Monday, December 28, 2015

Word made Flesh...




THE READING for the Second Sunday of Christmas comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint John. The church of John began with a Prologue. Within these introductory words, the divine nature of the child Jesus as the Word of God was revealed.
 As we try to wrap our minds around these thoughts, consider how God proceeded to save us through the dual nature of Jesus. We read...

IN THE beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 
 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 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 nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 
 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 
 (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'") 
  And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

An Introduction…
As we look to the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint John, we see the editorial seam between vs.18: and vs.19. This may be why our lectionary planners halted the recommended reading at v.18. This first section, known as the Prologue, performed the same function for ancient reader as a preface or introduction in today’s books. A scribe in the church of John, in final edit as claimed by some biblical scholars, made comment about the meaning of what is going to be encountered by our continuing in the text.
 After this section, the historical unfolding of salvation began. But, lest we pass over this profound text too quickly, we need to note that some words echo. We hear, “In the beginning… “ This phrase points us backward in time to the very beginning when God spoke all of creation into existence. Referring us to Genesis 1:1, the editor makes a connection to the Jewish roots of this gospel message. The words remind us concerning the creative act of God. The author contended here that the Word which spoke to will all things into existence was... and is yet… truly God. Astoundingly however… the Word revealed here by the community of John, was described as the conversation unfolded in wondrous prose. The Word becomes described as a person who became flesh. Within those words that describe the Word, a miraculous event is thus revealed. John tells us of a miraculous event where our finite scientific and philosophical human constructs fail. I repeat here for emphasis…
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” 
Take special note here... John contends, and we the church echoes... that Almighty God became flesh! Thus we have here in John’s Prologue a great theological affront to human logic. In our human terms, it cannot make sense... the Infinite became finite! It’s much like forcing a wagon load of wheat onto a two pound shovel. God had in infinite power made the impossible possible!
 However, in trying to wrap our sinful and finite minds around these words… we are driven by the Spirit to ask whether God can work in reverse? For our sake, or for the sake of his Word, will God make the finite Infinite? The answer is important to we sinful finite beings.
 Addressing the question, John through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit gave us answer. We, his unlearned and finite readers, have a hint of the expanse of eternal and all encompassing Love…
“And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
We especially note in this quote, the word “grace”. In abundant and grace-filled love God acted in regard to the sin that is found enslaving human history. In fullness we have been given grace. We who are finite, have the hope of bring Infinite. Note in that according to scripture, that the Word combined two natures in one person. Jesus, at once and at the same time… was born both human and Divine.

Two Natures...
Jesus was and yet is both the human Christ and the eternal Word of God. Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph and spoke as a young man to the religious of his day. But most importantly, as the Word made flesh he completed the work of salvation for our sake. Out of divine love, our Creator and Infinite God came to this finite piece of space dust and was as His Son crucified, died and was Resurrected. God freely exercised infinite Love... for surely God is indeed infinite Love!
 To save us while we are yet trapped in our sinful and egotistical natures… even we who have a sure history of exercising the unmitigated gall to think that we are the hosts and rulers of this world… may be saved by the gift of grace. We need only to surely accept the gift! Even if in our finite wisdom we should begin to realize that through His Word poured out through Christ Jesus, our Lord, the person of God was born into this world to save people, we are given hope. In this finite world drenched in sin and being deceived by evil adversary we may be saved! We, as sinful usurpers needed a Savior, and Jesus came to save us
 You see, God reversed the tables on us. We need not entertain and feed God to get his attention. God became the Host for us! Jesus Christ our Lord became finite, died and then rose again. He thus demonstrated that the finite sinner may be granted the gift to become infinite. We can abide with God!  Jesus sacrificed himself upon the cross as payment for our acceptance at his table. Jesus defeated for us the claims of evil… and even yet now works to make us more than sinners through the Holy Spirit.
 As we who are baptized receive the Sacrament of the Table then, let us know that Jesus is certainly the Host of the Holy Meal. He comes to us providing us with forgiveness by the power of the Spirit. Our Lord so ministers among us today. He provides us with his power, so that we might tell the good news and bring others to the feast. This is the presence of the Word in our lives and the power of God for all to consider.

Wise in the Way...



