Monday, December 28, 2009

What Child Is This?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. He was in the beginning with God. 3. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4. in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13. who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14. 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. John 1:1-14

One of my favorite Christmas carols is the beautiful “What Child is This” which is set to the ancient English folksong Greensleeves. The rhetorical question the carol asks is of course the primary question of the season – What Child Is This? Surely after all of the drama of the story – angels, shepherds, more angels, wise men, more angels – this question was certainly on Mary and Joseph’s mind as well. “What Child is this” that has caused such commotion and turmoil in our lives? And as we move away from Christmas the same question comes back to us – “What Child is this” that would prompt all these annual decorations and the buying of presents and so forth. But even once those presents are unwrapped and the decorations are back in their storage bins for another year we are still left with the question – “What Child is This?” What difference does all of this make?

St. John writes - 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.

This beautiful text from the first chapter of St. John serves to balance the Lukan account. And John answers the question for us – “What Child is This” well, this child is none other than the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God and creator of all that is incarnate – en-fleshed in this infant Jesus. And for me this means that God is not the remote, off in the distance creator who is unconcerned about the creation; God is not comfortably in God’s Kingdom not to be bothered by the suffering and self-destructive tendencies of the creation. No – God has entered into the human experience fully. And this means that God is here with us each and every day; God hungers when we hunger; God is with us as we struggle with our fears and stresses and doubts; God is in that hospital room with us; God stands right beside us as we struggle for justice and God is with us in death. Through Jesus, God has entered all of these profoundly human experiences and made them holy.

What Child is this?.... This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!

Let us pray – All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace. Call us out of darkness and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Collect for Christmas Day - ELW

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Blessings!

May God bless you with God's presence and may you and your family experience God's Peace and Joy this Christmas season.
Painting by HeQui

Monday, December 21, 2009

Some thoughts on Advent IV - The Magnificat

What is your favorite Christmas Carol?

On the 4th Sunday of Advent we focus on Mary. Mary was a young peasant girl, living in a small village, but yet she is chosen by God to be the mother of God’ son, Jesus. She was taking a great risk, but yet she responds with openness to God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your will.” Shortly after this event with the angel (in the church we call this the Annunciation) Mary goes to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with John the Baptist (this is called the Visitation). When Mary arrives Elizabeth is overcome with joy and welcomes Mary with humility. Mary responds to all of these truly extraordinary events by singing a song. My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…. This song is called, in Latin, the Magnificat and is perhaps the greatest Christmas Carol ever. For in this song is an outline, or (to use a term from Borg and Crossan’s wonderful little book “The First Christmas”) an overture to the Gospel and life of Jesus. God’s “agenda” is laid out in this song. If you are wondering exactly what is a Messiah all about and what is the Messiah suppose to do – check out the Magnificat. One other thing the verb tense of the song is unusual. The song looks towards the future and the birth of the Messiah – but at the same time all the verbs are in a version of past tense. The point of this: what God is up to with the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Messiah is nothing different than what God has been up to all along. God hasn’t changed God's strategy and is still using the same playbook. God takes what is of no consequence in the world, what is despised, avoided, disrespected and transforms it into God’s holy dwelling place. The Messiah, God’s son, is born of a peasant girl from a little village; and those in power who use their power to oppress or take from others, who use their power to take advantage or abuse others, well, they will be cast down; those who cheat and steal to acquire wealth and then use their riches to amass possessions which they hoard while others starve and suffer, well, they will find themselves with nothing.

For His mercy is for those who fear Him in every generation (fear here means awe and wonder); he has shown the strength of His arm; He has scattered the proud; brought down the powerful; lifted the lowly; filled the hungry; sent the rich away empty… according the promise made to our ancestors.

The Magnificat is truly the best Christmas carol ever as it lays out for us who God is and what God is about. God is about people and God is for people. The Kingdom which Jesus preaches is a Kingdom where God’s creation – people - will have what they need and will live in peace and joy. God’s son, Jesus reaches out to all people and goes about the job of building the Kingdom of God – through weakness, poverty and ultimately death. The Kingdom of God it turns out is not about fear - it is not about rewards, or even getting what you deserve; it is about God’s showering upon all the unmerited gifts of love and grace; it is about building community; and it is about hope and love.

Friday, December 11, 2009

John - For Crying Out Loud - Thoughts in preparation for Advent III

Last week we met John the Baptist who emerges in the wilderness preaching repentance and preparing the way for the Messiah – Jesus.  I spoke last week of the fact that repentance is not an attitude but it is action.  The Greet word for repentance is METANOIA and it literally means to go in a different direction. Frederich Buechner defines repentance in his little book “Wishful Thinking” like this: To repent is to come to your senses… True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, “I’m sorry,” and more time looking towards the future and saying “WOW!”
This week John is still in the wilderness and different groups of people are coming to him asking what they should do to affect repentance.  These groups are primarily those who are at the edges of society – those who their contemporaries, the Pharisees, would consider to be outside the circle of God’s people.  But for Jesus and for God there is no one who is outside.  God reaches out to all; God pursues all, even and especially those who are on the edge, those who have been put outside by society, and they are all invited to active repentance.  

Below is my favorite paiting of John the Baptist.  It is from an altar piece by Matthais Grünewald - 1475-1528.  The painting is of the crucifixion of Jesus - which is clearly in the center.  But the the right, in red, there stands John the Baptist, holding the book of the prophets, pointing to Jesus.

Here at the beginning of the story, we need to be reminded that the cross stands in the center of our faith.   John the Baptist, Christmas, shepherds, angels - all of these point towards the cross.  Our calling is also to point to the cross.  Just when we think that everything is predictable, settled, established; just when we think that everyone is in their place then John comes along and points to the cross.  The ultimate symbol of God's annoying habit of turning things upside down.  John calls us to repentance - to action - in preparation of the coming of the savior to be crucified - for us.  May the image of the cross lead us all to some active turning around.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent Ponderings.....

The Kingdom has come - now into our midst in Jesus - ALREADY!  But it has NOT YET come into our midst in its fullness.  Advent is a time to reflect on the coming of the Kingdom - ALREADY and NOT YET.  And to that I would like to point you below to two other blogs which have words which are definitely worth reading and considering.  These are both in their way (very different) prophetic words.  Please read the letter from High School senior Katelyn on the Pretty Good Lutheran blog below; and then I invite you to read the "Open Letter from Jesus to Christian America" from Frank Schaffer.  Warning - Dr. Schaffer does not pull any punches, but then - neither did Jesus. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Check out this story at Pretty Good Lutherans....

Please click on the link and read this story. I think there is a lesson in here for all of us! As one of the comments noted, quoting Isaiah: "And a little child shall lead them."

Student Losing Hope to Hypocrisy