Unstructured Thoughts

EinsteinWe can never explain God simply can we? Never, no matter how much we try.

Oh we can pretend that we can. We can for instance call God, “love”.  All that needs saying right?

No, it but starts the conversation surely. How does this “love” allow for all this hate and misery and pain and suffering in this world of ours? And even before these creatures called humans deigned to stand up and gaze over the grasslands, it was so. Some animals are carnivorous, feeding off other passive creatures. How “loving” is that?

When the opposable thumbed ones stood up, did they do so out of a desire to see the world in a bigger context or because it enabled them to see danger when  it was still far enough away to do something about it? Before they too became somebody’s meal?

Creator of the universe? Yes, but is this “our” universe, or a lot of “ours” universe? Is it our playground or simply our small slice of this one? Are there many? Do they each have a God, or is this one running them all? Is Jesus our Jesus, or is Jesus, Jesus everywhere?

Oh you know the answer? Confess, it’s only a guess. You guess you know. You choose to believe you know. You don’t really know.

Is that the essence of God? Is it determining to believe what you can’t know? But perhaps I cannot know what came before the “Big Bang”. Astrophysicists tell me that I may not ever be able to. Is that where God is?

Are we all just struggling humans trying to make human sense out of what is not human? After all, did the psalmist have it right when he said, “how hard for me to grasp your thoughts”? Can I grasp them? What exactly is “in my image” mean after all?

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But then there is this: “if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?”

We are tantalized with both you see, the confounded frustration of never “getting it” to the assurance that we can. Or at least the belief that we can. For that image thing surely means that we must “think” in the manner of God, in the sense that 2 + 2 = 4, and if A = B, and A = C then B = C. It must be like that, surely?

So why can’t we KNOW for God’s sake? Actually why can’t we know for our own sake, for surely God doesn’t need us to know, but we desperately need to know. Or don’t we? Is there some delicious wonderment in believing rather than knowing? Is that comforting and empowering somehow that cold factual knowing can’t be?

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After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him.

Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.

If that’s true, and it may well be, then what are we to do then? Toss the bible in the trash? Stay away from every edifice that signifies the place of knowing, i.e., Church? Don’t read what anyone writes about the subject? Because the minute you think you have a handle on God, like partially set jello in your hands, it slides away? The minute somebody makes sense, or assures you that they know, you can be very sure they don’t?

I don’t recall wherein his Confessions, he said this, but  Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed.”

How much clearer could that be? And pray tell, why does Augustine then proceed to tell us so much about God? We are driven to explain what is inexplicable, and by its very nature is probably clearly not what we explain.
Perhaps it is what keeps me in the Catholic church and out of it at the same time. I don’t trust the messenger any more, yet I know God is there. It’s all very funky in my head when I try to sort it all out. Perhaps sorting is the wrong thing to do. Just let it ferment old girl, just let it ferment. It will take care of itself.

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I do know that this passage has stayed in my head for more than a week. I can’t shake it. I guess I ask God a lot for wisdom. Maybe because that is one of the few things in the Bible where a feminine aspect of God is clear. Wisdom is SHE, damn it, and if you don’t like it, well too bad.

Anyway, I long for this:

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,

unique, manifold, subtle,

mobile, clear, unpolluted,

distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,

irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,

steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,

all-powerful, overseeing all,

and penetrating through all spirits

that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;

because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.

25 For she is a breath of the power of God,

and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;

therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.

26 For she is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

27 Although she is but one, she can do all things,

and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;

in every generation she passes into holy souls

and makes them friends of God, and prophets;

28 for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

29 She is more beautiful than the sun,

and excels every constellation of the stars.

Compared with the light she is found to be superior,

30 for it is succeeded by the night,

but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

8 She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,

and she orders all things well.(Wis. 7: 22-8:1)

Until God so chooses to grace me, I remain but a God Seeker. But then, truly, whether we know it or not, aren’t we all?

Amen

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Joyous Revelations!

