Saturday, December 28, 2013

Childermas

Some time after Jesus was born, the Magi from the East arrived to worship the Promised One. They had recognized the signs in the heavens and had travelled some distance to see this phenomenon. Having arrived in the general vicinity, they needed some help finding the right location, and so they stopped in to ask the local king.

The king in turn, called the prophets and his own wise men and they told both the king and the Magi that Bethlehem was the prophesied location. Thanks all around, and the Magi travel to Bethlehem to marvel at and worship the Promise.

The king though, seeing this as a threat to his own well-being, knowing now the location and the time of the appearing of the signs, ordered all the boys two years and younger killed. The intent? To eradicate this threat to his kingdom.

In the church calendar, today remembers that slaughter, that attempt to manage and control one’s own destiny through our own might. The world has just remembered with most of Christendom, the coming of that Promise and yet we see around us that same world pushing back against It, trying to ignore It, and hedging themselves away from It. And so, it is no wonder that we see and witness the same sorts of violence, of sidelining, of imaginary fingers in our ears.

In Matthew’s gospel, this massacre, marked by Childermas comes close upon the heals of Christmas itself, to mark the rapidity and amazing suddenness of the world’s almost immediate forgetting of the miracle that we have just remembered. God has come into the world; how quickly the rejoicing turns to grumbling and attack.

Let’s ask though about believers. It’s one thing to observe the world’s reaction and make comments about short memories and human self-assuredness, quite another to ask ourselves the same questions. How long does our remembering last after the presents are opened and the tree is in the mulch pile? Do we return to the “real world” and try to manage it ourselves? Do we rather, let the remembering soak a bit into our hearts and help shape us as part of that Promise?


The New Year is coming and with it resolutions galore. These resolutions will last almost two weeks for most people, a bit longer for others. Perhaps we might just carry the reality of the coming of God into the world with us into January and beyond and return to it over and again so that it shapes us slowly but undeniably into the image of that Promise.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

Christmas marks and reminds us of a day a couple millennia ago when the Creator God was born as a helpless human baby. The Creator as creature.

He came as the object of promises made by that Creator God from hundreds and thousands of years before; the birth was the fulfillment of promises and mark the steadfast faithfulness of God. God had not forgotten His people, or the world.

Birthed to live a life as the Life we are made to live. Birthed to live as an example for us; a life of love and acknowledgement of God. Having lived that life, He is destined to die not simply to effect our salvation, but as the ultimate expression of love for you and me; as the ultimate expression of submission to God as an expression of love.

This child reminds us that the world is not foreign to us or to God, but a place to which He deigns to come because He has made it; because He loves it; because He loves you. Loves you and offers you Life with Him.

Two thousand years ago, the beginning of the culmination of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013

Matthew 1.18-25
(with some allusions to chapter 2)
Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God.  Our text for this week is one of promise fulfilled but it is quickly followed by warning in chapter 2.  Our text tells us of Joseph’s resolution to put Mary away quietly. He could have chosen public humiliation or worse for this young girl but Joseph is a man of conviction, of righteous behavior.  All of us have heard of, or perhaps have acted in “righteous indignation” toward someone or something with which we have taken exception. Righteousness in the first century was roughly equitable with living by the Law, and in this case the Law was quite clear what Joseph’s options were. But Joseph gives us a glimpse of real righteousness, a righteousness that extends grace in the face of insult, of caring rather than condemning. Joseph himself is an image of God.

We are reminded that there is anticipation of the coming of the Christ child, the incarnation of God. This is not widely known or anticipated by the world, but the hosts of Heaven know what’s coming. It was an angel, a messenger of God who announced to Mary what was to happen and Joseph is told in a dream that this child will save the people from their sins. This birth will mark the fullness of time, a point  or space of time in which the plan of God  will be revealed as the salvation of peoples and the reconciliation of the Creation to God. Scripture reminds us that this Jesus will be none other than God with Us.

God with Us. Imagine that, roll that around in your mind. Let it settle in your heart and your consciousness.  God, the Creator of the World, the Sustainer of Life itself is coming as a child, on par with a creature. This is a return to the Beginning when God walked in the garden and spoke with the original Two; this is the relationship God has always wanted with humans—to move among us and to grant us Life with Him.

