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!!]

Christmas 2015 – The Psalm Passages

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas 2015 – The Epistles Passages

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

The Epistles – Week of Christmas: We need Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas 2015 – The Old Testament Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Make a Christmas Noise!

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7 )

One of the things I came to realize as I thought on and pondered about my post for Christmas was that it was so quiet. But Christmas is not a quiet event. What with the Wise Men journeying, the shepherds being sung by an angelic choir, the sheep and cattle etc baaing, mooing and lowing, and Mary most likely crying out in child-birth while Joseph tried to assist her– it was not quiet.

For that reason, I do not like my Christmas silent either. I like to listen to Christmas music as much as decorating for the season. Would that I could have a Nativity set that played music as well.

I have been singing and listening to Christmas music for as many Christmases as I can remember. But for all the songs I have heard, the one that captures for me the essence of Christmas is the “Carol of the Bells.” It clear ringing and chiming captures the excitement and thrill of Christmas – the coming of our Savior. But I have found even better than just that song is the version that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra recorded several years ago. It is called “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo” and my research tells me the story behind the song was that of cellist who returned to Sarajevo. Distressed and despairing of the violence he began playing his cello in the middle bomb-torn city center, and as Christmas approached started to play Christmas music.

When I first heard the piece by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra I was blown away! It combines the Carol of the Bells with another one of my favorite Christmas songs, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” It captures the fury and fervor of Christmas, the rushing of our Savior to earth after having been planned for so long ago. I have included an audio file downloaded from the internet. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)

If you had to wait through a brief commercial, I apologize. Such is the internet. But the seconds of commercial time is well worth listening to the music, and watching the video that accompanies it.  And I think the writer of Isaiah would approve of the “zeal” of the music.

May you gentle reader greet Christmas with all the “zeal” it is due. Selah!

God, Mary, and Joseph Make a Birth Announcement

On my office window sill

On my office window sill

“For a child is born to us,a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7 )

Nativity Set 2011 B

I found this colored glass Nativity set last year at a thrift store. Because it was after Christmas, all Christmas articles were on sale, and I got this for $1.

When I was unwrapping the Christmas decorations I came across it, having forgotten that I had it. The joy in my heart when I saw it again, I tell you gentle reader, was amazing. At night I have been setting a battery-operated flickering light amongst the figures, and it is breathtaking. I doubt it will come across well being posted, but I am going to try. Because it fills my heart and I want to share it.

Lighted Nativity

It is my hope and prayer that your Christmas Season has been filled with hope and light. Shalom and Selah!

Praising the Reign of God with all that is within us

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” ( Revelation 5:13-14 [Emphasis mine] )

I have not said anything yet, gentle reader, but I suspect you already know we are well into Advent Season. There was a time when I would have worked the Advent/Christmas theme into everything I wrote during the month of December. It is not that I am unaware of the date on the calender or the season of the church year. But the Confession is for 365(6) days a year, I wanted to respect that. But the decorations, the planning, the music everywhere I turn has caused me to burst out “Yes! It is Advent!” I love the Advent season and all the decorations (actually, mainly the Nativity scenes – I have three so far) and the anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth and anniversary of coming to earth. Hark the herald angels!

And this verse seemed so correct and appropriate for bursting out in Advent rejoicing. For it is “all that is in” us that rejoices. Not just our hearts and hopes, but our voices and our actions. I know that there is a lot that is commercial and consumer-oriented in the season. And I know the decorations go up far too early. But when I see those ceiling high banners and tinsel-trimmed I start to anticipate the coming of a truer Christmas – one that I will feel in my heart and soul.

There is one decoration that is dear to my heart – other than my three Nativity scenes. When I first say it, almost 25 years ago. It was one of those tall thin Christmas Santa decorations – not the jolly roly-poly Santa I grew up with. My then-two children and I were in a drug store and true to form they were “roaring” around, and “roared” right into the Christmas display knocking this decoration off the display table. I was forced to buy it, a decoration that I could not afford and could not stand! But there went twenty-two dollars I could not afford. I took it home and painstakingly glued it back together. I then tried to take it to the store at least be able to recoup some of the money and they could sell it as damaged goods because you could barely see the crack where it broke. But the store employee was adamant. I was stuck with it. I hated the thing!

But we survived that Christmas and the loss of the money. And as the years went on, I remembered how God had been faithful to us even when I did not know God well. The Santa stands on a small mound or rock with a plainly adorned tree beside him. He is thin and gaunt as is the Christmas tree. But he represents to me celebrating the season even when it is hard to celebrate. He is endurance and fortitude clinging to existence even when all things say it is no use. All that is within him says celebrate the season and be joyful even in the face of adversity and loss.

May you gentle reader celebrate this season with all that is within you, and may you be filled with the peace, joy, and abundance of the season. Selah!

My Missional Christmas Message

“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 1:14 )

The greatest of mission of all was not accomplished by humanity, or by creation. The greatest mission was accomplished by God. The mission: to bring about harmony and reconciliation between God and humanity/creation. But because humanity/creation was/is/will be imperfect, the task could only be accomplished by God. And the Lord did so.

In humanity’s “wisdom”, we have created celebrations and traditions around this missional outreach by God. And we have selected a specific time of the year to commemorate this mission. But because the mission was such a large undertaking, the initiation and fulfillment of this mission spans over several months, and over the lifetime on earth of Christ.

This season, seeker, is the beginning of the mission. The birth of our Lord was the birth of God’s missional renew, for God had tried many ways of breaching the gap between us and the Godself.

So hang the garland high. Trim the tree and decorate all the meeting places. Wish each other the merriest and happiest of Advent and Christmas seasons. Let the waiting be over so that we might celebrate God’s gift to us, by giving gifts to each other. Though we may blur and bury the meaning of Christmas does not mean it has disappeared. We must re-discover it everyday by speaking to and caring about each other and creation spreading the good news of God’s love and mercy; it is our task in God’s grand missional work.

Merriest and most joyous of Christmases! Selah! Shalom!