Eliz2 The reading today is so familiar to us.

Mary, carrying the Christ child, journeys to her cousin Elizabeth, also with child.

Elizabeth herself is recipient of a miracle, a pregnancy in her later years, and one that had been long given up on, as Elizabeth was thought barren.

So it is of little surprise to her when the miraculous events continue upon the arrival of Mary.

Elizabeth reports that upon the hearing of Mary’s voice calling out its greeting, a number of things happened simultaneously. She became aware Mary had been asked to be the mother of the Lord and that she had obviously accepted. She also was made aware that this was no ordinary child, but the Christ, the Messiah, so long awaited among her people. And while these revelations were washing over her, her own child also became aware that he was in the presence of the Holy One.

What an awful lot to take in at one moment in time!

It begs the question of how we respond to this momentous event.

If you are like me, you struggle to remember just how amazing it was. And that is because it is “old news” to us, especially those of us who are well into our adulthood. We’ve been through this so many times, the stories are so familiar, it’s hard to remember what there is to get so excited about.

Of course, intellectually we do understand. We know that the coming of Christ began our journey of salvation once and for all. Jesus came to teach us the way to relate to our God in a more intimate and more sharing way than ever before.

What I refer to is our emotional response to that knowledge.

And perhaps the best way we can rekindle that amazing event in our minds and see it for the enormity that it was and is, is to recall each of us, a moment in time that reminds us of that kind of joy.

Think to that moment in time when you realized the true magnificence of what  and who Jesus was. Remember the joy and anticipation of your own baptism, how new and shiny bright you felt. How close you felt to Jesus.

Think of the moment when you heard these stories the first time. Think of the awe of the manger, the Magi, the lowing of the cattle. Think of the miracle of this tiny babe, and how God’s love o’er shadowed the event. The coldness of the evening, the darkness of the night, and the brightness of the star that seemed to herald and draw a weary world to gaze in adoration at the evidence of God’s faithful commitment to each of us, in the guise of child wrapped in poor cloth, in a bed of hay.

Think of the thrill you felt upon those first realizations and perhaps you will get a sense of what Elizabeth felt that day so long ago as her cousin walked up the dusty path to her house. The real and the surreal mix and combine in a blur of visions and there is no doubt that God is as close as one’s breath.

Rejoice, for the Lord is in our presence and has come to save the world from itself.

True joy indeed.

True Blessing.

Merry Christmas to all of you and may God’s blessings uphold you.

Amen.

What Should We Do?

blessed_and_highly_favored_1_op_800x533_op_692x461On Friday, our country was shocked out of its Christmas anticipations when we learned of the unspeakably horrific event that occurred at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. We have been able to think of little else since then.

Our first cry is “why Lord?” This is the human response to every tragedy that befalls us personally or in some larger context. We want to understand in some attempt to make peace with it. If we can understand, then perhaps, we can accept.

The Why answer never changes. And mostly we just need to be reminded of it. God does not orchestrate such happenings, he allows them, because if our relationship with the Holy is to have any meaning, it must be freely entered into by us, the created. God stands ever ready to guide and lead us in our lives, but ultimately we must invite God’s grace. Otherwise, God would not be God, but some master who played out our lives as upon some chess board to His own delight, and irregardless of our own.

So we must pick our way through this world, living in faith hopefully and turning our hearts to God, opening ourselves to His loving guidance. To the degree that we do not, then we suffer the consequences of a lives lived by our own counseling, and obviously we do rather poorly at it. A young man is deeply wounded and we know not why. His mind is flawed to a degree that for him,  the rage bursts forth in indiscriminate violence. We don’t understand and we probably cannot understand, for our minds are not so deeply flawed to confuse anger at some personal injustice with the innocent lives of others.

But after the Why, we ask what should we do? What can we do to stop this kind of thing from happening again? We sense that while we can never totally eliminate the actions of the mind gone terribly wrong, we can limit the occasions when we must suffer from it.

The question, what should we do, has been asked for ages upon ages.

