Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Prayer, Christmas 7 (Day 344)

O Loving, Benevolent God, you call us forward into new life through your Son: we thank You and we bless You! Come into our hearts, and tabernacle among us always: may we always remember that we are your temple.

As the year closes, let us treasure the blessings we received, and allow all hurts to fall away like leaves in the wind. Let us be reconciled to those we have wronged, and to those who have wronged us. Let us number and name the manifold mercies we have received at your hand, Gracious God, and the hands of others.

As we face the new year, let us resolve to treat each other, and ourselves, with generosity, compassion, and grace. Let us tread lightly upon the earth, and never upon another's heart. Let us honor your presence in every creature we encounter, human and animal alike, all living things reflecting your benevolence.

Let us open our hearts and embrace each chance to laugh, to love, to cherish each other in the name of your Son, Love Incarnate.

This year, let us sing more, and worry less; pray more, and argue less; praise more, and chastise less.

Let us consider the needs of others before our own, as we offer to You our intercessions and concerns.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Prayer 6 (Day 343)

Almighty God, we praise You with song of thanksgiving and worship! 

The light of Christ warms the frozen ground of our hearts; our hope in God sends its roots deep even in the winter darkness. 

Let us drink deeply of your wisdom, O Holy One, and meditate upon your statutes. 

May we trust in your love more than in wealth or in principalities; may we support each other as your holy people. 

Send help to us in our day of trouble, O Lord, and comfort those who call upon your name, especially those we now name.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Prayer 5 (Day 342)

Spirit of God, come upon us: Let us stand in your sanctuary and praise Your infinite mercy. 

Again and again we have drawn back rather than opening our hearts to our brothers and sisters: forgive us, Lord. 

Again and again we have failed to trust in Your promises: forgive us, Lord. 

May we be continually converted to a new life in Christ, and welcome him into our hearts. May we be generous in love to those we meet, and sow peace and justice with each step. Mindful of our manifold faults, may we forgive those who have injured us either willfully or accidentally. 

We ask that You look with favor upon those who weep or suffer, who mourn or worry, or who seek your guidance.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Prayer 4 (Day 341)

O God, our times are in your hand: may we use this day to build your kingdom and strengthen the hearts of those we meet.

May we be sources of contentment and peace rather than discord and sorrow. 

May we place your love always before our eyes, and seek to be worthy of claiming a place within your household. 

May we be disciples of your Son in deed and action, rather than through claims and empty words that turn to ash and smoke. 

May we not only enter into your temple as visitors, but invite you into our hearts, to dwell with you always. 

For You are our companion and guide and Source of All; we long for your embrace as a field longs for the caress of rain. With upraised hearts we lift our prayers to You, in hope and in faith, trusting in your limitless care and mercy.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Notes on John 1-14

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 

The prologue to the Gospel of John runs to verse 18. Today we get most of it, with the Episcopal Church using its own readings in place of those in the RCL.

Note that the first words of the Gospel of John are the same ones as begin the Bible in Genesis: “In the beginning…” This is deliberate. Thus there is a multiplicity of meaning here. This is the beginning of the Gospel. It echoes the beginning of Genesis, which means “Beginning.” It roots God’s word, which we understand as Jesus, as existing before creation and thus before the beginning of time (v. 2). There is no nativity story here filled with angels and shepherds and cattle. The Word does not even become flesh until verse 14. Instead, there is a philosophical, mystical song of the Word being rooted not in human time and experience but before creation—indeed as the agent of creation (v. 3).

This Word shares all of God’s power that we have seen testified to in the Isaiah passage and in Psalm 147. He brings life as light which darkness cannot overcome or vanquish or even “grasp” as the Greek word literally means (vv. 4-5).

These first five verses are laid out without question. But when John states that the Word comes into the world to live among us, the actual verb in verse 14 translated as “lived” in the NRSV actually means “pitched his tent” or, interestingly, “tabernacled” among us. And yet, his people- who owed their very existence to him!- did not recognize him, know him, or accept him (vv. 10-11). Even with a witness named John to testify to establishing the identity of Jesus as the long-awaited Word. John was like a mirror to reflect that light so that people could see it (vv. 6-9). Only a few were willing to accept Jesus as the Word of God, the source of all being, and in doing so they are reborn as the true children of God. Thus this is a retelling of the Genesis story, all right. A new people are created at the coming of this Word—a people of God, a new creation saved by the grace and truth of God (vv. 12-14).

