But you, O Bethlehem

Readings for the Christmas Season

December 26
The second Day of Christmas

2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
…..who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
…..one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
…..from ancient days.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
…..in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
…..to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:2,4)

Advertisements

The Nativity of Our Lord

Readings for the Christmas Season

December 25
The Nativity of our Lord

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

+   +   +

Banner image for the season: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALacura2.JPG By Lacura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A doorway to light

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Sunday of the fourth week of Advent

Proverbs 8:34-35

Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord.

There are no other days in this fourth week of Advent. By evening we will be singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and lighting candles to “Silent Night”. The doorways are open. The coming one comes bringing light and life. The hope of Advent is fulfilled in the child even as it is fulfilled in our midst and will be on the day to come.

Though we focus on waiting and watching in this Advent season, the whole year is about waiting and watching. We should live expectantly. Watching to recognize the hand of God in the moments of kindness. Watching to recognize the face of the Christ in the face of those around us. Watching in confidant hope for Christ to reign in us and our world. Watching for the peace of God. Watching for joy. Watching for the light.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and bring your radiance to all creation

— The prayer for Week 4: A doorway to light

+   +   +

With you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Psalm 36:9

Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord,
the
Lord lightens my darkness.
2 Samuel 22:29

Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O
Lord, in the light of your countenance.
Psalm 89:15

Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
Isaiah 51:4

If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
Isaiah 58:10

Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet,
so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
Luke 12:36

 

That my joy may be in you

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Saturday of the third week of Advent

John 15:11

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.

When we think of Jesus we don’t think of joy. The familiar images are of his suffering. Or perhaps of him sitting on the mountain, teaching. Or perhaps of him at the Last Supper, shaped as our mental image is by Leonardo DaVinci. We don’t see the twinkle in his eye as he engages the woman at the well. We don’t see the anger at the tomb of Lazarus. We don’t see the thinly veiled hostility of his verbal combat with the Pharisees and Sadducees. We don’t see the playfulness of calling Zacchaeus down from his tree or the tenderness of his care of the woman who washed his feet with her tears.

Jesus was fully human. That’s part of the message of Christmas. Completely human. Like us, with the whole range of human emotions.

But we are not here talking about an ordinary human emotion. We are talking about a deep underlying joy rooted in the goodness of God and the knowledge that God will succeed in his project of rescuing his world. He will shoulder all the ugliness and sorrow of human existence and drag us kicking and screaming into a world of grace and life. Love can be refused, but not stopped. Light can be ignored, but not destroyed. Just as you can pick at a scab but not stop it from forming, God’s healing vibrates through all existence and will reach its goal. Sin shall not rule. The grave will not hold. The wedding will come. The blind will see. The lame will dance.

“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days,
I will pour out my spirit.”

(Joel 2:28-29)

“I have said these things to you,” says Jesus, so that such a joy may be in us.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

Living in peace, gathered in joy

Tags

, , ,

Friday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 65:8

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

I love the idea of the gateways of the morning and evening shouting for joy. The use of the word ‘gateway’ evokes for me the image of a city with the sun entering through the eastern gate in the morning and departing through the western gate at the close of day. I imagine the sun, radiant with warmth and light, traveling through the city waving benevolently at cheering crowds, its entrance and departure accompanied by choirs.

The language suggests to me a picture of the earth as a single city, the whole creation a single human community. It makes me think of the joy of a small town parade in Sonoma, California, one Fourth of July when my girls were young: a beautiful summer day, lots of energy, children everywhere in and around the parade, on decorated bicycles and dance teams, the high school marching band, and an old fire engine with the mayor atop. There must have been horses and riders, too, and clowns with candy. I may not remember it rightly, but that was certainly the character of the day.

Would that such were the reality of life in the world: a single human community living in peace, gathered in joy, greeting each day with song.

It’s a lot to read into a shaky translation. The Hebrew word isn’t the one for gates, maybe more like an ‘exit’ (e.g. Ezekiel 42:11), here referring to the going forth of the sun at dawn and sunset. But there are times that its okay to let the poetry of the Biblical text play in our hearts and minds. John’s description of the New Jerusalem is not far from this, and certainly the vision of a world from east to west blessed by the gracious ordering of God is true to the psalm. The poet never had the privilege of visiting Sonoma on parade day, but I think he or she would approve such an image of a world in its sweetness and joy.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

Mourning into dancing

Tags

, , , , ,

Thursday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 30:11

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.

I wonder whether the poet’s experience with the threat of death is about illness or an injury sustained in battle. Battle wounds were surely grave threats. In a world without antiseptics and antibiotics, even a scratch could have deadly consequences. And what surgical techniques would have been available? He was probably warned to make peace with his maker. But now he stands. He has been rescued from death’s door. God has turned his mourning into dancing.

Few of us take up swords in day-to-day life. But we all face our battles, and sometimes we come home wounded. Such injuries may not carry us down to the grave, but they can rob us of life. Words and deeds corrode our spirits, steal our peace and rob us of joy. And, sometimes, perhaps too often, it leaks out to afflict those around us.

