Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Eve): Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied exultation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders,
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Great will be his authority,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The LORD is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
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.

Psalm 96

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:11-14

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1-20

Revised Common Lectionary

Advent and God’s help to ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶p̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶s̶e̶l̶v̶e̶s̶ ̶the helpless

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

Light is coupled with life in scripture, and is indeed necessary for the life which truly is life, the eternal life in God through Christ, and the life to be lived in this present darkness. And God is the one who gives all light, and specifically, that light. What humankind comes up with may have some good with its actual source in God’s gift within them, but is not the “great light” spoken of in the text above. As we see from the rest of that text, that light is in Christ and the kingdom (or rule) and goodness he brings.

Yes, it’s good for us to try to help ourselves. But if what we mean by that is to get along well enough by ourselves, then we fail to see what we ultimately need, yes, in this life. All the while we should acknowledge that actually anything good we do is because of the Creator. But in our moral and spiritual darkness and in our limitations as human finite creatures, we really need more than that. It’s good and necessary for us to realize that we are helpless in ourselves to attain to this ultimate good needed. We are all, each and everyone of us, in need of God’s grace.

And that is what happened. God’s people and all peoples were actually helpless in the way needed, whether they were aware of it or not. And they looked for God’s help, and according to the promise for the one to come who would save the world. Part of the light which breaks through is to help us see the need for light in our darkness. And to look to that light for the full light needed. A part of the Advent promise.

free grace and Advent (as well as Christmas)

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:12-14

Advent is the promise of God’s grace to humankind. It’s a gift received. It is for all humankind. How that plays out, I don’t know. Faith is required, in other words people must receive the light, and in more specific terms the light of the gospel.

Advent is anticipation of something beyond us but to come, present, for and with us. The Christian faith includes imitation of Christ. But we can’t do that on our own. It is a gift given to humankind, one really does have to say, offered, because it ought to go without saying that not all receive the light. Yes, we often live in the shadows, and don’t walk as in the fullness of day. But we are told to cast off the works of darkness, and put on the light.

Advent is the promise of grace for joy to the world. For life, for all we need even in this dreary world. Not only to get us through, yes that, but also to help us do so as those of the light. In the love and grace of God for all. In and through Jesus.

Advent ends up being as human as it gets

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:7-14

We’re all too human. With that comes wonder, awe, beauty, and just plenty of blessing. But that’s accompanied with great difficulty, struggle, and many conundrums not to mention the unexpected problems and even tragedies which can happen. And we’re all mortal.

What if Advent was all about expecting and experiencing the supernatural in some kind of miraculous way breaking into our world and making everything A-OK? I think plenty of people might settle for that, maybe we all would, whatever works. But Advent and the beginning of its fulfillment which we celebrate at Christmas is as human as it gets. Its fulfillment comes in the birth of a baby boy, but with great promise.

This promise not only enters our world to be with us, which is magnificent enough, but even more, to be one of us, ultimately one with us. This is why it’s important to accept our full humanity and emphasize simply being human as in fully accepting all of that, and all the limitations it brings. It turns out that God in Christ is fully present in that and when it comes down to it, in nothing else, at least not in this promise.

That is how the Advent hope is answered, God humanizing divinity and divinizing humanity, maybe more than so to speak. But helpful for us since above everything else, as humans it would seem that we would benefit the most from human help that is of God, but just the same, human. And because of that, we have all the hope needed, all the hope in the world that no matter what, all will be well beginning in the present to be continued and finished when “the Human One,” Christ, returns.

Advent and freedom

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-32, 36

Advent is the hope as in the anticipation of Christ’s coming to set God’s people and actually in the end all humanity free, liberated. And in Jesus’s time, this was certainly on the minds of his people who generally probably wanted nothing more than to break loose from the yoke of Rome. They may have felt like exiles in their homeland.

But Jesus pointed out to them that the slavery humanity needs to break away from, yes, even them, God’s people, was sin. And sin in the sense of violating love of neighbor which is the marque expression of love for God. In scripture this involves breaking away from all that binds us, be it human rules thought necessary for life, as well as powers holding sway over nations, peoples and individuals.