The most powerful thing that moves among us is that which is spoken by God. God spoke creation into being. Look back at Genesis, chapter 1: at each step, God says, “Let there be….” And then there IS. There is light, sky, land, plants, light in the sun, and moon, and the stars, and then animals, and finally humans. It is the speaking that brings forth existence. It is the speaking that creates. Words are where the power is, and the Word contains all the power of God—and yet becomes finite flesh, and pitches his tent among us. God reveals who God is THROUGH God’s Word. This is the music and poetry of creation. This is why we are told over and over again to SING our praise to God in the psalms. Jesus is God’s song, God’s sermon, God’s message inscribed in our very beings. We just need to listen.

Links for more information:

Gerard Sloyan, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: John

J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament

Notes on Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.
4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The editing choices in this reading are a little …odd. We are only given part of a sentence in verse 25— it is actually completed in verse 26, which was omitted. So, let’s look at the verses that were omitted, including the original verse 25:
25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
4My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.

Then after this, chapter 4 continues at verse 4 as in our reading. Of course, verse 28 in particular is pretty well-known, especially in our denomination, which emphasizes equality among the sexes as well as the main concern for Paul, which was the tension over this mission to Gentile (Greek) as well as Jewish converts.

We last saw part of this reading on June 23, when the epistle assigned was verses 23-29. Here are some of the notes from that Sunday:
I used to have a poster on my classroom door for over 20 years. It said: “The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.” For Paul, the Law was the teacher, but to be fully human faith then enables us to know how to live without having to follow the Law. Instead, as Jesus insisted repeatedly, He was “the way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:16)…. As Paul has insisted, faith has replaced obedience to the Law, and all the social categories that reflected outsider and insider are now irrelevant….
In the rest of the omitted sections at the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, Paul uses the metaphor of inheritance to discuss how Christians receive salvation. In our reading, chapter 4 then moves on to discussing the meaning of Jesus as a bridge to all believers. Jesus was fully human and yet the Son of God, and born under the Law but providing the way for sinful, fallen people to become fully equal recipients of God’s grace. It is through Jesus willingly taking on full humanity with us that we can bridge the gap to relationship with God. God once again takes the initiative to act, and we respond in faith and trust through the inspiration of the Spirit, which causes us to cry out, “Abba!” (v. 6) or, basically, “Daddy!”—a term of intimacy and dependence. This trust or faith replaces any sort of required steps or myriad rules to follow as it had been under the Law.
Jesus helps us discover who we really are. Who we are is not an accident of birth, or appearance, or gender, or orientation. WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. God sends the Son to save us; God sends the Spirit to inspire us to understand our status as God’s beloved children and in following the path laid down by the Son. We are actively involved in this process by willingly acting upon the freedom that God has given us to be formed by love into a community of praise.

Links for more information:


Notes on Psalm 147

Psalm 147 Page 804-805, BCP

Laudate Dominum

1 Hallelujah!
How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4 He counts the number of the stars

and calls them all by their names.

5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6 The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8 He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares rain for the earth;

9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10 He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12 But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

13 Worship the LORD, O Jerusalem;

praise your God, O Zion;

14 For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;

he has blessed your children within you.

15 He has established peace on your borders;

he satisfies you with the finest wheat.

16 He sends out his command to the earth,

and his word runs very swiftly.

17 He gives snow like wool;

he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

18 He scatters his hail like bread crumbs;

who can stand against his cold?

19 He sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.

20 He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and his judgments to Israel.

21 He has not done so to any other nation;

to them he has not revealed his judgments.

Here we have yet another psalm of praise from those “Hallelujah Psalms” at the end of the psalter. This one has definite connections to our Isaiah reading: praising God (v.1), God rebuilding Jerusalem and gathering the exiles (v.3), and agricultural abundance (v. 9).

This psalm has obvious uses in worship, and includes three strophes or sections that are each begun with a call to worship (or praise) at verses 1, 7, and 13. Some scholars in the early church wondered if this psalm wasn’t actually three separate psalms, and the Septuagint makes a separate psalm out of verses 12-20, yet there actually is a unifying theme of praise that makes it more likely that these are related units.