In such times it helps us to remember that the direction the holy breath blows is from mourning into dancing. He who came to the manger also came forth from the grave and breathes his Spirit upon us.  God moves from bondage towards freedom, from death towards life, from the wilderness to the New Jerusalem.

The poet’s cry, What profit is there in my death…Will the dust praise you?” is a valuable reminder that there is yet living to do. There is kindness to be done. There is praise to be sung. There is joy to be embraced. There is dancing to be danced.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

Invited to sing

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Wednesday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 96:11-13

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
…..let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
…..Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming,
…..for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
…..and the peoples with his truth.

I love the image of the trees singing for joy. I think of a stand of aspens through which a trail passed high on Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park. Late afternoon sun shining through the leaves, bright green meadow, a view out over the Great Basin, dry and seemingly barren yet strikingly beautiful – and a slight breeze through the leaves filling the air with rich sound. “All the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

I have heard wheat fields sing, too, with a whisper of wind. I have heard the joy of mountain streams. I have heard the ocean’s faithful pounding of the rocks and watched the life of the tide pools rejuvenated with the freshly aerated sea. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice.”

And to these harmonies are the songs and cries of birds and beasts and bugs – a world vibrating with life.

According to the psalmist, the creation sings with joy because the LORD is coming to judge the earth. But the ancient poet isn’t imagining a modern jurist in his black robe weighing evidence and pronouncing a verdict. He imagines a king ruling wisely – like Solomon when the two women come before him with one dead infant and one living one. The king’s judgment restores the goodness of the world.

God is coming to restore the goodness of the world. So the creation is invited to sing. And we are invited to sing.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

Fullness of joy

Tags

, , , ,

Tuesday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 16:11

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It is hard to peer through the text of this psalm to the situation in which the poet finds himself. It begins with a cry for protection and a declaration of the author’s exclusive dedication to and trust in the LORD – unlike those who call out to others – but it turns quickly to an expression of thankfulness and confidence. Whatever fear prompted the initial cry seems long forgotten in the knowledge of God’s presence. God is his guide and counsel. God is his protection from the haunting darkness of death’s realm. God’s presence is the fullness of joy.

When our eyes are upon our troubles we are often and easily overwhelmed. When we are mindful of God’s abiding presence our troubles do not disappear, but they lose their power to drag us down into the darkness.

In God’s presence is fullness of joy, and God’s right hand – God’s power to save – is the source of unending sweetness.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

Invited to live the joy

Tags

, , , ,

Monday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 100:4

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him,
bless his name.

I remember walking through the doors of our church when I was a child. It was nothing like walking through the gates at Disneyland. The Disneyland gates were full of excitement and anticipation; we couldn’t wait for them to open. Church was just church. Of course, church was every week and Disneyland only happened very rarely.

The temple in Jerusalem would have been a rare thing for most people. It was a pilgrimage site. Most religious observance was in the home. Most religious conversation was in the community center known as synagogue. But the temple, to go to the temple would have been something special. And the choir’s call for the pilgrims to rejoice would have been like Mickey Mouse waving to an already excited crowd.

But the truth of the poet’s call remains. Whether we are entering through the gates of the temple or only imagining what it must be like, the call is to rejoice. For God is present among us. He has gathered us from the nations. He has shown his steadfast love. He has worked wonders for our deliverance. He has shown us the path of honor and compassion. He has been a light to our feet and bread for the journey. For all this, for all this plus the scarred hands and empty tomb and breath of the Spirit and the promise of the day made new, we are beckoned to lives of thankfulness and praise. We are invited to live the joy.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy

A doorway to joy

Tags

, , , , ,

Sunday of the third week of Advent

Psalm 107:15-16

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he shatters the doors of bronze,
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

The psalm sings of God’s deliverance, here the deliverance of prisoners: “Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons…” But God “brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.” It is one of the richest and most transformative of psalms, singing of an immeasurable grace that delivers all who cry out to God for help – those lost in storms at sea, those lost in desert wastes, those lost in prison. Some are in trouble because of their sins, some because of the perilous forces of nature, some by the chances of life. God delivers them all.

The psalm portrays a God who, as Mary sings, “Raises up those of low degree.” The third week of Advent is shaped by Mary’s song, the Magnificat and the ancient introit for this Sunday: Rejoice in the Lord always… Like a movie maker shifting the focus of his or her shot from the distant horizon to the foreground, our shifting gaze in this season has pulled back from the Christ who comes on the clouds at the consummation of history to the coming one heralded by John the Baptist. The God who comes to deliver his world at the end of time comes to us also in the midst of time. “He shatters the doors of bronze” to set free all who are bound. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings Mary at the wondrous work of God, and she is not alone, for God comes to save and it fills all the earth with joy.

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

— The prayer for Week 3: A doorway to joy