Not everyone in the world is ready, is open to receive this God Among Us. Scripture and our experience tell us that some folks suffer from the same misplaced trust and confusion with which the original Two suffered. Not having seen God in the world and coming to believe that self-reliance and human power are the bases of right, of rightness, of righteousness, they will be blinded to the coming of the Redemption; they will refuse to see.

As has often been recited in Scripture, the coming of God is both blessing and bane. Being granted Life means being mortal; being chosen as His people results in being taunted, attacked, and disparaged; having this people cleansed means forced marches into exile; and the coming of this child results in both redemption and death. The world, even those within the people of God who reject Him in various ways, pushes against true righteousness, true Life and they try to seize their salvation with their own hands.

And innocents suffer. Rachel will wail when this child comes not because of the promise fulfilled but because of the blindness and self-referential life we are all tempted to live by the Deceiver.

We rejoice at the coming of God, and at the same time know that the offer of reconciliation is pregnant with rejection. This rejection requires us to consider our faith, our faithfulness. God is with us; are we with Him?
Reflection
We often overlook Joseph; he becomes a part actor in this play overshadowed by Mary, Jesus, and even the Magi. Too often as we read familiar texts, we fail to enter the story, to read between the lines. What might Joseph’s example of righteousness tell you about your own righteousness and righteous behavior?

Relax for a second. Get comfortable in your seat and imagine God with you. Not with you in some ethereal, vague way, but right in the room with you. What emotions arise for you? Are you glad He has come, or do feelings of fear come to the surface?

God has come and the world continues to reject Him, to rely on human wisdom and power. Are you prepared to strengthen your faith, to hold tightly to the righteousness of God, to suffer for and with the God who is with you?


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent 2013

Third Sunday of Advent
Matthew 11.2-15
Advent is a season of preparing of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the way for Jesus. In response to that commission, John spent a lot of time in the “wilderness” dressed in camel hair and eating honey. He understood himself to be a prophet and he was seen as a prophet by Jesus. John’s message was encouragement to repentance in anticipation of the arrival of Messiah.

John’s message of repentance had touched a nerve and he and his disciples were busy baptizing people who had heard his message and responded to it. One day, Jesus stands in the baptism queue. When Jesus gets to the head of the line, John is nonplussed. Instead of baptizing Jesus, John attempts to beg off, suggesting that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus insists though, and John baptizes him “to fulfill all righteousness.” Following the baptism, the Spirit comes upon Jesus and God’s voice is heard commending Jesus. John will say, referring to Jesus that “I must decrease so He can increase.”

Scripture makes it clear that John knew who Jesus was and John’s and Jesus’ disciples were both out baptizing people in the Jordan. Then John was arrested by Herod for preaching against Herod’s relationship. Today’s text finds John in prison and feeling a bit worried.  John is human and while things were gong all right, he was bold, confronting kings and religious leaders to their faces. Now, John finds himself confined in prison.

John finds himself wondering if all this was worth it; is he in jail for making a fool of himself? Is Jesus really who he thought He was? And so he sends some of his disciples to  ask Jesus if He is for real—or was all this he has experienced and had thought just a charade?  So off go his disciples to find Jesus.

Presented with essentially, “Are you Messiah,” Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Rather, He sends John’s disciples back to John with a recitation of the signs Jesus has performed. This seems odd to our modern ears, but to ancient ears, steeped in oral tradition and story, this response isn’t all that odd.  Given John’s ministry prior to prison, John would have understood these signs to validate who he had thought Jesus was. While we moderns reach for a clear yes or no. Is Jesus Messiah or not?

Jesus though doesn’t satisfy our desires for clear cut clarity. He wants us to use eyes and ears open and attuned to the workings of God in the world.  Jesus sends John’s disciples away with this: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” In doing so, Jesus rehearses passages from Isaiah much like He did in Luke 4 when He tells those at the synagogue that the prophecy was being fulfilled right in front of them. These are the works the Messiah was to perform; these are the proofs. In another place, Jesus will tell his interlocutors that if they don’t believe His words, they should believe the signs they had seen. For those who are attuned to the things of God, these signs are clear evidence of Messiah’s arrival.

Reflection
Have you ever found yourself in John’s space, wondering whether all this religious stuff was the real deal? What sorts of doubts have you entertained?

As you worked through those doubts, or even if you are still working through them, what role if any might the stories of miracles play in your reflections?