Strophe 1, verses 1-6, praises God for restoring Jerusalem and justice to the oppressed. In verse 3, the claim of Isaiah 61:1 is echoed in that God heals the brokenhearted. Strophe 2, verses 7-11, gives instructions on HOW to praise (with music from a harp), and depicts God as wondrous through natural phenomena, and points out that everything is subordinate to God, even the strength of creatures, whether horse or human (which were signs of strength and might in battle). Strophe 3 brings together the themes of the first two sections, calling Jerusalem to worship God, whose command of the wind and waters (especially frozen waters- so perfect for the season) and giving of the law reveals God’s particular love and care for Israel (Jacob).

And what God do we praise? A God who not only hears the cries of the broken-hearted, but can number and name all of the stars (vv. 3-4). This is the God of action in the present tense, who in verses 2-10: rebuilds, gathers, heals, binds up, counts, calls, lifts up, casts, covers, prepares, makes (to grow), and provides. There then follows three actions in the present perfect tense (meaning it has already taken place sometime in the past whether recently or long ago is unclear): God has strengthened, has blessed, has established peace (vv. 14-15). We then return to more active verbs in the last five and a half verses beginning in 15b: God satisfies, sends out, gives, scatters (twice), sends forth, blows, and declares. God is incredibly active, indeed.

The verbs used to describe the response to God are to sing praises and honor God (v.1); to sing and make music (v. 7); and worship and praise (v. 13). We are reminded of how much we receive from God, and in return the first thing we must offer is worship and obedience- to “fear him,” and “await his gracious favor” (v. 12).

God’s might is emphasized in verses 16-21 in images especially appropriate for the start of winter: snow, hoarfrost, and hail— God is master of them all, and can melt them away with his word that is carried on his breath like the wind.

God’s “word” is used three times, and indicates “command” or “commandment” and later “statute” or “law.” God gave the law to Israel (the other name for Jacob) as a sign of particular favor to her. The point of God’s activity is directed toward generously saving us and loving us as beloved, treasured children.

Links for more information:
Walter D. Zorn, The College Press NIV Commentary: Psalms, vol. 2

Christmas Prayer 3 (Day 340)

We sing the praises of God's Anointed One: let us laud and magnify the glory of God forever! Send us out into the fields, O God, though winter frost lies heavy: let us prepare for the lengthening days and a share in the labor. 

May the Spirit of the Lord rest upon us: may we raise our happy voices before the Light that dawns from on high. 

Let us sow with love and laughter where bitter weeds once grew: let us quicken the seeds of justice through tenderness and charity. Melt away the snows of obstinacy which cover our hearts: let our hearts be open to the Sun of Compassion and Mercy. 

Forgive us all our furies and our follies: may we love others as much as we love ourselves. Walk with us, Lord Jesus, through this day, whether it holds joy or tears, and grant your favor upon those whose needs we now name.


Notes on Isaiah 61:10- 62:3

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,

my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

to spring up before all the nations.

62For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,

until her vindication shines out like the dawn,

and her salvation like a burning torch.

2The nations shall see your vindication,

and all the kings your glory;

and you shall be called by a new name

that the mouth of the LORD will give.

3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Remember that Isaiah is usually divided by scholars into three parts: 1st Isaiah (chapters 1-39)- which predict the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem for Israel’s lack of faithfulness, 2nd Isaiah (chapters 40-55)- which is written after the destruction has already taken place and as if the exile is ongoing, and 3rd Isaiah (chapters 56-66)- which seems to be written after exile has ended, but while Israel continues to struggle and deal with the reality of return and rebuilding both their lives and Jerusalem. Even though many scholars make this supposition, the return to Jerusalem is never explicitly stated—thus, one can read 3rd Isaiah as speaking to a metaphorical exile—the exile we all feel in our hearts when we separate ourselves from God, and the hope we all feel that we will be redeemed by a love that knows no end. The section we are reading from here is from that third section.

Chapter 61 began with a praise song by one who proclaims, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the LORD has appointed me to preach good news to the poor….” This is the part of Isaiah that Jesus read from in the synagogue in Luke chapter 4 at the start of his public ministry, obviously referring to himself, and announcing his authority to his neighbors. The Isaiah passage goes on to predict and describe “The Year of the Lord’s favor.” Our five verses finish this image, which on this first Sunday after Christmas we also see as describing Jesus as Savior. The time of Christmas is a time of great joy, and thus we see a vision of a new creation, filled with rejoicing (v. 10), exultation (v. 10), and praise (v. 11). All nations will be redeemed as part of this new kingdom.

