The Liturgical Year

Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb

Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb

(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)

Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:

The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.

There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.

Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.

What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.

But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.

The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.

In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.

This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.

And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

Saturday: Day 4 of Lent

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn.  I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.

I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:

I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)

My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)

The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.

Excerpted from John 17:9-26

My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…

Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account  of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.

I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage  of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image  that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!

What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!

Here is what my heart sings today:

I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.

I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.

I am broken, but in the process of being restored.

I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God

Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Entering into the Ash and Dust…

Thursday the day after Ash Wednesday

Entering into the Ash and Dust…

It’s only day two and this is already seeming a different Lent for me. It will be interesting to see where the Spirit of God leads and what the Work of God does with me as I offer myself in this act of contrition and surrender.

I have outlined several disciplines I plan to engage in this next forty days (not counting Sundays), and making time to write and journal my thoughts more often is one of them. Another exercise I plan to engage is meditation and reflection on a series of self-examination questions, which I plan to share on the blog. The past couple years have been pretty lean with regard to my writing time and blogging efforts. I’ve wrestled with trying to push through my lack of desire and shortage of inspiration, but did not feel like forcing myself to write. There have been other challenges and more profitable ways to use my energy in the most recent season of my life. I have felt a bit more inspired lately and hope that I am able to find the energy, inspiration, and time to share the songs of my soul once again. We will see where this season takes us.

I begin this Lent 2016 blog with a prayer and an examination question.

Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find refreshment from the busy world.

Question: “How do I see God at this point or season of my life?”

I sat with this question for some time before actually engaging it and writing out my thoughts. Actually, I’ve been sitting with this question for the better part of a month now as it is one of the questions that I’ve offered to some of the discipleship groups I lead. It is interesting that the idea to blog through the list of questions came to me as I began to step into the Lenten Season. It’s interesting because of my response… Lent brings with it a sense of somberness. We are called to recognize our mortality; “Remember, it is from dust you came and it is to dust you shall return.” We are called to contrition and penance. We are called to reflect upon and share in the suffering of Christ as he journeys to and through his Passion. As I pondered my response to this question about “how I see God…” I was a bit surprised at the incongruity of my thoughts with expected feeling this season often brings.

From my journal…

I sense God is my always-present Counselor-Guide. I am not overwhelmed as often as I once was by the Divine, but I do not consider that a negative or irreverent thing. I don’t mean to convey that I am apathetic or without awe, because that is not true. I believe that God’s Presence with me has become familiar in a very good way. I am still swept away by His Glory at times and I am in awe at the grand mystery of a God who would dwell with and within me—but I am equally comforted and pleasantly “relaxed” in His Presence as I abide with him and he abides with me. I think this is how it is supposed to be and I am grateful and humbled that God has allowed me to experience this relationship with such joy and peace.

I think one of the more joyful and wonderful changes in my relationship with God and how I see Him in this season of my life is this:

I no longer drown in a sea of self-doubt, guilt, and shame. I do not worry about whether I “measure up” to God’s expectations (or what I believe are God’s expectations) of me. I do not feel mired or marred by sin. The Word of God teaches those who believe, receive, and follow, that he will wash away and separate us from our sin—His Word also promises that perfect love, who is Jesus, will cast away all fear. I am fearlessly loved and in love with my God, Jesus the Christ! This very real realization has changed everything about me and the way I see and perceive God. The yoke I carry as a bondservant to Christ is very light. The confidence I have and the knowledge of who I am has never been more powerful or clearer than at any other time in my life. This is all due to how I have come to know and see God in this season of my life.

So, I enter this season of penance and contrition feeling a bit lopsided. My heart sings and I want to continue my shouts of Alleluia, but I will honor the tradition of the Church and keep my alleluia quiet until Easter. I will offer the joy that God has given to me as an offering of sacrifice during this next forty days. I will share in his suffering and share in his Passion. This sacrifice will be part of my Lent.

