Searching for Jesus

“Searching for Jesus”

Luke 2-48 boy-jesus-in-the-temple-with-rabbis

Luke 2:41-52 (2:51) – December 30, 2018

Have you ever lost a child? Or a grandchild? I have, briefly. What a nightmare for a parent or grandparent. I remember how worried I was, and how I called and called for my oldest daughter. That is the situation we see in our Gospel reading this morning from Luke 2. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic and fear when they suddenly realize their son had disappeared from their large group of relatives and friends from Nazareth?

I remember how frightened I was when I searched for my child, and I just searched for my four-year old daughter for five minutes in a department store. I cannot even imagine how shocked and terrified Mary and Joseph were, when they finally figured out that Jesus had not even started out with His family in the morning, leaving Jerusalem.

Let us consider what we know from the Gospels. We know a lot about the time right before and after Jesus was born. Luke tells us a lot, in the first and second chapters of his Gospel record. We can assume he interviewed Jesus’s mother Mary herself. (Otherwise, how on earth would he know certain intimate details about Mary’s pregnancy and birth?)

Also, the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew lets us in on Joseph’s side of the birth narrative. We find out that Joseph also had a visit from an angel, to let him know the particulars about the Child his fiancée was carrying. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us of the visit from the wise men, or Magi, that we will hear about next week. But, what else do the Gospels tell about the child Jesus, or the teenager Jesus? Other than this narrative from Luke 2, absolutely nothing.

In such an age of constant, 24/7 news and endless information through the computer and other media such as we live in right now, this lack of biblical information might amaze us. However we might feel about it, this Gospel reading today is the only snapshot we get of Jesus between the time He was a toddler and the time of His baptism, at 30 years old. What can we learn from this narrative? Can we search out some message, some meaning for us today?

We begin with Mary and Joseph. As Luke relates, after searching throughout their caravan of relatives and friends on the way back from Jerusalem, after the Passover celebration, Mary and Joseph cannot find their son. So, they quickly return to the capital city, to Jerusalem, to do more searching.

The Gospel tells us they spent three days looking for Jesus. Not three hours, but three whole days. What a predicament! What an emotional impact this must have had on His parents. Jesus was twelve years old. I realize that we are talking about a different time and a different culture, but, still. Mary and Joseph must have been beyond frantic.

Have you ever been frustrated, or frantic beyond belief, and really wanted to have God step in and take charge? And, it seemed that God just did not show up? I remember searching for God several times in my twenties and thirties, when I was in several continuing predicaments. I couldn’t seem to find God, when I needed God the most. Several times, I distinctly remember searching for Jesus, even crying out to Him for help. And, I had difficulty finding Him.

Have you ever searched for Jesus, and He just could not be found? That was what happened to Mary and Joseph when they searched Jerusalem diligently for three whole days. No sign of Jesus.

Let us continue with today’s reading from Luke, starting at verse 46: “46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” After searching in all different places, Mary and Joseph finally track Jesus down. They find Him at the Temple, talking with the most knowledgeable teachers of the Bible, and asking them questions. I suspect Jesus also was trained well in the traditions and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, so He probably was involved in high-level discussion, too.

When Mary and Joseph finally find their son, Mary takes the lead: “48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” As we can see, Mary and Joseph love Jesus very much, and are very concerned and fearful about Him. “Yes, it’s great that he is alive, and yes, it’s good to see him sitting with teachers and discussing religious matters, but why should they reward disobedience to their parental authority?” [1]

Let’s look at this situation from Jesus’s point of view. He was obviously learning and stretching his quickly-maturing mind. Some theologians and bible teachers do not care for this, because they want Jesus to have all the answers—even at twelve years old. “For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor’” Dr. Irving Cotto says about Jesus: “so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.” [2]

As we puzzle through this Gospel reading this morning, I wonder. Was the young Jesus searching out parts of His own overarching story? We can see Him having unusual depth and insight for one just on the brink of teenager-hood. Were we—from our vantage point and viewpoint of almost 2000 years, also searching for Jesus? Wondering where and when He would show up? When Jesus is found in the Temple, are we surprised, too?

