Sunday, December 30, 2007
In other news, P had to leave today, but had a good interview for a job while he was here. We're hoping to hear from the place this week to know if he gets an offer or not. So, pins and needles around here, waiting to hear if P will be able to come up here sooner rather than later. We all miss him lots. Send your prayers for positive news on the job front.
L is wired from getting to see both families of grandparents and her aunt and uncle and Daddy all in one week. Not to mention all the presents and new things to read and play with. So much excitement!
Lots going on. I'm looking forward to a few days off to spend some time with my family of origin and maybe do some retail therapy. Hope everyone has a wonderful new year!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
With Christmas and my ordination so close together, P didn't have the time off to come for both. For those of you who don't know, I've been living about 9 hours away in a different state since taking my first call. P wasn't able to find work up here that quickly and is still living in Huge Southern City until a job can be obtained in my neck of the woods. Anyway, last night during our Christmas Eve service, right at the very end, just as I am about to give the benediction, a young man in a rather dashing leather fedora appears at the rear doors and low and behold, when he removed the hat, it was my P! I got all teary (still am, thinking about it again) and was rather breathless during the benediction, during which I have no idea of what was said, but I got it out, and had to restrain myself from running down the aisle to the back row where he'd seated himself. I still have no idea how I held it together. Turns out, he had some extra time off accrued that he hadn't realized. I hadn't expected him til Thursday and haven't seen him since Thanksgiving. Best. present. ever!
Though it might tie with the look on L's face when she saw him there too.
In our house, we have a nativity scene that we set up each Advent. We put out the stable and in the stable goes the manger, Mary, the shepherds and their sheep, the camels, a cow or two, the donkey, the wise men and more often than not, we get everyone in place only to realize there’s an extra shepherd or wise man hanging about—Oh, that must be Joseph! And we put him in his place beside Mary. Joseph gets so often overlooked this time of year. He’s always in the background, hovering over Mary and the babe. He is the responsible family man. The one who is conscientious enough to take a woman as his wife who is having a baby that is not his own and give it a name that he did not choose.
Matthew would have us believe he doesn’t make a fuss about it. He gets up and does what was told to him in a dream. We don’t hear anything about his feelings on being the surrogate father to the Son of God. Poet J. Barrie Shepherd wrote a poem that helped me look at this passage in a new way, and I’d like to share it with you.
"The hardest task
The most difficult role of all
That of just being there
And Joseph, dearest Joseph, stands for that.
Don't you see?
It is important,
that he stand there by that manger,
as he does,
In all his silent misery
Of doubt concern and fear.
If Joseph were not there
There might be no place for us,
For those of us at least-
So many- who recognize and know-
That heartache, for our own,
Who share that helpless sense
Of lost-ness, of impotence
In our own lives, our families, our jobs
In our fearful threatened world this night.
Yes, in Joseph's look of anguish
We find our place;
We discover that we too
Belong beside the manger:
This manger in which are met
God's peace and all our wars and fears....
Let us be there,
Simply be there just as Joseph was,
With nothing we can do now,
Nothing we can bring-
It's far too late for that-
Nothing even to be said
Except, 'Behold- be blessed,
Be silent, be at peace.'
Joseph, son of David,
'Do not fear,' the angel said.
And Jim and Alice, Fred and Sue,
Bob and Tom and Jean and Betty too,
The word to you, to all of us
Here at the manger side,
The word is also, 'do not fear.'
Our God, the Lord and Sovereign,
Maker of heaven and earth,
Time and eternity,
Of life and death and all that is
And shall be,
Has joined us in this moment…,"[i]
What a night that must have been. Joseph has just discovered that his fiancée is pregnant. Of course, his first thought is going to be that it is by another man. How else could it be? His immediate response is that of a “just” man—he must divorce her. That is, it is not out of anger that he resolves to terminate the relationship but out of deep religious conviction. It is not his prerogative to forgive her and act out that forgiveness by consummating the marriage. In this instance however, justice is tempered by mercy; although he must divorce her in order to demonstrate that his love for God is stronger than his love for Mary, he determines to do it secretly, so as not to cause her public humiliation.[ii] He plans to let her go quietly, preserving her dignity and probably her life. And just as he’s resolved to do this, the weight off his mind, ready for a good night’s sleep, God gives him another path to take, one that’s mapped out by an angel in a dream.
