Like showers watering the earth

File:08152 Bukowsko (powiat sanocki).jpgWatching for the Morning of January 6, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord

6He will be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.

We will read Psalm 72 on Sunday from the old 1984 translation of the New International Version because that version presents the psalm as promise rather than wish. The current NIV reads “May he be like rain falling on a mown field,” and the New Revised Standard Version reads similarly. ‘May’ is too soft a verb. It robs the prayer of passion. In our time, in our conflicted politics, it sounds more like a sigh than a song.

I understand the translators’ choice. But the text is not just a relic of an ancient coronation rite; it is now deep in the canon of scripture. It now bears the divine word to a broken world. It preaches. It declares what kings and presidents ought to be – and what the reign of God will be. It stands against those who use their office to bless themselves and proclaims the promise of God to all creation. It summons us to live the faithfulness that is coming, to be participants in the blessing of the world.

When we gather in worship and set this song next to the child of Bethlehem, the magi, and the murderous king, the song soars. We hear the yearning and joy of all heaven and earth: in the outstretched arms of Jesus is God’s true and lasting reign and the healing of the world. To him belongs the obeisance of the nations. To him belong the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In him is the end of every murderous regime. In him is the silencing of every deceitful tongue. In him is the end of the whip and the lash, the nails and the wood, the taunts and the dying. In him the grave is powerless. In him is the soft rain that brings life to the earth.

Sunday we read this song that is prayer and promise and proclamation. We hear of the magi kneeling before the child of Bethlehem, and of the kings of this earth with the blood of children on their hands to prevent his rising. The voice of the prophet declares: “Arise, shine; for your light has come.” It is the feast of the epiphany, the feast of Christ revealed to the nations, the feast of light shining in the darkness. The wondrous grace of Christmas Eve blazes across the skies.

And, yes, the shadow of the cross lies across the day: Herod echoes Pharaoh’s murderous attempt upon the children of Israel. But the child will live. The child will come forth out of Egypt. The child will settle in Nazareth. And in his outstretched arms all creation is born of God.

The Prayer for January 6, 2019

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.

The Texts for January 6, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)
“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

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.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but 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.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:08152_Bukowsko_(powiat_sanocki).jpg Silar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Sister Marge

File:Warm Winter Sun Bath.jpg

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

File:Blackdykes Ruin - geograph.org.uk - 1025680.jpg

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

File:Magi Herod MNMA Cl23532.jpg

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

A box filled with plowshares

File:Old agricultural tools.jpg

Thursday

Ephesians 3:1-12

8This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Most modern scholars don’t think Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, but that doesn’t take anything away from its authority as scripture. It is part of the canon not because Paul wrote it, but because the community of faith recognized the voice of God in it. It bears witness to the character and work of God.

It’s not my purpose to review the academic argument, only to point out that what we listen for in these ancient writings is the living voice of God. These writings are not dictated by God as an authoritative legal code or historical record; they are inspired, “inspirited,” breathing the breath of God, encountering us with God’s creating and redeeming speech that brought forth the world, reveals the heart of God and draws us into his will and purpose.

Paul is a servant of that word, that message, that living speech of God that calls our name and bids us follow, that forgives our sins and draws us into the realm of grace, that nourishes us through the wilderness of this world like manna in the desert and water from the rock.

Whether these words are from Paul, Paul’s secretary, Paul’s friend, Paul’s disciple, or someone writing in Paul’s memory doesn’t matter. These words have their origin in the Holy Spirit and continue to be a vessel of that Spirit. They bear witness to the mystery of God’s purpose in the world: 6the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

It doesn’t seem strange to us now to think that God is the God of all, that we are – and are meant to be – a single human family. But it was radical news at the time. And we still have trouble with it – not with the concept of one God, Lord of all, but with the reality of receiving all people as sisters and brothers.

