker: “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.”
Preacher: Sing Creation, and all who hear the word, Christ is born!
Seeker: “The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.”
Preacher: The Lord is victorious! But the Lord’s victory comes in a new and unique way. Not through physical strength and military might, but through innocence, faith, and love.
Seeker: “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.”

Preacher: The house of Israel and every house throughout the world celebrates this night, and the gift that has come from our Lord!
Seeker: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.”

Preacher: We celebrate the beginning of the Lord’s plan for humanity. From the beginning of creation the Lord has had a plan. It comes to us slowly and at a distance. We ponder its meaning. Then the Lord, not wanting us to wait any longer, bursts through the heavens and comes down to earth. But not as a king with armor and army. But as a babe, so that we might learn from how to live in this life as the Lord would have us life. Sing praises to the Lord, a gentle Lord who looks upon God’s chosen people with compassion and mercy. As gently as any parent looks upon a beloved new born child, the Lord looks upon humanity.
Seeker: “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98)

Preacher: The new born babe lies sleeping, in innocence. Not knowing the world, knowing only quiet and warmth, tenderness and peace. The world awaits, as it has been waiting for so many generations. In the days and years to come there will be turmoil, upset, and violence. The world demands what it wants and needs, and rejects that which is contrary to its nature. The time of reckoning and judgment will come. But for now all is peaceful, quiet and mild. The hope of the nations lying in the hand of a child. Shalom and Selah!

Week Leading Up to Christmas: The Gospel Passage Year A – Journeying with the gospel of John; or not

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” 
(John 1:1 – 5)

In the beginning . . . . . at creation, or before creation . . . before there was time . . . there was God. And with God was love; love for something that was not yet created. For something that was an idea. The idea? To create a way for there to be more love. Love is not love unless it is shared. While the Divine might be love, perfect love, love is not love unless it can be expressed and shared with another. So, there had to be another. But God is One. There is only one God. Therefore, another must be created. But that other, that creation, will be less than perfect. Thus, there had to be a way to make creation perfect. So Perfection had to be divided, that Divine Perfection might be above all of creation and also with creation. And the idea grew and took shape . . . slowly.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (Verses 6 – 9)

Light and enlightenment . . . to know where one is and who one is . . . and to know what perfect love is. To see perfect love, and experience perfect love. And to be made perfect through love.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Verses 10 – 13)

How can one not see Perfect Love, not feel it, not know it, not experience it? It takes faith, and a willingness to set aside the known and belief in Someone who is like no other. Some do not want Perfect Love, cannot believe it is possible. And so for them, it will not be. But for those who believe, who see and hear not with human eyes and ears, but sense that come from the Source of Perfect Love – the will be called children of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Verse 14)

Flesh amongst us, that we might believe. And idea that has grown since before time began. Perfect Love that would not rest, would not give up, would not cease. Each year at this time we stop and think about the Perfect Gift that has been given to us. Each year we have the opportunity to experience anew. Each year we have the opportunity to renew our belief, or belief for the first. It is an opportunity that should not be missed! Selah!



P.S. The gospel of John can be a confusing and complex message. I have chosen to use the same obscurity in my posting today. The simple story is – God at creation wanted to do more than just plant some trees and make some animals. God wanted humanity, but knew that humanity’s imperfection would also be a barrier between God and God’s creation. So Jesus was sent to bridge that barrier, taking the form of imperfection and making it perfect – showing us through his life and death, how to believe without ceasing. And by being raised from the dead, showing that even death could be conquered. Kinda straight forward. May you, beloved reader, either take the way of spiritual allusion and metaphor that fills much of the gospel of John or the straight route that is the clear message of salvation. Either way, may your arrive at the throne of God as a blessed child of God! Selah!

Week of Leading Up to Christmas: The Old Testament Passage Year A – Quiet night, holy night; now and long ago

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Tonight (or more precisely the night I sat down to write on this passage) I was feeling good. Last week it was the same; the first night I was feeling very out of sorts and anxious. Yesterday was a tough day and the evening did not go smoothly. But tonight things are better. Tonight I can say “how beautiful upon the mountains” because I feel at peace inside.

