being alert for the Lord’s coming

This time of the year is called Advent on the church calendar. I miss Advent, since the church we’re part of is not much into church liturgy. I think Christmas is a most special time of the year since we’re remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Lord Jesus.

Advent is simply about the Lord’s coming. And that includes his coming in full as given to us in Scripture, which means his first coming, already accomplished, and his second coming, which we look forward to.

Scripture likens Jesus’s second coming to a “hope,” even “the blessed hope.” Hope as in something we’re anticipating and again, looking forward to, not a kind of “hope so” attitude, where we’re not sure. By faith we’re certain and assured.

Still I wonder just how much anticipation I really have. Yes, chances are I’ll die before the Lord’s return. But that won’t much matter when the return takes place. The dead will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will all be together with the Lord forever.

The gospel accounts tell us we need to be alert. I am not much into the signs stuff and looking at events. I’ve been burned too often in my lifetime, and have long since dismissed such notions as poor Biblical understanding. But regardless of how we view things, we need to be alert with the imagination: What if Jesus actually would return today? Would we have been preparing ourselves? Or do we think and live like that could not possibly happen?

Faith, hope and love are a triad, love being called the greatest of these. They’re interwoven together, so that our “hope” in our Lord’s return comes from faith with love following and accompanying that. I think the most important thing we can do is to endeavor daily to be in an interactive relationship with our Lord through his word and Spirit, and paying attention in life. Then, through the grace he gives us, we can be ready when that moment arrives. In and through Jesus.

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.

the one hope for the world

A concern for one’s eternal and temporal security has its place, but if it stops there, then that faith is less than Christian. The hope we have in Jesus is the one hope we have for the entire world.

I am a citizen of the United States by birth, and as such certainly live in a privileged place compared to many in the world. The problem though, is that we can put our hope in earthly systems, and even in earthly authorities such as politicians, governors, rulers. To the extent which we actually do that, surely we end up blinding ourselves to the one hope that we truly have.

We pray for rulers and governing authorities, and we hope for peace and freedom for all peoples, and that all tyranny and evil would cease, for true and complete justice, especially for those who have been denied it for so long, oftentimes people of color, yes, in the United States of America. For good stewardship of the gift of the earth in ways which protect it, and people, and for an end to the tragedy of abortion.

As people of God in Jesus, we’re called to be his followers and help others to follow him. The church is to be the sign to the world of the one hope that the world has through the gospel and the beginning transformation and hope which that gospel brings.

This all began on earth through a humble, peasant, quite young woman, the angel giving her the great, good, and perplexing news of a miracle birth, Joseph, her fiancee having to work though that news before an angel appears to him in a dream, and then choosing to live with it, and at last the birth in a humble place, the baby Jesus laid in a feeding trough for animals. And at the end of his life, nailed to a cross. But resurrected from the dead, and thus sealing the witness of his life in his works and teaching of God’s grace and kingdom having come in him. And ascended to the right hand of the Father from whom he poured out the Holy Spirit on the church to be a witness to the world of this good news. That news including his return, when at long at last all will be made right and new.

That is our hope, and the one hope always for this world. Let our focus be on that, even as we seek to be faithful as a witness to a world which is given to lesser hopes that will fail and often let people, especially the poor down. As we pray for our Lord’s return. Lord, have mercy! And maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Jesus: God’s answer to our questions, and to the questions we need to ask

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2

During Advent and Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus which we believe is no less than God becoming human in the Person of the Son, Christ. And when we say human, we mean human. Not merely the appearance of human, but human through and through. A mystery how God could become human, because in that humanity, Godness is not diminished, Jesus having the fullness of Deity in his humanity, being the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being (Colossians and Hebrews).

We wonder just what significance humanity has, particularly when it seems that not only have we made a mess of things, but are all too often at each others’ throats. But that is part of the Christmas story, as well. Christ came to be fully human in signficant part to make purification for sin by the once for all sacrifice of himself, as he experienced death for us all.

I like the big questions, which can leave one puzzled and bewildered, the echoes of such we find in Bible books like Isaiah and Job. The universe (or universes, “worlds”) is so immense and so much beyond human compehension. There is so much to learn, and the more we learn, the more in wonder we are. Whatever else God is doing in the universe, in creation (“the secret things belong to God”- Deuteromomy 29), God has left the stamp of his love, even of his very nature- in Jesus, who is God with us. And through whom we can begin to share in that nature (2 Peter 1).

The marvel of it all is that we as humankind not only matter, but matter greatly to God. So much so that God, while not changing in Godness and essence of Deity, yet took upon God’s Self our humanity, even our broken humanity. So that we can be made whole and completely human as God intended in our creation. And so we can share in the very Life of God. Which begins even in this life. In the humility of all we are as humans, and all we go through. God is present with us in Jesus. Which began in that stable (or cave) in a feeding trough so many years ago.

