Friday, December 31, 2010

Radiant the New Year After Christmas Morn

Arise you burned out candles; shine forth!
The radiance of the Lord has enveloped you.
Even though darkness envelopes all creation.
Even though thick dark smothers the people.
Still the Lord will rise around and within you.
His glory will burst forth over and through you.

A world tired of living in the dark hidden corners,
will be drawn to your light for guidance and hope.
Lift up your downcast eyes to see your tribe gather.
Your lost sons will find their way back home again.
Your daughters will again be cared for and honored.

Once you were blinded by the light’s purity,
but now you can see while staring into the Son.
Once you were overshadowed and unseen,
but now the radiance escapes you as a nova.
All life’s hunger and pain shall be compensated.
All life’s worries and angst shall be removed.

The wise men shall follow the light and bring gifts.
The Queen of Sheba shall come again in homage.
All surrender their earthly power and privilege
to release the floodgates and praise the Lord.

(Adapted from Isaiah 60:1-6)


 Tiny sun hangs low
Whitely blue dunes side-wind by –
Landmarks morph and ebb.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whose Child is This? The Son of the God of Outsiders

The first called were the Shepherds, social outsiders. Then came the three wise guys, religious and political outsiders. Then over the years all kinds of riff-raff were called. The Outsiders.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory (this was during Herod's kingship) a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, "Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We're on pilgrimage to worship him."

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified - and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?" They told him, "Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It's you, Bethlehem, in Judah's land,  no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel."

Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, "Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship."

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.
(Matthew 2:1-12, The Message)

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

The inhabitants declare that in days gone by three kings of this country went to worship a new-born prophet and took with them three offerings (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) so as to discover whether this prophet was a god, or an earthly king or a healer. For they said “If he takes gold, he is an earthly king; if frankincense, a god; if myrrh, a healer.”

When they had come to the place where the prophet was born, the youngest of the three kings went in all alone to see the child. He found that he was like himself, for he seemed to be of his own age and appearance. And he came out, full of wonder. Then in went the second, who was a man of middle age. And to him also the child seemed, as it had seemed to the other, to be of his own age and appearance. And he came out quite dumbfounded. Then in went the third, who was of riper years; and to him also it happened as it had to the other two. And he came out deep in thought. When the three kings were all together, each told the others what he had seen. And they were much amazed and resolved that they would all go in together. So, in they went, all three together, and came before the child and saw him in his real likeness and of his real age; for he was only thirteen days old. Then they worshipped him, and offered him the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh. The child took all three offerings and then gave them a closed casket. And the three kings set out to return to their own country.

After they had ridden for some days, they resolved to see what the child had given them. They opened the casket and found inside it a stone. They wondered greatly what this could be. The child had given it to them to signify that they should be firm as stone in the faith that they had adopted. For, when the three kings saw that the child had taken all three offerings, they concluded that he was at once a god, and an earthly king, and a healer. And, since the child knew that the three kings believed this, he gave them the stone to signify that they should be firm and constant in their belief.
(Marco Polo’s Travel)

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heaven replies

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

And I am everywhere, because I am a ray of light whose light has shown in this world from the majesty of the Father, who has sent me to fulfill everything that was spoken about me in the entire world and in every land by unspeakable mysteries, and to accomplish the commandment of my glorious Father, who by the prophets preached about me to the contentious house, in the same way as for you, as befits your faith, it was revealed to you about me.
(Revelation of the Magi)

Who are our "outsiders" today? Who do we try to keep from God? Are we Herod?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Live in a Broken World Among Broken People

I read in my paper this morning that a Wilmette Illinois man is accused of beating his aunt to death with a baseball bat on Christmas day; a debate over donuts had escalated. She "nagged" him too much. In church I heard of a woman who was expected to die but miraculously recovered, but then her son died just a few days before Christmas. The preacher talked about Herod's massacre of the innocents and how we live in a torn wrapping-paper trash world. These stories are all the more poignant because of their timing, but really they are our everyday story. We living in a broken world.

If the Messiah was born on Christmas and the Kingdom has come, why is the world so seriously screwed up? We live in a world where power dominates: wealth; status; might; cruelty. A world where the individual has such a small feeling of self worth that they can ascribe no worth to the life of others. Beautiful women are deformed by acid for the perceived sin of pride. Our sisters and daughters are raped, burned, or mutilated by their own families in the name on honor. Children are sexualized, sold into slavery, abducted, and abused because their vulnerability is a lure to the predatory. The strong shall inherit the earth and feed on the corpses of the meek. We live among broken people.

While we argue personal holiness versus social justice, they die. While we use every ounce of our energy and resources trying to appear worthy, they are tossed on the trash-heap as worthless.  While we pray to a god of prosperity, we kill those for whom Jesus lived and died among us for. Instead of standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we stand on their cold bodies. Instead of lifting up others to stand on our shoulders, we stomp them in the throat. We are broken.

