Flooded with Joy

File:Leather bucket of a well.jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 17, 2017

Year B

The Third Sunday of Advent

“The LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses our first reading for this Sunday as the text in his sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth. The message will be simple: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It is the language of the jubilee year when every debt is wiped away and all things restored. It is, in the mouth of the prophet, a promise of the return from exile and the rebuilding of their life in the land. It is, in the life of the church, a promise of that day when all things are made new. Everlasting joy.

Joy ripples through our worship this Sunday. It is the day once known as “Gaudete Sunday” from the ancient introit: “Gaudete in Domino semper…,” “Rejoice in the Lord always” from Philippians 4:4-6. We will hear similar words in our second reading that begins with the exhortation to “Rejoice always.” We will hear joy in the song of Mary, the Magnificat. And it is reverberates through the proclamation with which Mark begins his account of Jesus: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The runner has come from the battlefield to announce that the city is saved. The enemy is fallen. Our long awaited king comes to wash us in the Spirit.

Every translation of which I am aware says that the one who is coming will ‘baptize’ us in the Spirit. And, yes, the Greek word in the text is taken into English to give us the word ‘baptism’. But, for us, the word ‘baptism’ is almost exclusively a church word. We might refer to a baptism by fire, but we would never say that drowning sailors are being baptized. The Greek word was not a religious word, and if we take it out of the religious realm for a minute, we might hear something of the true drama of this promise: The coming one will wash us in the Spirit. The coming one will immerse us in the Spirit. The coming one will drown us in the Spirit. The coming one will drench us in the Spirit. The coming one will flood us with the Spirit. The coming one will shower the spirit upon us.

In a world often immersed in hate and fear, violence and deceit, here is the promise that we will be immersed in the Spirit of God. We will be awash in grace. We will be showered with compassion. Good news will be announced to the poor. Liberty will be proclaimed to the captive. We will be flooded with joy.

The Prayer for December 17, 2017

Eternal God, Breath of Life,
Font of Hope, and our Eternal Joy;
Open the doors of our hearts, and the gates of your mercy
to come into our world and our lives,
and fill us with the joy of your presence.

The Texts for December 17, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 61.1-11 (appointed: 61.1-4, 8-11)
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” –
The prophet describes his ministry as announcing a jubilee year, when all debts are forgiven and all lands restored.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – Mary sings with joy of God’s coming deliverance when she is greeted by Elizabeth whose unborn child already recognizes their coming Lord.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
– Paul concludes his letter to the believers in Thessalonica with a series of exhortations about their life together as they wait for Christ’s return and the consummation of God’s dawning reign.

Gospel: Mark 1.1-8
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Mark begins his Gospel with the language of royal decree and the prophetic words of John pointing to the one who will wash the world in the Holy Spirit.

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The appointed texts for December 17, 2017

Psalm: Psalm 126, (Luke 1:46-55 is an alternate for the psalm)
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
– The poet remembers the joy of their restoration to the land, and prays now that God would refresh the land anew with rain and abundant harvest.

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” – The wealthy and powerful leaders in Jerusalem send representatives to discern whether John represents a threat to revolt against their rule, and seem satisfied that he is “only” a prophetic voice. They fail to hear his message that the coming one is already here.

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During Advent our parish departs from the appointed psalms and sings Isaiah 51:4-11, the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and Isaiah 12 on the four Sundays. We also adjust the readings between the Sundays to allow for the celebration of a children’s Christmas program during worship in Advent. Next Sunday we will read Mark’s account of John the Baptist that is assigned for today.

During Advent we provide daily verses and brief reflections that can be found by following this link to Advent 2017.

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

The day of vengeance?

Friday

Isaiah 61

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The prophet Isaiah

1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;

When Jesus reads this text in the synagogue in Nazareth and declares it fulfilled, he leaves off the last line about the day of vengeance. Or, at least, when Luke writes about that sermon, Luke leaves that last line off.

Luke, however, is not doing it out of our modern sensibilities that routinely edit texts read in worship to leave off things that sound harsh. He is concerned with the punch line that with this Jesus dawns the year of grace.

