Joseph forgave his brothers

File:Afghan girl begging.jpg

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This is the message from Sunday, February 24, 2019, based on the first reading Genesis 45:3-11, 15, (Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers) and Luke 6:27-38, the Gospel for the day when Jesus commands us to “love your enemies.” The other readings were Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 . An introduction to this Sunday and its texts is posted as An audacious and generous love.

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Because of my cough, I need to keep things short and concise this morning. This poses a challenge, since these texts are all so important.

Every time you hear someone talk about how the Old Testament is all about violence and wrath, you need to say simply: “Joseph forgave his brothers.”

The story of Joseph takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. This is the book that begins with the wondrous creation of all things and then tells how the harmony of God’s world was lost, how Cain killed Abel, how violence multiplied in the earth until God felt it necessary to wipe the slate clean and start again. Genesis tells us of Noah, of the tower of Babel, of the call of Abraham, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the birth of Ishmael, of the birth of Isaac and the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice.

Genesis recounts how Abraham sends a servant to search for a wife for Isaac: his beloved Rebekah. It tells of the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing. Jacob had to flee from his brother’s murderous wrath and has his dream of the stairway to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob meets Rachel and negotiates seven years of labor that she might be his bride and, on the morning after his wedding, finds Leah in his bed and realizes that he, the cheater, has been cheated. He works another seven years for Rachel and cheats his father-in-law out of the best of the flocks until he has to flee, taking his wives and possessions. Jacob is caught between an angry father-in-law behind him and a murderous brother ahead of him – and then God jumps him while he is sleeping alone at the river Jabbok. They wrestle all night. Jacob wants to know God’s name and God refuses. As dawn nears, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a touch to force Jacob to let go, but Jacob demands that God bless him. Then there is the climactic scene when his brother Esau comes galloping towards him with 400 armed men.

All of this and so much more is in Genesis – including all those “begats” – but the book still devotes a fourth of its narrative to Joseph.

The Joseph story is critically important – and it is a story that reaches its climax with an act of unmerited forgiveness. Joseph forgives the brothers who hated him and intended to kill him.

The Old Testament is not about wrath; it is about mercy. It is about a troubled and violent world that is not the world God created, but is the world God chooses to forgive, to redeem, to save, to heal.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks – the forgiveness that is the heart of the Old and New Testament alike – is a real forgiveness lived in a broken world. It is not carefree young people singing “All you need is love;” it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, love.

The beatitudes we heard last week, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep,” – these are not romantic ideas; they are real world ideas. And those exclamations about what is honorable and what is shameful in God’s sight lead immediately to this one sentence: “Love your enemies.”

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule but, as I have said, it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, kind of rule.

And understand why Jesus says this:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. God is faithful to us when we are not faithful. God is generous when we are not generous. God is kind when we are not kind. God is merciful when we are not merciful.

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. And we are not talking about generalities. They tried to kill Joseph. They did kill Jesus. They showed no mercy. They showed no generosity. They stripped him and beat him and pierced his hands with spikes and his side with a spear. They mocked him as he hung there in shame. And the soldiers, after they had had their sport of dressing him up like a king and beating and spitting upon him, demanding that he prophesy – after they had done their Abu Graib cruelties, they callously ignored him on the cross and threw dice for his few meager possessions. But there were no thunderbolts from heaven, only a sad darkness. And there were no curses from the cross, only mercy and forgiveness.

God is merciful though we are not merciful. God is kind though we are not kind. God is faithful though we are not faithful. And this merciful God summons us to follow, summons us to spread wide the net that gathers all into God’s grace.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Joseph forgave his brothers.

Amen

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afghan_girl_begging.jpg Evstafiev [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

An audacious and generous love

File:Fog of War (18986349660).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 24, 2019

Year C

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Having declared that the poor, the hungry, and the grieving are honorable in God’s sight (they embrace the values of God’s reign), and calling the rich shameful for enriching themselves at the expense of others, Jesus moves immediately to Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Our obligation as participants in the reign of God is to live the way of God: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

A new administration has come, with a new set of values. These are not the values of empire that amasses great fortunes from conquered peoples; these are the values of a God who makes the makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” who anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

At the heart of this new administration is showing to all people the fidelity and allegiance we show to our own people. Israel knew the command to love the neighbor, but who falls inside the circle? Who is one of us? Even the Roman soldiers, says Jesus, and foreign mercenaries marching through their lands, even the tax gatherers helping Rome and Judea’s elites to plunder the people, even the sinners pushed beyond the limits of proper behavior, even the pious full of self-righteousness and judgment.

