Archive for the ‘Advent’ Tag

Five Kings   1 comment

Above:  Head of Herod, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 7:10-14 (15-17)

Psalm 24

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Take away the hindrance of our sins

and make us ready for the celebration of your birth,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 14

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come among us with great might,

and because we are sorely hindered by our sins,

let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 14

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Kings populate the readings for this Sunday.

The kings in Isaiah 7:10-17 were Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah.  Immediately–in context–God was with Judah and the leadership of that kingdom during the Syro-Ephraimite War.  The conception of the future King Hezekiah to an almah (young woman) was the sign of this.

YHWH is the King of Glory in Psalm 24.

Jesus was the king in Romans 1:1-7.  The death and resurrection of Christ revealed in yet another way that he was the Son of God.  (May we avoid the heresy of Adoptionism.)

Herod the Great was a client king of the Roman Empire.  To accuse Herod of being mean was to understate reality.  The man ordered the deaths of relatives and strangers alike.

Therefore, I, as a historian, attest that the story of the Massacre of the Innocents is plausible.  It is consistent with the character of Herod the Great.

Matthew 1:18 quotes and reapplies Jeremiah 31:15, a text about Israel, personified as Rachel, weeping for her lost children, exiles during the Babylonian Exile.  Jeremiah 31:16 predicts the return of the exiles, though.  There is hope, even if it is deferred sometimes.

That must have been cold comfort to grieving parents, though.

As we approach the twelve days of Christmas, may all of us cling to hope.  That hope may seem like cold comfort, especially if we grieve the absence of someone who has died or has not been able to attend for another reason.  I need encouragement to cling to hope as much as the next grieving person; I know the feeling of more than one “blue Christmas.”  Yet hope abides.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 8, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THORFINN OF HAMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF A. J. MUSTE, DUTCH-AMERICAN MINISTER, LABOR ACTIVIST, AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF ARCANGELO CORELLI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS AND GALILEO GALILEI, SCIENTISTS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEDELL, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PEPIN OF LANDEN, SAINT ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, AND SAINTS AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II OF BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES

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Adapted from this post

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XXIII   1 comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

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Almighty God, you once called John the Baptist

to give witness to the coming of your Son and to prepare his way. 

Grant us, your people, the wisdom to see your purpose today

and the openness to hear your will,

that we may witness to Christ’s coming and so prepare his way;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

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Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ,

you once proclaimed salvation;

now grant that we may know this salvation and serve you

in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 13

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If I seem like a proverbial broken record, I am.  I am like a proverbial broken record because the Bible is one on many points.  In this case, the point is the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  Divine judgment on the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in Isaiah 34 balances divine mercy (via a second exodus) in Isaiah 35.  Divine mercy on the faithful balances divine judgment on princes in Psalm 146.  Jesus is simultaneously the judge and the advocate in James 5:7-10.  Despite divine faithfulness to the pious, some (such as St. John the Baptist, in Matthew 11) suffer and die for their piety.  Then God judges the oppressors.

The twin stereotypes of the Hebrew Bible being about judgment and the New Testament being about grace are false.  Judgment and mercy balance each other in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

The inclusion of the fate of St. John the Baptist in Advent reminds us that he was the forerunner of Christ in more than one way.  About two weeks before December 25, one may prefer not to read or hear such a sad story.  Yet we all need to recall that Christmas commemorates the incarnation of Jesus, who suffered, died, then rose.  Advent and Christmas are bittersweet.  This is why Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale into his Christmas Oratorio.  This is why one can sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to the same tune (EASTER HYMN).

God is active in the world.  So are evil and misguided forces, unfortunately.  Evil, in the Biblical sense, rejects dependence on God.  Evil says:

If God exists, God does not care.  Everyone is on his or her own in this world.  The ends justify the means.

Evil is amoral.  The misguided may be immoral, at best.  The results of amorality and immorality may frequently be identical.  Yet God remains constant.

That God is constant may constitute good news or bad news, depending on one’s position.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 7, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANÇOIS FÉNELON, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CAMBRAI

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDRIC OF LE MANS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF LE MANS

THE FEAST OF JEAN KENYON MACKENZIE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF LANZA DEL VASTO, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE ARK

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUCIAN OF ANTIOCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 312

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JONES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

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Adapted from this post

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Eschatological Ethics XII   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah Wall, United Nations, New York, New York

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122 (LBW) or Psalm 50:1-15 (LW)

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44 or Matthew 21:1-11

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Protect us by your strength and

save us from the threatening dangers of our sins,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

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Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, 

and come that by your protection

we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins

and be saved by your mighty deliverance;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 10

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When I compose a post based on lectionary readings, I prefer to write about a theme or themes running through the assigned readings.  The readings for this Sunday fall on the axis of divine judgment and mercy, in balance.  Hellfire-and-damnation preachers err in one direction.  Those who focus so much on divine mercy that they downplay judgment err in the polar opposite direction.

