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)

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Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Psalm Passage – How the Divine’s called and chosen people have, and have not, kept faith (A Preacher and Seeker presentation)

Seeker:“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!”
Preacher: Pay attention to us, O Lord God! Hear us when we cry out to you! We know you are mighty and all powerful! We know you reign over all things!
Seeker: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Preacher: Divine Lord God, look down on us and see where we are. You know our needs. You know our hearts. Divine Lord God, reach down to us and save us!
Seeker: “O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?”
Preacher: Have we angered you Lord God? Have you lost patience with us because for so long we have gone the wrong way and done the wrong thing?
Seeker: “You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.”
Preacher: We weep, Lord God, we weep. All is lost and empty. There is no solace or comfort to be found.
Seeker:You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Preacher: It seems like everywhere we turn lately, someone is complaining about something. Humanity is turning on it self; neighbor against neighbor, friends turning on each other. Believer shuns believer. And all around us the enemy seems to be closing in.
Seeker: Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-7)
Preacher: Lord God, from all over the globe I hear laments such as this. From the time you called Abraham out from his home land your called and chosen people have called on you. Prophets, philosophers, poets, and the common people have lifted their tales of sorrow, claiming they have been abandoned. And maybe they did feel that way. But the birth of Christ Jesus proves that you have heard the weeping and lamenting of your people. You have tried time and time to reach out to them; but they have brushed away the Spirit of the Lord, instead yearning for a more physical interaction with the Divine. So you sent Jesus, Your Divine Face to live amongst Your called and chosen people. And when Jesus returned to you, the Holy Spirit was sent to live among us. Forgive us, O Lord God, if we too have brushed away the Spirit. Forgive us for falling into the same laments as our forebearers did. The words of Jesus have come down to us; the Holy Spirit has instructed us in their meaning. Grant O Lord God that we would learn how to listen to Your Divine Voice! Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Gospel Passage – How biblical women keep faith

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39 – 45)

I have often wondered if Mary knew that Elizabeth was with child or just wanted to visit with her (maybe) favorite relative. And I wonder if Mary knew that it was a child who would become John the Baptist. From Elizabeth’s greeting you can get the sense of the sort of person she was. Steeped in faith and aware of biology. A good housekeeper and wife. A strong confident person. But gentle and yielding with those who are fragile and unsure. I really do not think this was the first time that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist may have been destined to be who he was, the herald of Jesus the Messiah. And maybe John’s father had influence over him as he grew to manhood. But it must have been his mother, Elizabeth, who prepared him to take on the mantle of evangelist. It was good, very good that Mary was with her, learning about pregnancy and child birth. Learning how to manage a household, and learning how to grow into being a woman of God.

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Verses 46 – 55)

Over the years I have seen the question posted on many Facebook pages, “If you could, who from history would you most like to meet and talk to?” I rarely have an answer. But after reading these passages, I would be equally pleased to talk to Elizabeth or Mary.

I have long looked up to and admired Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a woman who pondered things deeply. And kept many things to herself. And if Elizabeth raised up John to be a preacher, Mary raised a Savior. Now you may say it must not have been hard, since Jesus was “hard wired”, in a sense, to be the Messiah. And that is not what I am saying. The Divine looked into Mary’s heart and saw that she was prepared and equipped to be an earthly mother of Jesus. Or the Divine formed her in that way; no, it was not sheer coincidence that Mary was chosen. It was her destiny. If Jesus was foreordain to be the Messiah, then Mary was also predestined to be his mother. I admire Mary both for what she did and who she was. Nurturer and Jesus’ first disciple.

As I age, I have also developed an appreciation for Elizabeth. Mary was young, a young woman the scriptures say. Elizabeth was seasoned with age and wisdom. And in my older years I yearn for that also. So yes, I would be just as pleased to visit with Elizabeth. In fact, I think my sit-down with Paul may have to wait an eternity or two while I talk to Mary and Elizabeth. We women of God need to share our stories and praise the Lord. May you, beloved reader, find people to talk to that aid your Christian journey – especially in this season of Advent. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Keeping faith in the most authentic way

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” (Hebrews 10:5 – 6)

During the second week of Advent the scriptures for that week seemed (at least to me) to point to a group salvation and redemption. According to some of the prophets redemption would be because of Israel/Judah as a nation following Yahweh closely. Additionally redemption would come because of proper worship and sacrifice. When Jesus came he broke that mold and expectation – amongst others. In a sense though, Jesus did fill that very expectation – just not the way it was expected. Jesus called not a nation as a whole, but each individual person who would – with their fellow believers – form a new nation. And proper worship was not burnt offerings and sin offerings but a contrite and confessional spirit that desired to follow the Divine. And Jesus was the exemplar of this.

“Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.” (Verses 7 – 9)

Remember, beloved reader, that in Hebrews Paul was setting establishing the case for Jesus being the High Priest that endures for eternity and puts to rest the need for any other high priest. This is even more true if sacrifices and offerings placed on a physical altar are no longer necessary, or even desired. The only sacrifice now needed is for our to sacrifice our human will and follow God’s will. Which, when you think about it was probably the intent all along.

“And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verse 10)

We take a great deal on faith that Paul knew what he was talking about. I am not saying he was wrong. I may take issue with some of the ideas Paul had for proper worship in fellowship settings (think the place of women in worship services) but when it comes to knowing the heart of the Divine, Paul is on the right course. May we be as steadfast and devoted in our faith. Selah!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Fourth Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Keeping hope and faith kindled

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

I like little towns. I did most of my formative growing up years in a little town. I like thinking that the most unlikely of things can come from the most unlikely of places. Give me the underdog, the forgotten and pushed aside. And I will champion it with all that I have.

“Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.” (Verse 3)

Not only, says the writer of Micah, will the unexpected come from a small and insignificant place but it will seem like forever until the expected comes forth. This reminds me of Jesus’ prophecies that many things will come to pass before the judgment day. Often in the past two hundred years (maybe more) there have been predictions and prophecies that the end times are near at hand. The “signs” and “portents” seemed to point to it. But the writer of Micah says it will seem like the Divine has given up the called and chosen people, so long will it be until the unexpected comes forth.

Now I do not think the “she” is a specific or designated woman, but rather the analogy of the birthing of a child taking so long and being so arduous. Of course, some commentators are quite attached to the notion that their hindsight of how the Messiah was conceived and born should attributed and given to the prophets as foresight. I am really pretty persistent in my feeling that there is something not quite right in that.

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Verses 4 – 5a)

What do you tell a people who are yearning for hope and shaking with uncertainty? You tell them that things will get better. That hope may not be seen now, or the soon after now; but in the time that is to come, there will be reason for hope. That past glories may have become dust but out of the dust will come greatness again. And that in the smallest and most forgotten places may be the very place that newness will spring forth. Was the writer of Micah inspired and given foreknowledge? I do not know. I am not in the business of squashing hope nor nay saying that improbable predictions will not come true.

It is nice to think that there are still people who nurture hope and hear the whispers of the Divine telling them to spread the good news. I strongly believe, however, that good news and messages of hope do not have to hitch themselves to blazing once in a lifetime events. Hope is kindled and nurtured best in peaceful corners of the heart and soul, warming the spirit and keeping one serene and at peace. I grew up in a small town where friendship, camaraderie, and faith got one through the toughest of times. I hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you have such places and people. Shalom!

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Third Sunday: The Substituted Psalm Passage – Doing praise for all the correct reasons [A Preacher and Seeker almost responsive reading]

Seeker: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.”
Preacher: Did you know Seeker that some years Advent is not the time of thinking of salvation and redemption. Some years the scripture passages during Advent focus more on waiting and anticipation. You are correct, however, in perceiving that this year salvation and redemption are spoken of often. The connection between the infant Jesus and Jesus as Messiah can be, and often is, missed and set aside in favor of the mistletoe and the nativity scene. Here and there though, glimpse can be seen of the long range purpose of Jesus coming.
Seeker: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Preacher: It is easier to do the “fa la la la la la, la la la la” than it is to think about our missteps and misdeeds. We wrap ourselves in the innocence of the new born babe, and do not think about our lack of innocence. Part of that is seeing Advent and Christmas through the eyes of a child. And part is our desire to forget the rigors of right and authentic Christian living. But if we look clearly to the end purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth as a baby, in innocence and glory, we can see that we as children of God can be as innocent as a new born baby and be clothed in glory and righteousness.
Seeker: “And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.”

Preacher: As we have been reading, God’s called and chosen people desired to be rescued and redeemed from what their actions and the actions of others had brought them to. Enslaved and in a foreign land. Their hopes and dreams for themselves, and future generations, was to be called back and given the land that the Almighty had allotted to them.
Seeker: “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.”

Preacher: I think one of the reasons that there was so much preaching and writing from the prophets on this group redemption and salvation is that they had the sense that the Almighty would not abandon the Divine’s called and chosen people forever. But they could not see clearly was plan of rescue might be done, so they made guesses and their guess rested on a mighty conqueror.
Seeker: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (
Isaiah 12:2-6)
Preacher: Yes Seeker, Isaiah was one of those who foresaw a great and mighty warrior come forth. He and others may not have known it would come through the birth of a small helpless baby. I am often hard pressed to believe that they would have perceived and known that.
Seeker: Preacher, were you saying something? I have been really getting into this passage from Isaiah. I am sorry if I missed what you said.
Preacher: Never mind Seeker, just musing to myself I guess. Why don’t we make sure the nativity scene is set up. I think this year setting up near to the cross might be appropriate somehow.

Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Third Sunday: The Gospel Passage – ‘John the Baptist tells us what to do

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7 – 9)

From time to time I wonder about the vehemence in this passage of Luke. I know that John the Baptist was perceived as a roughly hewn evangelist who spoke directly and bluntly. From lowly peasant to mighty ruler, he was forthright with everyone. And maybe it was the times, and that the people were used to prophets who did not couch the message of the Almighty in gentle tones. In any case, he was very direct with his preaching.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Verses 10 – 11)

While he might have been very direct in his preaching and teaching, he did preach a message of being compassionate and caring.

“Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” (Verses 12 – 13)

He also recognized that daintiness and finesse is often not possible in the real world. He was a realist and pragmatist who himself lived a coarse existence. Maybe that is while the people flocked to him, because he would guide them to live an accountable life while still coping with the reality of their situation.

“Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Verse 14)

He showed them how to live within the confines of what their position in society was. Often in Christianity we ask young converts to turn their lives upside down, and when they don’t/can’t we chastise them for not believing rightly or strongly enough. John met the people where they were in their present lives, and showed them how to move forward in faith.

“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 15 – 17)

Now this is interesting – perhaps it was/will be only with the baptism of the Holy Spirit that upside down living can happen. Maybe, just maybe what we in our modern times take to be right authentic Christian living is only possible because the Holy Spirit is within and among us. I sometimes wonder how some people (not naming any names, or thinking of any particular people) can be so heedless of care and compassion. Having known from little on up what was expected in being a Christian, I never knew any other way to live and relate to people. Maybe the world needs more “John the Baptists” to preach the very first steps of faith to a world that comes from a very different background then mine.

“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” (Verse 18)

In this season of Advent may the good news be preached and told to you, and may the Divine lead you to a richer faith. Selah!