In the gospel reading today from Luke 3: 10-18, John the Baptist is baptizing those who have come to him. He is calling for the repentance of sins. Time and time again, those receiving his water baptism ask him: What should we do?

The question is directed as to how we, as humans can become acceptable to God. How do we repent?

John answers each person in turn. To the tax collector, he advises to stop over charging to gain personal wealth from the  those who can least afford it. To the soldier he advises to not practice extortion, bring false charges, or argue about the size of their own wages. To the average person, he reminds them to share what they have, little as it may be.

At this time of year, as we await the celebration of the birth of our Lord, we too are called to examine our lives and discover what we should do to repent. Where have we failed our families, our communities? What have we failed to say or do? Where have we failed in our prayer lives?

The event of Friday brings us to the question, what can we do about violence in our world?

I urge this today as the most important of questions that we should consider.

As God weeps at our hard-hearted clutching of violence as a way of life, we must seek out what we personally can do to lessen its existence in this country and our world.

You may ask yourselves some of these questions perhaps:

  1. Do I watch movies that promote violence as “entertainment”?
  2. Do I engage in or allow my children to play  violent video games?
  3. Do I have firearms in my home? Should I consider turning them in?
  4. Do I promote actively gun control legislation?
  5. Do I engage my friends, family and community in questions of violence and how we might all work to eliminate it?
  6. Do I practice kindness to all I meet whether they return it to me or not?
  7. Am I gentle in my speech and behavior that others see?
  8. Do I promote actively the need for more and better mental health care, especially for those who cannot afford to pay?
  9. Do I reach out to anyone I feel may be in a dangerous place emotionally and seek to help or help them find professional assistance?
  10. Do I engage the world from a  peaceful and tolerant stance?
  11. Do I actively promote the need for forgiveness and reconciliation as the best means of solving relational problems?
  12. Do I forgive rather than hold grudges?

We can do something to lessen the possibility of these terrible events.

If we are serious about following the teachings of Christ, then we must do something.

Amen.

God is When Things Are at Their Worst

preparingYou may be starting to panic about now.

The big day looms ever closer. There is cleaning and cooking and buying and wrapping, decorating, and sending, and visiting. There are calls to be made and last-minute runs to stores to contend with. There are parking lots filled to bursting and long lines at check-out lanes. Children are rambunctious and tempers are getting shorter.

We are at that point in preparation where things can’t get much worse. There is still so much to do, and time is running out.

Thankfully, we are reminded at mass that the real preparation is going on confidently, inexorably, and patiently. All will be as it should be.

Our readings today remind us that although this is a time when life seems too hectic and overwhelming, there is good news, and that news sustains us in times of difficulty.

Baruch writes from exile after Babylon has carted off most of the Jerusalem population to slavery. There are only the left-overs of society remaining in the city. Those that nobody wants or can use. Does he speak of sorrow and woe? No.  Rather he sends greeting to Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.

Rejoice? Be joyful? Dress up in your finest?

Baruch says yes, for God will return Jerusalem to her greatness and her glory. A small voice, that of Baruch, but one that calls us to remember, and trust in God.

Similarly, Paul brings joyous tidings to the Philippians, a small band of Jesus followers who are under assault themselves. And Paul? Paul writes these beautiful uplifting words while imprisoned himself. He thinks of them in joy and with confidence.

He exhorts them to keep the faith:

And this is

my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.
Paul urges them to not waiver from their path.

Of course, we are all familiar with the passage from Luke wherein John the Baptist goes throughout the land proclaiming good news of God and calling all to repentance and to be ready for the Lord. He does this after a litany of the names of those that later on will prove to be the great enemies of Jesus who will actively do everything possible to thwart his message.

as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

In all these examples, times were ominous. Threats and disasters abounded or were on the horizon. People had every reason to give up, give in, and succumb to the times. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, some might say. Yet, a voice reminds us that all is not lost, that there is hope for a better world. If only we have faith. If only we turn toward God and keep our focus.