Isaiah 2:2-4, nearly identical to Micah 4:1-4 (or the other way around), predicts what, in Christian terms, is the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  The soaring, positive imagery of Isaiah 2:2-4 precedes divine judgment on the impious and impenitent–those who revel in the perils of their sins.  There is no place for such people in the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

Psalm 50 focuses on divine judgment.  YHWH is just, keeping faith with the “devoted ones” who have kept the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  YHWH is just, prioritizing these moral mandates over ritual practices.  Rituals still matter, of course; they are part of the Law of Moses, too.  Yet these rites are never properly talismans, regardless of what people may imagine vainly.  People will still reap what they have sown.

Psalm 122 is a hymn of a devout pilgrim who had recently returned from Jerusalem.  The text fits neatly with Isaiah 2:1-4.  Psalm 122 acknowledges the faithfulness of God and the reality of “thrones of judgment.”

Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-11, and Matthew 24:37-44, like Isaiah 2:1-4, exist within the expectation of the establishment or unveiling of the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  We read of Jesus acting out Second Zechariah’s prediction of the Messiah’s arrival at Jerusalem at the fulfillment of time (Zechariah 9:9-10) in Matthew 21:1-11.  Romans 13:1-14 and Matthew 24:37-44 remind us to straighten up and fly right, so to speak.

St. Paul the Apostle identified the resurrection of Jesus as the dawn of a new historical era.  Naturally, therefore, he taught that salvation had come nearer.  St. Paul also expected Jesus to return soon–nearly 2000 years ago from our perspective, O reader.  St. Paul’s inaccurate expectation has done nothing to minimize the importance of his ethical counsel.

Forbidden fruits frequently prove alluring, perhaps because they are forbidden.  Their appeal may wear off, however.  This is my experience.  That which really matters is consistent with mutuality, the Law of Moses, and the Golden Rule.  That which really matters builds up the common good.  This standard is about as tangible as any standard can be.

Let us be careful, O reader, not to read into Romans 13:14 that which is not there.  I recall Babette’s Feast (1987), a delightful movie set in a dour, Pietistic “Sad Dane” Lutheran settlement.  Most of the characters are unwilling even to enjoy their food, literally a “provision for the flesh.”  One can live honorably as in the day while enjoying the pleasures of life.

Advent is a bifurcated season.  It begins with mostly somber readings.  By the end of Advent, however, the readings are more upbeat.  Just as divine judgment and mercy exist in balance, so do the two halves of Advent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR, 1527

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENOVEVA TORRES MORALES, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS AND THE HOLY ANGELS

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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God With Us, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Icon of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Zechariah 2:10-13 (Protestant and Anglican)/Zechariah 2:14-17 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 122

1 John 5:1-11

John 1:19-28

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The readings from Zechariah and the Psalms overlap thematically.  First Zechariah (Chapters 1-8) is a section concerned with the rebuilding of of the Jewish community after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  The legitimization of the Second Temple is a major theme in support of that goal.  In the context of the establishment of an ideal Zion, we read that God will dwell in the midst of the people.

First Zechariah also overlaps with First John thematically.  Both agree that love of God entails keeping divine commandments.  One may think also of another verse:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

–John 14:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In our scheduled portion of the Gospel of John, we read of St. John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, not himself.  This is a good reading to pair with the verses from Zechariah 2.  God has come to dwell among the people.

God still dwells among us.  The Holy Spirit is present, of course.  God also works through people.  The face of Jesus someone may see today may be your face, O reader.  Likewise, the face of Jesus I see today may be someone in public, as we go about our lives.  God dwells among us.  We will recognize that truth if we know where to look.

May the image of God in you, O reader, greet the image of God in those around you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/26/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-d-humes/

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Respecting the Image of God in Others, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Detail from The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 1:26-2:3

Psalm 24

1 John 4:1-21

John 1:14-18

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Genesis 1:26f tells us that human beings bear the image of God.  This is not a physical description.  No, the meaning of of “image of God” is profound.

Dr. Richard Elliott Friedman, a Jewish scholar of the Bible, tells us:

Whatever it means, though, it implies that humans are understood here to share in the divine in a way that a lion or cow does not….The paradox, inherent in the divine-human relationship, is that only humans have some element of the divine, and only humans would, by their very nature, aspier to the divine, yet God regularly communicates with them means of commands.  Although made in the image of God, they remain subordinates.  In biblical terms, that would not bother a camel or a dove.  It would bother humans a great deal.