Jesus has the last word in today’s reading. “49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Perhaps Mary, to her credit, treasures the story because she does not yet understand. From Gabriel’s initial message through the shepherds tracking her down in Bethle­hem, astounding events have been buffeting her world. Now she has a rebuke from her son to wrestle with. She’s honest enough to know she’s got some further thinking to do.” [3]

Are we honest enough to wrestle with this reading? Yes, there are things of historical and cultural interest here, but if we focus on that, we miss the point. Jesus looks at us and asks us, “What are you searching for?” When believers get too comfortable with Jesus, He goes beyond what is our comfort level. Jesus reorders expectations and society’s norms. Jesus turns everything upside down and surprises everyone—in the first century as well as the twenty-first.

What kind of message does He have for us? This reading is a reminder that like Jesus, “we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business. As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.” [4]

Please God, we are searching for Jesus, too. Will we find Him, today?

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/advent-christmas-epiphany-2018-19-worship-planning-series/december-30-first-sunday-after-christmas-year-c/first-sunday-after-christmas-day-2018-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

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What Christmas Is All About

“What Christmas Is All About”

Chilean nativity scene, 1955.

John 1:1-4, 9-14 (1:14) – December 24, 2018

Christmas expectations can be wonderful. When we think of small—even middle-sized—children, they can be all wide-eyed and filled with amazement at the sense of wonder found in Christmas. That sense of wonder goes away somewhat as children get older, but then their expectations change, too. As people shift into adulthood, parenthood, and even grandparenthood, their Christmas expectations can shift even more.

What are your expectations of Christmas, this year?

I noted in one of my Advent sermons several weeks ago that December 9th was the 53rd anniversary of the first showing of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” Over fifty years of this Christmas special has certainly affected how people in the United States view Christmas.

I wonder—how do we view Christmas? How are our expectations affected?

If we consider the people in and around Bethlehem on that first Christmas eve, there was a lot of hustle and bustle, a good deal of coming and going. The little town of Bethlehem was certainly a popular place, especially since the Roman law had been in effect for a while. Many descendants of King David needed to return to Bethlehem and register with the Roman government. We all know that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, and that was why he was there.

We have heard about the shepherds, who were the first to receive God’s super-special birth announcement. They not only came to see the newborn King in a manger themselves, but they also alerted the whole town to the new birth, too. I suspect a goodly number of the people in Bethlehem had at least heard about the birth of a possible Messiah, by the time the shepherds were finished.

I wonder—what were their expectations, that first Christmas Eve?

We have the main players, Joseph himself, and Mary, his fiancée. The Holy Family. When the baby Jesus was born and the shepherds—and some others—showed up, I suspect Mary and Joseph were a bit perplexed at all the attention their Child was getting. What’s more, Dr. Luke records Mary treasuring up all these events in her heart, and reflecting upon them from time to time in the years to come.

I wonder—what were Joseph’s and Mary’s expectations from that first Christmas eve?

We shift from the common, ordinary smell of farm animals and the baby Jesus lying in a manger bed that Dr. Luke relates in the second chapter of his Gospel, to quite another scene. We shift to the first chapter of the Gospel of John. We shift from the warm, homey scene of a blessed Mother rocking her Baby to the time eternal before the heavens and earth began.

What kinds of expectations do we have from this particular retelling of the Gospel story, found in John, chapter 1? These verses, this retelling of the entrance into this world of the Messiah, goes like this: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”

Expectations of such cosmic significance! We go from the intimate, everyday retelling of Luke to the universal, cosmic retelling of John. Mind-blowing, to be sure. Most of the time, I cannot even begin to get my head around this eternal perspective.

