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 of Christmas, Proper III: Let us celebrate that the wait is over!

The scripture passages of Proper III are ones of celebration and praise. Let us enter into the celebration, and praise our Lord for the wondrous gift of the coming Savior!

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. “ (Hebrews 1:1-2 [from verses 1 – 4])

Through the days and weeks of Advent you have spoken to us, our Lord. We have set aside time to listen. Bless the days that come after our celebration of Christ Jesus’ birth. Inspire us to share what we have heard from you, our Lord.

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 [from verses 7- 10])

The good news of Christ Jesus has reached us, and we are moved by God’s love and compassion on us. We have been called as the Lord’s messengers to carry the news of peace and salvation. Bless our feet as we spread this good news. And bless our words as we speak of God and Christ Jesus.

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. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 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.” (Psalms 98: 1-3)

A new song we sing; today it may be like a lullaby to the sleeping holy child. But let us remember, it is not just a child that has come into the world, but God breaking into our world to bring us new joy and new hope. The victory that is God and Christ Jesus comes in many ways into our world. So as Christ grew, may our faith grow also.

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.”(Psalms 98:4-6)

Our hearts are filled with joy, and all of creation sings with us in praising our Lord and God! The long wait is over. The days of darkness are past. For we have a King who is above all other kings and whose glory will last forever!

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 98:6-9)

Our King has come! Let us renew our faith and recommit our lives to our Lord and King. He that was born in a stable grew to be our Savior. He knows our hearts and our minds. Let us raise up a joyful noise to the Lord. Let us also raise up our hearts; but then bow our heads in prayer pledging our lives to the God who has given us hope for this world and the world to come. Selah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

The Fourth Week of Advent: Getting the Details Right

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” (2 Samuel 7:1-3)

Much like a wife/mother/domestic engineer, King David was resting after a great deal of accomplishments. He was looking around to see all that he had down and acquired. Much like also, I suspect, a thorough shopper of Christmas presents. But suddenly it occurred to him that while he had secured a fine castle, servants etc, but physical symbol of the presence of God was still outside, protected from the elements by only a tent. And that did not feel right. Just as if you suddenly realized that you had forgotten to buy the most important present of all! Or the center piece of all of you decorating was still packed up. What you thought was completed was still woefully left undone! “I can fix that”, you think.

 

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:4-7)

It is not often that one hears during Advent and Christmas discussion about the meager surrounding Christ was born in. Even for those times, a stable was a pretty lowdown place to stay, especially for a baby. And moreover, for a baby who would grow to be Christ. I think that is why I do not like seeing nativity sets outside. It reminds me too acutely of what the reality was for Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Yes, I think of Mary too, giving birth in a stable. Having been “pampered” by hospital stays, I just can’t imagine it! Yet the bible tells us that is the way it was.

And if our God had planned Jesus’ birth in the “God’s Time” way the God does, it must have been the plan. Mary could have given birth while still at her home with Joseph or in her mother’s home. But God’s timing . . . So who I am to stay what the proper setting is for a nativity set. Or moreover, who is anyone to say what the proper setting or place for God is, or who is worthy of God’s favor?

 

Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” (2 Samuel 7:8-11)

And that present that you forgot to buy, or that decoration that you forgot to put up is not going to change the essential meaning for Christmas. Yes, getting the detail just right is important, and I think Jesus being born in a stable to a first time mother was the detail that God wanted. So if your Christmas plans are not perfect, that is just about right. Because as wonderful as the presents, the food, the decorations, and everything else is, that is not the point of Christmas celebrations. It is that God had a plan for God’s people, and the plan was for baby Jesus. It was the best plan of all, that would in a unique way take care of all the world’s and all of humanity’s most important needs.

 

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)

We do not, beloved reader, have a kingdom or a throne. We do have a soul and spirit though. And humanity’s spirit is forever before God, and will endure even beyond our body’s death. For that is God and Jesus Christ’s plan. Selah!