Commentary on the Torah, with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), 12

The commandment to do love to each other, especially the vulnerable and the marginalized, has long been a controversial order.  That this has been and remains so speaks ill of people.

Dr. Robert D. Miller, II, a professor at The Catholic University of America, and a translator of The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), adds more to a consideration to the image of God.  The Hebrew word of “image” is tselem.  It literally means “idol.”

When Genesis 1 says that humanity is the tselem of God, it’s saying if you want to relate to God, relate to your fellow man?

Understanding the Old Testament–Course Guidebook (Chantilly, VA:  The Great Courses, 2019), 9

Biblical authors from a wide span of time hit us over the head, so to speak, with this message.  If we do not understand it yet, we must be either dense or willfully ignorant.

John 1 offers us the flip side of Genesis 1:  The Second Person of the Trinity outwardly resembles us.  Moreover, as one adds other parts of the New Testament, one gets into how Jesus, tempted yet without sin, can identify with us and help us better because of experiences as Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh.  The theology of the Incarnation, with Jesus being fully human and fully divine, is profound and mysterious.  I know the history of Christian theology well enough to understand that Trinitarian heresies originated with attempts to explain the Trinity rationally.  I prefer to relish the mystery of the Trinity.

We bear the intangible image of God.  Jesus bore the physical image of human beings.   We reach out for God, who reaches out to us.  These are thoughts worthy of every day of the year, but especially during Advent and Christmas.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 25, 2020 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS DAY

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/25/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-d-humes/

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Idolatry and Tribalism   1 comment

Above:  Saint John the Evangelist, by Peter Paul Rubens

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 1:14-25

Psalm 146

1 John 2:7-12; 3:1-3

John 1:6-13

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Genesis 1 divides the first six days of creation into two groups–the creation of generalities and domains (the first three days’ work) and the creation of the specifics or the inhabitants of those domains (the work of the fourth, fifth, and sixth days).  The seventh day is the time of the creation of the sabbath.  The sovereignty of God is a theme that pervades this great myth.

God also deserves much love.  As the other three readings tell us, that love (or absence thereof) is manifest in how we behave toward other human beings.  These other human beings also bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  I know I am getting ahead of the continuous readings in Genesis.  I am staying on topic, though.

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.  Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because darkness has blinded his eyes.

–1 John 2:9-11, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That text explains itself.

According to a story that may be apocryphal, the elderly St. John the Evangelist was due to visit a congregation somewhere.  The members gathered in great anticipation on the appointed day.  They watched as men carried the infirmed apostle into the space and sat him down in front of the congregation.  Then St. John said, 

My children, love one another.

Immediately, he motioned for the men to carry him out.  One member of the congregation ran after St. John and asked, in so many words, 

That’s all you came here to say?

The apostle replied,

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

Loving one another can be very difficult.  Deciding to love one another can also prove challenging, albeit easier than effectively acting on the goal.  We need grace to succeed, of course.  Yet grace requires our desire to love one another.  Free will and grace are partners.

I write this post during a period of prolonged and intensified political polarization.  Even the definition of objective reality, as in X caused Y, and Z happened, is often contentious.  More so than in the past, many disagreements start at the point of assuming that those who differ from one are bad, if not evil.  The more generous judgment that that those who disagree are probably good yet misinformed and misguided is increasingly rare.

I notice this unfortunate pattern in topics that range far beyond science, religion, and politics.  I detect this regarding science fiction (one of my favorite topics), too. 

Do you enjoy that series?  Do you not enjoy that movie?  What kind of person are you?  You certainly aren’t a real fan.  I’m a real fan! 

Many criteria can define tribalism.

Whenever we erect idols, whether tangible or intangible, we set ourselves up for this.  We do this to ourselves and each other.  We can choose never to do this.  We can also choose to cease and desist from doing this.  We can opt to repent of our idolatry and tribalism.

May we do so.  May we love God.  May we love ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2020 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/24/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d-humes/

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Liminality   1 comment

Above:  Sunrise

Image in the Public Domain

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 1:1-13

Psalm 89

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 1:1-5

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Changing circumstances can alter how one reads texts one has read many times already.  The texts remain constant.  What one brings to them does not.

I write this post during a pandemic that is becoming worse for a number of reasons.  Irresponsible human behavior is the primary reason for the COVID-19 pandemic becoming more severe.  I write this post during a time of intensified global liminality.  Behaviors that were polite prior to the pandemic have become hazardous to one’s health and the health of others.  Hugging and singing can be lethal now.  The world is in a liminal state.