Today, our world is no less threatening. Because it is happening to us, it seems worse than at any time in history. This is almost assuredly not so, but it is happening to us, so it feels foreboding and dangerous. We are all faced with our individual challenges as well, some more deadly than others of course, some more painful, more frightening, more life-changing.

But through it all, a voice calls to us to. The voice of the Gospel. The voice of Jesus.

In Christ we find the sanity, the peace, the patience and the comfort that we so desperately need during times like this.

Turn from your preoccupations with things that often you can but barely effect. Listen to the voice of the Lord. Repent and seek the straight pathway to your HOME.

That home is Christ.

Amen.

 

Modeling Dos and Don’ts

Be-a-healthy-role-model-for-your-kids-615x250Children are the best at being excited. Nothing can touch them in their ability to engage in simple raw thrill. They dance, they wiggle, they screech with joy, racing from place to place, in a bout of pent-up energy and enthusiasm for whatever they are anticipating.

Nothing is more anticipatory than Christmas.

Indeed, it used to be that after Thanksgiving we had a week or so to kind of get ready, to organize our lists and plans before we began the preparations for the big day. No more, in fact Christmas intrudes upon Thanksgiving, taking away whatever peaceful thanks we originally enjoyed in that day. We must now, if we are into bargains, supposed to spend part of our Thanksgiving standing in lines and racing through stores to get those “to the first 50 customers” bargains.

It is not the fault of our kids that they are reminded from before Halloween that Santa is not far behind.

They are understandably in a tizzy, but as adults, so are we, for we are hammered upon to keep up with all the doings of the season. We must decorate, not just on the inside but on the outside as well to make sure that we are showing the appropriate amount holiday joy. We must bake and cook up creative desserts and cookies. We must plan the holiday feast. We must mail out cards and that is not sufficient, we must include “yearly updates” to far-flung friends and relatives to “catch them up” on our lives, or our accomplishments at least.

Last and most important, we must shop ’til we drop and then wrap everything in delightful wrapping and bows to elicit loud oohs and aahs on Christmas morn.

And we must do all this, while perhaps still working a job, getting a meal on the table every night, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, attending to all our other little tasks as well as all the new ones that come alone this time of year, such as school pageants and office parties.

Is it any wonder that adults are frazzled and short-tempered?

Is it any wonder that the most famous of all holiday songs in our families are “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with the harsh admonitions to “better not pout, better not cry”! Our kids are unable to contain themselves, and parents demand they do!

Our readings today bring us back to reality. Indeed, they show us how to handle this massive commercial extravaganza. It places it all into perspective.

While we are all fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season” we don’t act that way often.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you

in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus

So Paul tells the Thessalonians. Conduct yourself in the way that we showed you. Remember how we acted toward you. Act thusly toward others. This is what will please the Lord.

In Luke, Jesus explains how we should not act:

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength

to escape the tribulations that are imminent

and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Of course, Jesus was not speaking about Christmas, he was speaking about the time of his return, a time unknown to even him.

But it is telling isn’t it. This is the season for that “carousing and drunkenness”; this is the time when the “anxieties of daily life” distract us from our purpose. We are constantly making lists and checking them twice. We are designing our driving routes to be efficient. We are planning meals to keep room in the fridge, and eat up left-overs. We are looking for the quick meals–no doubt the fast food markets do a booming business at this time of year. We are busy.

So busy that we barely find the time to squeeze in a Sunday service, and no doubt we are off to the mall as soon as the last amen is uttered.

Yet, what are we modeling here?

Are we creating  more slightly schizophrenic children, who will grow up to engage in their own forms of insane busy-ness all the while screaming at their kids to “knock it off” or you won’t be seeing Santa this year? Are we modeling frenetic behavior as the “way it is” around the end of the year? Are we racing from store to store, with last second shouting orders of “don’t forget to pick up the wine from the vendor!” as your spouse heads out the door on yet another round of must do tasks?

