Friday, December 27, 2013

The Annunciation of Christ... mas!

If clergy are allowed to have favourite pieces of scripture then the Gospel Lesson we are using on Sunday has got to be one of mine (Luke 1.24-36). It is the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus to Mary. In recent weeks there has been a show on television put together by a bunch people, for a purpose that is not totally clear to me. That is unless they wish to shoot do all the traditional doctrine that surrounds Jesus that has accumulated over the past two millenniums and try to rip out the foundations of the largest faith on the planet.

Problem is, not one of these people is a trained theologian. They are professors from history and religious studies departments and they have no training in terms of theology. Worse, they are posing modern, post enlightenment writing standards on what was a largely oral culture. Was there editing and revision? Yes. Of course there was. It took time for the things that the Church believed to be delineated and accepted. The Scriptures are holy to the community because they belong to the community. Modern understandings of ancient texts cannot begin with a word processor. It didn’t work that way. Altering a text was done in and by the community, not just a single solitary soul. The community accepted what was written and it took time for the Scriptures to become sacred to the community.

One of the things that makes this particular passage powerful for me is the fact that Luke, in order to get his orderly account, must have spent time with Mary and the family from which Jesus came. Mary herself must have at some point relayed something of the experience of the Annunciation. It is why we have it. It points to the great truths to the wider story of God working out our rescue, our salvation. The Annunciation is the fulfilling of the promise that was made in those awful, final moments in the Garden.

What promise? Try Genesis 3.15, when God tells the serpent that there will be hostilities between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; that the serpent will strike his heel and the Seed of the Woman will crush him. God in Christ is working to bring us back and to bring us home that we can be with him and be with him forever and ever.  There is nothing and no one that will stop that. One day he will come again, and the angels and the new City and we will be with him.

It is not something that diviners can see. It is not something that any historian or university professor can predict. This is God’s doing and it ought to be marvelous in our eyes. He has made his dwelling among us and we have seen the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth (John 1.14-18)

Take time to be with family this Christmas. Take the time to be with friends and those whom you care about and who care for you. And in the midst of it all, make room for him who loves us; who left his Father’s presence to bring us home and spend some time giving thanks that our rescue is in hand for what is ahead. And most of all remember what Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.”


Thursday, December 12, 2013

What to expect when you are expecting...

When my wife and I were expecting our first son, we had a book in the house that was new at the time. It was called “What to expect when you are expecting.” Of course such a book is considered to be mandatory reading these days in getting ready for a baby. No one... nobody should leave for the hospital before you've read it. But what do you read and what do you need to know when you are expecting a Messiah?

John questions Jesus through his disciples, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11.2-11) John asks the question because Jesus was not acting like many thought the Messiah of Israel. He was not there to kick butt and take names. He was not leading a war against the occupying Roman Army and its Empire. There was no bloodshed, wailing, crying or annihilation of garrisons of soldiers. In other words, Jesus by John’s estimation was not acting like the Messiah many were expecting him to be. And because what he was hearing about the Messiah and his ministry he needed to find out if his announcement of the king and his kingdom was premature or mistimed in some way. Had John gotten it wrong and had he put his faith in the wrong horse?

We need to be careful when looking for God to do something: his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts because his ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He sees from another perspective and has his plan of salvation, of rescuing of us to fulfill. Therefore Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and report what they see happening around them: the blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the leapers are made clean, the dead rise and the poor receive the good news of the kingdom that is to come. The kingdom that was and is expected is breaking into this world but it is not all that it is yet. Blessed are you if you don’t fall away because you don’t see me doing what you think I should be doing.

In essence, we are being challenged to redefine what we are expecting when we are expecting the Messiah. God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this earth – Jesus made that clear before Pilate. Yet so often we live our lives and our faith as if it is the kingdom of me and mine: me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. The kingdom has to conform to me and to my thoughts and my doctrine or it isn't right. It is rather idolatrous of us to think and act as such. We need to deal with it before God and with each other.

Unfortunately, John did not live to see the fulfilling of the plan: the ways in which Jesus suffered, died and was raised from the dead. He didn't foresee the formation of the Church and what the Church was going to be asked to do. There are some things that are hard to see when you are imprisoned and your own neck is on the block. You sit there in the silence and the grief and you wonder if it was the right thing and if it was worth it. You will question yourself and have your own doubts. God call and challenges us to change our expectations so that we can see what he is and to have better goals than what we demand of him and others for ourselves.

That means we can start by changing what it is we are expecting this Christmas. Instead of trying to keep trying to keep Christ in Christmas, try keeping Christ in Christians. If we can make room for him in our cells, then maybe the door to freedom will swing open wide and we will walk, finally free.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Welcome, your Majesty!

As I sit here on a cold Saturday night and reflect on the lessons that are before for Sunday, and on the things that have happened this week, it is almost unfathomable all the things that need to be completed in ministry. There is the day in and day out things. There are little things that need to be done so that other, much bigger things can happen. The way needs to be prepared for the coming King. Roads need to be improved. Bridges need to be strengthened and shored up. Then the King’s servants will announce the coming King's arrival.

Essentially, that is what Advent is about: rebuilding roads, rebuilding, bridges and traveling to meet the King. When we think all is mostly ready, some of us need to actually get out on the roadway and go looking for the opportunity of welcoming and escorting the King into the city. In the ancient world, failing to go out of the city and welcome the King would be to invite disaster upon the entire city. The King would have the city razed to the ground by his army.

That is what John comes to do, as his ministry for the people of Israel (Matthew 3.1-10). He works to get them ready for the King. He calls them to repentance and holiness of life. He challenges the religious and the spiritual people of his time and calls the leadership not to rely on who and what they think they are: children of Abraham. Rather, they are to give God the right place, first place in their lives and in the life of the nation knowing that God has come near.

They see him as a holy man and recognize him as a prophet. They know this and see this because they see how he is dressed and hear his words. Nevertheless, in spite of this they reject him and his message. Though he reminds the people of their past and calls these same people to repentance and to a great future, many reject John as an idealist and a radical and not for real people. His message does not share their faith, their beliefs and they do not agree with him. Therefore he is of no account.

How does this tie into the week? There have been a lot of moments of sudden ministry this week.  There have been a lot of opportunities to boldly declare the good news of God in Christ. These are moments where one takes care of a mom and dad whose seven week old son died and you are responsible for speaking a word of hope to them and to the family at the funeral. These are moments where you take the time to stop and pray with a fellow clergy who is ill and to anoint the family with oil. There are moments of courage and even of disagreement with people who don’t understand or want to be in control when they are not or worse, are not suited to be. There are moments when the kitchen tap springs a leak or a friend receives news that they have Cancer. In and through all of this, there are the opportunities in which we can shine or shrink; rise or fall.

How will you preach the gospel this week? What opportunities will you take and whom will you serve? Don’t worry about how you will be dressed and never mind what you will end up eating. Concern yourself with what you will preach and how you will actively demonstrate the Good News. I’ll see out on the road.