Christ comes daily into a broken world fatigued by its own brokenness, living in hopeless despair. He's on the street corner sharing a meal with us. She's in the shelter a safe place with us. They're all around us, sharing our lives and loving us in all our brokenness. We are together in communion; Christ's body broken and shared with a broken people. We are that Body, and our brokenness is our curse, our salvation, our stigmata. We are a mosaic, a beautiful picture made of broken shards. We are not worthless - we are precious sparrows. The Messiah came to share pain, not yet to remove it. I recognize the Christ in you, because I see Him in your tears.  


Monday, December 27, 2010

The Prison Pen-Pal

This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you're familiar with the part I was given in God's plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we're free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don't let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!
Ephesians 3:1-12; The Message
  • Who are my “outsiders”?
  • Does God want me to believe without question, or does He want me to understand?
  • What is my “life work”?
  • How is being struck blind by lightning a gift?
  • How little do I do because I think I’d be in over my head?
  • What troubles get me down? What troubles in my congregation get it down? In the denomination? In the universal Church?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joseph the Dreamer

After the caravan of the Magi had left their small home in Bethlehem, Joseph (like a Joseph before him) had a dream from God. “Hurry! Grab your wife and child and flee across the border. Stay there until the persecution is over.” And so they slipped away by night.

This they say was as God had said through His prophet: “Out of the land of your old captivity I have called My Son to be your liberator.”

When the ruler had learned that his intelligence operatives had failed him, he decided on a pre-emptive strike against all the children two and under in Bethlehem and its countryside. Just in case.

This they say was as God had said through His prophet: “A terrible voice could be heard in Ramah in the lands of Benjamin; a wailing and inconsolable lamentation - Benjamin’s mother weeping for her children who were no more.”

When the mass murderer died, Joseph of Egypt had another God dream. “Arise! Grab your wife and child and return home. The persecution has ended.” And so they cautiously returned to the homeland. Yet, when Joseph heard that the murderer’s son was now the ruler of Bethlehem and Judea, he lost his brave hope. So God dreamed him northward to Galilee.

There he made a home for his family and set up shop in an out-of-the-way hamlet called Nazareth.

This they say was as God had said through His prophet: “He will be considered a Nazarethan.”

(Retelling of Matthew 2:13-23)

When Joseph’s courage left him as day’s grim reality confronted his night-time dreams, God sent him a new dream to follow.  Does God dream only dreams for us that we can achieve? Does God make sure we always have a dream to grasp onto?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Once and Ever Savior

In the midst of Isaiah’s call for repentance by the exiles, he reassures the people by reminding them of God’s merciful nature as demonstrated in their history:

I will tell of the Lord’s unfailing love.
I will praise the Lord for all he has done.
I will rejoice in his great goodness to Israel,
     which he has granted according to his mercy and love.
He said, “They are my very own people.
Surely they will not betray me again.”
And he became their Savior.
In all their suffering he also suffered,
     and he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them
     through all the years.

(Isaiah 63:7-9, NLT)

This is an Emanuel message – God with us. “He also suffered.” “He personally rescued them.” He redeemed, lifted and carried. But there is a worm in this Advent message, does God use irony when He says: “Surely they will not betray me again.? This sets the tone for the next act: “But they rebelled and grieved His holy spirit…”
We do this every year. We try to adopt an Advent heart to combat a Midasmas world. We try so hard to resolve to be better in the new year. Yet the holidays never live up to their promise and after the sugar rush comes the crash. We get frustrated that the suffering has not been taken from us because we forget the promise. The promise is not that we won’t suffer – it is that God will suffer with us. It is not that when we repent we will be redeemed, but that we are redeemed out of God’s love and mercy. It is not that if we ask for help we will get it, but that He has lifted us and carried us all this time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Twelve Twenty-One

 The dark has a mass
The soul’s long night seeking dawn
December descends

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Plain Ol' Joe

This is what I know of Jesus’ birth:

A young maiden named Mary (like so many others her age) was pledged to a sound and steady man as soon as she came of age; Joseph. A building contractor during an age of empire building would be a safe provider – a good catch. While she was but betrothed and still living at home, it was learned that she was preggers. What a waste! She’d had so much to look forward too…

Now all knew that Joseph was not the child of her fiancé, so he had every legal right (and many would have said that he had every moral obligation) to stone her to death for the insult to his pride and the honor of his lineage. But Joseph loved God and people more than he loved status, so he planned to quietly end the engagement and send her away. But just when he completed forming this face-saving plan, he passed out!

While he was thus open, an angel of our Lord spoke to him. “Don’t be afraid of what others say – you are from a long line of kings. This child in her is not of some adulterous illicit union, but is of your God Himself through His Holy Spirit! She will bear The Son, and as His earthly father and caretaker, it will be up to you to name Him and so shape Him. Name Him “God is salvation” (Joshua or as they say today, Jesus), because that is what He will be for His people.”

I’m sure Joe remembered what the prophet had said: “Behold! The virgin shall conceive and bear a boy-child which shall be called 'God is with us' – Emmanuel.” Did he wonder at the name change, or was he overwhelmed by the bigger picture?

As soon as he came to, he got up and did as he was told - he finalized the transaction with the last dowry payment and took her into his home as his wife and partner. When the babe was born, father Joseph held Him with joyous love and awe as his very own and named Him for all the world to know – Jesus.

Retelling of Matthew 1:18-25