The Apostle John was a mystic, a contemplative, and probably the least worldly of any of the disciples. It shows, in his writings. Yet, the beginning of John’s Gospel is a necessary part of the Nativity story. This cosmic retelling lets us know that Jesus broke into this world not only as a helpless Baby born in Bethlehem, but also as the pre-Incarnate Son, eternal from the time before the universe began, and eternal, to the time after the heavens and the worlds in the universe have all passed away.

One of my favorite expressions is “both/and.” I am uncomfortable with “either/or.” I do not like “black/white.” I much prefer “both/and.” Not either this, or that. Not either the Luke 2 Nativity, or the John 1 Prologue. But, both/and. Luke tells us of the very relate-able pregnant teenage mother, having her baby at a very inconvenient time. And at the same time, John tells us of the cosmic Christ, the Word, the One who spoke the universe into being at the beginning of all things. We have both. Often, too much for our puny human brains to grasp, but true, all the same.

What kind of expectations do we have from John’s cosmic retelling of the Nativity, in John chapter 1?

Let us draw closer in to the familiar Christmas story. Charlie Brown’s Christmas story. As with any cartoon, we need a villain. The villain in this cartoon special is no personification, no Abominable Snowman or Grinch, but instead the commercialization of Christmas. This is what is causing such angst and despair to Charlie Brown.

What does make Christmas? What kinds of expectations does Charlie Brown have?

Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown at the Christmas pageant rehearsal. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then recounts the Nativity narrative from Luke 2. Except—the blessed truth doesn’t penetrate into Charlie Brown’s head. Yet.

These whole four weeks of Advent we have been retelling the Nativity narrative from Luke, in anticipation of this very night. We have been singing the songs, and lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, all in preparation for this main event.

An Episcopal minister, the Rev. John Holton from Connecticut, uses this same Christmas special to relate the Nativity narrative. He says, “The good feeling, that warm fuzzy feeling I get watching A Charlie Brown Christmas is, at its core, a feeling of hope that even I could be loved.  The hope—the knowledge—that God who sees even our unloveliness loves us fully.  Loves us so much that God comes to be among us.  As one of us.  That God won’t let us go.” [1] Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

This is a gift that cuts through the commercialization of Christmas. Caring, compassion, and love for one another.

We can thank the Lord for God’s greatest gift, the gift to each of us of God’s Son, of God’s Love. And, we have the opportunity to bring glad tidings to all people right now, to people aching to hear of God’s love for them, for us, for all the world.

Won’t you share your expectation of Christmas with someone, tonight? Won’t you share God’s love with someone, today?

[1] http://www.christchurchnh.org/sermon/2017/12/28/thats-what-christmas-is-all-about-charlie-brown

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

“Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

Shepherds, Annunciation, Oxford Bodlean Library

Luke 2:8-20 (2:8) – December 23, 2018

Birth announcements are often greeted with great excitement and joy. In the United States, they can be detailed and specific, with details like the time of delivery, the sex and the weight of the baby, and of course, the name of the new child. The new parents are so proud of their new bundle of joy, and the new grandparents often show everyone the latest photos of their new grandchild, sometimes before the baby is one hour old.

Nothing is new about babies being born. As long as humans have been on earth, babies have been born. As the old saying goes, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should continue.” One particular, super-special birth announcement happened one night, two thousand years ago. Not with fancy paper, balloons, or glitter, but with something a lot more special.

We need to back up a bit. We all are familiar with the basic details of the Christmas story. Since the Roman Empire wanted to discover exactly how many people they had living in all the provinces and regions of their vast empire, a law was passed that said every adult male needed to go to their ancestral town to register, or report. So, Joseph, descendent of King David, needed to go to David’s home town, Bethlehem, to report in.

Except, Joseph and Mary find themselves on the road at an awkward time. Not only were there lots of other people traveling to their ancestral towns, but added to that, Mary was greatly pregnant. So pregnant, in fact, that soon after she arrived in Bethlehem she went into labor. Mary delivered a newborn boy, as Dr. Luke tells us in the verses previous to our reading.

