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

Jesus and John the Baptist

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

Hickory Tree

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

romero

A Multitude of Ruptures

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:46-55

“A Christian’s authenticity is shown in the difficult hours…. And by difficult hour, I mean those circumstances in which following the gospel supposes a multitude of ruptures with the tranquility of an order that has been set up against or apart from the gospel.”
- Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

The word “preachy” has never been a complimentary term, even less so these days. The ministers rightly highlighted in the national news who have been doing their vital and admirable work are described as “compassionate, not preachy.” Those of us who not only have to preach but believe we should preach have been faced with how in God’s name do we preach the last two Sundays of Advent 2012, and how to do so in such a way in which compassion and preaching are not pitted against each other. Read more

rose petals

This is Good News?

The Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Isaiah 12:2-6
Luke 3:7-18

Gaudete in domini semper.

These words from this week’s lectionary epistle are also the text of the introit of the mass for the third Sunday of Advent. Thus on Gaudete Sunday, when Advent’s sober mood is broken a little and the pink candle on the wreath is lit, we remember that we are invited to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

These words are so familiar that perhaps we have lost the sense of irony in saying or singing them during a season and on a day when much of what we recall is rooted in scandal and gloom: the disgrace of pregnancy outside of wedlock in a strict patriarchal culture and John the Baptizer’s wide-eyed, fiery condemnations.

James Wright‘s poem, “Trouble,” evokes the first (while it also subverts, as do the gospel accounts of Mary, the social norms surrounding teenage motherhood) : Read more