Those who have ears and eyes to see are encouraged to recognize Messiah by the signs He works. But it is not just the signs; there is also an underlying desire to move toward God and His work in the world. How do you see Jesus? As an objective Messiah who is “over there,” or as God moving in the world and in your life? How do you experience Him?


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Communion Reflection Isaiah 52.13-15

In this passage, much like the more famous chapter 53, Isaiah foretells the Lord’s Servant who will be exalted.

This servant, who we are told will be exalted, is also described as suffering, of being beaten and disfigured beyond recognition even as human.

These two verses don’t seem to fit together. How can someone who the Lord is going to exalt, suffer like this?

Isaiah anticipates our conundrum with this seeming impossibility. But this is the divine secret, the basis of the mystery hidden before time, but now revealed.

When the Servant comes, His glory, His exalting will be accomplished through this mystery, and as a result, peoples and kings will not be able to utter a word. They will be dumbfounded by the way this Servant will be exalted.

Paul tells us in Philippians that His name has been exalted above all other names – Jesus, Messiah, the Christ has triumphed in death for us. In doing so, He has blessed and cleansed – or text says sprinkled – the entire world.

This is our God, the promised Servant who loved us so much that He was willing to be exalted through beatings and death. This love, this kind of love, this depth of love, when seen is truly dumbfounding to us, and especially to those who expect exalting to be done through obvious power, through physical might.

When we reflect on this sort of love, we two have our mouths stopped because they are surprised and shocked, and yet now they and we understand this plan, this Servant, this love.


Pray with me. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Advent in 2 Minutes

For those who might appreciate a primer on Advent, here you go.....

Second Sunday of Advent 2013

Matthew 3.1-12
Advent is a season of preparing, of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin was a bit older than Jesus and John had been given a mission by God. John’s work was to tell the people of Messiah’s coming and encourage them to get ready for His appearing.

Jesus refers to John as Elijah, the prophet who was to come before the coming of God. John in turn, always pointed to Jesus and referred to Him as someone whose sandals John was unworthy to untie. John knew he was a forerunner, going so far as to say that “I must decrease so that He might increase.”

John spent his time preaching repentance and baptizing people in preparation of receiving and greeting the Lord when He arrived. He and his disciples were baptizing a number of Jews who would come and be baptized as evidence of their repentance and desire to be set right with God. Most of the time this would go without a hitch, but one day a bunch of Jewish leaders came out to be baptized in the Jordan. You would think this would have been a cause for rejoicing for John and his disciples—the leaders of his people were coming to him.

John though, accosts them and tells them go do “works worthy of repentance,” and then presumably he would baptize them. On this day though, he wouldn’t. The coming of God was too important a matter for mere form or appearance’s sake. Preparing for God to come was serious business.

Our text for this Sunday includes a quotation from  Isaiah referring to preparing the way of the Lord. The snippet we have in Matthew would have called to mind the larger passage in Isaiah which goes on to speak about valleys being filled in and mountains leveled to make the coming of God an easy enough affair.

This leveling of a path has of course military or royal implications—to make the arrival of an important person easy and direct. But for John, the one crying in the wilderness, this is not about valleys and mountains. This is about hearts. About the hearts of those Jewish leaders who wanted to be baptized because of their repentance but hadn’t actually changed anything. And it is about our hearts—mine and yours. Have we made preparation to receive the coming of God into our lives, or are their still obstacles and stumbling blocks between God and my most inner being? Between God and your most inner being?

If so, the text today calls us to reduce those obstacles and remove the stumbling blocks so that our God can come to us without hindrance. It is a call to open our hearts, our souls, our spirits, our minds wide to receive the God of the universe into the very fiber of our beings and lives. 

With all this talk about repentance we might get the idea that Advent is morose; that it is another excuse to beat ourselves up for not being “perfect.” Nothing could be further from the truth because it reminds us that The King Is Coming! Advent calls us to sweep the floor, remove the cobwebs, paint the door because we are getting ready to celebrate!  

Reflection
Read Isaiah 40.3-4 slowly. Can you hear John’s voice or even Isaiah’s perhaps, calling out to you? What is it saying?

John told the Jewish leaders to do works worthy of repentance before he baptized them. How has repentance been evidenced in your life? Perhaps there are things you need to remove or add to your life to make the way straight for God. What are they?

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