Monday, December 26, 2016

On Being Eternal...



OUR READING we offer for the coming Sunday in Christmas from the Gospel According to Saint John. The gospel record begins with a Prologue. Within these introductory words, the divine nature of Jesus as the Word of God was revealed. As we try to wrap our minds around these wondrous thoughts, we are invited to consider how God proceeded to save us through the dual nature of Jesus. John began with...

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 closely to this first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint John, we find an editorial seam between vs.18: and vs.19. This is likely why lectionary planners halted the recommended reading at v.18. The first section, known as the Prologue, performed the same function for ancient readers as a preface or introduction in today’s books. A writer in the church of John, in final edit as claimed by some biblical scholars, likely made profound comments to an earlier manuscript about the meaning of what is going to be encountered by our continuing in the text. After this Prologue section, the historical unfolding of salvation began.
 However,.lest we pass over this introductory text too quickly, we need to note that some words echo prominently in our minds. We hear the words... “In the beginning… “ standing out. This phrase pointed hearers backward in time... to the very beginning of all things… when God spoke all of creation into existence.
 In referring us to Genesis 1:1, the editor made a connection to the Jewish roots of this gospel message. The words remind the people concerning the creative act of God. The author contended here that the Word which first spoke to will all things into existence was... and is yet… truly God.
 Astoundingly however… the Word revealed here in these pages by the community of John,  was described by conversation that unfolded in wondrous prose. Here the Word is described as a person who became flesh. Within those words describing the Word, a miraculous event is revealed. John told of a miraculous event so powerful that 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 that John contends, and we of the church echo... that Almighty God became flesh! Thus we have in John’s Prologue a great theological affront to human logic. In human terms, this revelation cannot make sense... yet somehow the Infinite became finite! It’s much like forcing a wagon load of wheat onto a two pound shovel.
 Indeed, 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 that miracle 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 and finite human beings seek our Resurrection.
 Addressing questions that arise in mind, heart and soul, John through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit gave us answer. We who are his unlearned and finite readers, were given a hint of the expanse of eternal 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, grace-filled love provided Resurrection power, God acted in regard to the sin found as enslaving human history. We are set free to rise in Christ. In fullness we have been given grace. We who are finite, have the hope of being alongside the Infinite!

What’s More?
Note in that according to scripture, the Word coming into the world clearly combines two natures into one person. Jesus, was born both human and Divine. He was and yet is both the human being… the Son of God… and the eternal Word of God.
 Though Jesus was indeed physically raised by Mary and Joseph and spoke as a young man to the religious of his day… as the Word made flesh he also completed the work of salvation for our sake. Out of divine love, our Creator came to this finite piece of space dust. He was crucified, died and was Resurrected, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
 Through Jesus, You see, God exercised Infinite Love... for surely God is indeed Infinite Love! To save us while we are still trapped in our sinful and egotistical natures… even those of us who have an unmitigated gall to think that we are the hosts and rulers of this world… may be saved by the gift of grace. We need now to only, and surely accept the Truth! Consequently, we who are drenched in sin and being deceived by an evil adversary are given hope! We, as sinful usurpers need a Savior…  and the Word of God came... born into a Bethlehem manger to save us
 You see, we need not entertain and feed a worldly or nature god to get his attention. Almighty God became the Host for us! Jesus Christ our Lord, the Word of God... became finite. He demonstrated that the finite human being may be granted to abide with God! Jesus sacrificed himself upon the cross as payment for our acceptance at the divine feast. Jesus defeated for us the claims of sin and evil… and still works now through His Spirit to empower us to live like we are more than just sinners. Through baptism by the Holy Spirit we are made saints!
 As we who are baptized subsequently receive the Sacrament of the Table, we can know that Jesus is certainly the Host of the Holy Meal. He comes directly to us. He provides us with forgiveness by the power of the Spirit. Our Lord so ministers primarily in this way among us today. Jesus provides us with power so that we might tell the good news and bring others to the Feast. This is the undying presence of the Word in our lives and the will of God for all.
 As you now allow these thoughts to settle within you, please know that you are invited to view our Christmas season message... and hear the sweet words of a wonderful song. Just click on the screen below...