There was something quite different about this birth. Several somethings, in fact.

In most birth announcements, one of the main things people want to know is the baby’s name. This newborn baby had a great name: Jesus, Yeshua, or Joshua, meaning “he saves.” We know—because one of the prophecies from the book of Isaiah told us so—that this Baby, this Child is also known as the Prince of Peace. Plus, the newborn baby is also of the house and lineage of King David. Added to which, the birth of this particular Baby was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. Impressive bloodline and backstory, indeed.

After all this build-up, many people would expect a grand birth announcement, sent to the very best people. People like nobility, royalty, other V.I.P.s. But who is it who receives this birth announcement? Shepherds. Common, ordinary, lowly shepherds. As Dr. Luke records in his Gospel, “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” For the shepherds, it was an ordinary night. Nothing special, they were just minding their own business. And, if you have worked on a farm or with farm animals, you might know what herding animals smells like. Not very appealing, to modern minds—or noses.

Shepherds were not considered well-to-do, upright citizens. Quite the opposite! Dr. David Lose tells us “And the shepherds? These were the undesirables of the first century, the folks on the lowest of the low rungs of the socio-economic ladder.” [1] Today, we might look on people like these shepherds as street sweepers, or rag-pickers, people who emptied latrines, menial workers of the lowest variety. One step above indigent, homeless people.

Yet, these demeaned shepherds were the super-special chosen ones, the ones God favored with a super-special, divine birth announcement. Complete with a light display that lit up the whole sky, an angelic spokesperson, and angel chorus, God wanted the shepherds to know first of all. Not the rich people in town, or the president of the synagogue, or the elders on the ruling board. Not the King of Judah in his palace in Jerusalem, or the nobility who lived in fine houses with fancy clothes, or the Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin. No, God wanted the lowest of the low to find out, first.

Isn’t it strange—or odd—or funny that God wanted these shepherds to be the first to know? Actually, no. Since God could choose absolutely anyone on earth to hear about the divine birth first, God must have had a really good reason for choosing these despised shepherds. And, God wants all people to know of the birth of the newborn King, the Prince of Peace.

“In spite of their poor reputation as a class of people, these shepherds seem to have been godly men, men who were looking for the coming of Israel’s Messiah. All the others of those who were directly informed of the birth of Messiah in Matthew and Luke were described as godly people, and so it would seem to be true of the shepherds as well.” [2]

Believe it or not, these despised shepherds were sometimes compared to God, in the Bible. God being the shepherd, and the people of Israel the sheep. As uncomplimentary as it may be, people are often compared to sheep in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

As I have noticed before, the behavior of sheep and the behavior of human beings do have some similarities. Yet despite all of these negative attributes, the Jewish and Christian holy writings repeatedly talk about people being compared to sheep.

I found this lovely poem by William Blake (1757-1827). A poet and visionary, he was a committed Christian. He also was a creative writer and some called him even mystical.

As long as we are considering the shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus, I also wanted us to reflect upon the sheep—the flocks, shepherded by the workers on those cold, windswept hills around Bethlehem.

 

Meditation on the Lamb

 

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee,

gave thee life, and bid thee feed

by the stream and o’er the mead;

gave thee clothing of delight,

softest clothing, woolly, bright;

gave thee such a tender voice,

making all the vales rejoice?

 

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

for he calls himself a Lamb.

He is meek, and he is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child, and thou a lamb,

we are called by his name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

 

Jesus is called a Lamb. We are called sheep. Not very flattering, is it?  The lowest of the low, the shepherds, heard of the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God. However, it matters nothing to God about our position, or honor, or wealth, or influence.

God does care about our hearts, and how we receive God’s Son.