And why such audacious and generous love? Because such is the love of God. Such is the reign of the Spirit. Such is the new world born in Jesus.

So Sunday we will hear about Joseph’s extravagant grace to the brothers who sought to kill him but settled for selling him into slavery and telling their father his favorite child was dead, dousing Joseph’s special coat in blood to show a lion got him. But Joseph will see beyond their vengefulness to the bounty of God, and will provide for them all during the five years of famine to come. And Sunday we will hear the poet remind us not to “fret because of the wicked…for they will soon fade like the grass.” “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath,” for “the wicked will be no more,” “but the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

…In abundant prosperity. In overwhelming grace. In an audacious and generous love.

The Prayer for February 24, 2019

God of truth,
make us attentive to the teachings of your Son
that in his words we may find the path of life.

The Texts for February 24, 2019

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” –
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and receives them with grace.

Psalmody: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
“Do not fret because of the wicked…Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more…But the meek shall inherit the land.” – the poet meditates on the destiny of the corrupt who ignore our God-given obligations to one another and promises the fulfillment of God’s promise (the land) to those who remain faithful.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Arguing against those in Corinth who deny the bodily resurrection, Paul now attempts to convey the notion that the resurrected body is different than our present existence.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
After opening Jesus’ teaching about the dawning reign of God with Jesus’ declaration of those who are honored and shameful in God’s eyes, Luke immediately sets forth Jesus teaching, “Love your enemies,” for this is the pattern of God’s action in the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fog_of_War_(18986349660).jpg 1st Lt. Danielle Dixon [Public domain]

The Spirit of God

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Last Sunday, the festival of Pentecost, we talked about the Holy Spirit. Our series that reflects on how the Biblical narrative points ultimately to the sacrificial love of God manifest in the cross and resurrection stepped away from Genesis to talk about the work of the Spirit.

So far we have talked about the Biblical vision of a God who, by his word, called forth a good and beautiful world (week 1: Creation), and breathed into the first humans his breath/spirit (week 2: Garden), endured their broken relationship yet continued to protect and care for them (week 3: Fall) and continued toIS call to his creation in the narrative of Cain (week 4: Violence).

Cain chose revenge over reconciliation, and violence continued to spread over the world. In contrast to the spirit of power and revenge manifest so profoundly in Lamech’s boast, is the Spirit of God that brings beauty and life to the world.

Below are the pictures and text from the booklet we handed out following worship last Sunday. This coming Sunday, takes us back to Genesis and the narrative accounts of the flood.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AZugliget_templom_tet%C5%91ablak.JPG By Solymári (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Acts 2:1-21


The Biblical story begins
with the wind/spirit/breath of God


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In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The ancient idea of the Spirit connects to the power in the moving of air. It is the breath of life, the breath of speech, the breath of God in the wind, the breath of God that moves prophets and inspires warriors. With Pentecost it is the breath of God that empowers the love, faithfulness and witness of the followers of Jesus. It is the sign of the reigning presence of God and foretaste of a world made new.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_waves_(13286850323).jpg By Archangel12 (Breaking waves) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in us


File:Gott Vater haucht Adam den Odem ein Hann Münden.jpg

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In the ancient story of Genesis 2 God forms the first human (the ‘adam’) from the earth (the ‘adamah’) and breathes into him the breath of life. Our life breath is from God. It is the breath of God that makes us living beings. It is the Spirit that gives life.

Photo: God breathes into Adam the breath of life
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGott_Vater_haucht_Adam_den_Odem_ein_Hann_M%C3%BCnden.jpg By Clemensfranz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in all things


File:Whales - Banderas Bay, Mexico - panoramio.jpg

24How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number –
living things both large and small.
26There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things
29When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:24-30)

The life breath of all things is the breath/spirit of God. The Spirit of God is creative, empowering, life-giving, life-renewing presence of God. It lifts the fallen, heals the wounded, restores the separated. It raises from death to life.