May the Holy Spirit bless you and yours now and forever more.





Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Consider Christmas!



OUR READING for this Christmas Eve, often used for the day of Christmas as well, comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Reading this text we see that the birth of Jesus is revealed as occurring within the realms of mighty men, but is an event that provided momentous predictions of peace for the lowly. An occasion to be pondered then… the scripture reads…

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
  And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-21)

Wider World…
Our author of Luke related a history of miraculous birth to a wider world than his predecessors, or for that matter even his Matthean contemporary. Notably, as a dedicated historian, he dated the birth of Jesus with references made to a taxation decree of the Roman Emperor. He also cited Quirinius as a governor. Luke thus anchored his telling within a given historical timeframe. Though the exact day and year of our Lord’s birth has been disputed by biblical scholars, because of the historical reference to the rule of the governor... and the season of shepherd activities… we find the aim of this writer was to inform about the heavenly signs that occurred. We note that in keeping with his suspected Greek heritage, Luke wrote accurately as an expression of faith. He told both familiar and unfamiliar persons about the divine identity of the Christ child.
 Concerning this faithful telling of history then, we see that the good news we read here originally spoke to the knowledgeable diaspora Jews and Gentiles of that day... to reveal accurately what had happened. Thus by anchoring the timeframe to the ruling figures, Luke invited his readers to compare between those prominent historical, political figures mentioned… and the person of Jesus, who was described as born the Messiah (Christ) of God. Though the newborn child, revealed as King of kings… is not described by Luke as hunted by worldly powers, such as in Matthew… our author did set the stage for this claim. Luke clearly stated that this birth changed the course of history. There was an over-against-ness established. We know historically, from the Old Testament writings, God had previously acted to overturn powerful and sinful humanity.
 
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give up’, and to the south, ‘Do not withhold’; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”  (Isaiah 43:3-7)

 Consequently, from this text we clearly note that in the prophetic scriptures God worked in former days to demonstrate great power for salvation. In Luke’s telling, therefore, we see divine power working the as promised was demonstrated first by the declaration of angels. Beneath the very nose of the powerful Roman world, in what had been described as the "Pax Romana", the history of salvation was written. Prophetic fulfillment came to pass as a newly-married couple made their way to Bethlehem, where it had been long scripturally-established... that the Messiah would be born.
 Take note here that God even used the finite Roman law, which was firmly gripped in the male-dominated society... to fulfill the Law! It would seem that only Joseph was required by “decree” to go to Bethlehem. But for the sake of prophetic fulfillment, though having little or no status… and though very pregnant… Mary went with him to his home town. Thereby using human law, Jesus was born according to the prophetic texts.
 We need pay attention to such details! We note that Jesus was born as a ruler who would stand in divine Law by the love of God… above the laws of both Caesar and Quirinius and other dignitaries.
 All this occurred though Jesus was born in a place that was not in the highest prestige. Therefore Luke stressed that God stood the hierarchy of the world on its head. Though of divine and royal birth, Jesus was born into a lowly place. Born and placed in a feeding trough, the Christ child was given as the lowly One. Born to fulfill the Law of God, that condemns to death those who like ourselves transgress,, the Christ child who was born to fulfill the Law. He who would awaken and rise to feed and save his followers… even unto our own day. As the psalmist wrote...

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine. And he put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting shame. (Psalm 78:65-67)

 Like his ancestor, the shepherd king David… through the lineage of his earthly father and the Oneness with his heavenly Father…. Jesus would rightly shepherd his people. The lowly shepherds often shunned by society as smelly wastrels, were yet responsible for keeping the safety of temple’s sacrificial sheep in the Migdal Eder (watchtower of Jerusalem). These lowly outcasts were thus caused first to see and hear the good news! They were the first brought to witness the manger scene as the throne of the sacrificial Lamb. They first saw the Christ child who would make strong men weep over wine poured out and his body sacrificially-given.
 We note today that Luke related this as a scene occurring during the watch of night... a time of great sin and foreboding. Therefore in the dark and dreary way, both the shepherds and the subsequent reading audience now have heard Luke’s telling of this Good News. Luke boldly told the early church of the first century… a persecuted and lowly people… of the angelic choir’s singing. That choir was described as heralding of the glory of God and the peace which is made certain through Jesus Christ. The announcement was therefore extended to all of the known world of Luke’s day. This is the miraculous message that yet echoes even for us today as we receive the same revelation. Such is the resounding power of the Word.

