By Matthew 1:18, Matthew has already named Jesus as the Messiah several times. Indeed, Matthew’s genealogy is constructed to show that the son of Joseph and Mary is also the Messiah. Reading the birth narrative in light of the genealogy helps us remember that what we encounter in this particular birth is the continuing of the story of God’s covenantal love for his chosen people, and indeed all the world. The birth of the Messiah comes as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David as well as in the wake of the sad history of the murder of Uriah and the deportation to Babylon. The genealogy reminds us that the birth of the Messiah is part of the history of God’s action with and for God’s broken people.
Wendell Berry observes that it’s not enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. For many, such an insight serves mainly to underwrite the idea that we can worship God best in nature’s environs: mountaintops, seashores, golf courses. But I think that Berry is on to something else, as are the appointed texts for the season of Advent generally and for the third Sunday especially. Read more
It wasn’t surprising on that November night two years ago when people poured out onto the streets of our San Francisco neighborhood cheering and beating pots and pans after the media called the election for Barack Obama. What was surprising was the way that Obama’s election resounded in many corners of the country far less blue than this Left Coast City. Not since the 1960s had both Virginia and North Carolina gone Democratic.
No matter one’s view of Obama then or now, the fact of his election revealed a welling up of desire for the healing of centuries-old divides in race and politics. It highlighted the longing of many Americans for someone who could transcend the politics of entrenched despair and usher in a different way of relating, a politics of hope. Read more
First Sunday of Advent:
And so we begin the waiting…again. Paul writes, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” We are two thousand years nearer now and still we wait, surrounded yet by too much night. My husband likes to take the time to talk with our 7 year old son about the resurrection – that day of glory when Christ will come again and make all things new. The other night, out of the blue, Jameson’s last words before falling asleep were, “I hope the resurrection happens soon (to which I replied, “Amen”) – while I’m alive…that would be neat.” And I was struck with how much was caught up in that word “neat” – all the hopes and fears of all the years. As the dark maw of cholera devours people in Haiti, as abnormal amounts of rain drowns people and crops in too many places, as corruption cripples and crumbles the foundations of nations, I am inclined to shout to Jesus, “would you hurry up and get here already!” Read more
At George Washington’s first inaugural in New York City (following an election in which he received every electoral vote), some in the audience wondered if the former colonies had simply exchanged George III for George the First. President Washington, however, had no truck with domestic monarchists. Throughout his presidency, he maintained a careful balance of pomp and the common touch, willingly leaving office after his second term.
By the 1860s, however, Washington – both war hero and president – was the only historical figure capable of unifying a violently fractured nation-state. In 1865, accordingly, Constantino Brumidi painted an immense fresco above the US Capitol Rotunda, The Apotheosis of Washington, elevating the first president beyond monarchy to the status of a god. Read more
In view of this Sunday’s focus on the reign of Christ, I find some words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to be appropriate:
“The human race of the twentieth century
has climbed to the moon,
has uncovered the secret of the atom,
and what else may it not discover?
The Lord’s command is fulfilled:
Subdue the earth!
But the absolute human dominion over the earth
Will be what is proclaimed today:
bringing all things of heaven and earth together
in Christ. Read more
Recently I had to work with a utility company on behalf of a woman whom our church was assisting financially. The woman was getting nowhere with the company, so I tried to help her with the process. It took eight calls to them before I could speak with a supervisor who would hear my concerns and rectify the billing problems the customer had. In the first five calls, five different customer service representatives each told me different information about how the woman’s situation.
One told me everything was paid up. Another told me that the customer had a $500 balance. Another told me they’d ask the back office to research the issue, and I could call back in 2-3 days for an answer. I did, and I was told that that timeline was wrong; it would take 5-7 days for the research to be completed. After that time had passed, I called back. That representative told me the timeline was wrong; it would take 4-6 weeks. By the time I got to the supervisor, who was very kind and understanding, I suggested to her that some training was needed to improve consistency among the representatives. She sighed and explained that in the last year, not only had they fired the original company to whom they outsourced the customer service calls and then hired a new company, the utility company had also begun to use a new computer system. Balances paid during certain months were not credited to customers’ accounts, past due and termination notices were sent out incorrectly, and the new employees didn’t have much training to handle any of it. I felt so sorry for her and said so. She said brightly, “I’ve just learned that there are never problems; there are only opportunities. And every morning I come to work, I am faced with all sorts of opportunities.” Read more
Last week, Tobias Winright reminded us that October 30th was the feast of St. Marcellus who was martyred because of his refusal to participate in the idolatry of the Roman Empire. From very early on the Church understood the importance of remembering and celebrating those who had departed to be with the Lord. However, over her two thousand year history, the Church has gathered far too many saints to give each their own feast day. Thus, while we still celebrate the most exemplary of the departed, we also set aside All Saints Day to remember the faithfulness of those every day saints who have gone before us. All Saints Day falls on the first of November, but at the level of the local church it is typically celebrated on the first Sunday of November. For this year’s celebration of All Saints the lectionary offers us a discussion of the resurrection from the Gospel of Luke. Read more
(Feast of Saint Marcellus)
This week the Jesuit Catholic magazine, America, posted video clips of US soldiers talking about conscience in the military. Pacifist and just war Christians respectively should support both conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection. While the former is legally recognized in the US at this time, the latter ought to be also, especially if such a stance is rooted in deeply held theological and philosophical beliefs and practices, too.
Thinking about this today reminded me that October 30th is the Feast of Saint Marcellus, who was martyred on this date in 298 C.E. for refusing to continue to serve in Caesar’s army. Marcellus was a centurion, or captain, in the Roman legion of Trajan, which was stationed at Tangier in North Africa at the time. During the celebration of the emperor’s birthday by the soldiers, Marcellus stood up and declared in front of the company, “I serve Jesus Christ the everlasting King.” In addition to his confession of faith, Marcellus cast aside his soldier’s belt, with its sword, and his staff, which was a sign of his authority as a centurion. “With this,” he added, “I cease to serve your emperors, and I disdain to worship your wooden and stone gods, who are deaf and dumb idols.” Read more
About 15 years ago my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend in the denomination in which we were both raised – the practice of eliminating the prayer of confession from the worship service, essentially making confession a non-practice. The reasons seemed to be caught up in the rejection of the idea of judgment and of not wanting to make people, especially seekers, feel bad. Thankfully there were other Christians that continued to steward the practice because we were in great need of it when we realized what our participation in Native Residential Schools in Canada had unleashed upon innocent children. Read more