Christmas Season 2019, Year A: The Gospel Passage – Reassurance comes!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:1 – 5)

There is an interesting story in our family. It happened like this.

I had just found out I was pregnant, with a boy. We were on our way to family in Pennsylvania when we had car problems – major car problems. The car won’t run problems. A nice state police officer saw us on the side of the road and made a special phone call to get us towed somewhere safe. It took some time because it was (wait for it) Christmas Eve. We and our car were towed to an inn in (wait again) Bethlehem, PA! But our family gathering was a couple of hours away, so we were stuck at the inn . . . . waiting. Christmas eve, pregnant with a boy, stuck at an inn in Bethlehem!

The Lord God protected us that day – that everything went smoothly and there were people there to take care of us and insure our safety. Our car was repaired so we can travel back home. It makes a wonderful story.

“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.”

Not as dramatic as the Christmas story. No herald of angels! But reassurance came to us. A sense of peace was around us, looking out the window of the motel that was not charging us to stay in the room – warm, dry, and safe. We did not know what to expect after being stuck out on a busy highway. But there was room for us in the Divine’s care. That care and reassurance is something I have felt over and over in the past years, and still feel now.

“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 6 – 14)

Fast forward some four years; I am sitting in a worship service and the Divine taps me on my shoulder and says, “I am inviting you to step forward into a deeper relationship with me.” Shades of Mary and the annunciation. I wish I could say I was like Mary and was willing from the first. But I was scared, unsure what this meant, and not sure I was ready. But the Divine did not wait, but gave me a very fast initiation into a deeper spiritual life. And it was, and is wonderful! Reassurance comes quickly when you (finally) say to the Divine, “Yes, I am willing.”
“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.” (Verses 15 – 18)

And when you have been reassured, it is easy to share that sense of peace and hope to others.

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

Some things, though, are too deep and wonderful to be spoken out loud. However the heart and spirit praise the Lord God the Divine in silence and wonder.

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

This Christmas season, beloved reader, I hope and pray you have your own reassurances from the Divine – whatever the circumstances may be. And may you give voice and tell others, in our own way, what the Lord God has done for you. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Psalms Passage – Pleading for reassurance

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!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80:1 – 7)

Considering that this was written a good while before Jesus came to Bethlehem, you can imagine that by that time the Hebrews who became Israelites who eventually become Jews under Roman authority were down to their last breathe and bit of strength.

“But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Verses 17 – 19)

I have a good idea of how they might have been feeling. At the time I was writing this, I had gone through some very tough days- tougher days than I have ever had. Or at least up there with the other tough ones! It was hard to think about sitting down and writing on a psalm passage. Thankfully it is a psalm of petition and intercession – just about where I am at now in my own life. I have never shied away much from allowing scripture to inform and reflect on my personal life. After all it is our faith life that gets us through our day to day. That parallels the Divine helping us get through our day to day. And I have been relying on the Divine very heavily in the past few days. However, beloved reader, by the time you read this the worst may be over for me – at least that is my hope and prayer! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Gospel Passage – Patiently waiting for reassurance

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18 – 21)

I want to proceed delicately with my comments on this passage. In the usual Advent story of Jesus’ birth certain things are emphasized and other aspects are glossed over. First, there seems to be a some leeway in Jewish life at that time about when a couple started living together. An engagement or betrothal was as official as the actual wedding, so Mary and Joseph were considered as being married – therefore pregnancy might come before the official ceremony. So once Joseph took Mary as his wife, he was in a sense admitting that her pregnancy was his doing. And once married, Mary and her pregnancy were accepted. The angel reassured Joseph that Mary was as pure as he had previously believed her to be. And think too of Mary’s reassurance, that Joseph protected her from the possible repercussions of pregnancy outside of marriage.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Verses 22 – 23 [Emphasis mine][)

Way back at the beginning of the week, and way back in the story of King David’s descendants, we heard/read about Ahaz who did not want to presume on the Lord God asking for a test that things would be well for the kingdom. The Lord God, through Isaiah, gave him a reassurance anyway. The implication was that things were be sorted out before an unborn was much out of toddler age. The writer of Matthew is telling us know that reassurance is only coming NOW some generations down the road, when the family of King David is no longer the ruling authority. That is some wait!