There is such a peace offered at this time of year, if only we will be open to it, and sit down! If we can relax with a cup of tea and enjoy the view of hearth or window. If we can reflect on what Mary and Joseph were thinking as these days went by. If we can reflect on our last year, and our wins and losses and our plans and our dreams, and our hopes. If we can examine them in light of the Lord and see if we are in alignment with what we should be hoping and dreaming about.

There is the peace of a babe born in the quiet of a cold night.

There is the peace of the hopes and dreams of a people being fulfilled in that manger.

There is the love of God expressed in the lowing of the cattle and the brightness of the stars above.

This is the season of hope.

This is the season of deeply felt thanksgiving for the year about to pass into the next.

This is the season to slow down and think deeply about who and what we are, who was Jesus, and how we fit in this quilt of God’s love.

Take time each day for quiet reflection.

The cookies will be made, the tree will get trimmed, the gifts will get bought. All will happen in the time allotted.

Give your children, friends and family the gift of attention to them, the joy of laughter and talk, the ultimate gift of your time.

God is in his heaven, all is right with the world.

Amen.

Visions of Wonderment

In countless homes across America, the same scenario is being played out.

Trees are arriving on the roofs of cars, ornaments and decorations are coming forth from attics and basements. Cookies are baking. Ribbons and brightly colored paper are stacked in corners and closets are filled with shopping bags.

While the spice of cinnamon mingles with the scent of pine, children try desperately to “be good” all the while nearly shivering with anticipation.

That is the word that most perfectly describes this time–anticipation. And it is now beginning to reach a fevered pitch. All things are headed inexorably to one end: Christmas day.

Children reflect in rare moments of quiet just how it can be that Santa will visit every single house in one night. Wonder and miracle are the words of the day.  Not only children, but even adults are subject to moments when pure magic seems in the air.

As our readings this week tell us, this sense of miracle and wonder are central to our faith lives at this time of year. Today we are astounded at how beautifully all comes to a head–the promise is about to be fulfilled. Anticipation fairly crackles in the air. Christ is Coming!

From Second Samuel to Luke we listen in awe. God has promised and God will make it so. So long after the promises Nathan reveals in Samuel, the final step is taken in Luke. The angel Gabriel visits Mary and gives her the astounding news that she is to be the Mother of God. In her will grow the fulfillment of the promise. God’s son will come to his people.

As we read, we quicken in our anticipation, even though we have been through this story and “the event” so many times before. It has that kind of power over us–the ability to reawaken within us that sense of wonder and miracle.

No matter how we view the story, we feel it. Was Mary really visited by an angel? Did she conceive this way?

Does it matter? In truth, no. For as with much of what we read in the stories of old, it is not always the actual facts that matter, but the beautiful truths being exposed.

 No matter how it happened, Mary is to give birth to a man whom we believe is the Son of God, specially made and blessed with the ability to bring God to us in an extraordinary way. Through him, we will learn more than we can imagine about what it means to love God, to be God’s creation, to be loved beyond measure. God reaches out to us in this most personal of ways, in our simple humanity, and becomes REAL.

And Mary? Oh goodness, can there be a more perfect answer than hers?

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary responds with the most radical of faiths. If I am to be a single woman and pregnant in a world that reviles and rejects such women, then let it happen, if that be God’s will. Mary asks no more that to do God’s will. Whatever the consequences to herself. She asks no favor, no explanation, no protection. She simply bows to her God.

Think of Moses and his arguing, and Jonah. Think of all the prophets, most of whom  did whatever they could to refuse God’s command. How they hid in their “unworthiness” and limitations. It was just plain old fear. Fear that life would not be the same, and that it would be hard.

But not Mary. No, this simple girl is portrayed quite differently. She assumes no superiority, nor any objective bravery. She simply acquiesces, since she can imagine no other response to God.

That is a wonderment. That is a miracle. That is what stops my dead in my tracks as I read this beautiful story.

Could I ever do this?