One of my Scripture readings today came from the prophet Habakkuk. It was interesting to me as I read (Hab. 3:1-18), I found what I thought was a parallel of my own spiritual paradox of emotions with Habakkuk who writes the following:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even when the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me sure-footed as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Hab. 3:1-18 NLT)

 I love this from Habakkuk. I’d love to say I really identify with his words, but seriously, I’ve not been where he was. I’ve had a pretty easy life compared to most of the inhabitants of this world…even on my worst days. Nonetheless, I can identify when I look at the big picture that includes the realm of spirit and eternity. This life cannot compare to what God has intended for us. We are His children! We are stardust! We are comprised of the Mystery of the Divine! Made in the Image of God!

I love my faith! It is wholly a gift from God, and fully rooted in Him. I love the narrative of the Holy Scriptures that God has provided for those who will believe Him and believe in Him. I love the wisdom of God’ word and O love how it awaken my soul and affirms that God is with me, with me, and eternally for me. Praise Him. Amen!

My Prayer excerpted and personally modified from Psalm 37:1-24

I will trust in the LORD and do good. I will live safely in the land and prosper. I will take delight in the LORD, and he will give my hearts all its desires. I will commit everything I do to the LORD. I will trust him and he will help me. God will make my innocence radiate like the dawn. I will be still in the presence of my LORD, and I will wait patiently for him to act. I will not worry or be angry about evil people or their wicked schemes. I am learning that it is far better to be godly and have little than to bee evil and rich. Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent—they will receive an eternal inheritance. The LORD directs my steps and delights in every detail of my life; though I stumble, I will never fall, for the LORD holds me in His hand.

Glory be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Maranatha: 1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015

1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015

It begins; a new Church calendar year has started today. I have grown quite fond of this time through the years. It signifies many things to me: hope, newness and fresh starts, putting to rest hurts and failed expectations are a few of the more prominent things that are on my mind on this First Sunday of Advent in the year 2015.

This time of year brings to the front of my memory a couple of the most significant heartbreaking moments in my life when I lost my sister in a tragic automobile accident in 1992 and two years later in 1994, almost to the same date, I lost my grandfather also to tragic automobile accident. While the years have been merciful in healing the raw pain of those losses, the felt absence of these beautiful and dear souls in my life has never been healed. It is for this reason there is always a sense of somberness mixed with hopeful and hope-filled expectations infusing my soul as I begin again the retelling of the Gospel—the salvation of humanity in the coming of God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

This morning, while sharing with a group, reading from Scripture (Lectionary text Psalm 25:1-5), I was captured by several words from the text; the words trust, truth, and hope were ringing like a clanging gong in my soul. As I sat reflecting and holding those words in silence, I listened for what the Spirit might bring to my memory about them… the thought of “confidence and security” seemed to emerge from the triad of trust, truth, and hope. I read through the text again.

This time as I read the text, additional details and clarity of understanding came into view. Considering my own somber memories mentioned earlier, and reflecting on the state of current events, both domestically and abroad, I was struck with a sense of dread and a feeling of helplessness in a world engulfed in chaos. Only a fool will deny the craziness that surrounds us. It seems no place is truly safe. Violence abounds at every compass direction, racial unrest seems as volatile as it has ever been in my lifetime—maybe in the history of this country, social inequality continues to divide our nation between the haves and the have-nots…and this, arguably, in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Globally, there are wars and rumors of wars; terroristic acts and crimes against humanity continue to reveal themselves in each pressing of the daily news. Chaos, fear, dread, despair, and hopelessness are the main entrees of earth’s buffet in year 2015. Still, the words “confidence” and “security” were the words coming to my mind as I read through this Psalm 25:1-5 text. So, I read the passage again.

1 O Lord, I give my life to you.

2     I trust in you, my God!

Do not let me be disgraced,

    or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

    but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

4 Show me the right path, O Lord;

    point out the road for me to follow.

5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,

    for you are the God who saves me.

    All day long I put my hope in you. (Psalm 25:1-5 NLT)

I continued with silent reflection, pondering these words amidst the other thoughts that were populating my mind. I considered the many temptations throughout any given day to allow myself to become consumed by the depressing state of the world I live in. I thought about all the hate-filled rhetoric that dominates the airwaves of the news media and the devices of social media. I was reminded how easy it is to forget that still, even in the midst of chaos and darkness, my salvation and my hope are in God alone. The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit is my Agent of trust. Christ Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, is Truth incarnate. This is my Hope and my Rescue from a world in chaos.