“When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Verses 24 – 25)

Joseph also had to wait a comparatively long time to be reassured that his wife Mary was truly is consummated wife. This is part of the delicacy that I referred to earlier; and part of the Advent story that is not overly dwelt on. Part of Advent is about patiently waiting. Mary waiting to see what Joseph would do. Joseph waiting and considering carefully what he would do about this situation. King Ahaz potentially waiting beyond his life span to do what would become of his kingdom. (By the way, this is one of the reason I bristle at some event in the Old Testament being remade into prophecies concerning Jesus – it just does not make sense.) The family of King David waiting for the prominence to be reviewed. And Joseph again waiting until the plans of the Lord God were made manifest. (Was I delicate enough?)

The point I am trying to make is that the time between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas can seem tremendously long. But in the grander scheme and timing of the Lord God, the wait is hardly anything at all! So beloved reader, when you are impatient and waiting for what good things may come – remember those who have patiently waited on the Divine. And how their wait was rewarded! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Bestowing reassurance; or more aptly, a promise of compassion from the Divine

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1-6)

One of the “cloaked” mysteries of the New Testament is why the Lord God sent Jesus the Messiah. The gospel of John states it quite clearly – “for God so loved the world.” If you know the gospel of John, you know that clear speech is rare – cloaked in mysticism as it is. And Paul, the supposed writer of Romans, is brisk and abrupt – hardly ever shy about speaking his mind. Much of his letters emphasis the responsibility of believers to live transformed lives in response to salvation and redemption. I had hoped to hear, through the scriptures this week, more “tender” words. According to the pattern of meaning of the Advent candles that I have been using this season, the fourth candle is to have the theme love.

Maybe I need to remind myself, and in the process beloved reader remind you, that love is not always “warm” and “fuzzy” but stalwart and enduring. It was the love or compassion that the Divine had for humanity that prompt Jesus Christ to be sent. A reassurance that humanity and creation is still and will always be forefront in the plans and consideration of the Divine. And a promise that anyone who believes with sincerity and authenticity is a child of God. This why – because of Divine love – Yahweh desired to assure King Ahaz, that while things looked grim he could set aside his worries for the present and focus on working towards a better future. That is a good message for us too, beloved reader.

“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I has said over the past few weeks of Advent that first we must have hope – a hope that is found on unshakable faith. Then next we have peace – because we know our deepest hopes will be fulfilled. With peace, we can feel joy – and spread the joy to others. And with joy in one’s heart love can take root. As you go through this week, beloved reader and into the time of Christmas, I hope, pray, and encourage you to show love – both tender love and resilient love to those around you. Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Old Testament Passage – Looking for reassurance; or more aptly learning to rely on the Divine

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” (Isaiah 7:10 – 11)

King Ahaz had plenty of troubles. As descendant of King David, he was the ruler as the nations surrounding Judah were eyeing Judah and Jerusalem with covetousness. The Lord God had not yet totally “abandoned” the called and chosen people, so there was some hope that the nation would emerge intact and whole from this latest battle. The Lord sent Isaiah to reassure the king. But while King Ahaz may have been a king of faith, he did not rely heavily on Yahweh.

“But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” (Verse 12)

Quite honestly, beloved reader, I do not understand this. At this writing I am still thinking back to the trying and challenging week that I had, and looking toward a new week that has unknown challenges. I would love to ask for a sign that the coming week is survivable!

“Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” (Verses 13 – 16)

It is a strange trait of human behavior that while we may fear the coming disaster, we are often slow to ask for help and assistance from the Divine. It took me more years than I am comfortable confessing to for me to ask for help when difficulties come. I used to think it was a sign of weakness to ask for help; and that one should trust that the Divine has already equipped you with all that you need. What I had to learn over and over again is that the Divine never intended us to live through our lives on our own.