Metaphor and imagery is woven together layer upon layer to make vivid the cause of our rejoicing. “Righteousness” appears twice in this short section, as does “salvation,” “vindication,” and “spring up.” Our reading lists two reasons for rejoicing in the Lord:

1) God has covered me in the finery of righteousness. Four verbs (two active and two passive) are used to describe how one is covered—God has “clothed” and “covered” me; the acceptance of this favor is described with the image of a wedding: like a bridegroom “decks himself” and a bride “adorns herself” in celebration of their transition to a new life together (v. 10). This is spoken of as already having occurred.

2)The next image invoked is one of lush fertile fields and gardens where the harvest and produce is righteousness and praise from all nations (v. 11). Yet this flourishing has yet to take place.

Verse 11 is the hinge between what has already been accomplished, and what remains to be done. At chapter 62, it is obvious that the work of redemption is not yet complete. Zion still needs a champion to complete her vindication; she is not yet the jewel or crown that she should be. It is this tension between past and future (or memory and hope) that is always so prominent in Christian thought.

Links for more information:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Prayer 2 (Day 339)

O Come, Emmanuel, and dwell with us forever! We awaken to the whispered voices of angels proclaiming the birth of our Savior and King. We are God's anointed, marked with Christ's love, and we bow our heads in worship and praise. 

Let us carry that love, which is Jesus our Lord, into our hearts and into our world. Let us arise from our place at the throne of God and build a kingdom of compassion, peace, and plenty for all. May the love of Jesus fill our hearts until they overflow, and be a balm to all the world as it emerges from winter darkness. May we be a Spirit-filled people, inspired by the courage of all the saints. 

May our prayers ascend like incense, and draw down the comfort of God upon those whom we now name.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Prayer 1 (Day 338)

Fairest Lord Jesus, infant King come down to share our burdens and guide our hearts: abide with us always. Bring your light into the world, to overcome all darkness and rule over all people. You are the source of all being and God-with-us: may we praise you with each breath and each moment. Your mercy and care is as vast as the sheltering sky: be with us in our cares and concerns. Strengthen us, envelop us, comfort us, O Prince of Peace, and hear our petitions that we cry out to You.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Prayer 24 (Day 337)

Welcome, O welcome, O Lord Jesus, we shout with joy: dwell within us forever! The dawn from on high, the Daystar, breaks in upon us, to lead us in paths of peace. 

O God, you give us your Son: may we in return give you all of the best of ourselves, to make our lives an offering in love and hope. Inscribe upon our hearts the message of Love Eternal to save us from sin and hardness of heart. Incline your ear to us, O Merciful God, and hear the prayers of your people.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Prayer 23 (Day 336)

O God, Joseph heard your angel in his dream and was called to protect and love Your Son: let us build a home for Christ within our hearts. Give us the trust to say "Yes" to You and step out in faith upon the path You have chosen for us, for You are with us always. 

Guard us from pettiness and selfishness: let us be open, honest, and loving in all our actions. Our spirits are revived by meditating upon your Word: let us fulfill your commandments to love each other today. 

You know the longing of our hearts: draw near to us as we await the light of your Son. Draw us within the fortress of your protection, and lighten the hearts of those for whom we pray today.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Prayer 22 (Day 335)

Almighty One, we thank You for drawing us to You. 
May the peace of Heaven fall like snow upon the heads and hearts of everyone, and turn them toward hope. May the light of Christ bear us up in joy and gratitude toward lengthening days in which to do your work. May the love of God bring songs to our lips and bind us together as one people. May the grace of our Savior be praised as the greatest gift we will receive. 
Make us prayers, lovers, worshippers, and doers today and every day. Hear, O Loving One, our prayers and supplications which we offer this day.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Notes on Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25
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. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But 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. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,"
which means, "God is with us."

24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

What a situation Joseph finds himself in! Mary has been formally given to and accepted by him in a binding ceremony—that’s how engagement worked in those days. However, they have not yet lived together, and she turns up pregnant. Joseph knows he is not the father, for he is a righteous man, and righteous men do not “jump the gun” and impregnate their betrothed—it would bring shame upon both of them were they to be found out.

There are two paths that could be taken according to the Law: Mary could be put to death or public humiliation, according to Deuteronomy 22:13-30. Or she could be put aside, quietly. It is this course that Joseph has resolved to take, being that he is merciful and yet righteous. The Law is clear.