I feel that the Spirit of God was reminding me that darkness and chaos are real. The pains of my losses are real. The possibility of becoming consumed, overwhelmed, and ultimately defeated by the distractions and destruction of evil amongst us today is equally real. On the other hand, salvation and truth are real…a right path that leads out of the darkness and into the Light of Hope and the Presence of God is even more real than the threats of chaos and darkness. This is what Advent calls us to remember. Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again.

In the coming days, I will be told by forces distracting my world that I need to consume. I will be told my life is not satisfying or gratifying or fulfilling for a myriad of reasons. I will be told I should be afraid…I need to retreat, hide, defend, attack, hoard, and protect. I will be pushed and taunted, pulled and cajoled to enter into a race I cannot win, where even the leaders who run out front are still losers in the end.

The Spirit of God bids me, “Slow down and do not be afraid.” We are reminded in the Advent that the blessing of hope for which we wait is coming. God is reconciling all creation to himself. He speaks to chaos and tells it to come to order. It will happen and this is a truth that can be trusted. This is our hope: Christ is our Hope. I will reject the temptations to join in with fruitless fray of a world gone mad. I have been invited to travel a different path, a right path, a road to follow that delivers me to my God who saves me—he is Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

The theme of Advent is waiting, waiting for God, waiting with sometimes rising impatience, deepening frustration, and frequent disappointment. We wait, we hope, we look. And in that attitude and perspective one finds the whole liturgical year’s forward drive and direction. “Small wonder then that at this time, the beginning of the Preparation, the Message of Announcement is so completely illuminating and wide-reaching. It signalizes no individual event; it marks no one day or hour; it describes no single trait or act; but centralizes in its words the Whole Story and carries it home to the waiting heart.”

“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). The Church begins the year by looking forward to the birth of her Beloved, the Word made flesh. As an anxious bride, she counts the days, preparing, longing, constantly anticipating the joy that will be hers when the time will be fulfilled and Emmanuel will indeed be God-with-us. But the Church gives voice not only to the expectant joy of a bride or of a mother at the impending birth of her child. Mother Church expresses her deep longing for the coming of Christ in glory at the end of the ages. It is not a fearful dread that the Church wishes to instill in her members when through the psalms and hymns and readings and prayers she calls on us to think about the Parousia, the final coming, but rather she points us to the goal of our efforts to keep awake and to watch: unending union with Jesus Christ. All our work and study and prayer and living has one purpose and meaning: to bring us and all humanity into the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So the central prayer of Advent is the one word, the concluding prayer of the Bible, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.  (From Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year by Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Advent (2014): Christmas Day—Incarnation—God in Flesh, God in Me

25DEC2014—Christmas Year B

Incarnation—God in Flesh, God in Me: Christmas Day

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Lectionary – Christmas 1: Psalm 96  Isaiah 9:2-7  Titus 2:11-14  Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Collect: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Contate Domino1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 10 Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is King!” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. (Psalm 96)

Christ has come! The LORD is King!

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.

What a great and marvelous promise that comes to us through the words of the prophets, speaking as the oracles of God. These, the words of the prophets, are the words that strengthen and encourage us as we wait in patience…even in suffering… with hopeful, and joyful, expectation. James exhorts his listeners; “For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord (James 5:10). Let us look to the prophet Isaiah today, based upon the exhortation of James, to hear what the LORD might speak to us.

(Isaiah 8:20) Look to God’s instructions and teachings!

1 The time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… 2 The people who live in darkness will see a great light. 3 They will rejoice as people rejoice at the harvest. 4 For you will break the yoke of slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod. 6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7).

What amazing hope-filled promises to look forward to from God through the words of Isaiah. The passionate commitment of our God is to “break the oppressor’s rod.” No more will the yoke of sin’s slavery be the burden of humanity! This is the promise! “Darkness and despair will not go on forever…”

700 years might seem like forever (the amount of time between Isaiah’s prophecies and the birth of Jesus), but the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s decree arrived in the form of God himself wrapped in the flesh of humanity. Light came. Darkness was dispelled. The rod of the oppressor was broken. The promise was real and the promise was realized; Luke’s gospel shares the account of the herald of his arrival.

