Water and Kings and New Creation

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Watching for the Morning of January 15, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord

(See the note below on why we are celebrating The Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday)

Sunday the Feast of Epiphany lingers in the air as the voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” As the star in the east proclaimed a new king to all with eyes to see and understand, the voice from heaven affirms his royal title (“Son of God”) and divine favor.

But the direction is all forward now, into the words and deeds of this mighty one. The Spirit has come to empower him. Heaven has anointed him. He is the one who washes the world in the Spirit. Next Sunday we are summoned from our nets to follow and learn what it means to gather all into the net of divine love. And from there we start through the Sermon on the Mount: the declaration of what is honorable in God’s sight and how we are summoned to live as sons and daughters of the kingdom. This is not a picnic at the Jordan River; we are packing bags for a journey that ultimately takes us to a hill outside Jerusalem and a gravestone rolled away.

So Sunday the waters are divided and the Spirit comes and light shines to the nations. The prophet will speak of God’s servant who “will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.” The psalmist will speak of the powerful voice of the LORD that shakes the earth. Peter will preach to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, and his family declaring that all people are welcome at God’s table. And then there is Jesus, the embodiment of the story of Israel, the faithful son, sharing the waters of repentance in solidarity with a fallen human race, and rising to live in and by the Spirit of God – the destiny of all creation.

Water and Spirit and light to the nations – and suddenly we are aware of our own baptism into Christ. A dying and rising. A new creation. An anointing with the Spirit. A commission to bear the light of grace to the world.

The Prayer for January 15, 2017 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

Heavenly Father, Eternal God, Holy and Gracious One:
in the waters of the River Jordan
you anointed Jesus with your Holy Spirit
and declared him your beloved Son.
Make all the earth radiant with your glory
and pour out upon all your children the abundance of your Holy Spirit;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 15, 2017 (for the Baptism of Our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights… I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” – The prophet proclaims that this people, wounded by exile, is the servant chosen by God to bring justice to the earth. (For the followers of Jesus, he embodied and fulfilled this suffering servant of God.)

Psalmody: Psalm 29
“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” – Using the imagery of a thunderstorm coming off the Mediterranean Sea and crashing upon the slope of Mount Hermon, the poet proclaims the power of God’s Word.

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” –
Peter’s conveys the message about Jesus to the household of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, after God has shown him in a vision in that God has declared all people ‘clean’.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
“John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’” – After John has called Israel to a new allegiance to God’s way and announced that one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, Jesus comes to the Jordan and we hear God declare “This is my son.”

As noted the last two weeks, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the reception of the child by Simeon and Anna on the Sunday in Christmas. The second Sunday after Christmas (nearest January 6) is celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany and provides us with Matthew’s account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Messiah.

Occasionally, as in this year, this puts us out of sync with the appointed lectionary. So this Sunday, the first after our celebration of the Epiphany, we will celebrate as the Baptism of our Lord and next Sunday we will skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The appointed readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 15, 2017, and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARavenne_baptistere_de_neon_coupole.JPG By Velvet (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sister Marge

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Saturday

Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Sister Marge. I knew her only for a short time while I lived in Toledo very early in my ministry, but I remember her. I met her through an interfaith center for peace and justice. Nuclear weapons were a central issue of the group. I remember calculating that the U.S. had the explosive equivalent of 2,000 pounds of dynamite for every man, woman and child in the country. It was unsettling to imagine 6,000 pounds in my basement (we had a newborn) and similar amounts in every basement in our neighborhood. It disturbs me that we are once again talking about growing rather than shrinking nuclear arsenals. I thought we had gotten past the illusion of naming such weapons “peacemaker” and pretending they were usable.

(The irony of calling a mobile missile system with ten independently targeted 300 kiloton nuclear warheads on each missile “Peacemaker” was lessened only somewhat by changing it’s name at the last minute to “Peacekeeper.” For comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a “mere” 15 kilotons. Each one of these missiles contained more destructive power than all the explosives used in World War II, including the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

Now you might expect me to say, in light of this text, that Sister Marge shone with a heavenly light, but that’s not really my point. There were two groups of people working together in this organization: those who were people of faith, and those who did not share any religious expression of faith. What struck me was the difference between these two groups. Both were deeply concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons, but there was a hope in those who were rooted in a faith tradition that seemed absent in the others. Perhaps this was just our particular group of people, but there seemed to be a sense among the people of faith that the human story was not in our hands alone. They feared humanity’s capacity for destruction, yet lived in the light of God’s goodness and love.