We are wired to put things into categories: these are apples, these are oranges, these a bananas. They are all fruits. They are not meat. They are not vegetables. These are edible. These are not. Pennies go in a gumball machine; they don’t go in your mouth. Gum goes in your mouth, but you don’t swallow it. Oak leaves are pretty in the fall, so are poison oak leaves – but they go in different categories.

We are wired to put things into mental boxes. The mystery of which Paul speaks is that there is one box labeled ‘people’. There are not separate boxes for tall people and short people, fat people and skinny people, dark complexion and light. There are not separate boxes for liberals and conservatives, sinners and saints, Christians, Muslims and Jews. There is just one box: all God’s children.

The church is meant to be the sign that there is one box, a community of all kinds of people across language and culture and time. We are also the bearers of the message that there is only one box – a box filled with “the boundless riches of Christ.” A box filled with grace. A box filled with compassion. A box filled with love of neighbor. A box filled with plowshares and pruning hooks.

 

Image: agricultural tools used in Ferizaj.  By Diamant Hetemi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They will call him blessed

File:074 Frontal d'altar de Mosoll, els Reis d'Orient.jpg

Watching for the Morning of January 3, 2016

The Sunday of the Epiphany

The appearance of the magi is both majestic and terrifying. In a world where Herod killed his own children in fear they conspired to seize his throne, the obeisance of the magi before the child of Bethlehem is not only a threat to the current regime, it imperils the holy family – and, as we shall hear, every child in Bethlehem.

A thousand years before, the village elders of Bethlehem quaked when the prophet, priest, and kingmaker, Samuel, arrived. They knew his presence could well expose them to the wrath of Saul; prophets have a habit of acclaiming new kings. But Samuel masked his secret mission as a public sacrifice, and anointed David in the privacy of his father’s house (after God rejected all his strapping older brothers and they had to fetch David from the fields).

The clash of kings – only this is not one king against rivals, but human kingship against divine kingship. So the first reading and psalm soar with the vision of God’s just and righteous reign over all creation. Isaiah proclaims Israel’s restoration and exaltation, that “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” bringing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. And the psalmist declares that the just and righteous king “will rule from sea to sea.” All nations will bow before him, “for he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help,” and the kings of this earth will kneel “and present him gifts.” (This is why the magi become kings in the tradition.)

Sunday is about the clash of kingships. And the gathering of the nations in Christ is witness that this is the dawning of God’s righteous reign when “all nations will be blessed through him; and they will call him blessed.”

The Prayer for January 3, 2016

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 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” – In the years after the return from exile, the prophet heralds a restoration of the nation: though Jerusalem and the temple are now only a pale reflection of their former glory, the Glory of God shall be upon them, the sons and daughters of Israel scattered throughout the ancient world shall return, and the people of all nations will make pilgrimage to “proclaim the praise of the LORD”.

Psalmody: Psalm 72 (appointed 1-7, 10-14)

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” – A royal psalm, likely composed to celebrate the ascension of a new king, has become a promise of the anointed of God (Messiah/Christ) in whom all creation is made new.

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.” – Paul is privileged to proclaim God’s plan, once hidden from our eyes but 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.

 

Image: Altar frontal from Mosoll.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A074_Frontal_d’altar_de_Mosoll%2C_els_Reis_d’Orient.jpg  By Enfo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A belated post on the importance of celebrating Epiphany

File:Gotland-Grotlingbo Kyrka Taufstein 04.jpg

Grötlingbo Kyrka auf Gotland. Taufstein von Meister Sigraf ( 1200 ): Heilige Drei Könige

Epiphany. Shining. Manifest. Revealed. Made known. Antiochus IV called himself ‘Epiphanes’ – the manifestation of God on earth. He was the king who attempted to stamp out the strange, exclusive, unmodern faith of Israel and sparked the Maccabean revolt.

He is hardly the first human ruler to consider himself the manifestation of God in human form – nor the last. Few would remember him had he not tried to install an image of himself in the temple of Jerusalem, among a people who passionately opposed all such images and all other gods.