Could any of us ever do this?

Never. But, we now know one thing. We must try.

Mary has defined faith. Will any of us ever be the same?  

2Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Ps 89: 2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Rom 16: 25-27
Lk 1: 26-38

 

Hark! Good News!

There aren’t many people who can’t tell you exactly how many days there are left before Christmas. That’s because time is running, and there is still so much to do. Menus to be finalized, food to be bought, baking to get done, presents to be bought and wrapped, cards to address, decorating to finish.

And so we limp into our places of worship this Sunday, and what an uplifting message we get. Just exactly when we need it.

And it comes, with a fanfare of trumpets blaring.

Listen. You can hear them.

Just like in movies of the times of merry old England, and certainly in those times in Rome when the Emperor was about to arrive, the trumpets were heard upon the ramparts.

The Good News is on its way! Rejoice, we hear again and again. Rejoice. We have been blessed with a God who listens and who responds to our call.

From Isaiah we are told that glad tidings come to the poor, the brokenhearted will be healed, the prisoners will be released. In the Magnificat, Mary rejoices that God will fill the hungry with good things and will have mercy on every generation. Paul says we all will be made perfect because our God is faithful and it will be accomplished.

John reminds us that we may believe all this because John the Baptist told us so. He told us that he was the one coming to announce the coming of the Light.

Such an important word “the Light.”

Such a word was known to Jews. Light was knowledge of the Lord, yet here it is used in a new way. Light is God and that God is coming among us to perfect us, and to heal and to have mercy. God as Light will teach us.

John the Baptist may indeed be a prophet of the Good News. But Paul warns, “test everything, retain what is good”. Paul is of course speaking after the fact, and is reminding us that we know what Jesus taught. Examine all that is given by so-called prophets in that light. Retain what is good. In other words, lay everything that is preached to you alongside the teaching of the Light, and keep only that which aligns with the Master’s teaching.

Would that that occurred today.

Today, we unfortunately have a plethora of spokespersons for the Light. And too many of them, sad so say, have messages that in the end serve to further other agendas. They seek to serve political parties or perceived ingrained beliefs that may have little or in some cases, nothing to do with what our Master taught.

When someone tries to tell you that Jesus would be for a certain economic ideology, by twisting a parable or taking a sentence all too literally, beware. Test everything. When someone attempts to  tell you that Jesus would be of this or that position in regards some sexual moray, beware. Test everything.

Prophets abound even today. And some are indeed listening to God, but some are not. Retain what is good.

Test against what the Light proclaims. What is warm and life-giving? What opens up for all to see? What offers hope, healing, mercy? What on the other hand is dark, divisive, and fearful? Reject it as not light.

Indeed, this is GOOD NEWS!

It is this good news that will carry us through the days and hours to come. It is this which sustains us through real and perceived obstacles and the dark. A new day is dawning. Come to the Light!

Amen.

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Lk 1: 46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1Thes 5: 16-24
Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28

 

Cleansing the Temple

In reading through the texts for the second week of Advent, I came upon the familiar lines of Isaiah, echoed in Mark:

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

As I often have, I wondered exactly what that meant.

To me at least, I pondered that directed me to not get caught in many of the twists and turns of life, but rather to keep my eyes and heart locked on the goal–making myself and my life a fitting example of Christ’s teachings.

We are reminded in Isaiah that God has dealt generously with Jerusalem and thus with us as well. We are promised that God is coming!

Yet, in our second reading from Second Peter, we get a quite different message. It is one of chaos and fire, of destruction and upheaval. All that we have done here on this earth is to no account, it will be destroyed and replaced with a “new earth”. We apparently have so ruined this one, that the only recourse is a cleansing.

But look a bit deeper. The writer of 2Peter is writing in perilous times for his community. While Jesus himself, and Paul thereafter spoke of his return in terms of years, now perhaps as much as 70 years has gone by. And few if any eye-witnesses remain. Hardly anyone has even heard an eye-witness speak.