“In Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God’s tremendous love and have heard the good news [as proclaimed to the shepherds] that “unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord.” [3]

Let us joyfully follow the shepherds’ example, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1612

“Something More,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/4-birth-messiah-luke-21-20

Robert L. (Bob)Deffinbaugh graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his Th.M. in 1971. Bob is a pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1612

“Something More,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

In A Manger

“In A Manger”

international Nativity

Luke 2:1-7 (2:6) – December 16, 2018

Nativity scenes are so sweet. You see them frequently at this time of year. Either lit up, like the one outside of our church, or carved in olive wood, similar to the figure I am holding up right now. They can be ceramic, plaster, or painted. Little, small enough to fit under a Christmas tree, or almost life-sized, like the one I saw outside of a big Catholic church in the suburbs.

I suspect we all could mention the cast of characters we might find in a nativity scene. Besides Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, we find shepherds, animals, kings, and sometimes an angel. The nativity pictures look so gentle and perfect, just like a Christmas card.

Mary and Joseph did not have a picture-perfect time of it. As an adult male living under Roman occupation, Joseph was ordered to go to his ancestral town of Bethlehem and register, just as the Roman rulers said. Dr. Luke records it: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.”

There must have been a great deal of coming and going throughout Israel, as every adult went to their ancestral town. Complicating matters was Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, who was greatly pregnant. “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt about being uprooted from their small town of Nazareth and forced to travel—that is, walk—dozens of miles through semi-arid, sometimes hilly country. I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought about coming to the very crowded town of Bethlehem, a near suburb of Jerusalem, chock full of extended relatives of King David. And, I have only an inkling of an idea of what Mary thought, being great with child, having to make the long, difficult journey. The forced timing of this whole trip must have been simply awful.

I want us to step back from Mary and Joseph for a moment. Let us leave them in Bethlehem. As one commentator mentioned, “We all see the Bible through an interpretive lens, and many Western Christians tend to read it through a European/American one. We often bypass the culture and customs that were prevalent during biblical times. We even interject our own bias and prejudice. This is a common error that causes misinterpretation to ensue.” [1]

But, isn’t that human nature? Each of us, all of us, relate to biblical narrative through the lenses of our own personal experiences, through our own separate upbringings. How else do we begin to understand some other person’s story, if not through familiar ideas, surroundings, characters, and narratives?

I was privileged to have the opportunity to get to know the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey. I have attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference in western Pennsylvania the last week of July for almost twenty years, where Ken and his wife Mickey also attended. Except, they went to New Wilmington for some decades. The Baileys served as Presbyterian missionaries in the Middle East for decades, too, coming back to the United States each summer before returning to their work as teachers. Ken as a seminary professor, and his wife as a high school teacher.

Ken Bailey knew a vast amount about Middle Eastern culture and customs, both modern and ancient. He also knew a whole bunch of languages fluently, both modern and ancient. He was a man of great knowledge, stature, and influence, and yet also a humble and unassuming person. He wrote a number of biblical commentaries and scholarly discussions which included first-century Palestinian culture, and how it informs our reading of the Bible today.

I hesitate to break this to everyone, but according to current understandings of Palestinian customs and culture of the first century, Jesus was most probably not born in a stable. Where did this idea of a stable come from? It is difficult to tell. People elaborate, of course. You’ve all played “telephone” as young people, sitting in a big circle around a room, one person whispering in the ear of the next, each whispering what they heard in turn, and everyone laughing when the initial message ends up being all garbled at the end of the “telephone” chain.

We know the biblical text of the Gospel of Luke has remained constant, even through many translations over the centuries. However, as generations of people verbally relate the Nativity story, people tend to elaborate. It gets even more complicated when the message of the Gospel crosses the boundaries of different cultures, and crosses lines into different continents.

For example, considering the manger in a stable: “The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept?” [2]  That stable is from a European point of view. But not necessarily, although Luke certainly mentions a manger.