Whales – Banderas Bay, Mexico
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whales_-_Banderas_Bay,_Mexico_-_panoramio.jpg  Steve Hedin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The words that are used to describe the Spirit
are like those used for water


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The Spirit is “poured out” upon people. It “fills” them.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing in the temple, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (John 7:37-39)

Fulmer Falls, Childs Recreation Area in the Pocono Mountains
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulmer_Falls_Top_1_3264px.jpg Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Like wind and water,
the Spirit is a power to accomplish things



The Spirit of God gives insight and understanding


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The Spirit of God grants Joseph wisdom to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.

38Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:38-40)

Illustration by Owen Jones from “The History of Joseph and His Brethren” (Day & Son, 1869)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pharaoh%27s_dream.JPG Owen Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants skill to work beauty in the world


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Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus 31:1-5 NIV)

The ceiling of a vault at the Shah Cheragh shrine at Shiraz, Fars province, Iran
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flower_of_heaven.jpg By http://www.flickr.com/people/ dynamosquito/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants courage and strength


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Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. (Judges 14:5-6NIV)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samson_Fighting_the_Lion_(18th_c.,_Kargopol_style).jpg By Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917) Public domain image (according to PD-RusEmpire) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


and empowers people to lead


File:Dura Synagogue WC3 David anointed by Samuel.jpg

The Spirit of God raises David from tending sheep to guiding the nation.

13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Dura Europos Synagogue, panel WC3 : David anointed king by Samuel
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dura_Synagogue_WC3_David_anointed_by_Samuel.jpg By reworked by Marsyas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord inspires people to declare God’s message


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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;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_-_Great_Deesis_with_Prophets_-_Walters_37625.jpg By Anonymous (Russia) (Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The prophets promise a day when all things are made new
and the Spirit of God is poured out on all people


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But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you in the womb and will help you:
Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:1-3)

26 A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put my spirit within you,
and make you follow my statutes
and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Sealand, Denmark
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grib_skov.jpg By Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Jesus brings the dawn of that new age (God’s kingdom)


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15RSV)


John declared Jesus would drench the world with the Spirit


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“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

Gullfoss waterfall (Iceland)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGullfoss_rainbow.JPG By Laurent Deschodt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost
represents the dawning fulfillment of the promised Spirit


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17“In the last days it will be,” God declares,
“that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.”
(Acts 2:17-18 where Peter quotes Joel 2:28-29 to explain the wonder of Pentecost Day)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_006.jpg El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is the gift of the risen Lord


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19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_Maesta_detail2.jpg Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is a gift God is eager to give


11“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)


The Spirit is the gift of being joined with Christ in Baptism


File:Greven Gimbte - Alter Fährweg - St. Johannes Baptist in 23 ies.jpg

36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:36-39)

The word ‘repent’ means to change sides, to participate in and show allegiance to the new creation dawning in Christ.

St. Johannes Baptist, Alter Fährweg in Gimbte, Greven
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreven_Gimbte_-_Alter_F%C3%A4hrweg_-_St._Johannes_Baptist_in_23_ies.jpg By Frank Vincentz (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


The Spirit anoints us with the gifts of the age to come


7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)


The Spirit of the Lord bears the fruit of God’s reign in our lives


File:2004 orford 03.JPG

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Detail of a statue at St Bartholomew’s Church in Orford
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004_orford_03.JPG By Ziko-C (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

Biblical text: New Revised Standard Version
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

A Virgin Shall Conceive

The Promise of “God with Us”

File:Kazimierz Sichulski Madonna hutsulska.jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 18, 2016

Year A

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The name ‘Immanuel’ (“God [is] with us”) echoes through the readings this morning. It is the name the prophet uses to declare that deliverance is coming to Judah. And it is the name Matthew uses for the infant Jesus, as though it were a throne name. But it is much more than a throne name, it is a declaration that God has come to dwell with us, that heaven has bent to kiss the earth. The new age is dawning, the way to the tree of life is opened, healing and joy have come. In the mystery of God, our frail flesh is shown a fit vessel of the holy, and the ancient promise is fulfilled: “I will dwell with them and they shall be my people”.

