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26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,Â 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virginâ€™s name was Mary.Â 28And he came to her and said, â€œGreetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.â€29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.Â 30The angel said to her, â€œDo not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.Â 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.Â 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.Â 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.â€
I say it ever year, but I’ll never get tired of this story.
How God chose this specific young woman to bear his Word made flesh to the world.
How an angel appeared–the most unexpected visitor with the most unexpected greeting for the most unexpected, unsuspecting woman.
How Mary, though perplexed (who wouldn’t be?), was willing and able to yield to God’s choosing.
38Then Mary said, â€œHere am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.â€
May I receive each of God’s surprises with as much willingness to say “let it be with me according to your word.”
17Â TheÂ Lord, your God, is in yourÂ midst, Â Â Â a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, Â Â Â he will renew youÂ in his love; he will exult over you with loudÂ singing. (Zeph 3:17)
The image of a loudly singing God has always been a favorite of mine. When I first started reading and studying the Bible, I imagined God standing over me like a parent stands over a child and sings at bedtime. For awhile that was a comforting, inspiring image to me.
But of course, the “you” is actually “y’all.” God is not rejoicing over me, but over “us,” and in this case, the first “us” were the wayward people of Judah before they were exiled. Zephaniah is ending his book with a reminder that God’s judgement against them will not result in a nullification of the covenant God made with their ancestors long ago, and that God would bring them back, rejoicing, renewing, and singing.
We can do a lot of theological damage when we insist on making scripture (and church and faith and etc.) about God and me, rather than about God and all of us (through the ages and in all the places). God didn’t start by calling me. God started long before that, calling people to him and back to him, and now I’m included in this calling, kneeling with saints and gleaning the knowledge of the wise who have studied God’s word longer than I’ve lived.
The hymnal in my hand is “the red one.” (That’s what we call it in the biz. “What hymnal does your church use?” “The blue one” or “the new one” or “we still have the red one.” For those wondering, Peace has both red and blue.)
My favorite hymn in the red hymnal is a Christmas hymn. Since I was a little girl at the First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville, Indiana, I have loved singing “And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing; for the manger at Bethlehem cradles a king!” It was in that church I first learned to love to sing, and learned how to turn the pages of the hymnal (we had the red hymnal when I was little; the blue hymnal when I was older). It was there I first heard the stories of our faith, told to children with red punch mustaches by sage Sunday School teachers. I did not come to this faith or this place on my own and I do not stand here alone.
We are in this together. Us.
And as we find our way together, may we find renewing in God’s love and may we join God in the loud singing as we all make our way home.
There, I said it. As much as I try to have compassion and grace and mercy, I often do not have enough, running out as situations become more complicated, as relationships become much harder, as I become hungry or sleepy or weary of doing good.
I hope I am growing in this. Both in having compassion that endures, and in being wise about how to best approach a complicated situation or relationship.
What astounds and amazes me is the vastness of God’s compassion, mercy, love, patience, and goodness. When I want to set limits and ask God to be reasonable, I’m reminded that God is not limited or reasonable.
3Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
4One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
7They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9TheÂ LordÂ is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The photo above was taken in the sanctuary at Peace Presbyterian Church. Yesterday, we collected the hygiene kits (wrapped in bath towels) made by members of the church for folks in our community who may need them.
A condition of humanity is this: we rarely know what is best just by looking at what we can see with our eyes.
Ever pick a beautiful apple from the bowl only to find that it’s rotten inside?
Ever select the book with the most interesting cover only to find that it’s not anything that interests you?
Ever choose a friend/lab partner/hairstylist/spin instructor based on nice appearance, only to find out that…well, it just wasn’t a good choice?
Yep, me too! It’s what we do–and we try to learn, and we do learn, and we even say things like, “You can’t choose a book by its cover!” But we still sometimes choose our books by the cover
Jesus did not look like a savior. He did not look like a King. His “good news” did not sound all that great. As a teacher, the students he gathered were a bit too rugged and not very scholarly. Even his death was embarrassing and pedestrian.
Who would choose him?
Jesus said to them, â€œHave you never read in the scriptures: â€˜The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lordâ€™s doing, and it is amazing in our eyesâ€™? Matthew 21:42
In seminary, I learned the word anamanesis (á¼€Î½Î¬Î¼Î½Î·ÏƒÎ¹Ï‚). This Greek word means “remembrance,” and when using it to talk about communion, or the eucharist, it is an action word.