All our stories are different. Some of us are more naturally optimistic; to others the world seems darker. Some have been made more fearful by life’s experiences; others emboldened. We have gifts that differ – and burdens. But people of faith stand on ground that has been warmed by the sun. The face of God, radiant with grace and love, shapes us. It eases the furrowed brow, it warms the spirit, it brightens the face as does the smile of a child, a friend, a beloved.

Perhaps Sunday morning is nothing more than the child who calls out into the darkness at bedtime not really wanting water, just another glimpse of the parent’s face.

And God is there for us, saying: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWarm_Winter_Sun_Bath.jpg By Glitterchirag (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Like rain on the mown grass

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Thursday

Psalm 72

1Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

I have written before about this psalm (in 2014 and 2015) and the question whether it should be heard as prayer or promise. On Epiphany Sunday, when the magi kneel and present their gifts, it becomes proclamation: this is the royal child in whom justice will reign and the earth bloom. But we are approaching the inauguration of a new president. A new congress has been seated. A new government is being formed. Actions are underway. And how shall we pray?

Now the psalm is not looking only at the child of Bethlehem; now the psalm is speaking to a country and a world wondering what the new administration will bring. Now the psalm is closer to its original setting as a new king rises to power. Now it is a prayer – and in the praying is a message to the king about his role and responsibility.

Looking at Jesus we can say with confidence “He will judge your people in righteousness,” as does the New International Version (NIV) from 1984. Looking at our leadership today, it is best heard petition, as in the current form of the NIV: “May he judge your people in righteousness.”

The psalm gives voice to our prayer. It speaks of our hopes from our leaders. But the prayer spoken in the hearing of the king becomes a reminder to the new king and those in power. What does God seek from those who govern? Justice. Faithfulness to the poor. The defense of the afflicted. Deliverance for the needy. Care of the earth that it may produce abundantly. Leadership that earns the respect and trust of the nations because it brings justice.

11All kings will bow down to him
and all nations will serve him.
12For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.

This psalm has become for us a description of God’s reign among us. But it is also a description of what God expects of us. It is promise, but it is also calling. God’s reign is grace and favor; it is also call and command.

In the Sundays to come we will hear Jesus speak to our obligation. The Sermon on the Mount is coming. But for now we offer the prayer. And we are sustained by the promise. For a child is born for us.

5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For 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.
7His authority shall grow continually,
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. (Isaiah 9:5-7)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABlackdykes_Ruin_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1025680.jpg by wfmillar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Magi and Kings

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The Magi before Herod

Watching for the Morning of January 8, 2017

The Sunday of the Epiphany

Sunday our parish celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Technically, the feast day is January 6th and Sunday the 8th should be the first Sunday after Epiphany, but Epiphany is too important to be left to a weekday. So we change the calendar.

And we choose to read not only Matthew’s account of the kneeling Magi, but also the narrative of murderous Herod. Without the slaughter of the innocents, the drama and significance of this account is too easily lost from view. Empires are clashing. Kings are doing battle. The Empire of Rome v. the Empire of God – although a peasant child hardly seems like a player in the game of thrones. Later, when Matthew tells of Satan’s attempt to seduce the new king (the temptation of Jesus), we will see that the battle is not Herod versus an upstart king, or Rome versus a member of the Judean royal line: it is a struggle between God’s claim upon the world and the devil’s presumptive rule.

But first there is the child and a destiny written in the heavens. First there are seekers looking for a world ruler of the house of Judah. First there is the testimony of the ancient prophets and the guidance of angels speaking through dreams. First is the drama and suspense of God’s work in the world. Christ is revealed to the nations. Something profound is happening. Something that will free the world from the debt of its sins.

So on Sunday we will bring our Christmas celebration to its wondrous conclusion. We will hear of the visit of these mages from the East. We will listen to the voice of the prophet cry out in jubilation “Arise, shine; for your light has come” and speak of the gathering of all nations, declaring: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” We will sing the enthronement psalm of the just king who will “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” and rule “as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.” And we will hear the author of Ephesians speak of the mystery now revealed that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Light, life, just kingship, abundance, reconciliation, the gathering of all creation – and, too, the hostility from the rulers of this age – it all unfolds before us on this day when we rejoice in Christ revealed to all the earth, when we come with the magi to bow down and offer our loyalty and service to this newborn king.