Let’s go back to Mary and Joseph. We left this poor, exhausted couple on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The common modern understanding of an “inn” was another elaboration, since the Greek word kataluma is exactly the same word used to describe the upper room of the Passion Week. Its definition: “‘the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village […] where travelers received hospitality and where no payment was expected’ (ISBE 2004). A private lodging which is distinct from that in a public inn, i.e. caravanserai, or khan.” [3]

Mary and Joseph were probably bedded down in an upper room, dormitory-style, with a number of other extended relatives of the great King David. No private room, like they might have at an inn. As Luke said “she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

Not wonderful accommodations, but at least they were not freezing outside with no place to sleep. There was a communal area where the family’s animals were kept, at one end of the large open room, on the ground floor. I suspect there were animals, too—all watching the Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and the newborn baby Jesus. “Once Jesus was born, I envision the two of them tiredly improvising with a manger and some spare cloth, seeking the chance to rest before their newborn inevitably begins his new routine of squalling every 3 or 4 hours to be fed.” [4]

Where does that leave us, with our pretty nativity scenes under our Christmas trees, in front of our houses, and on our Christmas cards? What is the message we receive each Christmas? The holy God of all the universe became a human baby, born to an unmarried teenager, in uncomfortable, awkward circumstances. Not the best of beginnings from a human point of view, but certainly God-ordained beginnings.

What does all that mean for us? It means that we do not have to have neat, tidy lives, that our situations can be uncomfortable, awkward, sad, lonely, anxious, fearful, traumatic, with a whole host of other “negative” circumstances. None of that matters. What does matter is God is with us. Emmanuel, the God-become-human, God with us, is here in the middle of all those awkward, unfamiliar, even ugly situations. Have you lost a job? Jesus is with us. Have you lost a loved one? Jesus is with us. Have you lost a home, or changed neighborhoods, or are feeling lonely, depressed, or especially anxious? Jesus is still with us.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.ashleyeaster.com/blog/yes-mary-knew

Guest post by: Pastor Gricel Medina, Leadership/Community Developer

[2] https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/once-more-jesus-was-not-born-in-a-stable/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://modernmetanoia.org/2016/12/09/756/

“Twas the Night Before Birthing”, Emily S. Kahm, Modern Metanoia, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant Holy, words

Luke 1:39-45, 56 (1:45) – December 9, 2018

The meanings of names are a fascinating subject. The particular meanings of certain names are more well-known. Just think of Peter—Greek for “rock” and Irene—Greek for “peace.” Three names from Hebrew, Rachel (“lamb”), David (“beloved”) and Daniel (“God is my judge”). Then, there is my own name, Elizabeth, which comes from the Greek and means “God is my oath” or “God’s promise.”

My parents did not have any particular person on either side of the family who they were thinking of, or who they wanted to name me after. They just liked that name. I have always really liked my name, too.

I don’t know whether you have ever thought about the meaning of your name. Did your parents name you after a beloved aunt or uncle? Or perhaps a dear grandparent or godparent? Or did they just happen to like your name when you were born?

There is another Elizabeth in the New Testament. Our Gospel reading from Luke 1 talks about her. She was the mother of John the Baptist. She was the older cousin of Mary, living some distance away in the hill country of Judea.

In the verses just before this reading, we meet Mary, a teenaged girl who is visited by the angel Gabriel. Of course, the angel informs Mary that she will become the mother of the Messiah; Mary is to name the baby Jesus, Yeshua, or Joshua, which is Hebrew for “he saves.” As the angel says, “He will save His people from their sins.”

The angel Gabriel gave Mary some important information about her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, as well. Apparently, Elizabeth and her husband the priest Zechariah had tried to have a baby for years, but could not. Finally, when Elizabeth had just about given up hope, she found she was indeed pregnant. This was called a miracle by everyone. Imagine—Elizabeth pregnant at an advanced age. God certainly works miracles, mighty acts and acts beyond the explanation of human eyes and ears.