We forget that the Creator loved to walk with Adam and Eve each evening in the Garden, listening to how their day was. Remember that part of their sin was hiding from the Creator, and fearing their imperfections would be exposed. And if the Divine were to be wearied, I have no doubt it would be weariness from our trying to hide our fears and concerns. And why would the Divine be so concerned about us? That, beloved reader is a topic we will discuss later in the week. Shalom & Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Substituted Psalm Passage – Magnificent Joy

“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.” (Luke 1:46b – 48a)

I was undecided as to which passage to use; this one or the actual psalm passage, Psalm 146:5 – 10. I decided to go with the Luke passage. I hesitated because in years past . . . . well, to be honest I felt the need to defend Mary’s spontaneous joyful chorus from commentators who do not/did not believe that Mary (a young woman) would and could compose such a moving testament to the Divine. I have looked at this passage from both sides of the exegetical fence. But lately I have just let things be what they are. And allowed myself to simply get caught up in Mary’s joy.

She has traveled to her cousin Elizabeth, who herself is unexpectedly expecting a child. Elizabeth greets her with joy and anticipation, and I am sure Mary felt relief that someone sees that something wonderful has and will happen.

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.” (Verses 48b – 53)

In Mary’s exuberance she brings the past forward to the present, and calls to mind the waiting that God’s called and chosen people had to do to come to this point. And, actually, Mary reminds me a great deal of myself.

What if you, beloved reader, entered into Mary’s joy and felt that the Divine has done great things for you? Would you feel joyful? Can you see where the Divine has helped you, in fulfillment of promises made long ago, and perhaps very recently? Would you not express your joy? Perhaps more eloquently because the joy comes not from human will but Divine blessing?

“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 54 – 55)

We are coming to the end of the third week of Advent. The time is drawing closer. I do not know if it was the placement of Thanksgiving in the calendar, but this year Advent does not seem to be the long weeks away that it has been other years. And as one of the more commercial Christmas jingle goes, “we need a little Christmas right this very minute!” Moreover, we need the Son of God! Selah!

Advent Season 2019, Year A – Third Sunday of Advent: The Epistle Passage – Joy comes in fulfilling the role the Divine has set for you

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2 – 6)

I have read this passage many times, each time I come away with a different thought and perspective. In thinking also about the passage from Isaiah where it talks about things will come to pass, John the Baptist must have been familiar with such passages. In answering John’s question the way he did, Jesus must have also assumed that John was familiar with such passages. In a way, Jesus is saying “yes, I am the one all of creation has been waiting for.”

I remember also that Jesus and John were kin to each other, and as children growing up they may have played together. Mayhap that childhood relationship might have formed a bond between the two men. Or maybe John wanted to be very sure that his childhood friend was also the Son of the Lord God that John had dedicated his life to. I like to think that John, being so answered, was ready to accept what his chosen way of life would result in.

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “ (Verses 7 – 10)

I like to think too that Jesus believed strongly in John – not just as the messenger who “prepared his way” but as the kin who believed in him long before either one of them had taken up their adult roles. Jesus’ further comments, in my mind, reveals an admiration and compassion of John that speaks of “family ties.” And yet, and yet . . . . this familial relationship might have made John unsure, at first, of whether Jesus truly was more than “human.” If John had known Jesus as family, could he make that leap to believing in Jesus as the Messiah? He preached about the one who was coming that was greater than he (John). But could and did John reconcile the person he knew as Jesus and the Messiah who he was preparing the way for and prophesying about? Maybe it was this uncertainty that lead Jesus to say what he did.

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Verse 11)

When we, beloved reader, believe in and take on the role that the Lord God has given us, we are inheritors of great joy. We also can be inheritors of great burden and responsibility. John talked himself into the prison cell of Herod, and death. Jesus, in a way, did the same thing. As did many of the disciples. You may ask, this is joy? Yes, actually it is.

It is often during high seasons of the church year that people may be called into greater roles in the life of the church and in their faith life. Such seasons turn our thinking to faith and spirituality. The traditions of the church year and our faith circle can potentially do the same. I would not think to “warn” you of this beloved reader. Instead I would like to prepare you, and even encourage you!

Also, when tough times come our way, and we question our faith, that is the time we can step forward and reassert our beliefs. And delve further into relationship with the Divine. May you, beloved reader, be lead even deeper in your faith life. May you answer the call. And may the greatness in you be revealed! Selah!