Sunday is Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas. On that day we won’t sing: “Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping,” but songs about magi from the East bringing gifts to Jesus. Although no manger scene would be complete without these exotic strangers from afar, Matthew says that they showed up some time after the birth of Jesus, and found Joseph’s little family in a house at Bethlehem. Read more
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
There is a single light in the room, twin giraffes holding up the bulb beneath the shade. My daughters are in bed, their heads appearing from beneath the covers. I sit in an easy chair in the corner and read: “Many years ago, there was an Emperor who was so very fond of new clothes…” This classic tale, captured and known to us through Hans Christian Andersen, is the story of an Emperor who is taken in by con-artists who weave a cloth they say is visible only to the intelligent. No one can see the cloth, of course, because there is no cloth to be seen, but no one will admit it because they buy the lie and do not want to be seen as unworthy. They all keep the illusion going until one day the emperor goes parading naked through the streets, followed by his royal court holding the train of his non-existent new clothes. No one in the city will admit that they do not see the clothes until a child, in his innocence, exclaims: “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” And in that innocent exclamation the spell is broken as the people begin to say, “Listen to the voice of the child!” The Emperor, still caught up in the lie, keeps going, walking on in his underwear. Read more
Sweet little Jesus Boy —
They made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child —
Didn’t know who you was.
Didn’t know you’d come to save us, Lord;
To take our sins away.
Our eyes was blind, we couldn’t see,
We didn’t know who you was.
-Robert MacGimsey, Sweet Little Jesus Boy (1934)
One of my favorite Christmas Eve memories from childhood is sitting in the dim light of the sanctuary at my grandparent’s Methodist church in Richmond, VA. Every year the same heavy set man with the deep baritone voice would sit on a stool in the middle of the chancel area with his guitar and sing an acoustic solo of Robert MacGimsey’s 1934 Christmas tune, Sweet Little Jesus Boy.
Reading the gospel lesson for this first Sunday after Christmas this year, I’m not sure that I agree anymore. Herod, it seems, knew exactly who Jesus was…and he was afraid. Jesus, born King of the Jews, threatens this puppet king installed by Rome to maintain order in Judea. Read more
Second Sunday in Lent
For most of my life, I have been a sports fan. I will readily admit that I’ve spent far too much time watching games, reading articles and updates about my favorite players (although my means of doing so has changed dramatically—I used to watch the mailbox for the arrival of Sports Illustrated for Kids; now I simply check my Twitter feed), and listening to the so-called experts argue loudly about sports-related topics on ESPN and on various radio call-in shows.
Last week, as the professional basketball season reached its halfway point and conversation began heating up around various players’ contracts and potential trade deals, I heard a lot of discussion about a topic that I’ve probably encountered a million times but never really thought about: the “opt-out clause.” Read more
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
By any measure, the Temple Jesus and his disciples visited on their Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an impressive structure. Commissioned around 20 BCE by Herod the Great, the Roman client King of Judea, “Herod’s Temple” was on one hand a conciliatory gesture toward the priestly class and leaders of the Temple who were deeply suspicious of the king (Herod had slaughtered a number of priests when he took power not that many years earlier), and on the other hand a narcissistic monument to Herod’s ambition to be regarded among the day’s great rulers, all of whom taxed their citizens mercilessly to fund extensive, self-aggrandizing building programs.
Herod’s reconstruction of the Second Temple employed more than one thousand priests, who worked as masons and carpenters, and although the Temple proper was rebuilt in less than two years, the surrounding buildings, courtyards, and walls were not completed until nearly eighty years later. It was a massive project, occupying the entire plateau atop the Temple Mount and reflecting in its design Herod’s affinity for Hellenism.
It must have come as something of a shock, then, when Jesus told the disciples who pointed out the monstrous stones from which the buildings were constructed, “See these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Read more