Yet, just as his resolution is firm, an angel appears in a dream and speaks to him. Now certainly, when this happened in the time of the patriarchs, one was expected to listen. There will be other dreams sent from above during the infancy narrative of Jesus that ends at the beginning of chapter 3: the Magi will be warned in a dream not to return and tell Herod where Jesus is (2:12); Joseph will be warned by an angel in a dream to flee to Egypt in 2:13, and then appears again to tell the family to return after Herod dies in 2:19. Another dream warns Joseph to go to Galilee rather than Judea in 2:23.

It is also interesting to see the first word used here to describe an emotion: do not be AFRAID to take Mary as wife. This is the first time this emotion is mentioned in Matthew, but it certainly won’t be the last. When Herod hears of Jesus’s birth from the Magi in 2:3, he is “frightened.” Yet these are two different kinds of fears: Joseph is wary of marrying someone he cannot trust with his good name. Herod is afraid he is going to be supplanted by someone with a better claim to the throne as a true descendant of David, and Herod is an Edomite who “practices Judaism” rather than a Jew by ancestry, as well as a puppet ruling at the will of the Romans. In Matthew 1, Joseph is told not to be afraid before Jesus comes into the world. And the gospel of Matthew will end with an angel reassuring the women at the tomb not to be afraid when they see that Jesus is gone.

And yet it is at verse 20 that Joseph gets surprised: the Law has been trumped by the upcoming birth of this child. This child is not the result of sexual misconduct, but is rather from the Holy Spirit. The old rules do not apply here— and if all the rules that Joseph has lived by to be adjudged a righteous man are gone, where does that leave him? 

Joseph is a prototype, a touchstone, for the readers of Matthew’s Gospel. They too, had dedicated their lives to being righteous according to the Law. They too, are being asked to consider that something new may have begun, and that the Law may be insufficient any more. So pay attention here to how Joseph responds: he accepts and obeys, still behaving with integrity.

Matthew has the angel states that this child’s birth is a fulfillment of the prophecy we read in Isaiah. But there are some differences: the term “young woman” is changed to “virgin,” and instead of the woman naming the child “they” name the child. It is important that Joseph play a part in naming the child. By accepting Mary, he publicly accepts her son as his child, which is why he gets the right to name the child. That was the public admission by a father that a child was his in the days before paternity tests. Jesus is a descendant of David through his claiming by Joseph. Joseph’s ready, generous obedience is held up for us a model. And even though the prophecy had the child being named “Emmanuel,” Jesus’s name in Hebrew is Y’shua or Joshua, meaning “God saves.” And it is indeed to fulfill our hopes and need for a Savior that we look to Jesus’s coming into the world.

Links for more information:
David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 1
Thomas G. Long, Westminster Bible Commentary: Matthew

Advent Prayer 21 (Day 334)

from the Hubble Telescope

Almighty God, our spirits dance before you like flames of light: make us blaze anew with your lovingkindness. 

Banish from us the darkness of intolerance, hatred and misunderstanding. Lord, your kindnesses to us outnumber the stars that guide us on our way and whisper your love. 

Cradle us within your embrace, O Loving Mother, and make of us newborn hearts, open as the sky to your mysteries. Bend over us, O Holy Father, and hear our sighs and whispered prayers.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Notes on Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 Page 702, 703, BCP
Qui regis Israel
1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.
3 Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
4 O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
17 And so will we never turn away from you;
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.
18 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

It’s easy to get distracted by mentions of shepherds and Joseph to let our minds wander to Christmas as we read this psalm, but that would be to miss the entire point.

This psalm is written in the form of a community lament, asking for the help of God. The community understands that it has sinned against God (vv. 3-4). In return, it believes that it has brought suffering upon itself, and feels sharply how lost they are. “How long?”- asked in verse 4—is such a human question. How long until we are forgiven? How long must we suffer? How long must we feel alone and abandoned?

How often have we had someone turn their face away from us after we have done something to anger them or hurt them? Three times we see the plea: “Restore us, O God of hosts,” much as in ancient times a penitent would beat his or her hreast three times and say, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”—which means “”My fault, my fault, my very great fault.”

The use of this psalm on this last Sunday of Advent is to remind us why God sent the Son into the world: to call us back from our hardheartedness and sinfulness. The reference to “the son of man” can be read as a reference to Jesus, especially since the Gospel of Matthew uses that term 28 times, and often puts that term in the mouth of Jesus himself. The “Son of Man” is coming, to bring salvation (v. 7). Let all the world rejoice!