Now, I am not suggesting we cannot see and feel beauty when we are out of sorts, or that God’s presence in our lives is negate by the stress in our lives. Far from it! Last week on the night I felt out of sorts, the writing on the passage in question helped me immensely. As I knew it would. And last night when I felt like all things were flying out of control, I was able to center myself by writing on God’s word. But tonight . . .

“Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Tonight I can sit back and enjoy the calm that is in my spirit and soul. Tonight I can feel the harmony that is very present in the world, as opposed to the disorder and chaos that is also in the world. Tonight is a “heavenly peace” night, to use a theme of the season. For that night of heavenly peace that came at the birth of our Lord was also the night . . .

“The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. “ (Verse 10)

I do so love it when good plans come together. Goodwill and peace to all! Selah!

Week Leading Up to Christmas: The Epistle Passage Year A – Last minute preparations and surprise revelations

I am not sure if I remember a year when Christmas was on Sunday – that is, a year when I was working with the lectionary passages or planning worship. It seems a little odd, as if Advent is not going through it’s usual paces, and Christmas if spring up without the usual leading up to the day. It’s just awkward and weird. If you remember, Advent started close on the heels of Thanksgiving. In fact, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving we were already treading into Advent. Now we in the week before Christmas, with little time to finish the last minute details. But then, what baby comes on a well planned out schedule?!

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Several things I want to note before we go much further. First, the writer of Hebrews is referring not so much to a baby as to the risen Christ. It is more of a reference to the resurrected Messiah than the infant Jesus. Odd than that it is here and being used as passage for Christmas. The verses this week are from Christmas/Nativity of the Lord Proper III. Last year was II, and the year before (Year B) was I. I had said that I would use each proper in succession, as I was commenting for each lectionary year (if that all makes sense).

Second, verses 5 – 12 are not specifically part of the cited lectionary passage. The RCL includes them as verses that might be used, but not necessarily used.

“For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?” (Verse 5)

Again, the writer of Hebrews seems to be more focused on Jesus the man rather than Jesus the infant. But then he writes,

“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Verse 6)

The writer of Hebrews is setting the case for Jesus being a direct link and part of the Divine God, and not “merely” a messenger from God who has not role or stance other than delivering the words of God.

“Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.” (Verses 7 – 12)

One can see why these verses do not point very well to the Nativity of the Lord. But they point beyond Jesus’s birth and growing up years to the purpose of Jesus and the purpose (or at least one purpose) of his ministry. Let us not forget, beloved reader, as we scramble to complete our Christmas preparations that the Jesus we welcome as a child will grow to be more than anyone at that time expected. But the Lord God knew, and had prepared for this long before any human knowledge of it.

[Ye gads! I’ve just made a solid point for all the foretelling Old Testament prophecies I have railed against! Look what Christmas can do to a person! Shalom!!]

Fourth Week of Advent: The Psalm Passage Year A – The Messiah comes. Which Messiah is the question

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1- 3)

“Restore us.” The Jews by the time of Jesus had been conquered, occupied and dragged away as prisoners and slaves. Even in their own home lands of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Galilee and Bethlehem they did not have their own say over their own affairs. Being saved and restored were important hopes and dreams to them. The coming of the Messiah was supposed to be the beginning of the end of domination and oppression. And the beginning of a better relationship with their God.

“O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Verses 4 – 7)

Even as they were when they demanded of Samuel a king like the other nations, appearance was very important. Stature and image were very important. Having a good reputation and standing was very important. Finding favor in the eyes of others had become synonymous with having favor in the eyes of their God. Or at least, that is my line of reasoning that I am putting forth at this moment. Humanity then is not so different than humanity now. Society wants to look good, and have the perception that their God is on their side. And we feel that way . . .

“But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Verses 17 – 19)

But the truth is, the Jews of Jesus’ time were not ready for, or expecting, the type of Messiah that God had sent. It took some time, and some readjusting of there thinking for the disciples and the followers of Jesus to realize that the way of living Jesus exemplified was the better way. A way of gaining stature not by outward appearances but inward confirming to the statutes of God.

Even today there is a variation in the way God is viewed and perceived. I am not going to be prescriptive of which type of God; I know the type of God I believe in, and the type of God Jesus points to. The time of Advent is one of preparation so we can be ready for and accept the Messiah that was sent and the purpose Christ the Messiah was sent for. May you beloved reader perceive and prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus, and the Son of God he grew into. Selah!