The angel said; “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today… Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke2:10-20 NLT)

The One the world waited for since the time of Adam’s rebellion had come. The waiting was much longer than 700 years. The wait had been millennia. The estrangement of humanity from God had been too long. God himself condescended himself (Phil. 2:5-7), so he might re-breathe life into his most cherished creation (Gen. 2:7, John 20:21-22) to reconcile and reunify himself to them (John 17:20-24) as he had determined all along, before creation and time itself, that this creation, yes, humanity, would be the Tabernacle of His very Presence (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, John 14:16-17).

God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.

The free reign of the oppressor is no more in the life of the believer. God can live fully in me as he did in Jesus when he walked amongst men (John 14:12, 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). This is the joy of what the day of Advent, His Coming, the Christmas Celebration entails. The Apostle Paul helps to shed “light” on the what the coming of Light means to us in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to god, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds (Titus 2:11-15).

We live as people who are filled with the presence and full-embodiment of Christ. Are we not filled with his Holy Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit a person of the Triune Godhead? The Spirit of Christ lives in us and among us. What is the Spirit of Christ?

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1-5 NLT)

God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.

It means something. Christmas. Incarnation means something. God came. God has come. There is a reason and there are lasting repercussions to his coming… both good and bad. For those who receive Him and his eternal, life-giving, Holy Spirit, breath… the repercussions are good and active even now as we wait for the eternal fulfillment of all God’s promises. We can live and expect to live fully into the atoning grace of Jesus Christ today. This is good news. This is great joy news! This is Glory to God in highest heaven. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad. I know I am. Glad. And rejoicing. God has come. He was in the flesh and now is in me.

Prayer:

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever…

My merciful God comes to meet me…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name; may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.

Leo the Great preached, “Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth.”

“My merciful God has come to meet me…” This is Christmas. Christ has come. Christ lives in me. Christ will come again. Praise Him. Alleluia and Amen.

And now may the spirit which was in Jesus Christ be in me, enabling me to know God’s will and empowering me to do God’s will. Amen.

Advent (2014): Christmas Eve—The Power to Save

24DEC2014—4th Wednesday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Christmas Eve—The Power to Save

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 45, 46  Isaiah 59:15-21  Phil. 2:5-11  Luke 1:67-80

As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth won’t depart from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your descendants, nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children, says the Lord, forever and always. (Isaiah 59:21 CEB)

Today is the eve of Mystery revealed; Advent is upon us, and darkness is now at dawn. The question begs asking; “Are we ready?” Are we prepared for the greatest and our most longed for Visitor to arrive? Are we looking for and anticipating his living amongst us…living within us? Arrival is nigh. He comes. Ready or not.

“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?” -Francois Fenelon

The time and place of Jesus’ birth makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.

Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today. I count myself as one of those who likely would not have known or recognized him.

For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.”  -Thomas Merton

A Psalm and a Prayer

God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (Psalm 46:1-7 CEB)

Lord God, our Father in heaven, you have sent u the Savior, who was born to bring great joy to all people. Glorify your name, we pray. Give the world the peace you along can give, the peace that wells up in our hearts. Let your favor rest on us so that we may hold out under our sufferings on earth. We need your loving help to remain inwardly steadfast until everyone can be reached by the message, “Be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Advent (2014): God in the Flesh–God with Us

23DEC2014—4th Tuesday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Emmanuel, God in the Flesh–God with Us

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67  Isaiah 11:10-16  Revelation 20:11—21:8  Luke 1:5-25

December 23nd: O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”

This week, with only two days remaining until Christmas, I will focus my reflections on what God “in the flesh” means to me. What does the little Hebrew baby born in a lowly manger two-thousand years ago really mean to my life? How does this reality translate to the life I live out daily? How does this translation of God in the flesh, living in me, create anticipation and expectancy for his coming again.

The fulfillment of a divine plan…from the eternal wisdom of God; this is Christmas. The most amazing thing to me about this mystery that I cannot fully comprehend is the desire of God to be in holy union with humanity. That’s the way it all began with the creation of humankind. The Holy Triune Eternal of Days wanted to share the incredible joy that is Divine Communal Love, and so They made man. However many thousands of years, that passed after Adam’s rebellion, the redemptive promise was realized in the birth of the Christ child, Jesus… Emmanuel; God with us. Thirty some odd years later the Christ child turned man would be put to death on a Roman cross and the redemption work of God would come to a climax when after three days the murdered Messiah would arise and emerge from the tomb that could not contain His Presence or Glory. In a short span of fifty days the mystery of divine union with Holy God would be experienced in a room of five hundred people and then witnessed by more than three thousand that same day. Mystery indeed…magnificent and marvelous!

