Sunday, December 29, 2019

First Sunday After Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 61:10—62:3              Ps 147    Galatians 3:23—25; 4:4—7               John 1:1—18

The Gospel of John begins with a sublime hymn about Jesus. It seems to be inspired by the first chapter of Genesis and echoes many of its themes—creation, light, darkness, light. Obviously, it begins with the same words, in the beginning, but John shifts from the act of God speaking to the Word.

Unlike the ancient philosophers, who also pondered the divine logos (Reason/plan which governs universe and gives meaning),  John provides no in depth speculation about the Word. Rather, he simply states what the Word is and does.

Before time, the Word is with God and the Word is God. The Word creates everything, so everything depends on Him for existence. While the mystery of the Divine Word can never be comprehended, it is still helpful to ponder. God existed before time and space, whatever that means, I cannot imagine it. However, with the act of speaking, God reveals Himself (the Word) and in the revelation is also the beginning of creation. The co-existence of God and the Word seems connected to creation. The Word is God, Himself,  creating, and then interacting with creation. There is great cost in this, for in time and space the eternity of God must be compressed and incomplete. God empties Himself and limits His power. In the Jewish Bible, we will read over and over that “the Word of the Lord came to” someone. The word of the Lord came to Abraham, Samuel, Solomon, Nathan, Elijah and other prophets. The later prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah use this phrase over and over. The verb becomes a noun: it doesn’t say (verb) that God said something, it says the Word (noun) came to them. I think this is what John seeks to impart to us today.

The Word is God’s Self communication. I think that the expression, “the word of the Lord came to me” is really speaking about the Word who was with God and Who is God. I think that Word is creator of all that is. I think that Word is the communicator of all God says to us--it is the Son, who is the fullness of the Father.

Now let’s be clear about the limits of the Word in time and space. Human languages are too small to capture the fullness of God. So the messages from God are limited by the human language which conveys them. Likewise, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, the limitations of human flesh are also real. God enters time and space, and it costs God dearly. The Eternal Word, Who is light and life, will come to His own, but they will not receive Him. The Glory of God in Him will be revealed on the cross. It is veiled from those who do not believe in every age. The Word of the Lord comes to those to Whom the Father sends Him. This is the foundation and the font of our faith.

In a time of growing darkness, I declare to you that Jesus is the light.

In an age which increasingly embraces death, I declare to you that Jesus is life.

In an age of agnostics and atheists, I declare to you that Jesus is God.

In an age which would silence Him, I declare to you that Jesus is the Eternal Word.

In an age where the church is more and more marginalized, I declare to you that all who believe in Him will be made the children of God.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Lessons and Carols (9:00)

genesis 3:8--19
genesis 22:15--18
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7; 11:1
Micah 5:2-4
Luke 2:1-20

Obviously, we have heard many words tonight, but I would like to briefly look at the five texts and their connection to Christmas.

We believe that God created humans to love and be loved by them. Love, to be love, must be freely given, so God gave humans freedom. He gave up His power and control and in a real sense handed power and control to humanity. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve exercised their freedom by rejecting God--Genesis 3 illustrates this as eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The sin is compounded by a lack of remorse, as Adam and Eve hide in fear. When God finds them, rather than  apologize, they blame others, including Adam blaming God. This rupture in the relationship creates a cursed world in need of redemption. Sin becomes worse and worse, leading to the Flood, when the world returns to the same watery chaos that existed in Genesis 1. God chooses a descendant of Noah, Abraham, as a vehicle of salvation for the world. We read tonight that Abraham's faith was tested, but he obeyed God. He loves God more than his son or himself, and God consecrates his obedience. "By your offspring shall all the nations gain blessings," and Jesus, a Son of Abraham, is that blessing.

