Epiphany 2019: The Old Testament Passage – The Infant Jesus has visitors . . . of both actual and metaphorical meanings

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

I seem to forget each year what Epiphany is in the church year. So I look it up, and each year say, “Oh yes, I remember now!” And suddenly the designated passages make total sense! It is the Magi – the wise men – coming to find baby Jesus that represents the coming of Jesus to the Gentiles. In the ordinary world it means the realization or revelation or experience of a tremendous thing. (I will come back to that definition a little later.)

I want to note briefly in passing that this passage from Isaiah does not refer in its content to the birth of Jesus. In fact it is a message of hope and rescue for the people of Jerusalem. The Revised Common Lectionary puts it into service for the season of Epiphany. As you move through the verses, it seems to be applicable more and more to the baby Jesus, and the coming of the Magi.

I remember one year – don’t know if it was when I was a child or as an adult – I placed the wise men and the camels a good distance away from the nativity scene of Joseph, Mary, the sheep, and baby Jesus. Each day during Christmas I moved them a little closer until they arrived at the stable and the manger. I felt quite tickled with my plan. I think about that often. I think that is the reason also I take a long time to put away Christmas decorations, and leave until last the putting away of the nativity scene; the Magi were late to the Christmas “party” and I feel that the traditions of Christmas should reflect that. The twelve days of Christmas, actually, take into account the period of time between Jesus’ birth and the coming of the Magi.

Most of the time the Magi are ushered into the Christmas story relatively soon after Jesus was born. Some biblical literature reflects the idea that it was some days after the birth of Jesus that they arrived. And . . . some more modern literature poses the idea that it might not just been male Magi royalty.

I was introduced, some years ago, to a Epiphany poem entitled “The Queens Came Late”. It gives a different perspective, a feminist one, to the coming of Gentile royalty to the infant child. And through its inventive prose opens even wider the idea that Jesus came for all of humanity.

The Queens Came Late

The Queens came late, but the Queens were there
With gifts in their hands and crowns in their hair.
They’d come, these three, like the Kings, from far,
Following, yes, that guiding star.
They’d left their ladles, linens, looms,
Their children playing in nursery rooms,
And told their sitters:
“Take charge! For this
Is a marvelous sight we must not miss!”
The Queens came late, but not too late
To see the animals small and great,
Feathered and furred, domestic and wild,
Gathered to gaze at a mother and child.
And rather than frankincense and myrrh
And gold for the babe, they brought for her
Who held him, a homespun gown of blue,
And chicken soup–with noodles, too-
And a lingering, lasting, cradle-song.
The Queens came late and stayed not long,
For their thoughts already were straining far-
Past manger and mother and guiding star
And a child aglow as a morning sun-
Toward home and children and chores undone.

[-Norma Farber in When It Snowed That Night ]

Epiphany . . . an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation. [quoted from Wikipedia]

May you, beloved reader, discover new things and be open to new learning in this life . . . wherever you may find them. Selah!

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First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: The Psalm Passage – The template for praising the Lord God

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.” (Psalm 148:1-5)

I have read descriptions of heaven where hosts and choirs of angels are continually raising and singing praises to the Lord God, the Divine. I wouldn’t wonder if those songs and praises sound a lot like the psalm passages. And before I understood that humans who have passed from this life to eternal life do NOT become angels, I thought it must be awful boring to be a part of the angel choir that sings praises . . . . . continually.

I know, beloved reader, that must sound very strange and not a little eerie that I would not want to praise God constantly. Maybe you wonder about the depth and breadth of my faith. It’s not that I don’t believe in praising God, and I do not believe that God is praise worthy; it’s just that there is so much more to the Christian life than just praising.

Most psalm and praise passages commemorate one of two things; who the Divine is and what the Divine has done. Large categories. Important categories.

“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!” (Verses 6 – 10)

The subcategories (broadly defined) of what the Divine has done are creation and salvation; and the two are not exclusive. I am sure somewhere some psalm talks about creation being saved and salvation coming about through creation – or some intermingling there. As to who the Divine is that’s praise worthy – well it would take more room than the entire internet has to list all of that. I mean that truly!

“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.” (Verses 11 – 13)

So maybe the Divine’s praises need to be sung continually by every heavenly voice that is available, in order to cover all the praiseworthiness of the Lord God.

“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!” (Verse 14)

And I appreciate the psalmist for writing and creating all of the psalms we have in the bible. And others in more modern times who have add to the body of praise writing. And when one stops to consider the salvation aspect and that the Divine the Lord God gave to us Jesus in order that salvation might be accomplished, that alone is worth a couple of eternities of praise.

But as for me, to just and only praise is not nearly enough. Because as I realized when my faith and personal theology developed, praising God is to be such a small slice of what we are called to do. We are to take the example of our praise worthy Lord and to the best of our human abilities live out that holiness and praise worthiness. If the angels and heavenly hosts sing praises to God – we are to be the conduits of the love and compassion, care and care-taking that makes the Lord God praise worthy. How will people who do not know the Lord God know the Divine is worthy of praise if the children of God do not show them?!