Matthew doesn’t tell us a thing about Mary other than her relationship to Joseph. All we know about her comes from Luke’s gospel. We don’t get all that much information from either gospel about Joseph. Matthew is setting him up as a responsible, God-fearing man, who obeys angels that appear to him in dreams. After each occurrence of an angel dream (there are at least two more, one that sends the family to
‘Course, I’m not sure that’s the whole story. I don’t doubt that Joseph was a good man, a man who loved God and followed the Torah, but really, he just got up and did whatever he was told in a dream? I’d be thinking back about what I’d had for dinner that night. “Perhaps you are an undigested bit of beef, or a blot of mustard,” as Scrooge said to the spirit of Marley.
The angel doesn’t just tell Joseph that it’s ok to wed Mary. No, the angel has a little more to say. Like the fact that the child isn’t another man’s. Now that must have been a pretty big shock. How could this child not be another man’s? It certainly wasn’t his own! No, no, says the angel, this child is of the Holy Spirit. Well, if finding out his fiancée was pregnant before the wedding wasn’t shock enough, finding out the child was from God must have been pretty surprising. Joseph probably wondered, “Why me? Why Mary?” Couldn’t God have picked another young woman? Anyone else but me?
The last thing the angel tells Joseph is the name to give the child. “Jesus,” from the Greek translation. “Yeshua,” in Hebrew. And if that wasn’t enough, the angel continues, telling Joseph that this child that he will have to raise and provide for, but who really isn’t his, will be the Savior of his people. Matthew tells us that’s what the name Jesus means, “He will save.” Isaiah uses the name Emmanuel, “God with us.” And as Joseph finds out, things can get pretty crazy when God comes to be with us.
Joseph may have wondered how this tiny little baby boy would, in fact, save people from their sins. But if he had known, would he have followed the angel’s instructions? Would he have given that baby the name that held such big expectations for such a small child? I don’t know if I could have. Even though Matthew tells us that Joseph just got up and did what God’s angel instructed, I think it must have been a pretty tough bite to swallow. All this goes to show just how dangerous (and amazing) dreams can be! God’s dream for salvation came about in a baby and a cross. Joseph’s dreams have him take a woman already pregnant to be his wife and then travel to a foreign land to keep the child safe from a jealous king, only to come back when the king was dead. I imagine that after that first dream Joseph was a little wary of going to sleep, and especially after a second and so on.
But, Joseph wakes up to a new reality. God’s reality. One where a baby saves the world. He’s there, standing by the manger, a comfort to Mary, in awe of the child in his care, the child that belongs to God, who belongs to us all. Amen.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Poor John the Baptist has landed himself in prison. No more desert wandering for a while for him. Of course, that’s what he gets for pointing out Herod’s indiscretions with his sister-in-law.
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for someone else?” It seems like John more than anyone else, ought to already know the answer to that question.
From all indications, this is not what the first century Jews expected from their Messiah. They wanted justice and punishment for the criminals (read the Romans) and probably some theatrical raining of fire and brimstone, a burning bush or two, and maybe even a fiery sword to smite their enemies. So it’s no wonder that John is asking, "Are you the one, or are we supposed to wait for somebody else?” Maybe even somebody better, with a little more flash.
And admittedly, he was probably not surprised by Jesus’ answer, but maybe a little disappointed. In fact, most of the Jews were disappointed. Where was the mighty ruler of armies? Where was the warrior to overthrow their oppressors? From the perspective of those Jews, Jesus had more of an air of prophet than Messiah. Even Elisha had cleansed a leper and raised a boy from the dead. Of course John asks, “are you the one?” Even if he knew the answer, it never hurts to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. And of course, in typical Jesus fashion, he never just says, ”yes,” or “no.” He actually just tells John’s disciples to go and report what they have seen and heard. That makes for significant room for interpretation, especially since what they have seen and heard looked a lot like what the prophets of old were doing. But it also looked a lot like what the prophets of old said the Messiah would be doing. Isaiah says that the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame shall leap, and the mute will sing for joy. All of these, and more, are the signs of the Messiah. But Jesus leaves the interpretation of the signs up to John and his disciples. It makes sense that way; people will believe what they want to believe. Either way, the Messiah has come to make the final judgment. Only it isn’t the way that the Jews originally thought it would be. To John, a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, a Messiah would be the type to lay waste to those who commit wrong, especially those who commit wrong against
I have to admit, I hope that’s not what we get for Jesus’ return. Flaming chariots and raining brimstone aren’t my thing. Maybe it’s the fire hazard, but I’d rather we see the healing and teaching, personally. Though probably not if my people had spent hundreds of years under oppressive rule and were waiting for a liberator. Not if my city were under a corrupt authority, cheating me and my friends out of a hard earned wage that was way below what was paid to the Roman citizens. No, if that were the case, I’d feel just like John and the rest. I’d want someone to come and sweep it all clean.