Glory to God!
Consider that amid nations and persons who thought themselves as powerful… working according to the law that would establish them… are yet condemned as sinful humanity. In answer to this demonic trap, God provided his beloved Son as Savior for those who would believe. This news was so shocking that Luke described blessed Mary as pondering the great news silently in her heart. So too we are to ponder such things… consider them deeply… then rejoice! We are to consider that this Jesus, who is historically the King of kings and Lord of lords, was and yet is God’s salvation born into this world. Through him and only him, born into a crude grotto, there is peace available between God and sinful humanity. So it is written by Luke, and so it is even unto this wondrous day.




Monday, December 12, 2016

Have Hope!



THE GOSPEL reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we find written early in the “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew”. After the genealogical exactness recounted by the infant Christian community, we read of a grace-filled gift to the world:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 
 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 
 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). 
 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Put Her Away…
According to Hebraic Law, human traditions, and common sense… any man who found his betrothed pregnant by another is entitled to have second thoughts. There is no doubt that Joseph, as a stated descendant from the line of King David… had the right to think twice about Mary. Different from many cultures we have today, marriage in those days was a matter of contract between a woman’s family and her male suitor. Betrothal was in fact marriage… but a year was to be waited by the couple to confirm the contract… to ensure that the young woman was a virgin. In Joseph’s particularity, it was in this last requirement that he found himself faced with an unwanted dilemma.
 Thus it was in this dilemma concerning the story of Jesus birth. As found both in Matthew and Luke, the gospels relate about forgiving grace. They described blessings given in the face of paradox. This text, which was added to the basic framework of Mark’s gospel, reveals human and divine drama caused by the prophetic, mighty works of God.
As we read, two things unfolded in rapid succession. First, Mary was found to be pregnant. The situation was problematic to be sure, but especially so for a family that lived in a small community. Quick decisions had to be made. Joseph was considered a “just” man by those around him. As told by the early Matthean church located in Syria, under the law and being just, as the new husband he could have rightly put Mary away. She could be put away… shunned by her family and community. In fact, in the worst case, the travesty could be punished by stoning her to death according to the Law…

"If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel. 
  If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.”  (Deuteronomy 22:22-24)

 You see, Joseph could have taken the easy, prideful way of stoning the woman. He could have saved face in the community. Mary’s pregnancy effectively robbed both her family of the contractual agreement and attending status, and Joseph of his rightful property. All this could be communally recognized by lawful punishment.
 However, though stoning would have maintained Joseph as a “just” man contractually injured, he could also choose to be quietly merciful. A hard decision was required. In the throes of wrestling with the offense, Joseph thought to simply rescind the promise of marriage. He could decide to leave her family deal alone with the shame and contract fracture, caused by the apparent infidelity of Mary.
 Considering this latter path, within the far more lenient course is where we find Joseph presented in the reading. A just man, but also a gentle man… he simply chose to obtain quiet divorce from the contract without shaming her.

Have Faith in Faith?
In scriptural witness, therefore, Joseph was likely quite resolved as he lay on his bed so long ago. But, as a gentle man… a just and quiet man, he certainly tossed in his sleep with concern over his plans. Though today we know little about him, we can almost feel his emotional witness concerning faith and love. I firmly believe he tossed and turned, for as we read in scripture…

The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:28-29)