When we “do this in remembrance” of Christ, we aren’t just remembering Jesus and who he was. It’s not, “oh these are nice memories we have of our loved one.” We are actively recalling what Jesus did and what he taught us to do, we are re-membering ourselves with the Body of Christ, and we are remembering everything that is promised in the receiving of the eucharistic feast. We remember being at the Table with Christ, even as we are at the Table with Christ, and even as we remember that we will once again be at the Table with Christ in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again,” ministers say with the bread and the cup aloft.
It’s the kind of remembering the author of 2 Peter had in mind when he wrote:
12Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, â€œThis is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.â€ 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:12-19)
In the sacraments, we remember the teaching and actions of Christ like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in [our] hearts.”
May the peace of Christ be with you today.
(I know, I didn’t actually take this photo, and I know, I usually try to use a photo I took specifically for the word. I did take a photo, but once I read the scripture, I knew I wanted to write about communion so I used the photo Bill took on Sunday.)
As I pondered “power” yesterday, I thought about all the ways the Holy Spirit inspires, protects, enlightens, and empowers me to live a faithful life.
The power comes from one source and then “flows” in many directions for many purposes.
Yesterday, I identified with this messy power strip, to be honest. On Sundays (and every day) I depend on God’s power to sustain me through the miracles and the mess. I trust that what the Holy Spirit has taught me in the last week will “flow” from me so that the congregation may participate in that power too. I expect that the same Spirit will inspire my prayers and words. I hope that God’s power will give me the enough grace to handle all the unexpected situations. As I lead worship, pray for folks, do unexpected administrative tasks, hold and shake hands, offer peace, and preach God’s Word, I know the faith-goodness-knowledge-self control-endurance-godliness-mutual affection-love FLOW is at work.
3 [God’s] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature. 5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 2:3-9)
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Merry Christmas! You are a beloved child of God. Today we celebrate Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” On this day, we celebrate that God’s great love for the people created in his image that compelled God to become flesh and dwell among us, becoming intimately acquainted with our humanity.
God as a tiny baby, cared for by his parents, visited and cooed over by relatives and strangers.
God as an infant on his naming day, presented at the Temple, blessed by Anna and Simeon.
God as an infant, becoming a refugee with his parents, seeking asylum in neighboring Egypt when it was too dangerous to stay in his homeland.
God, so fragile, defenseless, and weak, as vulnerable as humans ever are.
In this week when we have begun to welcome the light back, as the days begin to grow longer, we’ve also had a full moon.
In this time, we celebrate the Light shining in the darkness.
Today, I hope you will find a moment or two to greet this Light and reflect on the fullness of grace and truth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fatherâ€™s only son,* full of grace and truth.
Lift up your mugs, ye patient, possibly tired, preachers and disciples of Jesus, winding down the Advent season and preparing for the celebration of Christmas. And be lifted up, ye ever flowing caffeine rich substances.
The King of Glory comes. The King of Glory comes, whether we get it all done, whether we think we’ve been devoted and faithful, whether we’re well practiced in the disciplines of discipleship or whether we haphazardly joined in whenever we remembered to make time.
May you have a blessed fourth Sunday of Advent.
1 The earth is the Lordâ€™s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; 2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. 5 They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. 6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.*
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.
I loved stained glass. Stained glass windows are beautiful creations, each one unique, but you never know how beautiful and unique one is until light shines through it. In churches, stained glass always looks so different at night, when there is no sun shining through the glass. But during the day, say at 11 am on a sunny Sunday, the light shines through and bounces color all around (science!).
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Maryâ€™s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, â€˜Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.â€™
Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit, shines the light of God on Mary, anointing her with the word “blessed.”
This is no ordinary young woman, after all, but one who is blessed among women and carrying a baby who is blessed and will be a blessing for the whole earth.
And then Mary, filled now with the light of the Holy Spirit, sings a song that defines (maybe redefines?) “blessing.”
46 And Mary* said, â€˜My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.â€™
Blessing as a rejoicing spirit.
Blessing as favored lowliness.
Blessing as scattered pride.
Blessing as bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly.
Blessing as the hungry filled up while the rich are emptied.
Light illuminating the barrier between God and humanity like never before, shattering the opaque glass, scattering light, and revealing new colors as promises are fulfilled in unexpected ways. Light exposing blessedness and comforting those who are weary from a long journey. Light that reveals beauty we might have missed had the sun not shone through.
May you be blessed by mystery and light on this day.
As I was thinking about this word, and wondering what I wrote about it before, I stumbled upon this, written in 2011 and featuring a photo of Presbyterian Church of Henderson’s stained glass window (and one woman offering a blessing to another).