The season of Advent waits for the advent of God: God’s advent/coming at the consummation of history, God’s advent in acts of deliverance and redemption throughout history, God’s advent in the swaddled child of Bethlehem, God’s advent in the healing works and words of Jesus, God’s advent in our hearts and minds. The season waits and prepares and rejoices in the advent of God. And the news of Bethlehem is too great. It spills out from Christmas into Advent even as the love of God spills forth into our lives. The Immanuel child is born. God is with us.

So Sunday we hear the prophet’s words from Isaiah, and also Matthew’s use of those words to reveal the meaning of this child’s birth. Joseph is pondering divorce, but a heavenly messenger declares this is God’s doing. Through this child God “will save his people from their sins” (free them from the debt to God they cannot pay, heal the torn relationship we can never make right). Paul’s opening words of his letter to Rome speak of Jesus “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” and “descended from David.” And the psalmody we sing from Isaiah declares: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The Prayer for December 18, 2016

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of your journey to us,
and help us to welcome the child of Mary into our lives;
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 18, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16
“The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
– To a king unwilling to trust God when threatened by northern neighbors marching against him, the prophet Isaiah gives a sign: by the time this woman gives birth people will be naming their children “God is with us!”

Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6
“Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” A song of salvation in praise of the God who dwells in our midst (sung in place of the appointed Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19).

Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” –
Paul begins his letter to the believers in Rome with a summary of the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25
“Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
– In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus and his adoption by Joseph we hear God speak both through the angelic visitors and the prophets of the one who is savior and Immanuel.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKazimierz_Sichulski_Madonna_hutsulska.jpg Kazimierz Sichulski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Faithful God; faithful people

Watching for the morning of December 28

The Sunday in Christmas

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve at Los Altos Lutheran Church (2012)

Our parish departs from the assigned lectionary readings during Christmas. There are wonderful feast days during the 12 days of Christmas: St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the 26th; St. John the Evangelist on the 27th; The Holy Innocents on the 28th; The Holy Name of Jesus on January 1. But these days and the various assigned lessons for the First and, sometimes, Second Sunday of Christmas seem to obscure the thread of this season. So in our parish we read the Luke Nativity on Christmas Eve and the John text “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” on Christmas Day. Then on the Sunday in Christmas we read the remainder of the Luke text, with Simeon and Anna greeting the Christ child, and on the following Sunday, nearest January 6th, we celebrate the Epiphany and read of the birth, the magi, Herod’s frightful response and the flight to Egypt from Matthew.

This Sunday, then, has us still inside Luke’s narrative of a faithful God and a faithful people. Mary and Jesus come to fulfill the commands of the Torah in the temple. There, Simeon and Anna wait, longing for God’s anointed – and they have eyes to recognize the promise embodied in this peasant child, Jesus. The faithful God has fulfilled his promise.

But, for all the joy of God’s coming deliverance, for all the sweetness of these Lucan narratives, there is a shadow over this child. Simeon sees what Mary has sung: “This child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel.” The wheel turns; the poor are lifted up, but the greedy rich sent empty away. Simeon sees and rejoices, but also perceives the opposition this child shall engender – and the sword that shall pierce Mary.

Jesus is perfect grace and real trouble. He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises and the provocative voice announcing a new world. At his first sermon, among his own people in Nazareth, his “coming out” party following his baptism by John and the descent of God’s Spirit, the congregation will rise up and try to kill him.

The faithful rejoice to see this Jesus, but others will not – and everything hinges on how that tale spins out.

The Prayer for the Sunday in Christmas, December 28, 2014

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 December 28, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10,
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace.” – In a text full of words that ring with added meaning for the Christian community – words like ‘proclaim good news’ (a noun form of this verb is rendered Gospel in English) and ‘Salvation’ the prophet calls the nation to rejoice in God’s work of bringing the exiles home.

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. They are members of God’s household and heirs of God’s promise through the gift of the Spirit in Christ, not because of their outward obedience to the tradition.

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.

