Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First Sunday after Christmas, Year C - Helpers...

These are the seasons where trying to stay "ahead" of the lectionary is hard.  Writing about Christmas in the final hours of Advent, especially when I hold the Christmas Eve candlelight service as the line of demarcation, crimps my sense of right and wrong.  Ha!

I am captured in these readings by the role of helpers.  Hannah has dedicated her son to God's service, and the 1 Samuel text gives us a glimpse of her dedication to his formation.  Each year she makes him a new priestly robe, so that each year as he grows, he grows into his priestly role.  Surely there was a lot more at work in Samuel's life -- God was with him.  But his mother, his caregiver, his daily nurturer, his snot and bottom wiper if you will, was also dedicated to his formation as a child and servant of God. The Christian educator in me surfaces this week as I check my reactions to parents standing mid-aisle during Christmas eve, blocking the back half of the congregation's view of the altar or table, to capture on video the priceless moment that there little one croons "Away in a Manger."  That is precious -- most precious if you are presenting that child in the sanctuary as a child of God dedicated to God's service.  Note in the text that Hannah and Elkanah were in the Temple to make sacrifices and to worship.  We know Hannah had a deep gratitude for this sweet boy who was a gift to her from God. (OK.  Enough...rant over.) Are we really attending to praise and thanksgiving and dedication in this season? It is oh so hard in the search to make a warm memory or feel something other than overwhelmed.

The psalmist calls us to praise and thanksgiving.  The line "he has raised up a horn for his people," calls to mind working with Rev. Lou Piel, who blew the shofar to announce the birth of a King at each Christmas eve service. After the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas dinner consumed, my prayer is to find space in my own life to give thanks for the gifts that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is in my own walk with God.  In the wake of a busy season of worship upon worship, maybe it feels good to gather in the sanctuary and sing joyfully - Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and my favorite - Go Tell It on the Mountain.

The passage from the letter to the Colossians seems once again a timely reminder - to both thanksgiving AND the extra dose of love and care everyone needs.  The image of clothing ourselves (which harkens nicely back to Hannah's lovingly crafted robes for Samuel) with compassion, kindness, humility and love (I probably should have visited that before the rant about 1 Samuel and worship, right? Yes.  I should have.) is somehow deeply helpful after the rush and crush of the season. How can we imagine ourselves equipped and ready to be a source of love and mercy in the chaos of emotions that is the space between December 1 and January 6?

And finally, from Luke, there is the retelling of Jesus departing from his family's caravan, his parents discovering him missing, and finding him after three days in the Temple...at which point he turns to them and says, what are you worrying about -- I am in my Father's house. (I am a parent of adolescents and young adults.  I get to say, "Isn't that just like an adolescent boy.") There is so much in this passage.  For me this week, the deep and abiding question is about where I end and my children and their identity and life as God's creation with free will and their own call and gifts begins.  Highly contextual reflection in my life right now.

Our life as Christians can be shaped a great deal in the next 72 hours if we are living in the moment, waiting, watching, wondering and then receiving and giving thanks.  And on the other side of God entering into life with us, we are also called into walking along side others, shaping them by our example, our deed, our own exploration.

Complicated week.  Complicated season.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent 4, Year C - Reading from the 5%

This week we swim deeply in God's promised justice and the hope of those who feel the pinch of scarcity, need, oppression.  And we set out our holy family, our wise men, our shepherds - decorated baubles mostly made in foreign lands.  Perhaps we have a set carved of olive wood from the Holy Land.

It is hard to read this story from the position of "the 5%." Or "the 10%." Or "the 1%."  Likely, if you are reading this post, you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, a couple of bibles on your shelves, gas in your car and milk in your refrigerator.

In the midst of our privilege, it can be hard to read the fullness this week's texts.

The prophet Micah speaks out of a gut-wrenching and tumultuous time for the Jewish people.  There were wars and raids and uprisings.  People were displaced, national identities uprooted. In these scary and hard circumstances, the people longed for a perfect King to lead them into a time of peace and prosperity. Can we imaginee how they must have felt abandoned by the Lord God.  With the boot of your oppressor at your neck, you long for a savior.