 Joseph dreamed fitfully that night, and within that dream an angel spoke to him. Now this was not a hallucinogenic phantasm talking to a demented individual after a bad meal of chipotle. Nor was this a feverish dream of a deranged, religious man. This was more a word given by God to a “just” and gentle man. Like Jacob of old, this man Joseph wrestled with God and could not let go. Thus a dream was cast upon him by an angelic messenger sent by God.
 However, we might rightly ask ourselves, “The next morning how could Joseph tell it was little more than a nightmare?” As students of scripture, we recognize that whenever we wonder whether dreams are of God, we need remember to reflect them over against scripture. We must ask ourselves and other authorities a very important question, “Does this ring true with the unchanging and merciful Law and Gospel… expressed within the Word of God?”
Joseph received answer to his dilemma . A messenger from God spoke, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear…” How important this was for the Matthean community to hear, and all Christians even unto today’s world to wrestle with… these startling words of God given to Joseph.
 We today thus rightly may read from the message, “Church now living in the faith of Joseph, do not be afraid to go against what society says or thinks. Do not worry about the scientific, philosophical or politically-correct community!” Ask of scripture, “What mission does a forgiven heart receive when immersed in God’s Word rightly interpreted?” What exactly was it that God’s Word given by that angel impressed upon Joseph? First, let’s grant that he most surely knew about the promise of forgiveness, as told by the prophets…

"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 
 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 
 And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Thus in the dream the angel told Joseph not to be afraid. This was needed… because  “Neighbors will talk!” Joseph’s relatives would consider him victimized, possibly by a demon. As a Christian, however, I think that Joseph quickly came then to understand the angelic message of deliverance and promise. I consider that this “just” man in biblical history was proven to be very familiar with Word of God and firmly believed in the salvation that God had promised.
 Consequently, using the scriptural traditions available to Joseph and his ancestors back then, it was certain that the angel of God indeed spoke to him of divine deliverance. The deliverance unbeknown to Joseph, was not just for Mary… but for all people. We look to Isaiah’s prophecy about the approaching forgiveness and power…

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven."  But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test." 
 And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el.  (Isaiah 7:14)

 Indeed, Joseph the carpenter arose from his bed, walked amid his people… and took Mary as his wife. He chose to go against the community and worldly flow. He threw aside the sin of unbelief. Joseph chose marriage and abundant life for Mary and her unborn child.
 By example, if only we can imitate his care expressed for unborn children in our own day! By the will of God expressed by an angel in a dream, the man Joseph received the child of God as the One who had been miraculously named Immanuel by his Father, meaning “He Shall Deliver”
 Consider how miraculous it could be if an unborn child now growing within a mother’s womb should cure cancer… or should find a clean, environmentally-friendly energy source… or find a path in beneficial space travel beyond the sun. Thus such hopes and dreams worked of such promise and more. Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary.
 Our faith teaches that the only begotten child of God was indeed born from a virgin. She became pregnant and gave birth by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was raised up by an obedient man.
 We note that scholarly arguments exist in that the Hebrew word “ ‘almah”, in the reading from Isaiah means either young woman or virgin. Here I find that arguments about the nuances are moot. Take note that God fulfilled his prophecy in the extreme!
 God is indeed extremely miraculous and exuberant in his gifts. For this reason I believe Mary to have been a virgin, yet became pregnant with the child Jesus… for indeed with God all things are possible. For the church to wrangle about whether she remained a virgin for the remainder of her life, though seemingly important to theological thought and doctrine about Mary, I consider the argument as little more than vain striving.
 You see, I think that the Father is more than just a worker of the miraculous. God has a wry sense of humor and is a perfect Creator of human paradox. The angel in this dream of Joseph gave a faithful man a part in the singular and unique gift of reconciliation. With a certain irony, God gracefully gave lowly Joseph that which Moses himself did not receive within his lifetime. Blessed and lowly Joseph, as a simple craftsman and a just, obedient man, stood up to be counted. He believed God. He acted according to the divine will, and by doing so within his lifetime he got firsthand to see the face of God.
 As we approach our celebration of Christmas, think heartily concerning this… because he did believe God, and we Christians have received the gift of salvation through His Son, we shall also see God! By the power of baptism into eternal life through the life, death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, that blessed child born to Joseph and Mary, we today have been saved by grace alone through faith alone, given by the Holy Spirit. We are privileged by this faith given to us... to come before the altar and thank the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit... and sing heartfelt praises during this holy Christmas season.