Isaiah feels no such compunction. Neither does Mary when she sings of the rich being sent empty away. They understand better than we the grace in this message about the ‘day of vengeance’.

For us, ‘vengeance’ is a dark, troubling emotion: wanting to make other people suffer as we have suffered, wanting to strike back, wanting to ‘get even’.

The problem of ‘getting even’ – is that ‘even’ never feels even. We seem to need to add a penalty and make the person hurt a little (or a lot) more than they hurt us. This is why the cycle of revenge always escalates, and why, in the Mosaic Law, God had to say [only] an eye for an eye. God wasn’t endorsing revenge or instructing us to get even, but prohibiting the altogether too common practice of avenging a wrong beyond what was necessary to keep the peace (or neglecting a wrong done to one who was weak).

And this wasn’t personal revenge; it was corporate. It wasn’t Lamech declaring “hurt me and I will hurt you worse!” It was “hurt our tribe and we hurt your tribe.” It wasn’t individuals “taking the law into their own hands” but communities requiring that the ledgers be balanced.

The problem in such a system of social order is with those who are weak and vulnerable. Widows and orphans, the poor, have no one to stand up for their defense, no one to call the community to avenge the wrongs done to them.   So God lays that burden on the community by declaring “I will avenge.” Thus, under threat of divine wrath, the ‘weak’ become a protected class instead of being easy marks for social predation.

But if God never comes to judge, the threat becomes meaningless.

So the day of grace is a day God acts: to forgive, to heal, to reconcile, to restore – and to avenge: to set right the twisted scales of a world where the weak are victimized and the poor are plundered.

In the era of Jim Crow, where communities of people where suppressed by threat of violence against which there was no defense other than submission – to declare that God is come to set them free must mean that their avenger has arisen to right the world, to fight on their behalf, to wrench from the hand of pharaoh their liberty.

This is the hidden sweetness in the phrase a “day of vengeance of our God” – it is a day God restores the lost balance of the world. And so Mary sings about the greedy rich who have plundered the vulnerable – that they are “sent empty away.”   She is not exulting in their suffering, but rejoicing that the world has been rescued from their hands.

The garments of salvation

Thursday

Isaiah 61

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Traditional Wedding Dress of Bahrain

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God.

Every now and then I have to stop the liturgy and remind the congregation what they are saying. To respond to the declaration that all sins are forgiven with a lackluster “thanks be to God,” is a travesty. No groom stands before his bride and mutters off the vows as if they were old and tired words. If such a groom exists, the bride should flee. Every now and then the guy is nervous – and, since he is repeating words I give him, he will start the vows looking at me. For that brief moment his concern is “getting it right.” He’s reciting a formula. But I always stop and remind him that he is not making the promise to me but to her and he should look at her. Then his whole demeanor changes. Then the words are channeled through his heart and will and emotions. Then they are spoken from the core of his being. “I take you…”

When we stand to speak in worship we stand before that power and presence in whom and from whom all things came into being. We are speaking to the one who is the source of all existence including our own. We are speaking to the heartbeat of the universe and the breath of all life. We are speaking with the power of creation and new creation, the power of truth and redemption, the power of grace and mercy, the power that unleashes every bondage yet binds itself to us.

We are not just looking into the loving eyes of a bride or groom; we are looking into the eyes of eternal love. If we mumble, then it ought only be because we are overwhelmed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God.

My whole being shall exult. My whole being. Every heartbeat, every breath, every blink of the eye, every silently pulsating work of cells to grow and divide, to heal and renew, to stretch and grow, with every fiber of my being I praise this source of life. For the God who is at work in the world is loosing those who are bound, is building what has been torn down, is binding what is broken, healing what is wounded, forgiving what we imagine cannot be forgiven. The God who is at work in the world throws down every empire and raises up the ruined city. This God who is at work in the world, who speaks to us and to whom we speak, comes to wrap us and all creation in the garments of salvation.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

“Among you stands one whom you do not know.”