Christmas has come and gone for the year. Now is the time to continue our Christian journey. And to beacons of hope, mercy and compassion in the world. So that someone might be moved to say, “Praise God for what the Lord has told you to do for me!” Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: The Gospel Passage – The template for being a member of God’s family

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.” (Luke 2:41 – 43)

Bring yourself before the Lord often and regularly. Observe the important days in your faith journey but do not confine yourself to only festival and high holy days. Everyday is special when walking with the Lord.

“Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Verses 44 – 46)

Your place of learning faith & belief, worship, and meditation is your home – not your “home away from home” nor your second home, but your primary home. It is the place you journey out from and come back to.

“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Verses 47 – 50)

Your faith journey is your own. There may be people who are also on a faith journey, and for a time you may travel with them, learn with them and learn from them – but your faith journey is your own and your Lord God the Divine will guide you.

“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Verses 51 – 52)

I was very pleased to see that this passage came soon after Christmas. We last saw Jesus as a new born baby in a manager, and glory and honor being according to him. But after the shepherds and the wise men, the escape to and return from Egypt Jesus, Mary, and Joseph settled down to build a live together. You can tell from the passage that large groups of people made regular journeys to Jerusalem; it was not just Jesus and his family. I imagine the events of Jesus’ birth faded into the background and Jesus was just a boy going up. It was events like this (apocryphal scripture has other stories of Jesus’ growing up years; but those are not as verifiable) that probably reminded Mary and Joseph that Jesus was not your “run of the mill” boy. Mary being a ponderer remembered these things and turned them over in her mind. I know how that goes. Day to day activities take up time and thought but in idle moments you think back over things and wonder what their place has in one’s life, and what place they should have in one’s life.

As to my comments interspersed amongst the verses, I wrote them with straight-forth intent. We talk about Jesus as our model and exemplar. The choices Jesus made in his life are choices we can make also. We may not be able to perform miracles as he did, but we can have an active faith life; attending worship services, studying scripture, praying, learning with and teaching others, caring for others, and seeking the Lord God are things we can do with the same devotion that Jesus had. It does not take special skill or abilities. It does, however,k take dedication to a faith-filled life. And a desire to be a child of God. As we move into this new lectionary year, may we chose well. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: Epistle Passage – Acting like members of God’s family

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.” (Colossians 3:12 – 14)

Everyone has good days and bad days. Yesterday (that is, the day before I am writing this) was a bad day for me. Just in a grumpy mood. The strange thing is, no one can tell when I am in a “bad” mood. I am told by others, my “bad mood” days look like other people’s regular days. My philosophy is, just because for some reason I am not in good spirits doesn’t mean I can, should, or will dampen other people’s good spirits. Now when asked, I will admit I am in a bad mood. And I can’t remember anyone saying, “I can tell.” I am not bragging; what I am doing is explaining that as Christians our exterior should reflect (as close as possible) the image and example of Jesus Christ.

“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.” (Verses 15 – 17)

You think we can be less than what Paul is extolling and exhorting his audience (which, beloved reader is us now) to be just because we are having a “bad day”! No, uh-uh, ain’t happening! You don’t have to be cheerful each day; but your woes and problems don’t need to be anyone else’s, and certainly do not need to be piled on someone else.

I was going to see that we need to act like loving, caring family members. But I have seen some families, and the care isn’t there! I have an agreement with each of my children; we do not do the “screaming me-mes.” That means we never say or act like our own personal agenda is more important than the other person’s. If there are problems, we work through it together, each person stating with care and honesty what the situation looks like for them and what they are feeling. Through listening and working together we resolve the problems that face us. We are not perfect – no, not perfect at all. We are a family with tight bonds though, and a deep sense of being there for one another.

I hope and pray, beloved reader, you are part of such a family; a family of origin, a family through marriage, or in a circle of faith family. And may you hold each other with care, compassion, and mutual respect. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas Day 2018: Old Testament Passage – Moms and Dads

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. . . . . Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.” (1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26)

Every year a feel a little bit sad that the Christmas season, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, quickly moves into the lectionary year – with nary a look back . . . mostly. Okay, that was a weird sentence, but I think you (mostly) know what I mean. Here we are just a few days past Christmas and we are transported from the Christmas event to other considerations. That will become more clear as this week of scripture passages unfolds.

There is a slight backward glance however in this passage from Samuel, if one looks at it in a certain way. Jesus’ mother Mary was a caring and devoted mother – if she wasn’t/was not destined to be, she would not have been chosen by the Divine. Samuel’s mother was also devoted to her son, Samuel. Do not think, beloved reader, that her heart did not ache being apart from him most of the year. She stands in good stead with other mothers in the bible; John’s mother most easily and most recently comes to mind. Each of the biblical figures that we look up to had strong and devoted mothers.

