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!

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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!!]

Second Sunday After Christmas Day: Going forward after Christmas

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1: 3 + 4)

The epistles, which are always the third set of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (the Old Testament and the Psalm being the first and second respectfully) are filled with instruction and exhortation, a characteristic of the writer(s) of the epistles. It is always good to read them section by section so you do not miss what is being said. And since we are at the beginning of the book of Ephesians there is a invocation to the God that the writer(s) of the epistles is directing the reader to. In this invocation is teaching and instruction as to who the God is that the writer(s) believes in. And what this God means to us.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 3:5-10)

The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians moves from the invocation into more intense teaching about God and Christ. The writer of the letter to the Ephesians freely shifts from talking about God to Christ because that writer felt they were one and the same, although each connects to different aspects of faith.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that this particular teaching is a reassurance that God and Jesus Christ always and continually invites and welcomes believers who are renewing their faith and recommitting their lives to God and Jesus Christ.

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 3:11-14)

The writer of Ephesians makes a very strong case indeed for realizing that once professing belief in God and Jesus Christ, one is accepted and love by the Divine. It is difficult to imagine why one would go astray from a love and caring that is so deep and intense. But we know it happens. We know this because we have all done it. But just because we turn away from God, that does not mean God turns away from us. Let us remember the words of the writer of Ephesians as we renew and recommit to the God who loves us so!

 

Sometimes the Revised Common Lectionary will highlight certain passages but make reference to a section before or after the highlighted passage. John chapter 1 verses ten to eighteen is the highlighted passage but the previous section of verses, one to ten is also noted.

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.

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 1-9)

The Sunday we are journeying to is the second Sunday after Christmas day, and as such is less about Jesus’ birth then it is of Christ Messiah coming into the world. The gospel of John picks up Jesus’ life story at the point when Jesus was called to his ministry. John the Baptist has made his presence known both the people in the surrounding area and the religious officials. Everything was posed for adult Jesus’ arrival and what would follow.

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. 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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,] who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1: 10-18)

Much of Galilee, Nazareth and Bethlehem had probably forgotten, or never knew, about the birth of a baby in a manager in a stable. What happened then became connected to what was to come only through reflection after the fact.

We spent four weeks working up to and preparing for Christmas, and in one day it is gone. However the gifts of that last for a long time. Not as long though, beloved reader as the gift of the baby Jesus. This scripture passages of this week start to carry us forward into the new year and further into to the Christian year. There are one or two other events of Jesus’ early life yet to come, but we will take that up next week.

It is my hope and prayer beloved reader that your Christmas was filled with wonder, joy, love and light. And that your new year holds great promise. Selah!

Second Sunday After Christmas Day: Asking God to be with us

For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.’
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labour, together; a great company, they shall return here.” (Jeremiah 31:7-8)

The themes we were introduced to in Advent and Christmas, renewal and re-commitment to God continue throughout the who lectionary year. Because God has in the past promised to save and deliver the Lord’s people, we can feel confident that if we call on God, God will save us also.

“With weeping they shall come, and with consolations[a] I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:9)

The people of Israel wandered away from God many times, and whatever mess they got into, God set about bringing them back.

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coast lands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
For the
Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.(Jeremiah 31:10-12)

Whatever you think you have lost, beloved reader, will be restored to you. Well, maybe not restored in the way you think it will. The writer of Jeremiah wrote this as the words of God and as a promise to God’s people. But if you would do a careful accounting of material things, then maybe not all was restored to them. But we have been told, and we know it as a truth, that we should not place value on material things. What then, you may ask, do we have to look forward to?

“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:13-14)

I don’t know about you, beloved reader, but I would trade in my material possessions for the Lord’s bounty – joy instead of mourning, and gladness instead of sorrow!

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 147:12-20)

In the Revised Common Lectionary the Psalm passage often functions as simply an praise exuberance. It is a glad voice and chorus raised up to God that may not be specifically applicable to our own situation; but is usually pretty good about matching to the Old Testament reading. I think you can see when you read Psalm 147 that what is being given thanksgiving for is what was promised in the passage from Jeremiah. One thing I want to point out, however, is that this told as being exclusive to God’s people, Israel. If one knows God’s ordinances, though, you can assume that person is part of the family of God. And the family of God is throughout the world. That is one of the other wondrous things about the Revised Common Lectionary; it is used throughout the world and binds us together as God’s people. Selah!

Second Sunday After Christmas Day: New Year’s Day

The passages from Ecclesiastes and Revelation are two of the scripture passages that the Revised Common Lectionary uses for New Year’s Day – which this year is on a Thursday and not my usual posting day. But since New Year’s Eve is a very typical time to make resolutions for the new year. I think it quite appropriate to look at this scripture passage and decide what in the new year we have time for and will make time for.

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)

What will you make time for, beloved reader? And what will you not take time to do?

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13)

Does it surprise you that God wants us to enjoy life and living? We are all familiar with those who don’t seem to know what God does for them and what God wants them to do. But so often, too often, we assume God means for us to work hard. Nose to the grind stone and suffering for God – isn’t that the way we consider the Christian life? But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this new year, why don’t we resolve to “cast our burdens upon the Lord” and bring our problems to God.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ “(Revelation 21:1-4)

A new heaven and a new earth – a new beginning of humanity. The beginning of the new year is something like this. The days are fresh and new – no sin has yet been committed, no hatred or violence has been expressed. And God is with us.

But we know as the days of the new year count themselves out, there will be sin; and because evil is still in the world, there will be hatred and violence. In fact, it is very likely before the the new year is but a few minutes old there will be sin, hatred, violence and many other tragedies.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:5-6a)

God is the only one who can make all things new, and keep all things from sin. And God has already accomplished what needs to be done to insure that in the world to come that newness will endure. But right now, it may be a new year, but it is the “old” us. Take heart, beloved reader. God is with us and God is seated on the holy throne. The Lord was there in the beginning, and the Lord will be there at the end of all years. Selah!