Inhabiting a Politics of Faithfulness

First Sunday after Christmas Day

Matthew 2:13-23

Christmas Eve, we huddled up in a back parking lot in Houston’s east downtown warehouse district, our congregation pushed out into the night by a blown transformer in the space we rent an hour before the service. As we made a semi-circle lit up by headlights and the Christ candle, a child lay belly down on the asphalt, coloring in his coloring book as if it were any other Sunday morning. We sang through all the carols in our bulletins as a makeshift liturgy, while a hundred yards or so away was a large homeless encampment under an I-10 overpass. We said our closing prayer over the rumble of a large freight train before sending folks to their homes.

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Henry Vaughan – Christ’s Nativity – Lectionary Poem for Advent 4A

With the dawn of a new church year, The Englewood Review of Books is curating a weekly series of classic and contemporary poems that resonate with the themes of the lectionary readings. Here is one of the poems for this coming Sunday (Advent week 4– More poems for this Sunday can be found here)

 

Christ’s Nativity
(to accompany the lectionary reading: Matt. 1:18-25)

Henry Vaughan

 

AWAKE, glad heart ! Get up, and sing !

It is the birthday of thy King.

        Awake ! awake !

        The sun doth shake

Light from his locks, and all the way

Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.

 

Awake, awake !  hark how th’ wood rings,

Winds whisper, and the busy springs

        A consort make ;

        Awake ! awake !

Man is their high-priest, and should rise

To offer up the sacrifice.

 

I would I were some bird, or star,

Flutt’ring in woods, or lifted far

        Above this inn

        And road of sin !

Then either star, or bird, should be

Shining, or singing still, to Thee.

 

I would I had in my best part

Fit rooms for Thee !  or that my heart

        Were so clean as

        Thy manger was !

But I am all filth, and obscene ;

Yet if Thou wilt, Thou canst make clean.

 

Sweet Jesu !  will then ; let no more

This leper haunt, and soil Thy door !

        Cure him, ease him,

        O release him !

And let once more, by mystic birth,

The Lord of life be borne in Earth.

 


Henry Vaughan (1621 – 1695) was a Welsh metaphysical poet, author, translator and physician, who wrote in English. 

Birth at Mount Gilboa

Third Sunday of Advent

 

 

 

Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146:5-10

Luke 1:46b-55

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

Have you ever smelled a railroad tie burning?  Picture hot asphalt, Marlboro Reds, and a touch of polecat rolled up together and you’ll just about have it. It’s one thing to get a whiff of, passing by with your windows down in July. It’s another thing altogether to have to breathe it day in and day out on your back porch under a thickened December sky.

Companies that want to produce energy on the cheap and make a good profit by doing it realize that it’s in their best interest to build their plants way out where “those rednecks” don’t have the infrastructure or capital to resist them. At the far edge of a big open field about a mile from where my husband pastors in Colbert, Georgia, an outsized box glows and pumps smoke 300 feet in the sky. Last year this biomass power plant quietly switched over from burning wood chips to creosote soaked railroad ties. At a similar plant right up the road, the creosote was only a gateway drug before burning used motor oil. And it’s not just the air here that’s a commodity. The chicken factories have started leasing land from ex-farmers to bury their beaks and byproducts six inches out of sight but not near deep enough to hide the stench they give off. Read more

Gerard Manley Hopkins – Patience, Hard Thing! – Lectionary Poem for Advent 3A

With the dawn of a new church year, The Englewood Review of Books is curating a weekly series of classic and contemporary poems that resonate with the themes of the lectionary readings. Here is one of the poems for this coming Sunday (Advent week 3 – More poems for this Sunday can be found here)

 

Patience, hard thing!

Gerard Manley Hopkins

to accompany the lectionary reading: James 5:7-10

Also pairs well with Wendell Berry’s poem, Whatever is Foreseen in Joy

 

PATIENCE, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,           

But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks          

Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;    

To do without, take tosses, and obey.    

  Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,       

Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks    

Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks       

Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.      

 

  We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills             

To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills           

Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.          

  And where is he who more and more distils     

Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills

His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

 


Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. ( 28 July 1844 – 8 June 1889) was an English poet and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets.

Malcolm Guite – St. John the Baptist 1 – Lectionary Poem for Advent 2A

With the dawn of a new church year, The Englewood Review of Books is curating a weekly series of classic and contemporary poems that resonate with the themes of the lectionary readings. Here is one of the poems for this coming Sunday (Advent week 2 – More poems for this Sunday can be found here)

 

St. John the Baptist 1
St. John’s Eve

(to accompany the lectionary reading: Matt. 3:1-12)

Malcolm Guite

Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill

Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:

‘He must increase and I diminish still,

Until his sun illuminates my night.’

So John the Baptist pioneers our path,

Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,

Unlatches the last doorway into faith,

And makes one inner space an everywhere.

Least of the new and greatest of the old,

Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,

He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold

The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”

So keep his fires burning through this night,

Beacons and gateways for the child of light.

 

— Reprinted here with the permission of the poet.
 This poem (and another St. John the Baptist sonnet) can be found on
Malcolm Guite’s blog
They also  can be found in his book:  
Sounding the Seasons: 70 Sonnets for the Christian Year


Malcolm Guite
is a poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge. He performs as a singer and guitarist fronting the Cambridgeshire-based blues, rhythm and blues, and rock band “Mystery Train”.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

 

 

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11: 1-10

Matthew 3: 1-12

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” wild John the Baptist instructs us on this second Sunday of Advent. Yes, in Advent. It might seem rather bewildering to be confronted by John in this season of expectant waiting for the arrival of Christmas, but I have grown to love his passionate presence here.

John is here in Advent to remind us of the One for whom we wait. The One who we have found incarnates Israel’s long yearning for a righteous and trustworthy Judge, who decides with equity for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:4b). The shoot from the stump of Jesse, whose sandals John is unworthy to carry, who carries with him a baptism of purifying fire and of the Holy Spirit. The One full of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—of what God loves, what God abhors, what God delights in, what makes God grieve.

John is here in Advent to command us to make straight the paths to our hearts and our lives. Turning these to God allows Christ to transform us, for the sake of the world God so loves, making all things new. We are called to bear the fruit worthy of this turning and transformation—generosity, humility, mercy, hope, steadfast love.

John is here in Advent to prepare us for Christ Jesus’ return, when there will be no more hurting or destruction. When the delightful vision of Isaiah 11:6-8 will come to pass: the lamb will fearlessly host the wolf as a roommate; the baby goat and leopard will have a sleepover; the calf, lion, and fatling will be best friends, and a little child will safely lead the motley crew. This is where God is taking us. Survival of the fittest is not the innovation or intention of God. And Jesus has shown us that not even death will stop God from bringing to fruition what God does intend.

Advent’s heightened emphasis on the expected return of Jesus re-energized this season, and the one that follows, for me as an adult. We are caught up in the adventure of what God is up to in Christ as we await his assured return in glory. How exciting!

 

Walking in the Light of the Lord

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

There is a moment before the sun rises when, even though it is still dark, you sense the coming dawn. It is so close that you can feel the new day’s sun bathing the terrain with light. It is so close that your anticipation causes you to scan the horizon for the first thread of light, but it is not here yet. So you wait. You wait for the day to arrive. This is what the experience of Advent is all about, as we can see in our lectionary readings for this week.

We might imagine what this waiting looks like – perhaps sitting on the porch or in your car – staring into the abyss of the last remnant of the night. It is true that Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation, but the images presented to us in these texts are far from motionless, as though we can do nothing but sit in the darkness, something akin to a waiting room at a doctor’s office. Instead, we find these lessons to be full of movement. The vision in Isaiah speaks of a time when Israel and the nations will travel to the mountain of the Lord (2:2-3). This is echoed in Psalm 122, a psalm of ascent sung on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In response to this movement of peoples, instruction and the word of the Lord will go forth (Isaiah 2:3). Romans 13 also draws on the theme of journeying by exhorting readers to “live [literally, walk] honorably” (13:13). This time of waiting is certainly one of expectation, but also one of motion.

