prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent (Christmas Eve)

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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Mary’s song

And Mary said:

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

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, most certainly has a political vision not only in line with the kingdom of God, but of and from, as well as in anticipation of that kingdom. In church tradition, it is not like that part has been ignored, but it seems to have been largely displaced in many circles as simply a religious ritual to help the worshiper. While there can indeed be value in that, the reality of what Mary is saying is evident in this song, reflecting her own scripture: the law, the psalms, and the prophets. We might say particularly the prophets, because they had to address the mess in Israel, as well sharing God’s promise for the world even through Israel, ultimately through Jesus.

The church through the gospel is the beginning of this kingdom under King Jesus, a kingdom in which needs are met through God’s provision given. It is a spiritual kingdom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not down to earth where people live, to help them in their material need. A thorough reading of the New Testament will plainly bear that out.

So Mary’s song is political. And remember, with Joseph, but probably especially she herself had a formative influence in the upbringing of Jesus. To think that this song is an aberration that was corrected along the way maybe even by her own Son, would be a failure to understand just how rooted in scripture that song is. And it would also fail to see how Jesus’s own ministry in his teaching, life, and acts were in harmony with it. In this same book, Luke 6 makes that evident. As well as throughout the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

This song is political in part, because the gospel is also political in part. It is about all of creation in the new creation, including all of humankind’s interactions with others. It is not just about a lot of individuals being blessed. But a community for each other and for the world. Through the good news of this little Baby who would be the King in the tradition of shepherd. God’s grace and kingdom present in and through him.

the predicament of Mary and Joseph

Mary (Luke 1:26-38) especially, but also Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25) faced a predicament over Jesus’s miraculous conception as a full human in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. The church has called this the virgin birth. And it would have been as much a nose wrinkler and eye brow raiser then as it is today. No matter what Mary said, as noble a person as Joseph may have known her to be, Joseph was set to abide by the law of Moses, but to do so mercifully, avoiding the awful sentence of stoning, instead putting Mary away quietly and as privately as possible.

But then the angel appears to Joseph, and he finds out that something extraordinary has indeed happened. And that he is to be the step father of no less than the Son of God, the Messiah. How far along Joseph’s Christology was at this point, I don’t know, but we do know one thing for sure: Joseph was in a walk of faith over something he knew would be challenging in days to come, something he would have just as soon closed now. But with this new word from God, he did what for in all intent and purposes his wife, certainly his wife under the law already, what she had done. He obeyed God, even when in ordinary circumstances what he was doing made no sense, and even seemed to contradict his devotion to God.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Matthew 1:24

Mary, of  course was in the same dilemma, only her trouble was heightened. She was to be the bearer of the child when she had yet to be joined to her husband for this to be possible. Of course this was all revealed to her at once by an angel, so that she had the full understanding of what was to happen right away, whereas Joseph did not have that advantage, but had to wrestle or work through it before an angel appeared to him.

Mary’s wonder along with her response are simply beautiful, and something for us to emulate, when we’re faced with God’s word, but would do something different if left to ourselves, something that may make all the sense in the world and seem right to us. It seems that Mary was not one who would come up with all sorts of objections and contrary thoughts. She was humble and open to whatever God would tell her, with a heart to serve the Lord in doing so, and considering what she faced, no matter what.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:38a

And so the ones to raise the Christ child would themselves faced something of the same trouble their son would face in the scandal of God becoming flesh and being the good news that all of us need. And we might face, in a different category for sure, but still just the same, testings of our own as to whether or not we’ll listen and obey God’s word, or not. And the results, while again not in terms of salvation for the world, will still have the same sort of impact on our own family, or friends.

Are we prepared to listen and hear God’s word to us, or not? What are we doing, so that might be the case? What practices have we adopted so that like Mary and Joseph, Christ might be known even in and through us?

May the Lord make this Christmas to be a time when Jesus is more fully made known, even in that manger, and beyond that through us as well. Through God’s word in and through Jesus.

every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low

“Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:4-5

This time of the year (along with Easter and other times) I listen to one of my favorite musical pieces, Handel’s Messiah. Two pieces which point to God’s fulfillment of Advent are Every valley shall be exalted and And the glory of the Lord.

Someday God’s kingdom will be entirely present, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Something we’re to pray for now in the present age, but which will be completely fulfilled when heaven and earth become one at our Lord’s return in the new creation.

Meanwhile part of our passion and message is to proclaim this salvation to the world, and to be a people who show the world what this salvation looks like both in how we are as the church and how we extend that to the world.

Of course we would like governments in place which will be advocates and helpers of the poor, oppressed and helpless. And we should pray for and encourage such policies. But until our Lord returns, we the church, the people in King Jesus are to demonstrate to the world what this kingdom is like, how it is different in and through King Jesus.

And the Bible makes it clear that at the heart of this good news of the Messiah is a righteousness which is just, a justice which is righteous. And that this good news, this gospel brings with it a passion for those in need which proves itself in good works. And does not ignore corruption in high places, especially at the expense of others.

Every valley shall be exalted, and mountain and hill made low. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed. And all humankind will see it together. That is in the heartbeat of God and God’s people in and through Jesus.

 

belief in God

When one considers the world, both a skepticism from a cynicism can set in. Yes, there is much good we can find everywhere in the form of beauty and what seems noble and right. But no matter where we turn we also find trouble, and brokenness, oftentimes right in the midst of the great good we find, so that the good can seem spoiled, or at least in danger of being undermined or lost.

Many do come to faith in God usually connected to personal matters I would guess, but also in response to something of the beauty found in creation and in the message of the gospel. But some have abandoned faith in God. The randomness of evil or misfortune in the world, the great suffering often accompanying that, along with what is not good oftentimes threatening what otherwise is, all of this can make people doubt the existence of a good God who is like a Father and love. So that a person can become either an agnostic, or even an atheist, the latter usually to some degree agnostic, but with the belief that it’s impossible to really know, and maybe beside the point.

There are some reasons which might move me toward faith in God. The wonder of creation, or one could say, nature, is one of them. What we do find good in societies, in spite of all the evil might be another. Art in the form of music and other work helps us appreciate beauty and might suggest to us a Creator behind the creativity we find within humankind and ourselves.

But the only thing that really keeps me from descending into something like the writer of Ecclesiastes had (one of my favorite books of the Bible, by the way, which shows where I might naturally go apart from the gospel) is the gospel: the good news in Jesus. This good news addresses both the brokenness we see all around us, including when we look in the mirror. And helps us see that both for the present, as well as for the future, there is redemption and salvation in terms of reconciliation, justification, and regeneration. The old creation, good, but broken down in so many ways to be made new, the new creation in Christ to ultimately take over everything and make it turn out more than okay, for the life of the world, and in our lives as well.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas in God becoming flesh, completely human in the Person of the Son, Jesus. God not only with us, but becoming one of us. And fulfilling all God set in motion for humankind in God’s call to Abraham and what followed, in spite of all the brokenness we find in that story. Addressing that by becoming broken himself on the cross, experiencing death in order that we might have the life which followed, swallowing up that death, and ultimately all death.

The good news in Jesus. Our one hope, and what keeps my faith in God intact from my own perspective, the Spirit from God at work in all of this now, in and through Jesus.