Advent is anticipation of Christ’s coming when we will truly be free at last, ultimately and forever. The beginning of that freedom is present through Christ’s first coming when by faith people can enter into something substantial of this very same freedom, meant one day to free all of creation, all humanity.

In the meantime, we need to be aware of what binds and blinds us. Cultic thinking is not confined to what is popularly called cults as in false ideologies, teachings, philosophies and religions. It is found anywhere anything is imposed which is insistent that only by adhering to this ideology, way of thinking and way of life that freedom will be found. That false insistence is coupled with the idea that all who don’t adhere to their movement are enslaved or in danger of such.

But in Christ we’re free even now, free to live fully in God’s will for us today, away from all that binds and would bind us, yes, even today. Anything insistent on their way or the highway is cultic, and actually does the very thing they’re telling people that they’re victims of. Such cultic thinking of any and every kind simply binds and blinds. Only in Christ are we set free. And we await the full completion of what is present now when Christ returns.

Advent: hope for a broken, breaking world

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Luke 2:13-14

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:13-14; KJV

Advent on the Christian church calendar is a season of hope, remembering the anticipation of Christ’s first coming as we long for his second coming when at long last this weary world rejoices.

Most all of us are tired, weary and worn, even as we enjoy the gifts and blessings of this life. But we long for more, much more, and for good reason, considering all the world’s ills. We desire that promised “peace on earth, good will toward men.” According to what’s considered a better textual reading, “peace among those whom he favors!”

Given the evil found all over the world, it seems sadly that the only way shalom, or peace is possible is through final judgment. Judgment comes from grace and precedes salvation. We have to be saved from something threatening or hanging over us, victimizing us and others, to be saved to something better, the full restoration of humanity and creation as God intends.

This is at the heart of the hope of Advent. We know the best that can be accomplished in this world can’t measure up to that. Though part of this Advent hope includes a willingness to try to find God’s light in this darkness to address issues such as war, famine and starvation, climate change, the disparity between the rich and the poor, etc. That is if we follow the concern and passion found in the Bible. Otherwise we might settle for a Platonic salvation in which heaven is what ultimately matters since this world is to be burned anyhow.

Instead we need to see that God’s care is for all creation, indeed that God loves all that God has made. And that followers of Christ along with the rest of humanity should work towards a better world. And that what we do now somehow in God’s will makes a difference that ends up being eternal since matter is just as much a part of the world to come as is spirit.

We who are followers of Christ bear witness to the hope promised, that the God who made all things in the first place, has promised to remake all things in Christ, which actually is beginning even now. Advent a wonderful season to reflect on that.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1-7

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

Revised Common Lectionary

 

Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and shouting.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.]]

Strengthen the weak hands
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp;
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:1-10

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 146:5-10

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Brothers and sisters, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

James 5:7-10

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What, then, did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What, then, did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:2-11

Revised Common Lectionary

 

are we following the light?

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:9

Like the shepherds and the magi (traditionally, wise men) in the Christmas story, we are given a light. The light points to something beyond what we see here, different than the lights that fill our world. It points to God, God’s world and God’s act in Christ, in a baby boy of us and not of us- both, and before us.

Some would insist that the light spoken of as quoted above in John’s gospel account comes only through the gospel. I’ll certainly include that. But I think this light refers to something given to all humankind, to every person, akin to the life breath to all from God’s breath. There is plenty of mystery in all of this and not only unanswered questions, but questions which couldn’t possibly occur to us.

But the point is that we’re given a light. Yes, there are plenty of false lights and they’re all around. And it seems that for most, and for much of the time for all of us those lights dim this light of lights. And yet like the sun, this light breaks through. It judges other lights, their falseness, and exposes our darkness.

And the light this light brings is for the good of one and all. Beginning so very long ago in the birth of a baby boy celebrated in a manger. Like the shepherds who felt the hardness of life for themselves and others, and like the magi who could appreciate something greater than all the greatness they knew, so we too are given this same light to search out and follow.

Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see
or decide by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the ancestors and that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the gentiles
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the gentiles;
in him the gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:4-13

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12

Revised Common Lectionary