Sinful humanity lives in the shadows, our minds and hearts darkened. We are so used to it, we fail to recognize it. God gives Israel the light of Torah and covenant, and our reading from Isaiah declares that the ultimate goal of redemption is all humanity. Jews and Gentiles are all to be God's people. Isaiah promises the Gentiles in Galilee will see a great light. Jesus' ministry many years later in Galilee is that light--He is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the prince of peace. Jesus is the stump of Jesse--the true Davidic King of Judah. Micah, another prophet, declares that the one to rule Israel will be born in Bethlehem, the very place where Jesus is born. Micah promises that He will feed the flock. This promise is fulfilled in Jesus. But first, a bit of background. In Ezekiel 34 God declares judgement on the shepherds of Israel--the leaders who feed off the people but do not feed them. God declares that He will come down to shepherd the flock of Israel. The shepherds in the Gospel are a visual reminder of that promise, which is symbolized by Jesus being placed in a manger--a feeding trough. Later in the Gospel Jesus will take bread and wine and say, "Take, eat, This is my body. Drink, this is my blood." God's promise to feed His people is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus will be tempted in a garden like Adam and Eve but will be faithful. Unlike Isaac, Jesus will not escape His sacrificial death. Jesus will die in the dark for a sinful world, but with resurrection will come the light of life.

Tonight we declare that a savior is born who is Christ the Lord. It is easy to forget how sublime these words really are. Mary invites us to ponder in our heart the sacred mystery. The angels would have us join them in singing "Glory to God!" The shepherds are a model for the simple evangelism which shares with others this story of divine love in the incarnation.

God says, "I myself will come down and feed them." Tonight we are fed with the word of God and now we prepare to be fed by eucharist. God is faithful in loving us, we can choose to be faithful in loving Him.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 3

ADVENT 3     Isaiah 35:1-10   James 5:7-10   Matthew 11:2-11

Salvation is a personal experience which unites us with God. While salvation is certainly personal, it is also communal because we are saved into the Body of Christ—the church. No one can be saved outside of the church because there is no parallel to membership in the People of God. Each of us is being saved from "the flesh," (The Holy Spirit uses our disciplines to delivers us from our dark side with its sinful desires), but God must also free us from the demonic and redeem us from the world.  

In Genesis 1, chaos pre-exists creation, and in the Noah story human sin results in a return to chaos. Humans are commanded to watch over the world and subdue it, but after the sin the world is cursed and nature is a source of blessings and adversity. The New Testaments introduces spiritual warfare with the demonic and Jesus calls Satan (John 14:33) the prince of this world. We inhabit the world and the environment is a key contributor to our wellbeing.

Isaiah 35 is a song about that worldly dimension of redemption. Human beings are impacted by politics and weather, diseases and relationships. Isaiah declares that God saves people by making a parched wilderness to teem with life. The Lord exhorts His people: "Be strong, do not fear." God will save His friends, and overthrow His enemies. The Lord will establish a highway for His people—but it will be holy, so the people cannot be unclean. His people will sing with joy as their maladies are healed.

God gives promises of salvation, but He rarely explain the step-by-step process. Jews had many different beliefs about salvation, and those who believed in a Messiah disagreed on who it would be and what he would do. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist had proclaimed that there was “one coming” after him who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John expected him to come in judgement, to separate the wheat and burn the chaff. In chapter 11, John sits in prison and he apparently wondered if he had been right. John asks Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come?" Jesus' answer is not a straight yes or no. Rather, with a reference to Isaiah, Jesus emphasizes His healing ministry. Jesus concludes, “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Me." We do not know what John the Baptist thought, but what about us?

We may be scandalized by the healing ministry, or troubled that there are not more healings. Maybe we are scandalized that His kingdom has not come and that the world is not a better place. Maybe we are offended by the constraints of Christian morality or the expectation to help the poor. Maybe we like a Savior but not a Lord? Or maybe we are scandalized by the long wait for His return?