THE EPIPHANY was a sign of recognition. However, from this text we read that the Gospel According to Saint Matthew revealed that though some in Israel had anxiously waited, watched and sought the Messiah, the Deliverer… and were rewarded.. others deeply feared and rejected our Lord's arrival. This realization comes to us as we read that jealous world powers took note of his arrival.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

"And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.  (Matthew 2:1-12)

Enlightened and Troubled!
Our author wrote primarily for the early churches surrounding the area of Antioch in Syria, relating to them concerning the journey of the Magi. The geographic arena cited is important. Here the text we find it revealed that the travelers came from an unspecified eastern realm. This was most likely Persia. They were royalty, who were learned and practiced in astronomy. The men sought the child Jesus, saying that they were looking for the king of the Jews.
 As related by the church of Matthew, these wise men eventually arrived at the home of our Lord and honored the birth of the child who had been announced by the appearance of a star in the heavens. While tradition holds that there were only three wise men present who were steeped in astrology, in reality we consider that they may have been part of a greater caravan. Their appearance, though somewhat casually mentioned here, caused great repercussions among the powerful. We see that their arrival at the court of Herod the King caused quite an upheaval.
 By their inquiry, made innocently, Herod was made aware of a perceived threat to his tumultuous rule. The king, being very active in public works in that he had founded many cities and municipal projects, was historically noted for brutalities in maintaining his power. We are reminded, that this is the king who committed fratricide, entered into an illicit political marriage, and sexually pursued his niece. He was eventually the man responsible for the death of John the Baptist.
 The inquiry of the wise men spurred the suspicious ruler to inquire of ancient Jewish prophecy. He sought prophetic wisdom from his close ties with others having much to lose. The religious hierarchy of the day taught him of the legendary predictions. Proof was not difficult to find. From the Pentateuch we read that in the midst of the sin and turmoil in the ancient world, the Hebrew scripture said that Balaam had spoken these words concerning a star…

I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab,
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed,
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed,
while Israel does valiantly.
By Jacob shall dominion be exercised,
and the survivors of cities be destroyed!”
                                 (Numbers 24:17)

Thus we may confidently calculate that the magi had come as predicted by scripture. Their journey had been predicted by the historical record of Israel. The scriptures elsewhere told of those who would praise God from a foreign land…

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 60:6)

 We read also in the text highlights provided from the prophet Micah, for Matthew tells us that Herod specifically sent the wise men to Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2). In reading the scriptures rightly like the authorities of old, we find that the wise men were informed not only by the guiding star they saw in the heavens, but were further sent by the inquiring malice of Herod. The text, however, relates that the magi discerned his motive as revealed dreams. In this sensitivity, they intuitively factored that Herod was a jealous ruler who would harm the child that they sought.

Wisely Done…
In this text, therefore, Matthew reveals several facts to us. First occurs in that the revelation of Jesus’ birth as King of the Jews was meant for far more than just the Jews. Those considered as being learned in heavenly signs were informed of his coming. Creation told of his coming! This witnessed amid the Jewish populace of Syria that even those steeped in Gentile mystery religions, especially Eastern Zoroastrianism, saw that our Lord’s birth had been historically foretold. Jesus was born according both to Jewish prophecy and natural sign.
 Second, but no less important, is that the text tells us of the receptivity within humanity at the time of his birth. The powers of this world were sinfully, jealously, and habitually anchored against him. He was preserved, protected by God through many dangers, until the proper time. This is revealed by the gospel author as Matthew stressed the foretold pattern. Jesus, the Light of God's love, was in God's time, purposefully caught in the darkness of unfolding rejection. He was destined to be crucified and killed as the Sent One unduly convicted for the salvation of those who would believe in him. But the darkness could not smother the Light.
 This text reveals to us that from the beginning God created all things, and from that time had planned for our preservation from evil. In spite of our dark distance from him, much like the spans of space known to be present between stars, we as readers of the magi's travels and prophet’s words gave us light. We now need only to apprehend the greatness and eternal loving nature of God. We may by this revelation grasp the meaning of his gift.
 You see, hearing this good news concerning the Messiah of God, we may be brought to understand and receive the gift of faith. We may then confess our previous, sinful unbelief. This may yet be done by those living and working in the modern world. We are then, through the gift, be forgiven our trespass against God's intent.
 Indeed, we have been granted guidance of Light like those wise men long ago. The scriptural evidence in Matthew states that they who believed and looked for his comingwill not perish. As proof so that you may follow in their footsteps, I offer that the wise men are still with us... for we still hear their testimony, Thus in the Spirit we are granted the power to wholly receive grace upon grace. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Crossing Paths...