The community is disheartened, distressed, and persecuted.

“What have we done wrong?” you can hear them ask.

The one writing assures then that God gauges time much differently than they. God so loves his people that he gives them this time to make of themselves that perfect being, worthy of the Kingdom. And so the delay is not out of anger or disgust, but rather out of love.

In effect we are told that as we cleanse ourselves of sin, so we bring forth the day we long for.

We do not sit passively, tending the fire, waiting for salvation. No we participate in the Kingdom now by our very actions as Christians. If we do our jobs, living lives worthy of the Kingdom, then we hasten the return of our King, we make the fire unnecessary.

We cleanse the Temple in a literal sense as our way of making straight the path of the Lord.

Come Lord Jesus!

Amen.

 

Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 85: 9-14
2Pt 3: 8-13
Mk 1: 1-8

 

To The Watch Towers!

As an adult, Thanksgiving has come to be my favorite of holidays. Although I spend hours and hours buying food, preparing it, and setting up the table, finally the moment arrives and we sit down to a feast.

But more glorious to me, is the fact that I have no cooking to do for the next three days. When we feast, we feast. We eat Thanksgiving dinner for four days, enjoying it anew each time, and leaving little in the way of leftovers.

But I admit, that around Saturday, I start to lose my contentment. It has nothing to do with the cooking. It has everything to do with the looming specter of the holidays to come and all the work that that entails.

There is of course more buying and cooking of food, but there is the addition of decorating, holiday cards, gifts, and all the sundry events and parties and so forth. And it seems overwhelming.

In my thirties, it seemed nearly impossible. I seem to never have a moment when I wasn’t shopping, decorating, baking, or obsessing. As I’ve aged, and our lives have settled down, frankly little of this troubles me now. But I remember it quite well.

Advent comes as an island in the chaos. It tells us to slow down, stop our obsessing about things that don’t matter much at all, and to concentrate on what truly is. The LORD IS COMING!

And we are reminded that instead of all this unnecessary busy work, we should be concentrating on what is truly valuable–doing our best to usher in the kingdom that we so long for.

Believe me, we can be at our worst during the hustle and bustle of holiday times. We can be rude and pushy, arrogant, and down right mean to those who we see as getting in our way or obstructing our plans. And Advent reminds us, that that is not what we should be about at all.

It is a time of shared love and charity. It is a time of community, and caring for each other. It is a time when we join together in our hope for the future that we know to be ours.

Mark reminds us: “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”

And Paul tells us that we have been given all we need to be at the watch: “in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,. . . ”

We take a pause in our busyness, and contemplate these things.

We realize that we get caught up in the Madison Avenue of it all, and we lose sight of our need. Our need is great. It is the need for our God:

 “Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

We need with a deep yearning to recall that we are fashioned as God would have us. We are not consumers. We are not Italians, or Irish, or Puerto Ricans. We are not Presbyterians or Catholics, Baptists or Lutherans. We are not lawyers, or mechanics, teachers or real estate agents. We are not parents, children, aunts, or cousins. We are not old or young, rich or poor.

We are God’s creation. We are gifted with love and compassion and humility. We are awaiting our Savior’s return to bring glory to God in the Kingdom. We wait. We watch. We hope.

Is. 63:16b-17, 19b, 64: 2-7
Ps 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1Cor 1: 3-9
Mk 13: 33-37

And What of Joseph?

Today’s Gospel is from Matthew and relates the story of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s determination to divorce her, and the appearance of the angel who explains to Joseph from whence came the child in Mary’s womb. (MT 1:18-24)

Poor Joseph is given little attention in the Gospels.  The event described in Matthew is not mentioned in Luke, Mark or John. In fact Mark and John ignore the entire birthing scenario altogether.

Given that Matthew and Luke both rely on at least some of the same sources, there is no explanation as to why Luke makes no mention of this extraordinary occurrence. Indeed, Luke moves from the annunciation to the visitation, and then to the birth sequence in Bethlehem.

