Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Tag

Eschatological Ethics VI: A New Year’s Resolution   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Image in the Public Domain

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For New Year’s Day, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Judge eternal:  in your purpose our lives are lived,  and by your grace our hopes are bright.

Be with us in the coming year, forgiving, leading, and serving;

so that we may walk without fear, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook:  Services and Hymns (1972), 158

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Eternal God, who makest all things new, and abidest for ever the same:

Grant us to begin this year in Thy faith, and to continue it in Thy favor;

that, being guided in all or doings, and guarded in all our days,

we may spend our days in Thy service, and finally, by Thy grace,

attain the glory of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship (1946), 316

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Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 25:31-46

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To make a new year’s resolution is a frequent exercise in good intentions quickly abandoned for one reason or another.  In the context of the assigned readings, however, I propose a truly daunting resolution for every year.

Only God can save the world, but we (collectively and individually) have a divine commandment to leave it better than we find it.  This is part of eschatological ethics.  Belief in the return of Jesus is no good reason not to obey divine commandments vis-à-vis our environment (being good stewards of it) and loving our neighbors (nearby and far away).  The current world order is inherently corrupt, based on violence and exploitation.  We have the power to reduce the extent to which that statement is true, but not to create Utopia, literally “nowhere.”

May we resolve to live in the awareness of the Presence of God, who commands us to follow the Golden Rule.  May we resolve to acknowledge in thoughts, words, and deeds that thoughts and prayers are frequently inadequate and a cop-out anyway; that God demands that we act to improve situations when we can.  May we resolve to grasp that the command in Matthew 25:31-46 to care for the “least of these” is too much for individuals, and frequently challenging for organizations, whether public or private.  May we resolve to recognize Christ and the image of God in those who make us uncomfortable and are quite different from us.  May we resolve to recognize immigrants and refugees as our neighbors.  May we resolve, simply put, to love each other effectively and actively in the name of God and specifically of Jesus, who demonstrated his sacrificial love.

Love cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics V: Compartmentalization   2 comments

Above:  Watergate Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16601

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For the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ became man that we might become the partakers of the sons of God:

grant, we beseech thee, that being made partakers of the divine nature of thy Son

we may be conformed to his likeness;

who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Micah 4:1-4

1 Peter 2:1-10

Luke 3:4-17

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Eschatological expectations permeate the assigned readings for this Sunday.

In this post I choose to avoid repeating certain germane statements, which I have made in recent posts, and focus instead on the link between private morality and public morality.  One may think of certain figures who committed criminal acts related to the Watergate Scandal, and how, despite their avoidance of certain personal peccadilloes, their public morality was wanting.  I also think of certain political figures of various partisan affiliations who obviously led to morally compartmentalized lives, as well as of some who do.  As I acknowledge that outlawing everything that is immoral is not a feasible option, and that sometimes outlawing certain morally reprehensible practices is not the most effective way to combat them, but actually leads to moral blowback, I seek to find a balanced position, for I know that theocracy is destructive to both church and state, perhaps more so to the former.  I, as a historian, know of politicians with glaring, persistent immorality in their private lives who nevertheless were forces for good in their country and the world.  I also know of politicians whose glaring, persistent immorality in their personal lives compromised their ability to be good leaders.   Furthermore, I know of politicians who had impeccable private lives and were terrible leaders.  I prefer politicians with impeccable private lives who are also effective leaders for positive ends.

Life in a free society entails much mutual forbearance and toleration, within necessary legal limits.  I have no legal or moral right, for example, to drive on the wrong side of the road; public safety is an overriding public good.  Much of what makes a society good bubbles up from the bottom and reaches to the top.  The Biblical principle, evident in the Law of Moses, that we human beings are interdependent and responsible to and for each other is a good place to start.  May we be good to each other, seeking the best for each other.  May we seek to follow the Golden Rule.  Sound morality in private life should influence a politician’s commitment to help the “least of these,” foreign and domestic.  Often abstractness is the greatest enemy of the good.  I propose that pondering details of circumstances then applying the Golden Rule to them is a better way to proceed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics IV: Acting Justly While We Wait   2 comments

Above:  Desert Road

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, whose glory angels sang when Christ was born:

grant that we, having heard the good news of his coming,

may live to honor thee and to praise his holy name;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:36-40

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The imagery of the road in Isaiah 62:10-12 reminds me of similar language from Isaiah 40:3-5, quoted in Luke 3:4-6.  The motif of a road, upon which people went into exile, becoming the thoroughfare for the return of their descendants, is no accident.  Neither is applying it to messianic expectation.  Notably in Isaiah 62, returning exiles travel that road home in the company of the Presence of God.