Christ has come!

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

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 Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and 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.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:1-20

Advent first ended in Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.

And he will be our peace

Micah 5:2-5a

Trouble is an inevitable part of life. And even an untroubled life here, is not without quandaries and questions. Because no matter how hard we try (or fail to try), something either not really right or completely good will remain. It’s as if the tune is not only on minor key at least a bit (which isn’t altogether bad, in fact sometimes good), but off key, dissonant, not altogether a good piece at all.

But that’s when the promise of Advent in the Christ Child, the Messiah comes to play. And Bethlehem certainly is marked with that venture of God, forever as the place where the King of Heaven came to earth to bring the ultimate peace and good to all. Now meant to be present in and through Jesus in the church, even through us as God’s people in a primal beginning sense, with the promise of King Jesus’ return when all wrongs are made right once for all, and nothing is amiss or out of place in the Love that fills the earth.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Phillips Brooks

Christmas Day

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

Isaiah 9:2-7

 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Luke 2:1-20

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 Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and 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.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Christmas readings

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy
Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

first reading

Isaiah 52:7-10

7 How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Psalm

Psalm 98

A psalm.

7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

second reading

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

Or again,

6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

7 In speaking of the angels he says,

8 But about the Son he says,

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

Gospel

John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

the telling circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth

Mary was pregnant, but she and Joseph had not yet come together as husband and wife. Everyone knew what that meant, and people were talking. And now they have to make the long journey (around 93 miles, 150 kilometers), four days to a week, from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. To say the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth were not easy is an understatement. And when they at last arrive to Bethlehem, there is no room for them in normal living quarters. But there is a stable where they can lodge. And it is there that Mary gives birth to Jesus.  And places him in a manger, that is, a feeding trough.  And so we see the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of our Lord. A sure sign of what was to come.

The world wants glitter, glamour, the spectacular. Life on its terms, which actually ends up being on the serpent’s terms. With the knowledge of good and evil accessed apart from God. With God out of the picture, and other gods to serve their agenda, and in the process be served. There again is no room for the birth of one who would shake up and even dismantle the status quo.

But that is precisely what the coming of Jesus ends up doing. Nothing at all is the way at least the populous would have imagined it. Jesus grows up in a family that is hardly royal, and learns a trade from his father, Joseph, which he carries on until he is nearly thirty, not that young in those days. And we know the rest of the story. He does not fulfill the expectations of Messiah at all, except for miraculous signs he does which point that way. He proclaims God’s kingdom having come in him, and yet there is nothing of the trappings expected, yes long awaited for such a kingdom.

And at last after three amazing years of ministry Jesus meets the end of all failed, would be Messiahs. The terrible death of crucifixion. Apart from Simeon’s prophecy, it seems that no one would have suspected that this very death would be the means from God to bring life, to bring in the kingdom over which the resurrected Jesus would reign, first from heaven, seated at the place of ultimate authority and power at the right hand of the Father, and later when Jesus would return/reappear, when heaven and earth is made one in him. In final judgment and salvation, to bring in true justice and peace.

So this wonderful birth we celebrate is the beginning of the great end God has for the story of the world. The one story that gives us the needed hope before the completion of the fulfillment of God’s promises through Israel in Jesus for the world. Yes, it is this way, the way of Jesus to the very end, and forever.

love came down

What is the keeping of Advent and the celebration of Christmas except the remembering in faith, hope and love that love came down in the birth of a baby? The meaning from this is rich, and fills the pages of scripture, helping us understand the story of scripture, its end.

God became flesh, fully human, yes, one of us. Right where we live, in our element- in this baby boy. The birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel for the world. He was born in the city of David, a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. With his coming, God’s kingdom had come, present in him, the king. His kingdom was certainly not from this world, but it is for this world, destined someday to hold sway on earth in the new creation.

Love came down and met us where we are at, yes meets us where we live in Jesus, God-with-us, Emmanuel. In the pages of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read how God became king. Bringing in a kingdom of peace through the person and work of Jesus.

Jesus’ throne is made out of wood, in fact it is the cross. Yes, with a crown of thorns, beforehand. He died on that cross, was buried, and rose from the dead, the third day. The resurrected, ascended Lord is at the place of ultimate authority, seated at the right hand of the Father, to return and bring in the rule of that kingdom across every sphere of life, when heaven and earth are made one in him.

And so we celebrate in wonder and awe with joy filled songs and in tears the birth of this baby boy. For us, yes for the world.