“Are you the one?” It’s a very legitimate question when what you are expecting gets turned on its head. I don’t know what to expect anymore. What will we get when Jesus returns? Will we get the Gospel Jesus, healing and teaching peace? Will we get the Messiah that the Jews expected the first time around, brandishing a flaming sword and stamping out corruption and oppression with death and destruction? There are a plethora of theories out there about Jesus' return. Some think he has already returned and spoken to their leaders. I, personally, have stopped trying to imagine what it will be like. Once I conceded that God’s capabilities were beyond my comprehension, I decided that it was pointless to try and imagine what God could do.
I’m sure that’s how the first Christmas felt, too. A virgin having a baby, putting him in a manger, angels singing to shepherds, wise men traveling from far away with only a star to follow. It’s beyond what anyone could have imagined, especially for the coming of the Messiah. It’s no wonder John asks, “Are you the one?” And who wouldn’t be confused? Jesus doesn’t even use language that would seem appropriate to a Messiah. No warrior language, no might and power here. Just language drawn from the lives of shepherds and fishermen. It’s no wonder so many people missed it. It’s no wonder that even John is questioning him. Wouldn’t we miss it too? Or perhaps, dis-miss it, even? Often when people speak about peace and justice they are easily ignored as idealists. Do they live in the real world? Can’t they see that it will never happen? It would take the world turning upside down before we could have peace and justice as the rule rather than the exception.
But that is what our job as Christians would have us do. We are to work to turn the world upside down until Christ can come again and finish the job he started. Jesus began the work of turning things on their heads. Of course it is upside down to hear the muted tongue speak or see the lame leap like deer. Of all the things we don't expect, we can expect the Messiah to turn things on their heads.
I can only imagine the number of people who asked Jesus, “Who are you?” even after seeing the miracles he’d performed and hearing the parables he preached. And then after considering for a moment those same miracles and parables asking, “Are you the one who is to come?” John had to have had some doubts, I think to ask that question of Jesus. Even if he was sending the disciples to get an answer for their own sakes, he must have wondered on occasion if he’d gotten the right guy at the River Jordan. He could have just sent the disciples, saying, “Go and see what the Messiah is up to.” But instead he asks, “Are you the one who is to come?” He needed to make sure for himself as well as his followers. Maybe he just needed to know if he was wasting his time. “Should we wait for another?” If Jesus was the real McCoy, John needed to know. It was John’s job to know since he was supposed to be preparing the way for the Messiah. John needed to make sure he was preparing the way for the right guy, even if this guy didn’t act much like a Messiah ought to.
So if even John the Baptist, the one who was supposed to be preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah wasn’t sure who he was looking for, how are we supposed to know who to look for? Would we even listen to someone like John if he came to tell us that the Messiah was coming again? Probably not. Most likely we’d shake our heads at the poor crazy or lock him away out of sight and mind.
We cannot and should not be complacent thinking that we will just know the Messiah when we see him. Even the Jews who were told by Isaiah and several other prophets what to look for did not recognize him in their midst. Only when we see the world being turned upside down, can we start asking, “Are you the one?” And, like John, we will probably have to decide for ourselves if we want to believe that actions speak louder than words. Even if the Messiah returned right now, even if he fulfilled the prophecies to a T, I think we would still be justified in asking, “Are you the one who is to come?” Do my eyes deceive me, or are you really the Messiah?
John, even with his doubts, I think wanted to believe that Jesus was “the one who is to come.” Haven’t you ever asked a question that you were pretty sure you knew the answer to, just to be absolutely certain you were right? That may have been what John was doing. Just like Scrooge’s spirits, he can see that Jesus is indeed the one “whose coming was foretold,” but it is still hard to believe when the miraculous occurs. For us, it is even harder. Do we even know what signs to look for? Do we look to the same prophecies that Isaiah gives us or will they be different this time around? Do we look for another John the Baptist to herald the second coming? What are we to look for? What has been foretold to us? Well, it’s hard to say, honestly. That’s why I think it is always ok to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” At least if we are asking, we are not forgetting that God’s promise of the return of the Messiah will, indeed, be fulfilled. At least if we are asking, we are seeking the Messiah’s return. Asking means we believe that it will happen, that God will indeed be with us again. O come, O come Emmanuel! Amen.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I did get a brief chance to talk with her teacher though. She said that L did pretty good yesterday after she calmed down. She said that L even took a nap-miracle!-and that she made a friend to hold hands with (a cherubic little curly blond named Megan). Teacher (Ms. J) went on to say that today would probably be pretty bad, tomorrow some better and next Monday would be bad again (after getting to be at home with mom, not wanting to go back.)
