December 4, 2016 – New things I now declare

Advent 2    December 4, 2016   Psalm 24, Isaiah 42:5-9, Matthew 1:1,12-17, Luke 1: 26-38          New things I now declare ****************************************************************** God speaks through the prophet Isaiah: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.” We need this heads-up warning that something new is coming from God… Because, God knows, not everything new is good… Not everything new is even remotely related… to the things of God that are from God… From the first high-rise tower of Babel to contemporary skyscrapers blocking the light of day for those living in their shadows… From the first chemical weapons of World War I, to nuclear weapons, to the latest in cyber-warfare… From the first horror movies to tv shows obsessing with evil… The new things we humans produce quite often turn out to be very bad indeed…. (Which is not to say everything new is bad, or everything old is good… Just to say our tendency to plunge too far too fast too uncritically into things labeled and marketed as “New! is well documented…) And among the many things I’ve been wrong about, one thing I’ve sometimes managed to get right by grace – is to refrain from embracing the new… just because it’s new… Growing up in the tumultuous ‘60’s, I learned to love older music from artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Martha and the Vandellas… as much, often even more than, the newer bands the sixties were more famous for… I grew up listening to blues and jazz even before I listened to rock. Listened to old acoustic country blues before the electrified bands of Muddy Waters and BB King… Later listening to yodeling Jimmy Rogers and the Carter Family along with Willie Nelson and other more recent country singers… I was exposed to jazz from birth through my parents, starting with the older New Orleans jazz of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet…Then Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, and others of the swing era… Only later on to Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane… modern jazz and beyond… And just as appreciating older styles of American music has helped me to better enjoy some of our newer music…. So also, since I became a Christian, I’ve been captivated by many of the older biblical books – roots books – Genesis, first book of the bible – Isaiah and Micah among the prophets… Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, among the writings… The psalms – the original sanctified blues… All these older books of the bible have helped me better love and understand the New Testament, with it’s deep roots in the psalms, writings and prophets of Israel… And appreciate the continuity of God’s themes… of creation and redemption… and new creation… *** There’s many reasons to be suspicious of man-made changes…I remember older Vermont farmers I worked with saying – ‘every new labor-saving device that was supposedly going to save us time and money – always ended up costing us time and money…’ But when its God doing a new thing….We may not know exactly what to expect… But we have assurance… it will be good… God who spoke forth creation in the beginning and said that it was good and very good… God...

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December 6, 2015 – Ready for yes

Advent 2   December 6, 2015   (Luke 1:68-75, Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11) Luke 1:26-38          Ready for yes **************************************************************** Mary ponders the angel’s words. And pondering has been my operative word all this past week. So much has been happening. Sometimes it’s been feeling like the world is coming to an end. Which in some sense it is. Outbreaks of terror happen on a daily basis – we also have rising sea levels, warming earth – and sea-changes in our culture to match. We live in a highly unsettled world. Common ground is often hard to find. (And on a personal level, with the passing of my mother recently… a pillar of my childhood world is gone.) Yet at the same time – all around us are signs of a new world coming. A world in which the law of love is written on our hearts and in our minds. A new world coming, where all things are possible with God, and we are not afraid. We’re even ready to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me, according to your word.” And yes, with Mary, I’m also still perplexed – and yes, still pondering – how it is – that both the old world passing away – and the new world coming into being – are happening at the same time – within me – within us – among us – around us. And through it all, God is still with us…. Though it is not always easy to remember or notice the presence of God – when the world seems on fire and freezing over simultaneously… On one level we know God is always here. On other levels, we aren’t always truly aware of God’s presence. (And is this even possible?) Thus the ancient theme of this Advent season: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” (Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the way of the Lord. And all people will see – the salvation of our God.) God speaks through the prophet Malachi, saying: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” But “Who can stand in his presence?” God’s messenger will be like refiner’s fire, like the strongest industrial-strength cleaning agent. God’s messenger will purify the people of God with fire and extreme-cleansing. Prepare the way of the Lord, for Malachi means Prepare to be purified. And Zechariah, father-to-be of John the Baptist, sings the prepare the way of the Lord message in his canticle of praise. Thanking God that John will be the one Malachi speaks of, who “will go before the Lord to prepare the way…” to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of sins. Bringing good news of deliverance from darkness; with God guiding our feet into the way of peace. (Notice this is the same Zechariah we saw last week; struck speechless by angel Gabriel for disbelieving God’s good news. Yet now here’s Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking good news eloquently. Thanks be to God for excellent rebounds….) When John the Baptist grows up he’ll usually sound more like Malachi than like the poetic canticle of his father Zechariah. John will be preaching fiery cleansing repentance and fleeing the wrath to come. Declaring the one coming after...

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December 7, 2014 – Good listening

Isaiah 9:1-7 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 7:10-14 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’ Matthew 1:1, 18-23 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…. Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ *** Advent 2 December 7, 2014   Psalm 24, Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 7:10-14, Matthew 1:1, 18-23   Good Listening  *** It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old… (sing with me, please–) From angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps...

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December 8, 2013 – Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:39-45 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” *** Advent 2    Dec 8, 2013   Isaiah 11:1-10, Luke 1:26-38, 39-45   Let it be unto us *************** The first Advent season begins… With a duet— an intimate-dialogue between Gabriel, mighty angel of God, and Mary, a young, yet-to-be-wed-teenage-mother-to-be. The angel foretells what will be with utmost certainty – how Mary, favored of God, will become mother of a child… who will be called Son of the Most High, who will be called Son of God…  (the word will is spoken an even dozen times by the angel, leaving very little room for doubt) – a child will be born to you, who will rule from the throne of his ancestor King David, rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. And even though the angel is telling all this just as it surely will be – still, all the angel says is also a question – (Since it is the...

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