The Prayer for January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

Gracious God,
by a sign in the heavens
you proclaimed to all the earth
the advent of your son Jesus,
who would receive the throne of David
and reign in justice and righteousness over a world made new.
May he reign in us and in our world
bringing his perfect peace;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 8, 2017 (for the Epiphany of Our Lord)

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
– though the return from exile has failed to meet the nation’s expectations for glory, the prophet declares as present reality the fulfillment of God’s promise that all nations shall be drawn to the light of God present in Jerusalem.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – an enthronement psalm whose idealized description of the king becomes a portrait and promise of the Messiah whose reign brings blessing to the world.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
“This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” –
God’s hidden plan now revealed to gather all people into one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23 (appointed 1-12)
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Judeans?”
– the visit of the magi, representing the nations coming to bow before the dawning reign of God in Christ, and his rejection by Herod and the Jerusalem elite who plot to murder the infant king.

As noted last week, our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the remainder of Luke 2 on the Sunday in Christmas and the account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus on the second Sunday after Christmas, celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany.

This does mean that we sometimes have to drop a Sunday when our celebration of the Epiphany falls after January 6th (as this year), in order to reconnect with the appointed texts. So we will celebrate the Baptism of our Lord on January 15, then skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The appointed readings for the first Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2017, are these for the Baptism of Our Lord and comment on them from 2014 can be found here.

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9 (“I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.”)

Psalmody: Psalm 29 (“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”)

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (“God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”)

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17 (The baptism of Jesus)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMagi_Herod_MNMA_Cl23532.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Together

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Sunday Evening

A look back to last Sunday, the Sunday in Christmas, January 1, 2016

Isaiah 52:7-10

9Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem.

I don’t know why that little word ‘together’ affects me so much, but it does. The fallen stones of Jerusalem are summoned to sing together. The ruined city is to be a choir.

We think so strongly of the faith as a personal affair. There is a whole tradition in American Christianity that asks whether you have accepted Christ Jesus as your personal Lord and savior. I understand the need for personal faith, but we could use a little more corporate faith.

Our gathering on Sunday was small, as was expected. It was New Year’s Day, after all. The culture is busy recovering from other things. And there was the final decisive week of the NFL. Children are off school. People are traveling – some to family, others to vacation. I begrudge no one their observance of the Christmas break. But the stones sing together. The stones that comprise the once holy city, akimbo, broken, aged, disconnected, scarred by fire and sword, the stones are summoned to sing together.

First Peter calls us living stones of God’s holy temple. Paul calls us the body of Christ, and spends a chapter of his letter to the Corinthians on this idea. Ephesians declares:

You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)

We are far from perfect stones for God’s holy temple. And I rather like the notion that we are hardly more than the rubble of a ruined city. But through the prophet God calls us to join our voices in praise, for God has drawn near to build such stones as these into his holy dwelling-place.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APalmyra_Ark_at_night.JPG By Erik Albers (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The turning of the tide

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Saturday

Luke 2:21-40

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon…

Three times in this paragraph the Spirit is mentioned. The Holy Spirit “rested” on Simeon. It “revealed to him… that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” And the Spirit “guided” him to enter the temple.

Deep in Luke’s Gospel is this notion that Christ Jesus is accompanied by an outpouring of the Spirit. It is Luke who tells us of the Pentecost wonder when the Spirit empowers the followers of Jesus to bear witness in every language. It is Luke who connects the gift of the Holy Spirit with baptism into Christ – the gift of the Spirit to Cornelius and his family forcing Peter to baptize those who had received the baptismal gift. In Luke the Spirit descends on Jesus not when he is baptized by John (a baptism of repentance) but after, when Jesus is praying. In Luke again and again we see and hear the Spirit at work.

There are wonders galore in the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel – the appearance of an angel to Zechariah, the wondrous birth of John, the appearance of an angel to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus, the angelic witness to the shepherds, the witness of ancient scripture, the prophetic promise that the coming one will baptize the world in the Spirit, the voice from heaven declaring that this Jesus is God’s son.

We speak of the Spirit rather casually in the church, but presence of the Spirit is part of the wonder of the events in and around Jesus. It is a sign of the age to come, a witness that the ages are turning from this age of sin and sorrow to the age of grace and life. The world is being reborn. The reign of God is dawning. The Spirit of God cannot be held back, but splashes forth like the waves of a rising tide.

Jesus is not born into a static world to speak of the hope of a heaven; he is born into the dying days of this world to bring the first days of that age to come when all things are made new. The marching armies of the Caesars and all their ideological descendants will yield to the heavenly host. The law of revenge, lex talionis, is yielding to the law of love. The principle of “me” and “mine” is yielding to the deeper truth of “us” and “ours”. Forgiveness will overflow. Compassion. Mercy. Shared bread. Healing. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit are loose in the world. The breath of God in Christ is breathed upon us.

