planet earth

Loving the World

Fourth Sunday of Lent

John 3:14-21

Likely the most well known verse in the entire Bible is John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life (which is the way I memorized it in the King James version).

In the Texas Baptist life in which I grew up this was the essence of the gospel or as old Luther said a few centuries earlier, it’s the gospel in miniature. Along with the entire story of Nicodemus secretly coming to Jesus during the night and being told earlier in the conversation that he must be born again, this was our canon within the canon and it interpreted everything else. To this day in most Baptist churches in my part of the world I can stand up in the pulpit and say, “For God so loved” and the entire congregation will respond reciting the rest of the verse from memory.

Unfortunately, for most of us so formed by this understanding of the gospel, it has reinforced our Gnosticism. Read more

Body Matters

Second Sunday of Christmas
Solemnity of the Epiphany

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:1-18


“The Word became flesh and lived among us…”

The deepest of human hopes has taken body, form: there is skin on God. Soft tissues wrap bone, the divine bound willingly in the swaddling clothes of human substance, fibered all through with yearning and will. The creator inhabits created form. There is no room for metaphor here; flesh on God is no parable, no allegory. Make no mistake: this is body, like yours, like mine, mystery as intimate as your own face.

What difference does it make for flesh to mean flesh? How much would it matter if the scriptures said instead, “the Word became soul and lived among us?” Is an enfleshed God just a magnanimous detail for the sake of good story? Read more

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

To ponder in our hearts

Numbers 6: 22-27
Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

Caro cardo salutis
(The body is the hinge of salvation)
– Tertullian

The tragically divided trinitarian churches find it difficult to definitively name this Sunday. The Orthodox, as well as some Anglican and Lutheran churches, celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision. So did Catholics until the 1960s, when the day transformed into the Octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Those using the Revised Common Lectionary celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus or the First Sunday after Christmas Day.

Perhaps the kindest way to understand this confusion is that the mystery of the Incarnation is far too vast for human comprehension. After celebrating, as best we can, its totality on Christmas Day, we who stand on this side of the grave enter the abyssal mystery further only through glimpses and reflections, hoping not to absolutize any partial vision, lest we fall into heresy, from the Greek, hairesis, “a choice.”

All these glimpses lead into a paradox that borders on the monstrous: that the Creator of the Universe enters into Creation as a one of us, decisively bridging the gap between spirit and matter we so desperately struggle to maintain. The fulcrum upon which this mystery pivots is the body, and the visions celebrated on this day all emphasize that saving carnality. Read more

The Logic of the Incarnation

Christmas

Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-14

“The Ancient of Days has become an infant.”
John Chrysostom, 4th century

On Christmas Eve we read Luke’s dramatic account of the birth of Jesus. On the first Sunday of Christmas (or, as it happens this year, Christmas Day) we read the prologue from John’s gospel. At first glance these texts seem to offer two very different perspectives on the coming of Christ into our world: Luke’s is earthy and political, conveying the historical contingencies (and palpable dangers) that attended the first Advent; John’s is meditative and philosophical, written in academic Greek, locating the “Word made flesh” not in the provincial politics of first-century Palestine but boldly and unapologetically in the sweeping history of the cosmos.

But despite the differences there is, I suggest, an affinity, a necessary and even urgent correspondence, between these two traditional Christmas narratives. And perhaps especially this year, as liturgically we read and hear them only hours apart, this affinity is worthy of deeper exploration.

In Luke, we glimpse what the tyranny of the imperium romanum meant for its subjects, especially those on the margins of empire geographically, ethnically, and religiously. In verses 1 through 5 it is clear that the events leading up to Jesus’ birth were no picnic – nothing like the familiar, beatific stuff of greeting-card sentimentality. Rather, despots and oligarchs populate the scene and the treacherous journey to the stable – labor pains upon labor pains – includes refugees on the run, authorities asking for papers, and risky border crossings.

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