It is hard to know what to make of this section in Matthew. Matthew entirely skips the annunciation and we aren’t sure if he is unaware of it, or if quite possibly it originated in the creative head of Luke and was not historical. This makes the textual understanding problematic.

If we conflate the two renditions we come up with this scenario. Luke describes the annunciation, followed by the visitation to Elizabeth, followed by Matthew’s explanation of how Joseph came to accept this pregnancy, and then the actual birth, recorded by both.

Again, we must proceed with caution  because of the errors that conflation can bring about. Still,  we have some interesting possibilities.

Matthew reports that “Mary is ‘found’ with child. (Both the NRSV and NJB use this word as does the interlinear translation.  Does this mean that Mary kept her pregnancy quiet until she was showing? This would be possible under the conflation that she went immediately to Elizabeth, for she “sat out at that time.” She stayed three months. But few women show a pregnancy at 3-4 months.

The alternative possibility it seems to me is that she told Joseph and apparently he did not believe her, and thus determined to put her “quietly away.”  The NJB renders this “divorce her informally”, the NRSV says “dismiss her quietly.”

In both cases Joseph is adjudged “righteous”  or “just”. My understanding of righteousness is one adjudged to be following God according to Torah.  In other words, Joseph was a faithful Jew, abiding by the standards laid out in the Torah. We can be bolstered in this claim since the infant was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem for “presentation” and Jesus apparently from very early on with comfortable and at home in the synagogue. We can assume that both Mary and Joseph were pious in so far as this was possible being amme ha-arets, or country folk.

Being just, or righteous would mean that it would be appropriate for Joseph to divorce Mary in the manner laid out in Jewish tradition. Yet, he determines to act “not justly” but rather out of deep compassion. Perhaps here we have a clue as to why Mary or Joseph were chosen for such an enormous task and honor.

In Joseph we see a man perhaps not persuaded that the Law is always meeting its objectives and so on occasion needs to be set aside. On the other hand, how this could be done quietly is anyone’s guess. These were exceedingly small communities, Nazareth perhaps having about 300 people. Everyone knows everyone’s business.

What comes next is truly interesting. In the Greek, the words are “while he was thinking” an angel comes to him “in a dream.”  Similarly, the NRSV uses the phrase, “just when he had resolved to do this,” the angel “appears in a dream.” Even more oddly, the NJB says, “He had made up  his mind to do this when suddenly. . .” the angel appears in a dream.

What is odd here, is this sounds less like a dream than a vision. In none of the cases does it appear that Joseph had retired to his bed, or fallen asleep at table. He is “thinking, deciding, resolving,” when out of nowhere, he is in a dream.

I conclude that it was more vision than actual dream. But in any case, something extraordinary is occurring here. Joseph, like Mary is asked to make a leap of faith, and each, independent of the other, does so. God has chosen well it seems.

Of course we are treated to many such occurrences in the Hebrew Testament as well as the New Testament. In each case, a person is asked to accept beyond the knowable world they inhabit. They are asked to accept what they cannot see, hear, taste, touch or smell. Faith is required, and a good deal of it.

Why? Because in all such instances, there will be those who will question. Certainly in this event of Mary and Joseph and the mysterious pregnancy, people in their town could count. They knew when Joseph and Mary began co-habiting. They knew when she was clearly pregnant. Both of these people knew they would be required to stand by their faith, in the face of petty gossip.

And both did so quite willingly.

To be fair, they lived in a time, when the break between the touchable world and the transcendent was much more blurred. People without question believed in miracles,  prophets and that God directed events and intervened in their lives with clear regularity.

Today, we find this all much harder to swallow. We are inclined to search for “answers” explicable by our senses. We forego demons for “epilepsy” and, we deny walking on water for tricks of the eye.  We need natural explanations in order not to appear foolish to modern-day skeptics.

So our leaps of faith are tiny and ordinary, not risking much most of the time. Would we respond to such a leap of faith as God called both Mary and Joseph to? Would I? Would you?

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