These “Mysteries” of Christ are not merely called “Mysteries” because they are too deep for us to understand and are therefore proposed to us to be contemplated with silent and adoring faith. They are not just something you think about and look at. The term mysterium in Saint Paul has a dynamic sense. It is the fulfillment of a divine plan, springing forth from the eternal wisdom of God, producing its effect in time and, by virtue of this effect, elevating men from the level of time to that of eternity, from the human level to the divine. -Thomas Merton

The wonder of this mystery is that it isn’t only for a single night or day, but the reality of God’s gift is every day, all day, every minute…always with us and never entirely silent, until He comes again. Yep, this is Christmas. Emanuel. God is with us…with me… and the greatest of all mysteries? God is within me. Amen.

A Psalm and a Prayer

16 Come close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: 17 My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. 19 But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. 20 Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. (Psalm 66:16-20 CEB)

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend on us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels. The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emmanuel! Amen.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillip Brooks)

Advent (2014): Jesus, King of all the Peoples

22DEC2014—4th Monday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Jesus, King of all the Peoples

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 61, 62  Isaiah 11:1-9  Revelation 20:1-10  John 5:30-47

December 22nd: O Rex Gentium (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”

I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. …You were excited for a while about his (John the Baptist) message. You have never heard his (God the Father) voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you. You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. (John 5:30-47)

These are some serious words that Jesus is throwing out. While Jesus is speaking directly to the Jewish leaders during this discourse, this being the Living Word for us today, these words apply in some sense to us today as well. The question I have been asking is, “How much attention do we pay to Jesus’ teaching and his invitation to ‘follow me’?” Read carefully the words of Jesus in this chapter five of John’s Gospel paying particular attention to the indictment that Jesus launches against people who know truth but fail to believe it through obedience. The gavel of Jesus’ justice comes down with this blistering verdict; “You search Scripture thinking it gives you eternal life, but the Scripture points to me and you refuse to come to me… therefore, rejecting the life you seek in the first place. Your problem is this; you don’t have God’s love within you!” (My paraphrase)

The way we wait is very telling… the outward manifestation of our lives; how we live, the things we value, where we spend our money and time, and things like that are the equivalent of a spiritual EKG or MRI. These actions of our lives indicate the value we place on the testimony of Jesus. Yes, the way we wait reveals what we truly believe.

The endurance of our faith is tested during our wait. Another way of saying this; a persevering and faithfully obedient wait is part of the work of sanctification… it is faith being proven genuine.

With each hour the Christmas day celebration draws nearer, the more frantic and rushed the flow of society becomes. The feverish pitches of television commercials, email “last minute to order before Christmas” solicitations, postal sales circulars, and radio commercials stir our collective psyche like a mixing whisk beats an egg into a bubbly froth. The mob mentality takes over so many folks and the swarm begins. I just want to sit…and reflect…and adore…and worship. It’s not that I don’t value tradition and the memories that Christmas evokes, but it is so easy to get sucked into the current that pulls me away from the real object of Christmas, the Christ.

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor humanity, whom you fashioned out of clay.

I am comforted by the promise and the knowledge that communion and union with God is for us today and the hope we look forward to for tomorrow. The days that spin wildly out of control and the days when friends and loved ones leave us sobbing with grief are the days that make my soul sing the loudest: Come, Lord Jesus!