It is an affliction for all those with great wealth and power to believe that they rule by the modern equivalent of divine right: the myth of the free market means they have merited their wealth – no matter how crooked the game – that they are, therefore, by definition, superior humans, fit to tell other humans how to live, fit to decide who prospers and who falls, fit to decide who lives and who dies. War for bananas, war for oil, war for political influence, war for a fit of pique, it matters little. Britain went to war upon China because China didn’t want the British importing opium. But there was profit to be made. Big profits. The bankers crashed the economy because they thought they were smarter than everyone else and above the rules. (And we let them get away with it, so they are off on their divine right quest again. Thanks to riders slipped into the “CRomnibus bill” in return for their huge donations, they are able again to gamble with the government insured deposits or ordinary people.)

But it is not just the big muckety-wumps who think they are gods. We have all had teachers who acted this way, and bosses, and neighbors. Even clergy: why else would someone feel they have the right to put their hand down a little boy’s pants?

And there is a little tyrant in all of us.

It was bold of ancient Israel to declare we were made in the image of God rather than born of the blood of the chaos monster. The evidence seems to go the other way.

Epiphany. This day that seems like an afterthought to the sweet story of the baby Jesus, this day is desperately important. We are not the manifestation of God on earth; he is. He is our true humanity. He is our true unbroken spirit – our uncorrupted spirit. Unbent. Untwisted. Un-curved in upon itself. He is the faithful son humanity has failed to be. He is the love for which we were fashioned. He is the light that shines in our world of false lights. He is our redeeming grace, our hope for rebirth.

Like Noah he turns away the wrath of God and offers the world a new beginning. He is the one, true epiphany, the one, true manifestation of the face of both God and man.

Photo: By Wolfgang Sauber (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

He will reign

Saturday

Psalm 72

File:Bratsigovo-church-St-John-Precursor-dome-inside.jpg

Christ Pantocrator (ruler of all) in the dome of “St John the Precursor” in Bratsigovo, Bulgaria

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

The question is whether the psalm is a prayer or a promise. The translation in the 1984 New International Version declares:

He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

But the 2011 revision of the NIV changes it to:

May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

So does the next line say “The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,”(1984) or “May the mountains bring prosperity to the people.”(2011)

Does verse 8 declare “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth,” or “May he rule…”?

And does it mean “to the ends of the earth” or to the ‘end’ of the land where soil gives way to sea? The Hebrew word ‘earth’ is the same as in the phrase ‘land of Israel’. So does “sea to sea” mean Red Sea to Black Sea (or Caspian Sea?), and “from the River to the ends of the earth” mean the Euphrates to the Mediterranean – an exaggerated version of the furthest extent of David’s kingdom? (Or, alternately, Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Euphrates to land’s end at the Red Sea?)

There are two different ways to hear the psalm. The one is the psalm in its original context, the accession of a new king and the prayer that he will rule justly over a great empire. The other is to hear the psalm with the people of God looking back through the long history of kingship with all its terrible frailties and hear in the psalm the promise of a new kind of king, one endowed with God’s own judgments, one who reigns over all creation, who brings God’s vindication for the poor, whose reign is never ending, and before whom all earthly kings show obeisance.

When we read or sing this song in worship, it is no longer about an earthly king on the throne of David; it is now about the eternal king, incarnate from heaven, reigning over all creation, breathing into all existence his holy spirit. And so, on Sunday, we will use the old NIV that does not pray “May he defend the afflicted among the people” but declares: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy.” He will come. He will reign. “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.” He will “save the needy from death.” He will gather our broken world under his just governance.

Indeed he has come.

And, with the Magi, we come to kneel before him.

Image: Spiritia [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

 

Rachel weeping for her children

 

Friday

File:Pavimento di siena, strage degli innocenti (matteo di Giovanni) 01.jpg

The Massacre of the Innocents, marble mosaic floor of the Duomo di Siena, by Matteo di Giovanni

Matthew 2

17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel `weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Rachel. She is the beloved of Jacob – Jacob whose name God changes to ‘Israel’; Jacob whose twelve sons are the foundation of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, for whom he worked seven years only to find her sister, Leah, in his bed the morning after the wedding, and for whom he worked another seven years.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, so God gave to Leah, the unloved sister, the gift of children.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, upon whom God had mercy and granted her a son, Joseph, who will be hated by his brothers for his dreams, and be sold into Egypt, where he will rise to power for interpreting the pharaoh’s dreams, and before whom his brothers will eventually come to bow down as his dreams foretold.

Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, who dies in childbirth and names the child Ben-oni, “Son of my suffering”, though his father changes his name to Benjamin, “Son of (my) right hand”.

Rachel weeping.

Ramah. Ramah where Rachel was buried. Ramah where the Babylonians gathered their captives to take them in chains to Babylon, when they had broken through the walls of the starving, besieged city, raped and pillaged and destroyed the temple and palace and city walls.

Rachel weeping at Ramah, for the children of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, whose suffering is beyond imagining, who have embraced the world of human empires and been crushed by it, who sought to be a kingdom of wealth and power and were destroyed by greater wealth and power.

Rachel weeping. A prophetic word that reaches its ultimate meaning in the innocents of Bethlehem, for God’s kingdom has come into the world, and the world has answered with armies sent to slaughter children, armies sent to hold back the dawning reign of God.

But they cannot.

The child is safe in Egypt. The child will come to Nazareth. The child will be anointed with the Spirit at the Jordan. The child will not fall before temptation. The child will declare the reign of God begun. The child will embody that reign of God. The child will heal, and forgive, and restore. The child will not strike with the sword, but take it upon himself. Perfect faithfulness to God and to others. The true Son. The risen Son. The commissioning Son. The spirit-giving Son.

Rachel weeping, weeping for a world in bondage, a world in exile, far from its true home.

But the grave is empty. The reign of God is begun and cannot be stopped.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Thursday

Matthew 2

File:Rembrandt van Rijn, Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.jpg

Rembrandt, The Rest on The Flight into Egypt

15“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

These are profound words. Frightful words. Tragic and exulting words.

The people of Israel were God’s ‘son’. He fathered them through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He gathered them out from Egypt. He made a covenant with them at Sinai. He led them through the wilderness into a new land. He guided them through the prophets. He delivered them through the judges and the kingship of Saul and David. The people of Israel were God’s first born.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Matthew is quoting Hosea 11. There God speaks his anguish over his faithless son, his rebellious people, who constantly look to the gods of Canaan, who put their trust in the gods of fertility and abundance, who give their allegiance to money, sex and power.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

It is not only Israel that wanders from the path. It is, indeed, the whole human story. But the people of Israel were God’s ‘son’, God’s adopted, the heirs of all God’s promises through whom God would bring blessing and life to his whole rebelling creation. How shall salvation enter into the creation if God’s people are faithless? How shall the earth be healed? How shall the wars and greeds that are the painful norms come to an end if there is no faithful son?

The flight of the holy family to Egypt is not just a dramatic plot twist in the narrative, or a fulfillment of ancient prophecy; it is a profound declaration. The one who is before us, the one from the line of David whose birth was announced by angels, the stars, and holy writ – the one who is before us is the faithful son. He embodies the story of Israel, but to a different ending. Kings seek to destroy him as Pharaoh sought to destroy Israel. He goes down into Egypt and is led back by God just as the people of Israel went down and were brought back. But this Jesus will be faithful. He will be God’s agent of healing and redemption. He will place his trust in God and not his own wisdom and understanding. When tested in the wilderness he will remain faithful to God’s word. When tested before the cross, he will seek God’s will not his own.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Jesus travels the path we have not traveled. He has loved with a complete love. He has forgiven even his tormentors. He has done justice and mercy to the least of these. He has regarded all as members of his own household.

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

With this simple line all Matthew’s readers hear the sermon Haggai spoke. They know the charge against them – and they recognize what is being said of Jesus. He is the faithful son; in him blessing comes to the world; in him the universe is healed.

And we are healed.