Wednesday

John 1

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St. John the Baptist, Ambrogio Lorenzetti

26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

“Among you stands one whom you do not know.” I don’t think John is saying that these representatives of the Jerusalem elite who have come to question him simply haven’t been introduced yet to the coming one who stands among them. They don’t know him. They don’t understand him. They don’t recognize him. They don’t live in him or from him.

They don’t receive him.

The first verses in our reading this morning are connected to that great hymn that opens John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.

He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light.

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

He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God.

In the face of this great and majestic hymn about the light of life entering into the world but not being received – immediately we hear the representatives of the Jerusalem elite not understanding who John is, nor caring about the one who is to come.

Among you stands one whom you do not know.

What they care about is whether John is going to be trouble. Is he going to start something? Is he going to rise up like a Messiah and lead people towards Jerusalem with an eye to establishing a theocratic state? Is he going to be an action figure like Elijah attempting to initiate God’s great act of deliverance from foreign oppression? Is he the prophet like Moses leading the people to a promised land?

John denies it all. He is just a voice.

But though John says he is a “voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” these interrogators are still puzzled because he is baptizing, he is taking action – an action that looks like the gathering of an army. So, again, they ask. And though John keeps pointing to the coming one, these representatives of Jerusalem’s power are not interested.

Among you stands one whom you do not know.”

These are sad words. Those who should know do not. They are like Nicodemus, wandering in the dark, confused by the breath/wind/Spirit of God. They do not receive the light.

They just want things to stay the same.

But things won’t. They can’t. For the one whom they do not recognize is one so great in honor and rank that even a prophet of God Most high is still not worthy to serve as the lowliest slave assigned the task of tending such a masters’ feet.

And this one is in the world!

The light and life by whom and in whom and through whom all things exist is in their midst – and they don’t know him. They don’t receive him.

But others do.

It’s no accident that the author of this gospel is the one who tells us that this great and honored one, whose feet the Baptist was not worthy to touch, will take a towel and bend to wash his followers’ feet.

And he will tell them to do likewise.

And the grave shall not hold him.

And he will breathe on them his Spirit.

And the world of the wealthy and powerful will be turned upside down.

Joy overflows

Watching for the morning of December 14

Year B

The Third Sunday of Advent

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By krzyboy2o

Joy overflows this Sunday. We hear of the call of the prophet in Isaiah 61 who has been empowered by the Spirit of God to declare God’s restoration of the people. He uses the language and imagery of the jubilee year when every debt is forgiven and all lands restored. It contains also the imagery of a new king ascending the throne announcing amnesty and a new beginning for the nation.

The joy and expectation of the birth of Jesus cannot be contained. When Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the child in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy and Mary sings her exquisite song rejoicing in God’s salvation.

Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica to “Rejoice always” and declares that their faithful God will keep them “sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The only harsh note is the inquisition by representatives of the Jerusalem elite who come to interrogate John. They want to know whether he will lead an uprising against the powerful governing families in Jerusalem. They are satisfied that he is only a prophetic voice and do not seem to care when he declares that the coming one is already in their midst.

The coming one is in our midst. And the joy of that day is ours already.

The Prayer for December 14, 2014

Mighty God,
who stands at the beginning and end of time,
you sent your servant John as herald of your kingdom
and witness to Christ, the light of the world,
who stands even now among us.
Renew us by your promised Spirit
that, with lives made whole,
we may receive you with joy at your coming;
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 December 14, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 61.1-11
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” – The prophet describes his ministry as announcing a jubilee year, when all debts are forgiven and all lands restored.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – Mary sings with joy of God’s coming deliverance when she is greeted by Elizabeth whose unborn child already recognizes their coming Lord.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
– Paul concludes his letter to the believers in Thessalonica with a series of exhortations about their life together as they wait for Christ’s return and the consummation of God’s dawning reign.

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” – The wealthy and powerful leaders in Jerusalem send representatives to discern whether John represents a threat to revolt against their rule, and seem satisfied that he is “only” a prophetic voice. They fail to hear his message that the coming one is already here.

The appointed psalm: Psalm 126
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
– The poet remembers the joy of their restoration to the land, and prays now that God would refresh the land anew with rain and abundant harvest.