It’s been over 1900 years since James said, “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” James used the Greek word macrothymia three times. It means “to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes, troubles and offenses and not lose heart.” James also adds that the prophets are our model for suffering. The promise of suffering is one of Christianity’s least desirable qualities. Few churches in our culture advertise suffering as a benefit of membership…  

Many people have decided that Jesus is not the One, and they are looking elsewhere. It is our own state, however, for which we are responsible. As we wait for Jesus, we must be aware that in subtle ways we also might be paying Him lip service, while in reality our hearts serve other masters. That is part of our battle with the flesh.

God will deliver us from Satan and the World—and the suffering in the meantime will be real. In Advent we wait for Jesus, even as He tarries. The most important gift you will give this holiday season is your heart to Him. While we wait, we give ourselves to Him, who has given Himself to us (in word, sacrament and Spirit). The gift of theosis—saving union with God—is a process which we receive together, as a church.

maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

advent Sunday School

 Sunday School: Advent and Coming

Our adventure in life is the long, slow, difficult process of discovering and becoming our True Self in communion with Jesus Christ. We are made in the Image of God, but that image is distorted by a False Self. Our union with God makes us adopted children of God as He “becomes” human in us and we “share” in His life. If the Divine Son emptied Himself and took on our nature by becoming human, so we must also empty ourselves of the false self and fallen nature to receive the life of God. The Greek word for self-emptying is ‘kenosis.’ It is manifest in obedience and praise. It ultimately encompasses dying, which is at the heart of true love.

In the West, Christians often prefer juridical concepts—Jesus dies in our place so God imputes His righteousness onto us—or accounting images—Jesus pays our unpayable debt for sin. That achieved, we can go to heaven, which is understood as a good place, rather than the more biblical idea of the wedding union we find in both Testaments. This subtly makes our happiness the focus, which ironically reinforces “the passions.” Fulfilling my desires does make me happy, temporarily, and the passions center on my desires, not God. In spiritual marriage, the unitive process finds happiness in pleasing God (“not my will, but They will be done”). Through kenosis and theosis the passions are transformed and our will is conformed.

The Church Seasons bring us to focus upon our salvation. Advent, which means “coming,” is a translation of Parousia, a Greek word meaning coming or presence, and was a technical term for the appearance of an Imperial figure amidst the people to distribute justice. The center of Advent is Jesus.

Three Streams of Advent 

First, it begins with themes centered on the second coming of Christ and the consummation of all things, often in apocalyptic writings. We must maintain an awareness of the incompleteness of salvation. The final victory is not in question,  but the powers of this age are not completely vanquished. “Why do bad things happen?” is both a philosophical and an existential question. Darkness still prevails and the perfection/completeness of Kingdom mercy, healing and sanctification still awaits.

Second, we remember the reality of the incarnation. The birth of Jesus initiated the End Times. He has changed world history and revealed salvation history. The incarnation is vital for understanding theosis, and the historical ministry of Jesus is the model for church ministry.

Advent also reminds us that Christ is come among us (through the Spirit) in the church, in the Word and in the sacraments. He has come and gone, and He will come again, but He is present among us in a very real, though incomplete way. The Church is the Body of Christ, but faith must “activate” the potential power of God in our midst.

 Apocalyptic Writings

The written prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah, spoke God’s message to Israel. Let’s take a brief look at Isaiah 1:1-3 to discern the symbolic nature of language.

1.     Isaiah anthropomorphizes heaven and earth, asking them to“hear/listen.” It is an obvious metaphor to declare the import of the message, but it also reveals the binary cosmology, which invites all manner of reflection.

2.     Ox and ass—this negative comparison, a metaphor for rebellious Israel, has long been a staple of Christmas mangers, demonstrating how symbolic interpretations can unveil (or impose) a deeper meaning on a text.

3.     Isaiah continues using evocative language to describe Israel’s unbelief/infidelity and the consequences which produce hardships.

