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!

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!

Fourth Week of Advent: The Epistles Passage Year A – Now that’s an opening salutation!

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1 – 6)

First of all, let me say I am feeling much better tonight. Last night when I sat down to write, I was feeling pretty shaky – went through some things. But tonight I am on much more solid ground.

Paul was also on solid ground when he wrote this opening. Paul (or should I say the writer of the letter to the Romans) can pack a lot of theology in a small space. So much so that it stands as a good introduction to Jesus Christ whose birth celebration is coming close at hand. God promised through the prophets in holy scripture the coming of God’s Son who was also the main topic of the gospels. This Son also stood in line of the descendants of David, which made him in the kingly line but also of flesh. However, this Son was also divine as the Son of God and had power which was shown most evidently in the fact that he rose up from the dead, AND by doing so saved all humanity past, present and future (that is not said explicitly here, but Paul has certainly pushed that point other places and probably does later on in his letter.) This Jesus calls forth obedience and in obeying those called belong to Jesus. Not a comprehensive ‘exegesis’ but not bad for a brief overview/run through. It is only after saying all that, Paul says, “Hello.”

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verse 7)

This opening answers three fundamental questions that the believers in Rome might ask. First, who is Paul? Second, what does he believe? And third, what does Christian faith mean for us? It is, beloved reader, a solid foundation for the beginning of any missionary initiative.

Now, you might wonder, why are we considering missionary initiatives at Advent? I want you to know that I don’t pick out which passages the Revised Common Lectionary has at any one time (although I do decide on the order that I present them). I am emphasizing though the missional nature of this passage because this Advent season I am looking beyond the birth of Jesus Christ to Jesus Christ’s (and the Lord God’s) purpose in being born into the world. Year A of the lectionary cycle concerns the calling of new Christians. And the newest of the Christians were the ones who came to know Jesus in the flesh. Jesus came for them – not just for them but for all who would believe because of them. Paul was not too far distant from Jesus’ life. And the believers he taught were part of the first generation of believers. Paul, in his letters, wanted to get the theology set down correctly so the belief (according to his theology) would be correct. And, he liked splashy openings!

How different, yet how the same, was the Lord’s opening salutation of the birth of God’s Son. Born in a stable, yet announced by angels. Merely an additional number in population of Bethlehem, yet visited by wise men. And the story just grows from there!

Fourth Week of Advent: The Old Testament Passage Year A – NOT living in fear

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” (Isaiah 7:10 – 16)

The Lord longs to assure us, the Divine’s chosen people. But we are often sore afraid to ask of the Lord. We fret, moan and bemoan, weep and shake with fear, rooted to the ground such that we cannot take action. I do not point my finger at you, beloved reader, but speak of myself. At times controlling my fears is beyond my abilities simply because of my health diagnosis. But other times (like the evening I sat down to write this) I get anxious and overwrought when there is no firm basis and foundation for it. It is only afterwards, or if I am able to keep somewhat of a level head during, that I think of turning it over to the Lord. Or asking for a sign.

It is suggested that the infant born to the young woman is Jesus – especially because of the knowing right from wrong part. But it does not make sense an assurance to King Ahaz who was sorely afraid that when Jesus is young that the two kings who he dreads will be dead?! After all, King Ahaz was dead by then too! No, let us take what comfort we can, when we can. What King Ahaz was dreading never did come to pass. And this evening what I was dreading never came to pass either.

But let us take further comfort; from the moment that Jesus was born the plan to give assurance to all people for all time to come was coming into existence. And by the time we are facing our fears etc, Jesus had been born, lived, died, and raised to new life. Why then do we fear? Why then, beloved reader, do I fear? I ask myself that, and have no good answer. But even that quandary and stress is met and assuaged in our Lord Jesus Christ. Take courage, I tell myself, the Lord is with you. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with you also, beloved reader. Selah!

Third Week of Advent: The Psalm Passage Year A – Praise God . . . but I need Jesus

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.” (Psalms 146:5 – 8)

In my weary state I mistakenly started writing about the Isaiah passage again. I was humming along appreciating all the positive and uplifting messages found there. But as I moved through the verses, they started to sound familiar and I realized my error.

So, I started over and read the first few verses of this passage from psalms. And I felt let down. It is positive news, but my heart and spirit did not sing and soar as it did with the Isaiah passage. Isaiah was back on Wednesday, and Wednesday I has something specific I wanted to talk about, and did not reveal in the promises that the writer of Isaiah is speaking to his reader about. Wednesday (or at least the day that I wrote the passage you read on Wednesday beloved reader) I felt strong and emboldened. Today I am weak, tired, aching and cold. Today I need the warmth that the passage from Isaiah promises.

So why, you may be wondering, do I find this passage lacking? In Isaiah God is acting on behave of the reader/to whom the passage is directed. There is no need of action on their part. Today’s psalm passage, while good news, assumes the listener is out there doing and being embolden by the promises of what the Lord is like. It is praises the Lord (which, don’t get me wrong) is a good thing. But there is no promises of the Lord undertaking; instead it is a description of the Lord. It is like the psalmist is watching the Lord act and pointing out what the Lord does much like a commentator at an event.

“The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” (Verse 9)

“Watch the Lord” the psalmist says, “see the Divine run interference for the marginalized, the poor and impoverished.” “Isn’t the Lord great!”, the psalmist says.

The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 10)

The Lord is great. Praise the Lord. But the Lord is up there/over there doing all those great things. And here I am in my life, over here/down here, and I am tired, weary, in pain & cold. Not feeling the praise power.

That, THAT is why there is Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus was sent to humanity, to be with humanity, and to suffer as humanity does. That is why Jesus! Jesus knew what it was like to be tired, weary, in pain & cold. And if it takes my revealing my weakness & suffering to help you, beloved reader, to understand why Jesus coming to humanity is so important, then what I am going through has served a good purpose. Shalom!

Third Week of Advent: The Epistle Passage Year A – Patiently waiting, and waiting in faith

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!
As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:7 – 10)

Patience. Oh, beloved reader, how hard it is to be patient. This is the season that can test the patience and stamina of the old as well as the young. And as I consider this, I am reminded of part of a verse from the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” where it says, “The hopes and fears of all the years, Are met in thee tonight.”

It is not just the “hopes and fears” of the past, but those same hopes and fears in our modern day, and the ones to come – all of them are met in the birth of Christ. When the angels burst on to the fields where the shepherds were, when the magi were called out of the distant lands from Bethlehem, when Mary and Joseph were pulled to Bethlehem – so many fears for the present and unknowns for the future. And the hopes that all would be well in the days to come. The shepherds were told not to be afraid; Mary and Joseph were each told not to be afraid, but to move forward trusting in the Lord; and the magi journeyed forth into a land that they had no experience in searching for a king that they did not know how to recognize. Yet each of them found what they were searching for, but had to be patient.

But, the author of James is not talking about waiting patiently for the baby Jesus to be born, but being patient until Christ the Lord returns. And while waiting, to live wisely holding to the teachings of Jesus and the disciples. The author of James says the prophets were patient in waiting for what they foretold to come to pass. Much of the Old Testament is said to be prophecy and foretelling of the coming of Christ. And the prophets were patient unto their death. We only need to wait a few weeks from Christmas, and mostly probably waiting on our best behavior would be easy. But waiting our enter lives . . . on our best behavior? Were going to need help with that!