What about Elizabeth, and about her younger cousin Mary? They are both women. Females, usually discounted and considered second-class by the cultures of their day. What do we find that is different about Elizabeth and Mary?

”All four gospels support the equality of women, but Luke is the one who is most obvious about it.  The male in the story, Zechariah, had been visited by an angel, but he did not trust [the angel’s word] (1:20) and was made mute.  His wife Elizabeth, however, who was an older woman, turns out to be the heroine of the family and she, in stark contrast to her mute husband, speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:41).” [1]

Elizabeth greets her young cousin, and says “God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have. 43 Why should the mother of my Lord come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me. 45 The Lord has blessed you because you believed that God will keep his promise.”

We could list several facts. Elizabeth spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit. She announced that Mary was richly blessed, as was Mary’s baby, Jesus. She also stated that John, the baby inside of her, had responded to the nearness of the very young infant Jesus. Finally, Elizabeth praises Mary for believing in God’s promise. And, we can be sure that God does keep God’s promises.

When I was in grade school, I was fascinated by the meanings of names. It was at around this time that I happened to start attending a Lutheran church in Chicago, brought there by my older sisters. They attended sometimes because of several friends from high school in the church youth group. They stopped attending when they left for college, but I kept going to that church.

I was a voracious reader. I would read just about anything, and as I mentioned, one of the books my parents had on their shelf had many lists of names and their meanings. I would pore over that book, and I sincerely wondered about my name. “God is my oath,” or “God’s promise.” It was at about this time that I started learning a great deal about the Bible and theology, and about the various promises of God. Especially the promises fulfilled at Christmas, in the birth of the Messiah.

What an earthshaking event, the birth of that Infant Holy. What a marvelous miracle, lifted up by Elizabeth in our Scripture reading today.

Here we have two strong women. Two women who know their own minds, and two women who are not going to be put in the background. These are two women—one younger, one older—who have been chosen by God to do great things. Not only to be the mothers of John and Jesus, but also to have the responsibility of raising them.

What stands out even more is that Mary has unshakeable faith in God’s promises. Can you imagine? I do not have complete faith and trust in God. A pretty good faith, but not one hundred percent, not doubt-free.

Rev. Bryan Findlayson has an intriguing comparison. He talks about seeing faith in Jesus as if it is a good bet. “If we are wrong, we lose nothing, but if we are right, we gain everything. Jesus is certainly a good bet, but the bet is not faith.” [2]

Mary’s faith is faith in God’s promises. She took God at God’s word. Sticking to God’s promises, firmly resting on them, this is what the Bible means by faith. Isn’t that what we lift up in these weeks of Advent? We have faith in God’s promises, and we rely on the Bible’s words, both in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament.

Tonight is the anniversary of the first showing of the “Peanuts Christmas Carol” in 1965. We can watch this Christmas television special and laugh as we watch the Peanuts characters. We can also take the Christmas message to heart, as read by Linus, when Charlie Brown wanted to know what Christmas was truly all about.

God deeply wants to send abundant peace into the world. The birth of the Prince of Peace helps us to welcome Jesus for ourselves. He may have many different names, like Jesus, Joshua—”He saves,” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God—but our Lord Jesus is the one and only Savior. As we prepare to celebrate “God with us,” Emmanuel, we also can lift our voices to praise the Prince of Peace.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2012/12/lectionary-blogging-luke-1-39-55.html

Lectionary Blogging, Luke 1:39-56, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/advent4cg.html

“Mary Visits Elizabeth,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, Emmanuel”

O come Emmanuel

Luke 1:26-38 (1:31) – December 2, 2018

Have you noticed when you saw or heard your first Christmas commercial this year? On television, or on the radio? Or, perhaps it’s the first piped-in Christmas music at the store or at the coffee shop. Do you remember where you were? This expectation we go through every year; we pause, we watch the commercials, we hear in the music, we see in the displays of holiday lights and lighted figures outside of our neighbors’ houses.