A man of honor

Friday

Matthew 1

St Joseph with the Infant Jesus (c. 1635), at ...

St Joseph with the Infant Jesus (c. 1635), at the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg. Oil on canvas, 126 x 101 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

It is such a simple sentence.  But it is the kind of sentence that changes the world forever.

Mary is not engaged, she is betrothed.  Promises have been made.  Vows taken by the families.  Goods exchanged.  It is a marriage already, dissolvable only by divorce.  But Mary has not yet come under the roof of her husband; she still dwells with her parents.

Now she is pregnant.  This means adultery.  She has disgraced her family, betrayed her husband.  There is no recovery from this.

But Matthew clues the reader that the hand of God is working here.

Joseph is a righteous man – righteous in the best sense – just, faithful, fair in his dealings, generous to those in need, observant of the commands and traditions.  He cannot take an adulteress into his home. Even more, Joseph is sensitive to the social network.  He will do the noble thing; he will release her so that the father of the child can claim her.  He will not press charges of adultery.  He plans only to divorce her.  “Only.”  It will not be “quiet.”  It will be messy; breaking such covenants always is, especially in that time when marriage represented the alliance of families and the animosities its dissolution creates divide whole villages.  But there is a way to minimize the shame on Mary.  He is not looking for revenge.

But then God shows up.  Dreams are valid means of communication between heaven and earth.  This is a solemn word from a heavenly visitation:  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

“You are to name him Jesus.”  It means that Joseph is to adopt the child as his own.

This is not a story of a tender or romantic love triumphing over adversity.  This is an act of great nobility and remarkable courage, in the face of the wagging tongues of the village, to take upon himself this shame and claim this child as his own.

Little is told of Joseph, only this: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”  Joseph hearkened to the voice of God.  He listened and trusted and obeyed.  It may seem easy since the story suggests he had clear instruction.  But it was still a dream.  And though the commandments are even clearer than a dream, we negotiate our way around them.  Joseph showed himself a man of honor and compassion and faithfulness.

Behold

Watching for the morning of December 22

Year A

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Holy Family

Holy Family (Photo credit: Tomasz Tuszko)

Immanuel. God with us.  Savior.  Line of David.  In fulfillment of ancient prophesy.  Guided by heavenly messengers.  Matthew’s narrative explodes with expectation of a new and remarkable act of God to redeem the world.  And we haven’t yet seen the star or the magi – all nations coming to bow down before the one who is earth’s true king – and Jerusalem reacting in fear and murder.

The narrative is sometimes obscured by the emotions of the holiday season – and the fact that this has has become a story for children.  But it was not a children’s story to Matthew.  It was an earth-shaking, history-making story, caught up in the chaos of revolution and marching armies and competing claims to be Israel’s messiah.  Jerusalem has just been destroyed by the Romans.  Christians have been expelled from Rome.  Some have already been martyred in Jerusalem and throughout the empire.  Matthew’s congregation is swollen with refugees.  And Matthew has a story to tell of an empty grave, a resurrection, a dawning of a new union of heaven and earth.  God is with us.  The new age is breaking in.  Redemption is at hand.

Joseph is called to trust this thing God is doing.  To take this woman, this child, as his own.  To walk in hope that the God who brought down empires like Egypt and Babylon could bring a new ‘empire’ of God’s own making – an ‘empire’, a ‘reign’ a governance where the world is restored to God, where humanity is reconciled with their creator, and all creation is made new.

And so are we.  Called to trust the new beginning, the beginning of the new.  Called to welcome the child and make him our own.  Called to be made his own.

The Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2013

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of your journey to us,
and help us to welcome the child of Mary into our lives;
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 the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2013

First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16
“The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
– To a king unwilling to trust God when threatened by northern neighbors marching against him, the prophet Isaiah gives a sign: by the time this woman gives birth people will be naming their children “God is with us!”

Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6
“Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” A song of salvation in praise of the God who dwells in our midst  (sung in place of the appointed psalm).

Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.” –
Paul begins his letter to the believers in Rome with a summary of the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25
“Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
– In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus and his adoption by Joseph we hear God speak both through the angelic visitors and the prophets of the one who is savior and Immanuel.