I like Ms. J; she's no-nonsense, but she obviously loves the kids. I think that's just what L needs, too. She's been queen of the castle up til now, and I think some routine and structure will help her gain a little better control of her emotions and willfulness too. (Imagine, a child of mine and P's willfull! Who'da thought?) :)
Monday, December 03, 2007
Of course, everyone says tomorrow will be worse, now that she knows the game. We'll have to see. When I asked her if she had fun, she said, "Yes, I had lots of fun." So I hope I can get her to remember that tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!
I placed her in the capable hands of the teacher and kissed her, told her I'd always come back for her and left before I could change my mind. As soon as I got into my office just a couple blocks aways, I broke down in tears. It breaks a mother's heart to know her child is fearful of something unfamiliar and can't be there to ease the transition, even if it's eventually in the child's best interest. I know she's safe and will be very well cared for, and will even come to have fun there. It's just that she doesn't know that yet.
My head knows that this is the best arrangement for everyone. The preschool is excellent. I very much like the director, and I think the teacher will be good for L, though I don't know her very well yet. I know L will eventually come to enjoy the time they get to spend on the playground, doing crafts, singing, etc. I know I will get more work done and be able to go to meetings and groups that I might not ordinarily attend now that she is not in my care full time.
It's my heart that's breaking though. I won't always be the first one to see her do new things now, or hear her conversations in "L language" with her toys and picture books.
I will update in the p.m. once I've picked her up and seen how she did. Pray that tomorrow she'll remember that today was ok. I just have this feeling...
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Ah, Advent… This time of year there’s a lot of preparations to be made. We prepare for Christmas in a frenzy of gift buying and wrapping, cookie baking, party hosting, tree buying, light stringing, house decorating, and the list goes on.
And you have had other preparations to make as well. You’ve been preparing for a new pastor, and preparing to welcome her and her family into your fold. Together we’ll prepare for an ordination and installation to be held here later this month. I can’t imagine anyone being asleep. There’s a lot to get done!
I imagine there was a time when you were feeling like Matthew when it came to the matter of getting a pastor. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” You’ve waited a long time! I also imagine it may be something of a relief to many of you, especially the PNC.
However, unlike waiting for the arrival of a new pastor we don’t get a start date or a first Sunday for Christ’s return. Both Paul and Matthew are telling us that there is no way we can know when to expect Christ to return to earth. They tell us to be ready, but not when it will happen.
During Advent, it’s hard to keep track of anything, much less the passing of each day. We’re so busy trying to find the right gifts, throw the right parties, and bake all those cookies that the time slips away from us and Christmas is over before we know it. We get so caught up waiting for the baby to be born, that we miss his coming again. It’s not something that we keep in the forefront of our minds this time of year. Our preoccupation with keeping the holidays “merry and bright” also keeps us from the focus of the season. Or rather, we get so caught up with the thought of Christmas itself that we forget about preparing for it. Oh, sure, we prepare everything else from our homes, inside and out, to our cars with the light up wreaths on the front grills. We even prepare our churches, changing the colors of the paraments, setting up the Advent wreath with its candles, some even devote their lawns to a living nativity, donkeys and all.
But we forget to prepare ourselves. We’re ready for the glitz and glam of the holiday parties, we easily prepare for a night out by buying new clothes, fixing hair and make-up, donning jewels and spiffy ties. It’s so much easier to get the outside ready than the inside. But what if Jesus came while we were all out at a holiday party? Or what if we were so busy shopping that we missed the heralding angels?
You’ll notice that the stole I am wearing and the vestments here in the sanctuary are purple and they will remain so throughout Advent. You might recall the other season that uses purple is Lent. Lent is a time in our church calendar that we use for repentance and reflection. We are preparing ourselves for Easter. The reason that Advent and Lent share colors, is that the church believes that Advent and Lent share that need for reflection and preparation. Some traditions have a much more solemn time during Advent, preparing for Christ’s birth much the same way we prepare for Easter.
But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? There is a celebration for Easter, and it’s the main event we’re preparing for anyway. We get a little caught up in the death part because we’re so stoic for 6 weeks and only celebratory on Easter day itself. That was how Advent and Christmas originally worked. Like Lent and Easter, people were meditative and repentant leading up to the holy day and then celebrated only after the dawning of that day. They would then celebrate for the twelve days following Christmas up until Epiphany. That’s how the world’s longest Christmas tune came about.
