Joseph and the Angel

A Very Messy Christmas

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen

Judah is threatened, but King Ahaz, not otherwise known for piety, refuses to test God in his moment of need. God nevertheless renders a sign: Isaiah, who thinks he knows what information a calculating ruler wants to hear, announces that a girl with soon give birth.

Paul writes as a self-described slave to Christians in the imperial capital where he will eventually be executed. Yet, compelled by Christ, he greets his readers with words of grace and peace.

Joseph learns that his fiancée is pregnant with someone else’s child, and looks for a way out. Yet God speaks to him through an angel in a dream and – get this! – Joseph is persuaded to stay. Read more

What Are You Waiting For?

Isaiah 35:1-10

Matthew 11:2-11

I keep being told these days to wait.  In sermons, blog posts, earnest Advent Facebook updates, the message has been, more often than not, “wait.”  Waiting is good.  Waiting trains us in patience, one of the most important virtues we can cultivate.  Advent, however, isn’t the time for it.  As our gospel for this Sunday reminds us—the wait is over, the kingdom has come.

The passage opens with John in prison, a place made for the worst kind of waiting.  He wants to know from Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  This is critical for John because he is about to die and he knows it.  Should he die still praying for the Kingdom for which he has been preparing? Or can he uncork the bootlegged Champaign in celebration of its arrival? Read more

Again!

Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

1.
I’ve learned from spending time with little kids that they are universally into repetition. How many times in a row have you played the “so-big” game? Read a book straight through only to be met with demands for an immediate encore…or three? Or watched a favorite TV episode or movie on loop?

There’s good reason – repetition helps kids learn and facilitates brain development. Repetition and routine also provide comfort and stability, bonding children with parents, teachers and other adults who love and care for them.

2.
After spending time with the epistle lesson, I’ve also come to see repetition as a means of grace. Reminders about “the reason for the season” are sorely needed when things like blackfridaydeathcount.com have cause to exist. Read more

End Times

First Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.

From Mark Strand’s “The Seven Last Words”

Christianity makes the brazen claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the end of history, and the double-entendre is deliberate.

On the one hand, the consummation that Christ’s resurrection makes possible cannot be an event in history, enclosed by history, any more than creation can be an event enfolded in time. On the other hand, the life, death, and resurrection of this first-century crucified Jew is the telos, the goal, the realized hope of all human (and non-human) existence. Jesus of Nazareth is history’s end.

In other words, the crucified and risen Christ not only completes history but ruptures it. Precisely in and through the historical contingencies of first-century Palestine—this specific set of laws and customs, that particular Roman procurator—the future, God’s good future, begins. In a backwater province of Empire, the truth of the triune God breaks history open not through political coercion or insurrection but with a revolution of forgiving, reconciling love. As John Howard Yoder put it:

The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think—true as that is . . . It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. Read more

King/Fool

Christ the King

2 Samuel 5:1-3 OR Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I spent three years and a lot of money at a good divinity school so I could fit theology into a system. I read a lot of books by dead white guys who tried to accomplish the same project. What is the system that makes sense of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

This Sunday we recognize Christ as king. It is the end of the church year, bringing our story from Advent through Easter and all that ordinary time to a close. But there is nothing about the image of Christ as king that settles my stomach or makes sense of my expectations. Nothing about this coronation service feels like closure or victory.

If Jesus is a king, then his followers are fools. He has no army, no political alliances, no worldly power, no throne, no heir, his bloodline is marred with controversy. It is all wrong. Read more