Advent Prayer 20 (Day 333)

O Glorious One, put a new song in our mouths that we may raise our praises heavenward! 
Blessed Savior, whose light fills the skies, may your love fill our hearts. O Loving One who has blessed us beyond all measure, may we be truly thankful, and seek to give more than we receive. As Christ came into the world, vulnerable and humble, may we always see Jesus in those who seem powerless or weak. Let us hear the cry of the poor, the sorrowing, the suffering in the cry of the Holy One who will lie in a manger. 
As your angels sent tidings of joy to those who watched, send your angels to watch over and protect those we now name.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Prayer 19 (Day 332)

Loving One, thank You for bringing us in safety to this new day. Remind us of our many blessings, and prepare our hearts to receive the gift of each person we encounter today. Give us the strength to act in love, for love is the greatest gift we can both give and receive. Help us to see the face of Christ in each person we encounter, and do what we can to feed them in body and in soul. Guide us in all we do today, and sustain us in your ways. Hear the prayers and supplications of your people, especially those whose needs we now name.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Faith and Trust

"If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all."- Isaiah 7:9

"It is commonly agreed that this utterance of the prophet is a (the?) pivotal text upon which the meaning of faith in the work of Isaiah and, indeed, in the entire Old Testament. Faith... is not a matter of intellectual content or cognitive belief. It is rather a matter of quite practical reliance upon the assurance of God in a context of risk where one's own resources are not adequate.... 
It is most unfortunate that, in the long history of the church, "faith" has been almost everywhere transubstantiated into "belief," which transposes the concrete practicality of trust into a cognitive enterprise. How ludicrous that in the long, oppressive history of orthodoxy-- which guards cognitive formulations-- that those who enforce right belief seem most often themselves unable or unwilling to engage in deep trust."
-- Walter Brueggemann, WBC Commentary on Isaiah, 67-68.

Meditation on Isaiah 7:10-16

Isaiah 7:10-16
The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted."

Ahaz, king of Judah, is a member of the House of David, and is actually an ancestor of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (v. 1:9). According to 2 Chronicles 28:1-4, Ahaz was NOT a godly king, but instead “worshipped the Baals” and even practiced a truly appalling form of human sacrifice with some of his infant children, which was a feature of the worship of Molech.

In the first nine verses of this chapter of Isaiah, the situation is laid out as this: the kings of Israel and Aram(to the north) are threatening to attack Israel, but have been unable to so far. Nonetheless, Ahaz is out, inspecting the defenses, and pondering an alliance with Assyria, which is a SPECTACULARLY bad idea. Israel and Aram are nothing—but Assyria is the Nazi Germany of its time. Isaiah is sent to bolster Ahaz’s faith—and as we have just seen, he really doesn’t have much.

Once again, we see a choice of verses in the lectionary that seems really confusing because of the verses around the reading that are omitted. The part that gets our attention is, of course, the prophecy about the young woman bearing a son who will be called Immanuel, which will be a vital part of our gospel reading.

In our reading, God speaks directly to Ahaz, and encourages—dares-- him to ask for a sign. Ahaz refuses in the name of what in anyone else would be called piety. So Isaiah takes up the conversation, and after chiding him for his fear, offers a sign anyway in verse 14. “The young woman”—is translated in the Vulgate as “virgin,” although the Hebrew word “’almah” merely means “young woman old enough to be married.” The child will be a sign of hope and plenty—literally that “God is With Us.” Scholars have debated whether this woman in the Isaiah story is Ahaz’s wife or Isaiah’s wife; Isaiah already has been depicted in this chapter with one of his sons with a symbolic name, and Isaiah’s wife was also a prophet. The fact that the child will eat curds and honey in this context is a sign that any siege that may befall Jerusalem will not have lasting effect, since verse 16 implies the age of two (“before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good”).

As Christians, of course, we place these verses into a different context thanks to Matthew’s gospel. This child is a sign to us to not have fear, but faith, or trust in God. At a time when darkness is at its longest point of the year, there is light coming into the world. At a time when all seems black, hope dawns. Jesus comes to remind us not to accept the world as it is, but to work to build the world as it ought to be. God breaks into the world no matter how much we try to close it off, make it a closed system subject to immutable laws of our own discerning. There are miracles everywhere; let those who have eyes see.

Links for more information:

Walter Brueggemann, Westminster Bible Commentary: Isaiah 1-39

David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 1