The Humes lectionary has us reading Genesis 1:1-2:3 alongside John 1:1-18, with both texts spread across three weeks.  This is wonderful scheduling on a lectionary, for the first (second one written) creation myth in Genesis is the model for John 1:1-18.  Likewise, adding 1 John to the mix deepens the parallels.  1 John 1:1-3 resembles the beginning of the Gospel of John.

I side with Jewish theology against Roman Catholic theology regarding the beginning of Genesis:  this is a mythical account of God creating order from chaos, not something from nothing.  The Jewish interpretation fits the text, as I have affirmed for years.  This year, in particular, that interpretation resonates with current events.  I wait for God to create order from chaos again.

The light still shines in the darkness.  The darkness continues to fail to overpower the light.  The darkness remains persistent, though.  Its repeated attempts wear me down emotionally and spiritually.  God is that light, so the darkness will never overpower the light, fortunately.

Psalm 89 is of two moods–grateful and distressed.  After reading commentaries, I do not know if the text is a pre-Babylonian Exilic prayer reworked during that Exile or if it is of Exilic origin.  Anyhow, the text, as we have it, feels like a prayer from a period of spiritual despair.

Waiting can be difficult.  I also know the discomfort of having to endure distress.  A prayer I have uttered many times is a variation on,

What is taking you so long, God?

Liminality is an uncomfortable status.  Alas, it is our status as a species, O reader.  May we trust God and behave responsibly, collectively and individually.  Only God can save the world.  We have the power, however, to help or charm ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF KANTY, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO CALDARA, ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARBEL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

THE FEAST OF JAMES PRINCE LEE, BISHOP OF MANCHESTER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN BLEW, ENGLISH PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/23/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-d-humes/

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Concerning Wheat, Tares, and Donatism, Part II   Leave a comment

 

Above:  The Parable of the Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Isaiah 12:1-6

Psalms 67 and 75

Revelation 21:1-27

Matthew 13:14-52

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The fully realized Kingdom of God will arrive on schedule–God’s schedule.  Or it will seem to arrive, from a human perspective, one bound by time.  Either way, this will be wonderful news for the oppressed and catastrophic news for their oppressors.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

We–you and I, O reader–live in the age of weeds (tares) growing among the wheat.  May we not presume to know more than do.  Our judgment regarding who is a weed and who is wheat may be flawed.  The Church and many congregations have a shameful track record of harming members spiritually (especially with legalism and bigotry) instead of nurturing them.  I know refugees from the Church.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  The irony of a bumper sticker,

JESUS, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS,

is rich.  Nobody needs saving from actual followers of Jesus.  Yet those “followers of Jesus” from whom people need deliverance almost certainly think they follow Christ.

As the Gospel of Mark (in its entirety) and Matthew 25:31-46 teach us bluntly, many who think they are insiders are really outsiders, just as many who imagine themselves to be outsiders are actually insiders.  Wheat or weeds?  One may not know to which category one, much less another person, belongs.  That may be either good or bad news, depending on one’s case.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK COOK ATKINSON, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Apocalypse and Hope, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning;

grant that we may in such wise hear them,

read, mark, and inwardly digest them,

that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word,

we may embrace, and ever hold fast,

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 107

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)/Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant)

Psalm 96

Revelation 19:1-16

John 5:30-40

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Advent contains strong themes of divine judgment, mixed with mercy.  Divine judgment and mercy balance each other in the Old and New Testaments.  The God of the Hebrew Bible is no more all storm and smiting than the God of the New Testament is all smiles and puppies.

The Day of the Lord (Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6, depending on versification) relates to the creative destruction in Revelation.  The destruction of the wicked order, built on and maintained by violence and exploitation, must precede the creation of the fully realized Kingdom of God on Earth.  Yet, as we read in Malachi, reconciliation and repentance can stave off judgment.  The impenitent receive judgment.

Psalm 96 is a text of the universal kingship of God.  Thematically, it fits well with the other readings.  YHWH is the sole deity, not a tribal god.

I encourage you, O reader, not to find apocalyptic Biblical language scary and/or off-putting.  Such language condemns many in authority.  It decrees that they fall short of God’s standards, and that God remains sovereign.  Such language empowers we who follow Jesus to say boldly, in the words of Daniel 5:27,

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting….

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Such language empowers us to speak and write prophetically.  May we do so in love, boldly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN THE YOUNGER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

THE FEAST OF ALBERT GEORGE BUTZER, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF KAMEHAMEHA IV AND EMMAR ROOKE, KING AND QUEEN OF HAWAI’I

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AND MICHAEL HOFER, U.S. HUTTERITE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS AND MARTYRS, 1918

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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