They had good fathers too. As I made mention and note of, Jesus’ earthly father was of royal lineage. John’s father was a priest in the temple. And I am pretty sure (although it is not mentioned) that Samuel’s father also missed his son who was born to his favored wife.

So even if the nativity is behind us, there is still evidence of strong families. That is good to keep in mind. Also to keep in mind is that with the birth of Jesus the family of God is set in motion. That is very good to keep in mind. Christmas is one of the seasons that has strong emphasis and a firm setting in families. May you, beloved reader, relish your family connects; and include in that the family of God! Selah!

Christmas Season 2018 Year C: Christmas Day – The quiet and the celebration

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.” (Luke 2: 1 – 4)

Take a moment and ponder that, beloved reader. Descended from the house and family of David. A family of kings and rulers, now ruled over by someone else. And made to journey a relatively great distance at the command of another. We so often think that Joseph was just a “side piece” to the birth of Jesus. But in his veins was the blood of royalty. In his son’s veins was the blood of divinity. It just seems to me that this was the moment in history that so many generations of Jews had waited for. And yet it was hardly a blip. I am so glad it is now reached the importance it deserves!

“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.” (Verses 5 – 7)

“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.” 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!” (Verses 8 – 14)

Yesterday I talked about Jesus’ birth being announced with great fanfare. I also talked about endings and beginnings – things that are also sometimes announced with great fanfare. Christmas hymns speak of both the quiet and serenity of the night and the joyous celebration. I like to think about the juxtaposition of those two realities.

“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. . . . The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Verses 15 – 18, 20)

There is a Christmas song that talks about seeing, hearing, knowing, and listening (“Do you hear what I hear?”) I am a great fan of most any and all Christmas songs that focus on the “reason for the season”. Another one, “Mary, did you know?” is also close to my heart. Telling about Jesus’ birth is one way of entering into preaching the gospel; that may be why the story of Jesus’ birth starts out the New Testament. I like to tell people things, teach them what they need to know, instruct them in listening to the voice of the Spirit. But I am also like Mary.

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Verse 19)

Come tomorrow we will return to our “every day” lives. Some people will start packing away the Christmas decorations. I am a person who likes to linger in the moment and keep the decorations out for a week or two yet. I will keep humming Christmas carols. And remembering the glow that the Nativity brings. I am hoping this year, more so than any year before, we keep in our hearts the care and compassion that this season brings. Selah!

Season of Christmas 2018 Year C – Christmas Eve & Christmas Day; Endings, New Beginning & Celebrations

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

This Advent season we have been hearing how the people of Israel and Judah, who were the Divine’s first called and chosen people, desired to be saved and redeemed by Yahweh. They felt lost and forsaken, swept up by the power and politics of the countries and nations surrounding them. They searched for the Divine’s direction and guidance, catching hold of it for a time and then losing it again. They expected the Lord God to swoop down and rescue them, vindicate them for all they had suffered, and punish those who were set against them. But it did not happen that way.

Yes, there were small victories and times of peace that stretched out a generation or two, but never the eternity nor complete shalom they pined for. They felt and believed that there would come a person – no, more than a person, a Messiah – who would straighten things out. Who would smooth out all the rough spots in their faith and make plain how they were to live and worship. And with the Messiah would come the light of understanding and wisdom.

“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.” (Verses 2 – 5)

But when it came, some did not recognize it. It was not what they thought it would be, or should be. Even when it was presented and explained to them, they did not realize that a new beginning was dawning.

“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)

The Advent season has been leading up to the birth of the Messiah; a man, but not just a man. Something more. Something that would not come into fruition immediately but would exist along side, until the right time. Advent is about waiting, and waiting for that right time. Not on humanity’s time, but on God’s time. The time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah had ended. Just like the end of Advent has come.

But like so many things, the ending of one thing and the beginning of another is not necessarily back to back. Not necessarily immediate. We know and understand that the birth of Jesus was the beginning; but it was a quiet beginning. Or at least a relatively quite beginning. Just like the birth of any child has its fanfare and celebration, Jesus’ birth burst across the firmament, blazoned across the heavens. And then there was quiet.

“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.” (Verses 10 – 14)

Have you taken note, beloved reader, that the hopes of the Jewish people dwindled down and there were fewer and fewer writings and prophets leading up to the time the Jews were placed under the rule of Roman? By the time of Jesus’ birth the writings of generations before had passed from being “new” to being the long ago history of the people of God.

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. 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. 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 9:2-7)

We celebrate now what was unknown then. We use scripture, recasting it to reflect the understanding that the Jews hoped for, wished for, and waited for. It is my hope we honor their steadfastness and learned from their mistakes and missteps.

O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” (Psalm 96)

May we continue the tradition of keeping hope alive, writing about our faith and our faith journey, and celebrating the joyous times in our Christian journey!

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14)