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To ponder in our hearts

Numbers 6: 22-27
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

Caro cardo salutis
(The body is the hinge of salvation)
– Tertullian

The tragically divided trinitarian churches find it difficult to definitively name this Sunday. The Orthodox, as well as some Anglican and Lutheran churches, celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision. So did Catholics until the 1960s, when the day transformed into the Octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Those using the Revised Common Lectionary celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus or the First Sunday after Christmas Day.

Perhaps the kindest way to understand this confusion is that the mystery of the Incarnation is far too vast for human comprehension. After celebrating, as best we can, its totality on Christmas Day, we who stand on this side of the grave enter the abyssal mystery further only through glimpses and reflections, hoping not to absolutize any partial vision, lest we fall into heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “a choice.”

All these glimpses lead into a paradox that borders on the monstrous: that the Creator of the Universe enters into Creation as a one of us, decisively bridging the gap between spirit and matter we so desperately struggle to maintain. The fulcrum upon which this mystery pivots is the body, and the visions celebrated on this day all emphasize that saving carnality. Read more

Shepherds

The Logic of the Incarnation

Christmas

Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-14

“The Ancient of Days has become an infant.”
John Chrysostom, 4th century

On Christmas Eve we read Luke’s dramatic account of the birth of Jesus. On the first Sunday of Christmas (or, as it happens this year, Christmas Day) we read the prologue from John’s gospel. At first glance these texts seem to offer two very different perspectives on the coming of Christ into our world: Luke’s is earthy and political, conveying the historical contingencies (and palpable dangers) that attended the first Advent; John’s is meditative and philosophical, written in academic Greek, locating the “Word made flesh” not in the provincial politics of first-century Palestine but boldly and unapologetically in the sweeping history of the cosmos.

But despite the differences there is, I suggest, an affinity, a necessary and even urgent correspondence, between these two traditional Christmas narratives. And perhaps especially this year, as liturgically we read and hear them only hours apart, this affinity is worthy of deeper exploration.

In Luke, we glimpse what the tyranny of the imperium romanum meant for its subjects, especially those on the margins of empire geographically, ethnically, and religiously. In verses 1 through 5 it is clear that the events leading up to Jesus’ birth were no picnic – nothing like the familiar, beatific stuff of greeting-card sentimentality. Rather, despots and oligarchs populate the scene and the treacherous journey to the stable – labor pains upon labor pains – includes refugees on the run, authorities asking for papers, and risky border crossings.

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Annunciation

And it was sufficient

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1: 26-38

I love the way Luke and Matthew begin their Gospels. Both tell us of these plain, ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, who obeyed God, and through whom God begins the extraordinary work of salvation for all people.

Traditionally, the church has called Mary the first disciple. She was the first to believe and obey. And even though Luke tells her story with a bit more drama than Matthew’s telling of Joseph’s, we still get the message that here was an ordinary young woman – really a teenage girl – who embodied extraordinary courage and faith in God to be able to say, “Let it be to me according to your will.” Or to put it more mundanely, Mary said yes. Read more

CWA Highway Constructon

The Church as Highway Department

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Luke 1:46-55

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Not long ago I heard a program on NPR about the use of satellite images by human rights groups as a way of tracking atrocities in South Sudan.  Using before and after images human rights workers are able to track changes in the landscape that might indicate a mass grave or the razing of a village.  The satellite images also offer a chance, in some cases, of heading off attacks because preceding a major advance the Janjaweed militias will have to clear trees and build roads to allow their forces to move heavy artillery.  In another recent NPR story about the history of the American interstate system, the author of a book on the subject talked about how Eisenhower, with his military background, liked the idea of long, broad highways that would allow for quick military deployment in the event of an attack.

These NPR stories came to mind when I read Isaiah 40:3, the passage of scripture John the Baptist quotes as he explains to the official religious authorities who exactly he is: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way o f the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3b).  There is a military sensibility at work in this proclamation that certainly wouldn’t be lost on John or Isaiah’s hearers.  God is making an advance; God is coming to attack the world of robbery, greed and enslavement that have plagued God’s people.  This is not an advance of violence, but rather of liberation and restoration—“good news to the oppressed…liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Read more

The Living Gospel

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Advent has a powerful way of clarifying our vision because it takes us back to what is most basic. This week the gospel is front and center as our texts identify the content and shape of the good news.

Too often, however, we can assume we already know what the gospel is. Namely, the gospel is a static body of knowledge we already possess. Central tenets or creeds, Four Spiritual Laws, Seven Habits, or a political platform consisting of one issue or several—give assent to these things, and you know the gospel. And once possessing the gospel, we move swiftly to implementation.

Such reductionism inevitably leads to deformity.

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