In the anticipation ahead of dawn, we become keenly aware of the pervasive darkness that surrounds us, the shroud that will flee when the light finally arrives. Likewise, our Advent anticipation is set in sharp contrast with the characteristics of the world that surrounds us. The Romans text names some of this darkness, and Isaiah mentions the proliferation of swords and spears. Last week, while in Nagasaki, Pope Francis once again called for the abolition of nuclear weapons and decried their capabilities not only for physical destruction but also for cultivating distrust between different countries and peoples.

That war, violence, and animosity grip our world is no secret; we are confronted by this reality every day in the news and even in our communities. That they are tied to the vision of Advent is perhaps a bit more surprising. As the word of the Lord goes forth from Jerusalem, the people repurpose their swords and spears for creative uses within a renewed cosmos. The divisions brought about by hatred and violence are reconciled so that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). A new reality of peace spreads over the land. As a result, Advent enables us to exercise judgment or discernment about the world around us and to see this darkness in a new way, as the penultimate reality that will soon give way.

Paul tells us “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Romans 13:11). The “now” in focus here is not the result of the clock or calendar changing. Hence, day-and-hour speculation is useless (Matthew 24:36, 44). However, something has changed; the winds have shifted, and something new is emerging. The night will not last forever; the day is coming, and it is very close. In fact, the approaching day brings us closer to the fullness of our salvation.

This moves us to hope – the primary focus of Advent, especially on its first Sunday. As we liturgically anticipate the coming of the Christ child, so too we hope for the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. To live into this hope, however, requires that we keep awake (Matthew 24:42). Otherwise, we will miss the approaching dawn. Even so, this wakefulness is not a static activity either.

We begin Advent journeying toward God’s city. Throughout the Christian tradition, Jerusalem has signified the eschatological destination of the pilgrim church. Here it is no different. Jerusalem, “built as a city that is firmly bound together,” underscores the role of the whole community of the people of God in this hopeful vision. Indeed, we do not walk alone. So let us eagerly await the sunrise and clothe ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14), all the while remembering Isaiah’s encouragement to “walk in the light of the Lord!” (2:5).

Photo Credit: Go Placidly Amidst the Noise and Haste

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Haggai 1:15b-2:9 OR Job 19:23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Mrs. Obrien: I just want to die, to be with him.
Preacher: He’s in God’s hands now.
Mrs. Obrien: He was in God’s hands the whole time. Wasn’t he?

From Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

As the liturgical year draws to its close, the lectionary readings make an eschatological turn, looking ahead to our own end and of things as we know them. It’s a shift in tone that flows seamlessly into Advent, where the church learns once again how to live as Jews, suspended between a ruin and a hope. Signs of ruin are everywhere: a planet we’re quickly making uninhabitable, collapsing world order, a country too divided by corrosive political rhetoric to reckon with pressing fundamentals, churches reeling from self-inflicted humiliations. Amid the rubble of a world plundered and a church betrayed from within, hope can grow hollow and brittle, like dry stems in autumn. What’s to become of our planet, our country, our church, ourselves?

In the fall, the season sharing its name with humanity’s turning away from God, such thoughts may arise simply from observing the natural world’s dying back in anticipation of winter. Sometimes we require some rather more direct reminder. During the now abandoned coronation ceremony for newly elected popes, the master of ceremonies would stop the procession three times to set alight a strip of flax. As the fabric burned into smoke and nothingness, he would address the new pope in a loud voice, saying, “Sic transit Gloria mundi,” (“Thus passes the glory of the world”), reminding him of his mortality and the evanescence of earthly power. Read more