In the post exilic period we see a shift


While much of his prophecy is similarly “straightforward” as the prophets of old, there are increasing elements of a more radically symbolic nature at the beginning of the book. Four creatures in a storm wind. Figures like humans with four wings and four faces (human, lion, ox, eagle). There are multiple similes, trying to ground the incomprehensible in terrestrial reality. A symbol of Genesis 2? Ox+lion=earth, eagle=heaven, human=the bridge (Son saves by becoming human)


Chapter 7 (written in Aramaic, not Hebrew) has a great sea with beasts emerging, once again composite creatures and once more burning wheels. In chapter 8 there are rams with horns.

Revelation of John

This apocalyptic works borrows very heavily from the Jewish Bible, including the latter two prophets. Images of Heaven reflect the earthly temple in Kings. References are colorful and oftentimes baffling. The number seven figures very heavily in the text (as do 12’s and 10’s and their multiples), each having its symbolic meaning.

Revelation—"God’s Word came to me”—the unveiling of the mystery

God comes to us in time and space. The Eternal is poured into the temporal—human experience can never capture God, human language can never exhaust God’s Word—so there are hidden depths which become clear later. In the early church, historical events were called “partial” or “incomplete” fulfillment. The Greek word  πληρόω plēróō  (To make full, to fill up, to fill to the full; to complete; to consummate; to bring into effect; to accomplish, to bring into effect, to realize) is often used of events in reference to Scriptures. However, the Bible is more than mere predictions, rather it is a revelation of the Divine pattern of salvation and is applicable in different times and places. 
In Isaiah 7, the exasperated prophet tells the king “the young woman (Hebrew almah) is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel. 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 [Resin of Aram and Pekah of Israel who were threatening to invade Judah] you are in dread will be deserted.” Isaiah says to Ahaz—God is faithful, the threats of your enemy “will not stand” and “shall not come to pass.” Mt 2, quoting the Septuagint, connects this event to the Virgin Mary “Look the virgin (Parthenos) shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means God is with us. Matthew makes no reference to the rest of the Isaiah account, but He say that this fills up the word spoken by the Lord through the prophet. The birth of Jesus is to be seen in light of a prophecy to “the House of David” and Jesus’ status as a Son of David (Mt 1:1, 20) In addition, Isaiah announces salvation, a repeated pattern in the Bible: Israel sins, Israel is threatened, God saves. Jesus (Mt 1:21 “you shall name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sin) is the perfection and fullness of this salvation pattern present not just in Isaiah 7, but in all the Jewish Bible. Jesus “fully fills-up” the whole of Scripture, a message of God’s promise to save His people.

Symbolism and patterns

The “Salvation Narrative” is writ large in the history of the nations and small in the lives of individuals. For example, death and resurrection—see the man Joseph in Genesis, or the Hebrew nation in Exodus, or Israel in the exile—of which Jesus is the Grand Archetype. Biblical patterns are found in human literature and history. Jesus tells us that we must carry our cross, because that is reality—death before resurrection. It is true of the grain of wheat, and it is true for each of us. Salvation is a process of suffering, dying and rising. The Advent readings are not simply about past history or a yet to be realized apocalypse—it is also a model to understand our daily lives, here and now, under the authority of God’s word. It is not a code book to figure out the end of the world, it is actually the code for understanding the “end of [every] the age.”

Advent is incarnational. It is a time to hone the skills of watching and waiting and learn to “suffer in hope.” “How long, Oh Lord?" the Scriptures repeat over and over. In our age, Advent has been obliterated by Christmas, which now begins in late October. What was once a penitential season of conversion has devolved into endless weeks of “Christmas parties” and unfettered consumption. We cannot feel the emptiness because we are satiated, which dulls the mind. We cannot contemplate in the darkness because we inundated with the twinkling lights.