Am I saying that we need to give up the festive holiday air that surrounds Advent? No, but I am saying that it might not hurt to share a little of the contemplative and repentant spirit of Lent at this time of year. That is one way that we can take the words of our Scripture today to heart. It is just one way we can strive to be ready for that unexpected hour.
It’s easy to recognize the common thread in Paul and Matthew’s words--it’s time. We never seem to have enough of it, we keep wasting it, and it’s getting shorter and shorter, at least according to Paul. It’s Paul who is really challenging us to reflect on how we use our time. He warns us to keep an eye on the clock, wake up from our sleep. “The night is far gone,” he says, “the day is near.” And because it is near, he says, we need to get our acts together- leave off the reveling and drunkenness,and debauchery and licentiousness, and quarreling and jealousy, and… well, you get the idea.
Paul makes the analogy of living as in the day. I can see why that makes sense. Anyone who has been to a big city understands that daytime is a much safer time than the night. Honest business is conducted during the day, when the buildings are full of employees. We can see by the light of the sun, there are no scary shadows where the unknown can hide. Night is when drug dealers and prostitutes walk the streets, promoting licentiousness and debauchery. Night is when the revelers from the clubs drive home drunk. Night is when the quarreling and jealousy lead to beatings and shootings. Matthew warns against similar deeds of darkness. He references the time before Noah, when there was much eating and drinking and general merry-making. But he warns that they were so caught up in all of this that they didn’t even notice the warning signs until they were already swept away in the flood.
Matthew also uses the waking from sleep metaphor, saying, “keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”And how could we, like the people of Noah’s time, notice the signs of the return of Christ, when we are so caught up in our own merry-making and revelry? Even if our deeds are not as awful as those on Paul’s list, we do know that we are not as ready as we should and could be for Christ’s return. We are drowsy even now, content to believe that he certainly won’t be back right now. There’s time to get things in order. We don’t have to worry quite yet.
These passages agree with each other that Christ’s return could be any day now. The supermarket tabloids would certainly have us believe so. But I think that Paul and Matthew might be more credible. Yet we’re still blithely going about our business of decorating, shopping, baking and more. Could we indeed miss the angels heralding? the star in the sky? Maybe if someone had warned the innkeeper in advance that the Son of God was going to need a place to sleep, he might have saved a special room for them.
That’s the problem with not knowing when we can expect Christ to return--we have to be ready all the time. And how do we ready ourselves? That is part of what makes it so hard, all of the ‘not knowing’ that comes along with trying to prepare ourselves. All we do know about Christ’s return is that it could be any day now. Any day like today, any day like tomorrow, any day like next week, next month, next millennium. The only thing for sure is that he is coming. And we know because we have been promised so. We have been given a promise and must count on the reliability of the one who makes that promise. Some people might have us believe that there is a secret code we can crack to know exactly when Christ will return. But promises are not quite so scientific, they allow for considerable latitude. Matthew assures us that it will be a surprise, not something we can calculate. We have to count on the fact that the other promises in the Bible have been fulfilled and this one will be too.If we give up on that, then we have no reason to celebrate Advent or any other church season, for that matter. We might as well just be asleep, like Paul and Matthew admonish against.
Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of a promise, just like his coming again will fulfill another promise. Believing that God fulfills God’s promises is essential to celebrating Advent. We celebrate the fulfillment of one promise—the birth, because we know that another promise—Christ’s return, waits to be fulfilled. Advent is not just the celebration leading up to Christmas. It is the celebration of a promise fulfilled and a promise to be fulfilled. So while Christmas has a way of sneaking up on us this time of year we still have to be on the watch, we have to keep awake for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah’s return. Whether or not we know the day or hour, we can know that it will happen, that it could be any day now. Amen.
The big news is that tomorrow is L's first day of preschool. Yeah, it'll be way harder on me, I'm sure. She's really social and loves to be around other kids. I think she'll have a great time. They go outside for an hour twice a day, they do crafts and sing lots of songs-I know she'll love it. And of course, I will get far more work done without her demanding attention and I'll be able to talk to other adults who come in without interruption, but of course, I will miss her and miss seeing the adorable things she does and says and her saying, "Mommy, I missed you," even though we've been in the same room for the last three hours and all I did was go to the bathroom.
It was strange to take the list and go buy "school" supplies, even for preschool. My little girl is going to her first day of school. She's growing up too fast. No, really, I'm fine. Really.