These four weeks of Advent are weeks of preparation, of anticipation, of expectation. All these things are announcements of an impending arrival. Little reminders of the anticipation of the narrative from the first chapter in Luke. Ours is a fraction of the expectation that Mary had, beginning with the announcement from the angel. The teenage Mary had the angel Gabriel burst in on her, unannounced, giving her the very first Christmas commercial.

The anticipation we feel today is only a shadow of that we find in the Bible. I suspect, the teenage Mary was surprised out of her sandals by this unexpected visitor. Mary is told to expect the birth of the Son of the Most High.

If we go back several centuries, to the time of the prophet Isaiah, we notice the prophet writing about a young woman bearing a child, too.  In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 7:14 reads “a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.” The Gospel of Luke shows this prophecy being fulfilled. But—not quite yet. Mary needs to go through a nine-month waiting period, a period of anticipation, expectation, and preparation.

As one commentator says, “Let’s be honest. Perplexity is exactly our response when the Lord shows up. To me? Why me? Why now? I think we underestimate the impact of what it means to know that God is actually around. Here. With us. Doesn’t God have better things to do? Bigger things to take care of? More major issues to maintain besides me?” [1]

Mary has a problem. She is not only a virgin (which the angel tells her not to worry about). However, she thinks she is merely a common, ordinary, every-day-type young woman. There is nothing special or extraordinary about her! It is “only after expressing her wonder and dismay, and then hearing again Gabriel’s affirmation and promise, does she manage to summon the courage to believe that God is indeed favoring Mary by working in her and through her for the health of the world.” [2]

This week is the first week of Advent, and we are going to focus on songs during these weeks. The Advent and Christmas seasons have marvelous carols, hymns and songs written during a number of centuries. This week, appropriately, we highlight the Advent carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” An excerpt from a fine article on this carol is found in your bulletin.

If you look at the article, notice several things. This is one of the oldest carols we have in our hymnals today. Christians have been singing it for over 1000 years. Originally written in Latin, it was translated into English by the scholar and priest John Mason Neale in the 1800’s. The translation of this hymn lets us know how much theology was written into the original lyrics. Each verse mentions a number of biblical and theological references.

You know what this ancient Latin hymn reminds me of? Young Mary. Eileen did not read Mary’s song from the first chapter of Luke, the Magnificat, but Mary does exactly that—after the angel leaves her, she breaks into song, and praises God. Not only that, she must have been biblically knowledgeable, because her song is chock full of biblical and theological references.

We know Mary was an introspective young woman, thoughtful and contemplative, since Dr. Luke tells us so in chapters 1 and 2. Does it surprise us that she knew a great deal about the Hebrew Scriptures, as we can tell from reading her song, her response to God?

Quoting from this wonderful song, the Magnificat:

“My soul glorifies the Lord  47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

A modern setting of this song of Mary is the Canticle of the Turning, by Rory Cooney. I keep reminding myself not to get political in my weekly sermons—except when the words of the Scripture we read from the Lectionary are clearly lifting up some direct calling from God. Through Mary’s words, we are called to stand up in this neighborhood, this country, this world, and stand with the humble, the hungry, with those who fear God. We are called to stand against the proud, the rich, and the rulers.

In the Canticle of the Turning, this new retelling of Mary’s song is, indeed, about the birth of a baby. It also talks about how this birth turns a family upside down. Yet, this whole event—the birth of the Son of the Most High—is about God turning the world around. It is through God’s Son, Jesus, God welcomes us all. Not just welcoming the rich and privileged, but everyone, male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, whatever difference one person has from another. All means Jesus welcomes everyone. No matter what, no matter who.

Perhaps God did an extraordinary thing through Mary—just as the angel said—to show the world that through God all things are possible. Just as it was for the prophets, so it was with Mary, and so it is with us. May we all respond like Mary—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to Your word.”

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3462

Advent as a Way of Life, Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2014

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1611

“Favored Ones,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!