And it is visible from the very beginning in the faithful poor like Simeon and Anna and the parents of this child who come to fulfill all righteousness. The tide has turned. Our castles of sand built by sweat and tears are being swept away for a home that stands forever on rock.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASand_castle%2C_Cannon_Beach.jpg By Curt Smith from Bellevue, WA, USA (Sand Castle at Cannon Beach) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The stones will sing

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Friday

Isaiah 52:7-10

9Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem.

Imagine walking through the streets of Aleppo, surrounded by desolation and the scattered possessions of war-ravaged homes, and calling for the rubble to break forth into song.

“Listen!” cries the prophet, “Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy.” The watchmen on the walls that no longer exist, the sentinels on the abandoned outposts, are united in song. The prophet sees what we yet cannot. He sees the raised towers of the city gates. He hears the sound of the market and children running through the streets. He sees the temple shining in the morning sun, the ram’s horn summoning people to worship. The gates of the city swing wide to greet their king.

The prophet sees what we do not yet see. The prophet understands the heart of God. The prophet knows that the destiny of the broken city is to thrive.

And so he calls for the stones to sing.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABosra06(js).jpg By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Christ is entered into the world

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This is a lightly edited reprint of a posting in 2014

Thursday

Luke 2

28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God

Christmas lingers. At least it should linger. Not because of the twelve day ecclesiastical season, but because the Christ is born. The Christ is entered into the world. The Christ of God, the anointed one, the embodiment of God’s Word – the embodiment of God’s self-expression, God’s communication, God’s voice that creates all things, that reveals God’s own heart and will and passion, that calls all creation into a living relationship, that gathers the creation to himself – is incarnate in this infant/child/man of Bethlehem and Nazareth, this infant/child/man of temple and town and wilderness, this infant/child/man of cross and empty tomb.

The Christ is entered into the world. The true and perfect son, who honors the Father with his every breath, is come. The son we should be but were not. The son we are in him.

The Christ is entered into the world. He cries as a hungry infant. He laughs as a delighted child, playing the ancient equivalent of “peek-a-boo.” He shouts as a rambunctious boy, sporting with friends. He labors as a man with sweat and satisfaction. He prays and ponders the holy writings as a child and as a man. He weeps at the sorrow of death in the village, and witnesses the reality of Roman might. He enjoys the village wedding feast and ponders the feast that has no end. He reflects on the bonds of friendship and the pains of betrayal. He recognizes the beauty of the world around him and the beauty of human kindness. He sees the brutality of the world around him and the human capacity for violence. He knows the joy of song and dance. He never has the privilege of chocolate, but he knows the sweetness of honey. He knows the wonder of the temple and the mystery hidden within. He watches prodigal sons perish at the gates of far away cities, and witnesses the shame of their parents. He knows the blind and lame who depend upon village charity, and sees those who give nothing. He watches foreign soldiers slap down old men on the road and shame their women. He sees those who collude and those who resist and the many who keep their heads down and hope against the knock in the night.

The Christ is entered into the world. And he abides in the world. Risen, yet embodied still in his people. Risen, yet present in the poor. “As you did to the least of these you did to me…”

Christ is entered into the world. He abides in this world where human creativity and craft have made weapons of unimaginable destruction. He abides in this world where some cannot breathe and others fail to understand. He abides in a world of mothers shielding children from bombs in the night. He abides in a world of vineyard weddings and children making sandcastles at the shore. He abides in a world where those who celebrate Christmas are threatened and abused and others worry over the cost. He abides in a world where fear creeps and violence claims authority. He abides in a world where some children rise carefree and others scrounge the trash heaps. He abides in us who weep and sing. He abides in us who are mindless and mindful of all that transcends.

The Christ is come. The voice at the beginning and end of time that, in love, calls a world into being and, in love, calls a world to new beginnings, speaks in human form and human actions and human words.

He calls the world into peace. He calls the world into joy. He calls the world into giving. He calls the world into love.

He calls us into peace, into joy, into giving, into love.

Christmas lingers. Christ lingers. And our adoration of the wondrous child lingers. For Christ is entered into the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASimeon_with_the_Infant_Jesus_Brandl_after_1725_National_Gallery_Prague.jpg By Janmad (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Break forth together into singing”

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Watching for the Morning of January 1, 2017

The Sunday in Christmas

Oprah Winfrey seems to be everywhere on television promoting Weight Watchers. For the society around us, Christmas is over. The feasting and sweetness is finished; now it’s time to lose weight. And if Christmas is only about gifts, then once the gifts are opened the holiday is finished. Drag the tree out to the curb. Take down the lights. All that remains is football.