The psalmist begs the question "How long, o Lord?"  Can this age of suffering continue indefinitely? When will the God who kept covenant return to liberate God's people? "You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure."  The implication is that this is God's torment, God's justice...the people are paying a price.

Really?  Is suffering God's will?  The Israelites' trajectory was from slavery to independence to seasons of thriving intertwined with seasons of hardship, culminating in the destruction of their way of life with God. Along the way, their humanity caused them to stray, to wander, to seize power rather than to seek justice.

Hey now. That sounds a little more familiar now.

We are living in a world with a lot of pain and suffering.  And maybe, just maybe, we actually experience it in our own lives.  And I know that I have lots of resources at my disposal to numb whatever is causing me distress.  I can turn off the TV and go to the mall.  Or I can search the Internet to find someone who will speak good news into my life. I can have a glass of wine (or two). I have a lot of options for distraction from any hardship I face, and in reality, any hardship I face is likely minor.

I think this week's text really requires us to look at pain and suffering and fear and to watch for signs of hope.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author is linking Christ's sacrifice as the initiation of a new covenant. It doesn't matter that the Israelites (and all of us) wander...we are all redeemed and sanctified in Christ.

The gospel text from Luke is Mary's song, commonly called the Magnificat, proclaiming her understanding of the hope and liberation that the baby she carries will bring. "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Which am I?

I am both, and I have the opportunity to choose a path of love and hope and peace and justice. Everyday I make the choice anew. And everyday, God walks with me, chooses me, weeps about my mistakes and rejoices in my turning. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 3, Year C --- Still Waiting

THIS is why I like Advent so much.  It is a big tease.  We're still swimming in prophecy.  No Mary, no Joseph.  Waiting is hard. It reminds me a little bit of the advent calendars that I enjoyed as a child -- the ones with little perforated windows that you open to reveal a picture.  And for about the first 20 days of the month, the pictures were sort of generic, hard to figure out where they were pointing - cookies, candies, toys, maybe a snow man.  But as you got closer, the symbolism grew.  A star, a shepherd, an angel.

We're not yet to those really easily understood "windows" yet here in Advent 3.  

Drawing deep from the prophets, both the reading from Zephaniah and the reading from Isaiah represent the hope of Jews in exile.  Zephaniah references retraction of judgement, a promise of changed circumstances in which the oppressed will victorious, exalted, beloved, safe.  Speaking into recent current events, these promises are refreshing.  

I am really drawn to Isaiah 12:3, which replaces a psalm this week - "with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." This passage seems like a pep talk of sorts -- speaking of the goodness that is to come. Praise and thanksgiving are encouraged...for promises yet to be fulfilled, only glimpsed in hope.  Were the people able to see signs of things getting better? Or was it a sense of "surely this much change eventually. Our God has liberated us before.  Surely God will again liberate us."

Similarly, Paul's letter to the church at Philippi seems to be encouraging hope for things yet unseen.  Praise and thanksgiving are precursors to fulfillment. The Lord is near.  But the Lord is not necessarily right here.

But in the gospel reading from Luke, John the Baptist is a little less encouraging.  Repent you brood of vipers...  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  This sounds like high stakes.  His encouragement is to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Fruitful lives will be spared.  And baptized with the Holy Spirit.  This mention of the Holy Spirit by St. John the Forerunner has also captured my attention this year.  So often we attribute the promise of the Spirit's arrival to Jesus' promises as his end draws near.  But here we have John unveiling the possibility right before the launch of Jesus' ministry in Galilee.  

What does it mean for our faith to be high stakes?  Not born of tradition or of ancient promises, but of the lived belief that the Kingdom of God requires our fruitfulness?  Do we live like our lives matter to the greater good?  I've been swimming in a lot of reading about community lately. And a remembrance, in this season of global fear and unrest, that we are ALL made in the image of God and we cannot in fact SEE God without seeing the God in the "other."  That is high stakes.  Our choices matter.  Our lives matter.  Our love for others matters.

God, in the midst of shorter nights and longer darkness, help me to see glimpses of you even when I have to look in dark corners that I would often pass by without a second thought.  Help me remember, before launching into my opinion or my self-righteousness that everyone I encounter is also made in your image - another piece that belongs with mine in seeing the fullness of Your glory.