On Sunday our lectionary is Year A and sections of Isaiah and Matthew will be read each week. The Daily Office, Year 2 (even), offer Amos, Haggai and Zechariah for three weeks. The second reading will be Peter, Jude and then the Apocalypse. The Gospel will be Matthew. In the Fourth Week, as the focus shifts to the birth of the Messiah, we read Luke’s account and Paul’s letter to Titus. There are different Old Testament readings chosen for their connection to the Gospel. The purpose of the readings is to connect us to the three streams: the end of things and the birth of the Messiah, and the mystery of the presence of Jesus with us in the in-between time.

During the holidays we are warned of the physical cost of too much festive food and drink, but there is a spiritual threat as well. Both prophetic and apocalyptic unmask the human institutions which set themselves up as sufficient without God. They reveal a pattern which is manifest not only in our church and society, not only in the nations of the world, but also in the depth of each heart. The world provides its own value system and social forces are in place to ensure compliance. The demons whisper their temptations and blasphemies. Our human bodies demand that we provide for their desires. Our unhealed wounds provoke us to anger, despair and unfaithfulness. Jesus warns that a “DESOLATING SACRILEGE” will be set up in the Temple. Since we are the temple of God, then our personal desolating sacrilege is the False Self which supplants Jesus as the Image of God within us.

Advent is a time to do the work of faithful preparation for the Lord who has come and will come again, by engaging Him who is already among us. Enjoy the holiday season, yes, but not at the cost of all that Advent can offer.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Light, Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1-5
Ps 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

This is what Isaiah saw from God: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” This symbolic language points both to future times and the end of time. If we read these words in Christ, we can see why church Fathers claim the mountain is our Lord Jesus Himself, while the Lord’s house is the church. Clearly, Isaiah is referring to Mount Zion and the Temple, but the deeper meaning in Jesus is equally clear. Since 9/8/70, the earthly Temple is no more. God’s temple is in heaven, and it is manifest spiritually in the Body of Christ which is the church. In His earthly ministry, Jesus (Mt 12:6) had already said that there is something greater than the Temple here, in reference to the kingdom at work among His disciples. In Matthew 26:61 & 27:40, during the crucifixion the crowds mock Jesus and Jesus that He had said that He would destroy the temple and build it in three days. When Jesus dies, Matthew tells us an earth quake tears the temple veil in two—a literal apocalypse—unveiling the presence of God to humanity. The purpose of the temple is now completed by Jesus Christ and, by extension, His church. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians “you are the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit.”++ God is present in each of us and all of us.

The church is a sacrament of the New Jerusalem. We must hear Isaiah’s exhortation “Oh, House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” as the church’s vocation—to walk in light on His path.

There are two actions: “cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The deeds of darkness flow from the unholy desires of our false self. Our healing is incomplete—our wounds fester, doubt and fear weaken our love of God and others. The story of Eve, who gazes at the fruit of the tree and feels a strong craving, is our story as well. The forbidden still appeals. She forgets God and focuses on the hunger within and in the process (with Adam) ruins herself and her family. Eve is a model of the sinning church, even as Mary is the holy church. If the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, time and again she erects the Abomination of Desolation in the holy space.

What is the answer to the question, “Why did you sin?” Is it not always, “because I wanted to?” I desired, craved and lusted after the forbidden. This is the darkness of “the passions” which we must cast off in order to embrace the Light. Advent says “Christ has come, Christ is coming, Christ will come.” Our faith is that together we are Christ in the world, we are children of light. Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and live as light.


+In Mark 14:58 the accusation includes the claim “I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days I will build another, not made with hands. It is John 2:19-21 which clarifies the mystery—Jesus said, “Destroy this temple [i.e., His body], and in three days I will raise it up.
++1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” and 6:19 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is from God within you?” 
+++in Genesis 3. Eve stops thinking of God and gazes at the fruit. The eye of her soul darkens as she craves what is forbidden. She loses trust in God and listens instead to a serpent and her own hunger for self-rule. Humans cast God out and the darkness results from the absence of God’s presence. Our epithymia (cravings/desires) become a root cause of social and personal problems.