Monday, December 19, 2011

O Holy Night Luke 2:1-20

There are so many side stories told at Christmas. And many of these stories are rabbit trails. Upland bird hunters know the frustration of watching even a great dog chase down a rabbit trail rather than a pheasant. It's easy chase up the wrong trail at Christmas. Even the Gospels have stories of secondary importance.

Christmas is time to focus on what's most important. Merchants tell us the wonders of their wears. Great actors and directors tell us stories of family function and dysfunction. Even the work of biblical scholars can add the the confusion as researchers debate the historicity of the census detailed in Luke 2:1-5 and other points in the story aswell.

Luke's Christmas story tells of orders to travel. Rome wanted a Census and for Joseph and Mary that meant travel to his hometown. The Roman authorities weren't trying to build a Christmas card list. The census provided information about money and manpower for Rome's military and government. The story isn't Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, or Herod. These men of great power are only side stories. God has come to us, in the body of a little boy. This is the greatest story. Listen to the words in Luke 2:6-7 this is the story, the real trail. There's great excitement chasing a dog whose on the right trail. Stay on it, because this is the story that matters.

Amidst all the bustle God came. The process took 9 months from Annunciation to Mary(Luke 1:26-38) to the night when angels met shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8-14). The baby in the manger is the confirmation not only of what Mary heard from Gabriel (Luke 1:31-33) but of what the prophets had spoken centuries before.

Chasing after the right trail:
It was a Holy Night when God, truly great, humbled himself. He came as baby to bring peace in the midst of the world's sin and turmoil. God came in pursuit of us, hot on our trail, unexpectedly camouflaged in humility both for the lowly and for the self-exultant. Jesus came, God in flesh to actively pursue us and to bring his kingdom near to us. The shepherds went to see what had happened (Luke 2:15-19) and they left rejoicing (Luke 2:20). The Words had been confirmed.

Christmas ended and the shepherds returned to wherever and whatever they'd come from. The returned to the same work and sheep and somehow what they had seen in that night, the angels, the heavenly host, the baby, the mother and father had made it all different. May it be the same for us this Christmas. Remember Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. This is the hope and faith of the church from the days of the apostle's on. This is the central story of scripture and it is the reason we leave our Christmas celebrations to return to the same family, home, and work and somehow be different.

Christmas Blessings, John

Mary's Angelic Meeting Luke 1:26

Mary's story starts unexpectedly: an angel met her and spoke words of hope and joy.

cai`re, kecaritwmevnh, oJkuvrio" meta sou`. Luke 1:28 (NA26)

Rejoice joyfilled/gracefilled one the Lord is with you.

Mary was young, just a teenager, promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. Her life, independent of mom and dad, was just about to get underway. The older I get the younger Mary seems. Just a teenager maybe 5 or 10 years older than our oldest girls. And Mary had plans for her life just about to take shape. Marriage, a home with her husband, and maybe even a family. Then this angel appeared in her life and her plans faded away as God's plans took top priority.

The Words from God's messenger were words of comfort. Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God. It's hard not to imagine Mary's thoughts jumbling together in her head as an angel, a real honest to God messenger from heaven, spoke to her, a human being.
Wordle: Do not be afraid Luke 1:30
Fear might creep in and cause paralysis for some or maybe even most of us in this kind of situation. But for Mary through faith all this somehow made sense. In Mary's day, just as it is in our day, much, maybe even most, of God's activity goes unseen. And God had seen all of Mary's life and now was going to work in her life to do amazing things in the world.

Many women have spoken of Mary's faith and courage as the news of Jesus' coming catches them. What do you hear as you hear this story. “Such a little girl”, one woman said. “And such big news just think of it,” said another next to her, “Such faith and hope in the words of this mysterious stranger,” said a third woman. The angel spoke to Mary on God's behalf. Don't fear; you've found favor with God. And Mary met those words with faith and hope. She had found favor with God and as we see the story unfold we see her faith and hope were clear.

The angel's next words were and still are unequaled in human history. God had a plan to come into the world. Mary's life: her body from the inmost parts of her soul to the most visible parts of her whole being we part of the plan: Mary was the one who God had chosen. Mary had plans and God had new plans for her body and her son. The child she would bear and raise were God's direct way into the world. God was stepping into human history in a clearer way than he'd ever entered into our world before.

This word from the angels and this faith of Mary's is where our story as Jesus followers finds form and shape. Our story as Christians is a story of hope in the face of so many things that seem impossible. It's a story of confidence in God coming through. Our story begins with the nation of Israel and their faith. And it continues as we find confidence in God coming into our midst not through extraordinary means like arriving on a throne in the clouds but in the fleshy body body of a baby.

Without ears of faith the news she heard would have startled and maybe cause her to panic. The angel was clear “You're going to have a child, He's going to be great.” And Mary asked one simple question. “How?” “How can this be I'm a virgin.?”

Listen to Mary's question: She didn't ask why me or suggest somebody else. She only asked, “How?” By faith Mary accepted God's plan and made it her plan. And by faith the Son of God grew in her and through her life more life came into the world.

There are some parts of the human experience men don't fully and personally understand. There are some parts of the story that we only see from the outside. This dimension of Mary's story makes more sense to women than to most of us with both an x and a y chromosome. Maybe I should stop here before I get myself into trouble later for speaking about things I don't really have a clue about.

But it must be said here that there's a mysterious parts of God's plan and part of that plan is new human lives start not on their own out of nothing, but from the generosity of one human being who would give birth to another. I've seen it happen and I know its real, but I can't explain it other than to say thanks to those women who have given of themselves so fully and completely that others might have life.

Pax, John

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One who is among you John 1:6-8, 19-28

This advent I've been impressed by the role of John the Baptist in ways that I haven't been before. John's preaching has always impressed me. Listen to John's clarion call in Luke and Matthew to repent, as in Matthew 3:2, repent μετανοειτε rings out over the centuries. John's issued an order that jars and calling us back to God and away from all the lesser things we might think are so important.

Reading about the Baptist in Mark and John this Advent I'm struck not by the sharp call to repent, but by John's work making the way ready for Jesus. I've overlooked this part of John's ministry. Maybe it's not so jaring as the call the repent or so noticable. Or maybe I just need to hear John's call to repent all the more myself. Whatever the reason Johns of preparation is clear to see this year.

John was a visible witness to God in the world and all the same he knew that he was to fade away as Jesus came to the fore. The way the writer of John's Gospel tells the story Jesus was there as John preached and baptized. The religious folk came to the baptizer with intense inquiries about who he was in John 1:19. The Baptizer made it clear that he wasn't the Messiah John 1:20 but that opened up numerous other possibilites like Elijah or another prophet in John 1:21-22.

The crowd was focussed in on John and at the moment when they keyed in on him he made clear who he was, he was the voice making the way ready John 1:23-25. The surprise comes as he says,

“I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” John 1:26-28 NRSV.
John's work was ending in the moment when it was just getting off the ground. John would build no great temple to himself or for his followers. John was there to point the way and to get out of the way. Jesus was there the Good News was at hand. The surpise is that He was there, probably on the edge of the crowd and no one cuould see him. May this wonder of the incarnation, of Jesus unseen presence fill us with hope and joy and call us to repentence this Advent and Christmas.
Pax, John