Yet the exiles were already home.  Their homeland, part of a Persian satrapy, did not meet their high expectations, as prophets had described the post-exilic circumstances.  Third Isaiah comforted disappointed exiles, assuring them that God was faithful, and that the prophecies had simply not come true yet.

We are still waiting.  We are still waiting for the fully realized rule of God on Earth.  We are still waiting long after the end of the Babylonian Exile and the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Waiting is frequently difficult to do patiently.  Sometimes justice demands impatience of us; patience is not always a virtue.  On other occasions, however, it is.  Part of wisdom is knowing when to wait.  Sometimes we must act while we wait.

While we wait for God to fulfill the promise of the Apocalypse of John, we have responsibilities to God, each other, and ourselves.  We must act morally, in private and in public.  We must obey the Golden Rule–an oddly offensive commandment, from more than one perspective.  We must acknowledge in words and deeds our total reliance on God, our human interdependence, and the absence of any moral right to exploit anyone.  We must build up each other.  Only God can save the world, but we can–and must–leave it better than we found it.

May we succeed, by grace.  Our efforts are necessary, of course, but they are also inadequate.  May we be faithful junior partners of God in the world, which is our neighborhood.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Christmas is Just the Beginning   Leave a comment

Above:  The Nativity, by John Singleton Copley

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, Second Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 52:7-10

1 Timothy 3:14-16

John 1:1-18

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John 1:1-18, the prologue to the Gospel of John, is one of the greatest texts in the Bible.  The prologue establishes the timeless credentials of Jesus and contextualizes the story of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in stunning theological poetry and poetic theology.  Sometimes prose does not suffice; poetry is necessary.  The prologue imitates the second creation (in chronology of writing, although the first in order of arrangement) myth (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), indicating a new creation of a sort.

The world has never been the same since the birth of Jesus.

A most attentive reader might notice that the first readings for the Christmas Day services on the old Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970 are (1) from Isaiah and (2) related to hopelessness and discouragement exiles felt.  That liturgical choice makes sense theologically, given the messianic hopes, born in exile, which the authors of the canonical Gospels linked to Jesus in their compositions.  The canonical Gospels are theological works, each with a thesis.  They are not chronicles, devoid of interpretation.

An early Christian hymn or confession of faith, quoted in 1 Timothy 3:16b, speaks of Jesus:

He was manifested in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels;

he was proclaimed among the nations,

believed in throughout the world,

raised to heavenly glory.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

That is a fine summary, is it not?  It reminds us of some of the events in the life of Jesus and of part of the progress of the early Church.

Christmas is just the beginning.  This is a truth also evident in The Methodist Hymnal (1966), which sets “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to the same tune, that of the Christmas carol.  Christmas leads to Good Friday, which leads to Easter.

Christmas is just the beginning.  Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Jesus and Empires   Leave a comment

Above:  Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Anonymous

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, First Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 40:25-31

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-14

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Luke 2 presents the honest, objective reviewer of history and the Gospel of Luke with a text full of factual holes yet profound truth and timeless meaning.  We cannot possibly line up all the historical details–the census and all those officeholders–at the same period in the past.

There never was a census of the whole Empire under Augustus (but a number of local censuses, and the census of Judea (not of Galilee) under Quirinius, the governor of Syria, took place in AD 6, probably at least ten years too late for the birth of Jesus.

–Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1997), 233

The text of Luke 2:1-14, although factually inaccurate, is theologically true.

As Brown pointed out, the author of the Gospel of Luke, by linking the birth of Jesus to an imperial decree, introduced a divine plan that reached its culmination in Acts 28, when St. Paul the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel in Rome.  The song of the angels was for Jesus, not Augustus.  It constituted an imperial proclamation of a sort, too.

Code:  Jesus is more important than Augustus and his successors even were.

In Isaiah 40:27 exiles lament:

“My way is hid from the LORD,

my cause is ignored by God.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

It is an understandable way of thinking.  It is also one of the following verses refute.

One meaning of the Incarnation is that God does not ignore we human beings.  In contrast, God loves us enough to become one of us, alive among us, and save us.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Sonship and Fatherhood   1 comment

Above:  The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt

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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Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 147

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:41-52

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The Reverend George Washington Barrett (d. 1956), a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as well as one of my great-grandfathers, preached in the early years of the twentieth century that Jesus grew up in a Christian home.  That analysis would have shocked the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who understood Jesus to have been a thoroughly Jewish figure whose life story echoed the history of Israel.  In that Gospel, with its prominent contrast between Heaven and Earth, the young Jesus’s identification of God as his (heavenly) Father while St. Joseph, the man who raised the Messiah, was alive, brought up issues of types of fatherhood.

By faith and grace we are sons of God–members of the divine household.  For the purpose of inclusion, a cause near and dear to my generally liberal heart, certain contemporary translations render the Greek word for “sons” as “children.”  In so doing they lose the connection between the Son of God (4:4) as well as the “Spirit of his Son” (4:6) and each of us as a son of God by God’s actions (4:7), a case St. Paul the Apostle made in a culture in which only sons inherited.  The gendered, seemingly exclusive language is actually inclusive, and the modernized, inclusive, neutered language sacrifices literary and theological subleties.  I know a New Testament scholar who favors translating “sons” as “sons and daughters” rather than “children” for modern readers.  He concedes that doing so sacrifices some meaning while stating that all modern translations sacrifice some meaning.  I favor a translation that sacrifices as little meaning as possible and abhors superficial inclusiveness that makes us feel good and accomplishes little else.

We are, anyway, heirs of God, by faith and grace.  We, the “sons of God,” are not exclusively male or Jewish; we come from many categories, but all of us are in God.  This is wonderful news!  The love of God, although unconditional, imposes the duty of faithful response on its recipients, not all of whom obey.

We can ever repay God, but at least we can be grateful.  The metaphor of God as Father is a wonderful one.  Yes, maternal images for God exist in the Bible, but the paternal ones are on my mind as I write this post, based partially on texts that use the word “father.”  When human fathers disown their children, abuse them, et cetera, the metaphor of God as Father emphasizes the contrast between God and such sub par human fathers.  One might think of St. Joseph, certainly a fine father (He did raise Jesus), but even he had human failings.  As fine a father (as in the man who raises a child) St. Joseph was, we are supposed to understand, God is better.  God is perfect.  God adopts us.  God cares deeply about us.

Do we care deeply about God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-christmas-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Interim Times   1 comment

Above:  New Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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Koheleth advises us to eat, drink, and find happiness in work, for doing all of the above is a divine gift.  And what is that work?  Regardless of the particulars of vocations and avocations, that work, when it is what it should be, entails meeting the needs of people, to whom God has granted inherent dignity.  The divine commandment of hospitality, as in Matthew 25:31-46, is part of Judeo-Christian ethics.  Only God can save the world, but we can–and must–leave it better than we found it.

The end of Revelation (no “s” at the end of that word, despite Biblically illiterate additions of that letter) describes the aftermath of God’s creative destruction.  By this point in the Apocalypse of John God has destroyed the old, corrupt, violent, and exploitative world order built on ego, might, and artificial scarcity.  Then John sees a new heaven and a new earth.  Then the Kingdom of Heaven described in the Gospel of Matthew becomes reality.

That event remains in the future tense.  Until then we have work to do, for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow human beings.  May we go about it faithfully and find happiness in it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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Eternal God, you have placed us in a world of space and time,

and through the events of our lives you bless us with your love.

Grant that in the new year we may know your presence,

see your love at work,

and live in the light of the event that gives us joy forever

–the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 63

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Psalm 8

Revelation 21:1-6a

Matthew 25:31-46

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/devotion-for-new-years-day-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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