But if Christmas is about the gifts of God come to the world in the child of Bethlehem, then there is much more to celebrate.

Sunday continues the Christmas Season. It is that wonderful oasis between the feast of the Nativity and the Epiphany of our Lord. The community gathers again in the aura of that silent night to hear the continuation of the story begun on Christmas Eve. The child greeted by the song of angels and the wonderment of shepherds is greeted by the faithful poor in Israel: Simeon yearning for God’s day of grace to come, and Anna absorbed in prayer. These recognize the Christ child as God’s anointed and sing of him to all who will listen.

Sunday the prophet will call us to join the song. And Paul will speak of what God has done in “the fullness of time”. Joy reverberates throughout the texts and liturgy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. But we also see the first shadow that reminds us of the great drama underway: Simeon speaks of “the falling and the rising of many in Israel” and the “sword” that will pierce Mary’s soul. Heaven sings. The faithful sing. But the powers of this world will not sing. So Good Friday awaits, but the grave will not reign: the new creation is at hand.

The Prayer for January 1, 2017

Gracious God,
by whose word we live
and whose promises all come to fulfillment,
we give you thanks for those faithful among your people
who, like Simeon and Anna, have eyes to see your dawning work among us.
Grant that, with them, we might see where your hand is working
and share in its joy;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for January 1, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10,
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” – The prophet stands before the rubble of Jerusalem and hears the stones singing. He summons the people to rejoice in God’s saving work and declares that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” – Paul recites the core message of what God has done in Christ for these Galatians, making them members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 2:21-40
“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” – The narrative of Jesus’ birth continues with Mary and Joseph’s faithful obedience and the recognition and reception of Jesus by Simeon and Anna, representatives of faithful Israel.

Our parish departs from the appointed texts for the Christmas season in order to present the birth narratives with some integrity: reading Luke 2:1-20 on Christmas Eve (and John 1 on Christmas morning), then the remainder of Luke 2 on the Sunday in Christmas and the Account of the Magi and Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus on the second Sunday after Christmas, celebrated as the Sunday of the Epiphany.

This does mean that we sometimes have to drop a Sunday when our celebration of the Epiphany falls after January 6th (as this year), in order to reconnect with the appointed texts. So we will celebrate the Baptism of our Lord on January 15, then skip to the texts for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Appointed Texts for the first Sunday in Christmas, year A

First Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9 (“It was…his presence that saved them”)

Psalmody: Psalm 148 (Praise the Lord from the heavens.)

Second Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18 (“He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect.”)

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23 (The flight to Egypt and slaughter of the innocents)

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMenologion_of_Basil_037.jpg By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

O Come

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Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore.

A solo voice sang that verse in the darkened sanctuary as she followed behind the processional cross as it entered last night. With the second verse another voice joined as the manger with the infant Jesus was carried in. Two more voices joined as the Bible came up the aisle. Then the whole choir was singing as they came and stood with the musicians on the platform behind the altar. With the final verse the lights came on and the whole congregation stood to sing:

Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore! Amen

As the music faded, came these words from the altar:

You made the world a garden, O God,
And formed our first parents from the dust of the earth and the breath of your mouth.
You made the world a garden, O God,
And walked with us in the cool of the evening.
You made the world a garden, O God,
And provided every good thing to your children.

But they turned from you,
And weeds grew,
And lions roared,
And tears fell.
Brother rose against brother,
And the riches of the earth were pounded into weapons.
Empires marched,
And sorrow followed in their train.

You made the world a garden, O God,
But it lies wounded.
We lie wounded.
Your children are scattered
and your people divided.

But on this night the radiance of heaven shines forth.
Stars blaze. Angels sing.
And you bid us and all creation to come and dwell in your light and life.

With that the organ swelled and we all began to sing: “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

The liturgy of Christmas Eve is unlike any other in the year. Easter has its sugar-fueled, spring-fed energy. Pentecost has the fun of many languages. The Blessing of the Animals is out on the lawn with pets at our side. But Christmas Eve is a special mix of family reunions, candlelight, beautiful music and joy, peace and hope.

Some years the wounds of the world are more profoundly in our minds. But in every year the invitation still comes to gather for a moment of peace, captured so perfectly when every hand holds a candle and, in a church darkened but for the Christmas trees, we sing “Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright…”

Such a world is our yearning. And it is God’s promise.

The message from Christmas Eve is posted at Light for our darkness

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADon_Silvestro_dei_Gherarducci_-_Nativity%2C_in_an_initial_P_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons