December 18, 2016 – A child has been born for us

Advent 4   December 18, 2016    Psalm 98, Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20   A child has been born for us *********************************************** The Christmas story is so very familiar… we can sometimes need a little jolt… to be able to really hear it… (And this is part of the story…) The angel Gabriel surprises the elderly priest Zechariah in the temple in the first scene of Luke’s gospel, saying “do not be afraid – I bring good news – a son’s on the way for you and your wife Elizabeth.’ Zechariah knows all the stories of what God can do. He’s been praying for a son for many years. But now he’s so terrified by the angel that he can’t believe the angel’s words. Months later, the same angel Gabriel appears to Mary, a young woman in the small village of Nazareth, telling her she will be the mother of a child to be named Jesus, who will inherit the throne of his ancestor King David, and of his reign there will be no end. He will be called Son of God…And by the way, Mary – this will happen before you get married, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit… (And Mary is left to ponder the angel’s words…) Sometime after this, in Matthew’s gospel, we’re told her fiancee Joseph has also been pondering… And now he’s about to call the whole thing off – when an angel appears to him in a dream-like-vision, telling him ‘not to worry – the child to be born of Mary is holy – go ahead and marry her.’ Which he does… And I’m sometimes struck by how much the Christmas story depends on angels….As now a mighty angel appears to shepherds watching their flocks by night… giving the same “Do not be afraid” greeting the angel also gave Zechariah and Mary… And all these scenes from the gospel story are so familiar… I seldom pause to consider: What happens to the story… if we don’t believe in angels? I don’t think that was much of an issue for people in earlier times…. The reality of angels was not even regarded as a serious question… And perhaps angel appearances were more frequent… and more obvious… in days of old. I still believe angels are real…But I certainly don’t claim to understand them well at all…But I do know the word “angel” is literally “messenger” in the Hebrew. And in both the Old and New Testaments, lines are sometimes a little blurry between human and divine messengers… The patriarch Jacob wrestles all night with somebody first called a man, then called God, then (in Hosea) called an angel. And the two dressed in dazzling white at the tomb of Jesus in Luke are called men first, then angels… (Many other examples come to mind, but…) Remember, again the familiar setting of the Christmas story… In the days when Augustus Caesar was Emperor, and Quirinius governor over the Roman province of Syria, a decree when out for all the world to be registered for taxation. Mary and Joseph then journey 70-some miles from their home in the northern village of Nazareth of Galilee, to Bethlehem, home town of King David of whom Joseph is descended, to be registered… And the time came for Mary to give birth,...

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December 20, 2015

Advent 4 December 20, 2015   Psalm 96, Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 2:1-20 ******************************************************* A story so very familiar, we can hear it almost without listening. The birth of Jesus – Savior, Messiah, Lord – born in a stable, laid in a manger – angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” I’m quoting now from the old familiar King James Version translation of the angels’ words. The New Revised Standard Version in our bulletin says “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors!” There is a small, but significant difference here in emphasis – between peace and good will toward all – and peace to those whom God favors. Scholars find evidence to favor both translations. Either can work… But… The older I get the more I prefer the ‘peace, good will to all’ translation – since it keeps getting harder for me to have much confidence in my own or anyone else’s ability to really know who God favors. For example, in the current election cycle nearly all candidates seem to be sure God favors them (– almost as if they were born in a manger) – and they all seem equally sure God does not like their opponents much at all. At least not for higher office. Which is relevant today because… St Luke’s gospel is all about who really rules in higher office – and – because Luke’s gospel begins the account of our Savior’s birth by contrasting Jesus with Augustus Caesar, CEO of the Roman empire. Caesar’s decree that all must be registered for taxation is, of course, what causes the holy family to travel all the way from Nazareth in the far North, to Bethlehem, the city of David, several days journey to the South, where Jesus is born. Augustus Caesar’s birth story isn’t narrated in our gospel, but historians tell us when Emperor Augustus was born, a new imperial calendar was created, with his birthday now made to be first day of the new year for all the empire. One of the altars built to mark his birth bears an inscription saying: “The birthday of the god has marked the beginning of the good news for the world.” St Luke not-very subtly reminds us of the contrast in the way emperors and followers of Jesus use the same words – peace and good news. Augustus Caesar’s Press Secretaries claimed Augustus was a son of God, a divine savior, and celebrated his rule of peace. But “good news” in Empire-speech meant yet-another military victory for the Empire. And “peace” according to Caesar meant something very closely resembling the remark of one of our recent candidates, who spoke about ‘carpet bombing them till the desert glows.’ Caesars were famous for peace through power – killing, even crucifying, one’s opposition was a standard tool of the trade. Up to five thousand Jewish men at a time were crucified by Rome on suspicion of rebellion. Jerusalem was finally burned to the ground for resisting Roman rule. There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to Empires striking back. And whatever the empire wants, it takes. So in the birth of Jesus we have quite a contrast. Not only is there no...

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December 21, 2014 – How beautiful are the feet

Isaiah 52:7-10 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Luke 2:1-7 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:8-20 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. *** Advent 4/Christmas December 21, 2014 Ps 72, Luke 2:1-7, 8-20, Isaiah 52:7-10 How beautiful are the feet ************************************************ Hear again the word of the prophet Isaiah, from chapter 52, verse 7: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who bring good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your...

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December 22, 2013 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 2:1-14 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was betrothed and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” *** Advent 4    Dec 22, 2013   (Ps 98, Isaiah 9:2-7, Matt 1: 18-25) Luke 2:1-14 No room at the inn ******************************************* Consider again the story… Try again to imagine…what it must be like to take a three-to-four-days-long, more-than-70-miles-long journey… from Nazareth, up in the far north of Israel, way down to Bethlehem in the south, all on foot. There’s no cars, trucks, trains, or bus, remember – and the bible actually never mentions a donkey, even… We hope the holy family had one for Mary to ride, but that’s just our hope… There’s no such thing in those days as a hospital. And all the local inns are famously full – best we can do, sorry folks, is out in the barn – or more likely, on the floor of the house where the animals often lived. Homes usually consisted of one large room, with animals often kept indoors, at least at times, down at the lower end of the room. And the Greek word we translate as “inn” (where there was no room) – means literally “lodging place” – public guest rooms where floor space would be   shared at busy times – like this time of compulsory tax registration – with many other travelers… and animals… all in one room together. Nothing even close to a Holiday Inn for the holy family…. And as we rejoin our story in progress… here’s Mary and Joseph, trying to find any kind of place at all where they can lay their weary heads. And the bible says nothing about any midwife or nurse there to assist with the birth. (And as the song says:) Once in royal David’s city stood...

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