AN ALTERNATE GOSPEL reading for the First Sunday of Christmas defines Jesus as a child who though the Son of God, clearly possessed human attributes. No mystical figment of our human imagination or need, Jesus’ full participation in family life was defined as having much wider meaning than most faithful people could have ever thought possible. Therefore, we read…
And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they (his family) brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said.., “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother.., “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanu-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
 And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.  (Luke 2:22-40)

Watching and Waiting
Our text from Luke that we offer here is used by some Christian denominations as the reading for the first Sunday immediately following Christmas. Others, use the later scene of our Lord’s taking full adult participation in the religious practices of the day. If so, you can refer to our previous study of that event discussed in… "Growing in Favor"
  The content here, however, described the earliest public events recorded for Jesus and his family, as unfolding in keeping the traditions of the Law. Within eight days of his birth, Jesus was circumcised and named. This profound act set the child apart first as a Jew, and then as an individual within that society. Thereafter, according to the Law, Jesus was also to be presented as the first born by Joseph, and as it was written Joseph had to pay the required five shekels. (Exodus 13:2, Numbers 18:15-16). As it was written in the Hebrew scriptures…

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.’ And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. (Leviticus 12:1-5)

 Therefore counted as exact forty days later, the purification of Mary was accomplished at the temple. Considered to be separate and unclean while in menses, she as a woman would be required to ride an oxen. In those days, according to the Law, if she traveled in public, she needed to be thus made to ride the animal. It had a wide back, so that menstrual blood would not reach the ground and thus soil a sepulcher. When her forty days, considered a time of completeness and restoration, had been accomplished… those of her family sufficient in worldly goods would sacrifice a lamb. At the time of Jesus’ birth, a lamb would cost about one dollar and seventy-five cents. If the woman was poor, however, a different offering option was given. The price of either doves or pigeon would suffice. They were available at a cost of about sixteen cents each. However, any offering made whether large of small, could not be done personally by the woman. She was not allowed entry into the temple. She could not bring the creatures offered into the holy place, but would drop the purchase price into one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests located in the Court of the Women. There, during the performance of these lawful, traditional rituals… that Mary, Joseph and others with them received further revelation.
 You see, shortly after the Rite of Purification was completed, Simeon (a name meaning “sign”) noted the child’s presence in the courtyard. Simeon was noted as being a righteous and devout man. He had practiced strict adherence to the Law for many years. Taking his faith very seriously, looking daily after his spiritual condition… he was seen widely as one who walked constantly with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this capacity his prophetic statements were profoundly revered.
 Here then we read that through him, the prediction that the Light of God’s love came into the world. Jesus, as a child already born and given to Israel, was prophetically said by Simeon to expand the faith into the Gentile nations. Through the Messiah, Israel would attain its true and highest glory. Resultant for this, in the days of Luke’s writing, the prophecy of Simeon was often read or spoken in the infant Christian household churches. This repetitive saying reinforced the acceptance of Greeks, Romans and other peoples into the Christian faith community. These persons then, were solidly anchored by Luke’s writing. They were full participants in the mission of the church. They participated in the receiving of baptism and communion as sacramental, described as “holy things for holy people”.
 Notably then, at the time of that first temple visit, Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said by Simeon. To Mary, he gave particular warning. The prophet revealed more of the child’s Messianic role. He foretold that a broad sword’s wound would scar Mary’s future, causing a deep and painful pang. Prophetically, it became the very pain of Jesus crucifixion that would to be felt by her. Her son would be nailed to the cross for the salvation of believers. This was the strife and the result foretold by Simeon in scripture. That pain had been predicted by a prophet of old who had spoken before him…

And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:13-16)

 Luke then inserted that the elderly prophetess Anna suddenly appeared. She announced the child Jesus to all within hearing in that courtyard. We must note here, however, that this was not a public broadcast made to the temple authorities. The intent was not to inform them, but these words were spoken to the pious ones gathered. It was they who had prayed daily with her in the courtyard. It was especially said to those lowly few who had waited long with her for the Messiah.
 Thus the text revealed that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple so that all “righteousness” should be fulfilled. The progression thus puts these events in Luke’s gospel, as preparation for the later baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. In that later scene, it followed that Jesus had told John during that event, that baptism should happen so that “all righteousness should be fulfilled”. The progression is evident! In Luke, this is the multiple testimony was made to his readers. Jesus was raised according to the Law, and none were ever broken!
 From that earliest of times then, the child Jesus would grow in favor before his family. As he grew, he maintained the code of innocence given as empowered by God, his heavenly Father. In this way the Messiah, having fulfilled the Law in its entirety… and yet having been crucified… was killed by those he came to save. Therefore, he could pay the penalty not for his own waywardness but be laid down in death to pay for our disobedience and separation from God. This deliberate saving act made through God’s only begotten Son, accomplished holy substitution and satisfaction for our sin. To God be the glory made possible through the work of the Holy Trinity! Such was the witness of Simeon, Anna and Luke when they announced that the Messiah… the Deliverer… had come into the world. Indeed, we who gather now may again consider again the words of those who had waited… and marveled with joy. Thanks be to God!