A Psalm and a Prayer

God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am 3 because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings! (Psalm 61:1-4 CEB)

Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent (2014): Jesus the Rising Sun and Eternal Light

21DEC2014—4th Sunday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Jesus the Rising Sun and Eternal Light

Scripture Reading:  Lectionary Year B-Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 or Canticle 3 or 15 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Romans 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38

December 21st: O Oriens (Is. 9:1): “O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

27 Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 28 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean… 30Don’t be afraid” the angel told her. 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1: 28-30, 35, 38)

Several things “pop” out to me in the passage of text above. First, the angel Gabriel assures Mary that she is favored and the Lord is with her. Oddly enough, Scripture says this “confused and disturbed” Mary; other versions say the encounter left her “greatly troubled.” I think the end result is the same in either case… meeting with an angel and hearing a direct message from God sorta freaked the teenage girl out. I don’t think we are different in how we respond to God’s word. I think hearing from God in almost any capacity kind of freaks us out. I have realized most people like to keep God at an arm’s distance. In the midst of Mary’s discomfort, and ours too, God’s ambassador says do not be afraid; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow all” And then, Mary takes this all in and proclaims; “I am the Lord’s Servant. May everything you have said about me come true.

The portions of the text that are bolded above are of particular interest to me as thoughts began to stir while I was reading them. It is interesting to me first, the description of the angel, Gabriel’s, appearance and message. He comes, greeting and praising Mary; “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” I wonder how this really went down; I mean, from the things I could find to learn about the angel Gabriel (particularly Jewish and Catholic literature) it would be an intimidating meeting. Gabriel is said to stand in the presence of God and is believed to be a messenger-warrior-avenging-protector angel, fearsome and imposing in stature I am sure. He comes to visit a young teenage girl. The Bible records this event as “greatly troubling” to Mary; other versions relate her response being “confused and disturbed.” I can only imagine or wonder how I would have reacted… something tells me I might be searching for a change of clothes.

In the midst of this supernatural meeting, an incredible proclamation is made to Mary declaring her as “favored by God.” Perhaps equally and maybe more important is the announcement Gabriel makes when he tells Mary, “The Lord is with you!” These two pieces of information would be important promises for the young girl as she soon finds out what God has planned for her. Following the details and Gabriel’s explanation to Mary that she would carry the Christ child, he tells her, “Don’t be afraid.” Gabriel continues to respond to Mary’s “confused and disturbed” state by telling her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

Wonder! God is come among humanity; he who cannot be contained is contained in a womb; the timeless enters time, and great mystery: his conception is without seed, his emptying past telling! So great is this mystery! For God empties himself, takes flesh and is fashioned as a creature, when the angel tells the pure Virgin of her conception: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace; the Lord who has great mercy is with you!” Stichera of Annunciation

This story is incredible on so many levels. It seems I learn something new each time I read it, but this time I just started to consider what this encounter meant to me on a practical and daily living perspective. Yes, we’re talking about the birth of our Savior and I get that, but I think some of these points are meant for each of us too… not just applied to Mary and Gabriel’s exchange.

The Bible teaches us from cover to cover that each of us is favored by God. I think we overlook that nugget of truth sometime. Additionally, if we are “in Christ” …HE is in us and thus, the LORD is with us. Jesus said he would never leave us alone and the gift of the Holy Spirit living-indwelling the heart of believing followers ensures this is the case. The Lord is with us. How easy it is for this divine truth to escape us in our day-to-day business of living. We are so quickly caught up in the urgency of each day we forget how highly favored we are in the eyes of our God and fail to remember the very Guiding Presence of the Triune God is within our very soul …always there, always faithful, always with a word of wisdom when we need it. We are never alone and God is never entirely silent. Ever. Remembering these promises helps us in times of dire need or times of doubt to never be afraid. God is with us; He holds us in the palm of his hand and will never let us fail or be plucked from His grasp (Romans 8:38). We are favored, God is with us, and we have no reason to fear. Even knowing these things it is sometimes hard to hold the faith. In the midst of uncertainty and gazing into the face of my own insecurities and frailty, sometimes my faith wavers… not in God, but in me. This is why it is all the more important to commit this promise to memory: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. That’s right; when I can’t, He can… and will. Not only does the Holy Spirit dwell within me and provide me with the comfort and guidance I need from day to day, but the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon me to assist in the needs I have when I need that strength. When I feel I have done all I can possibly do and I am close to failing… I stand firm and allow the power of the Most High to overshadow me.

What an incredibly affirming and encouraging word. Praise the Lord who Saves and provides us with the gift of Himself to dwell in us, guide us, comfort us, strengthen us, give us wisdom… Praise Him!

I think the last thing I glean from this encounter is the attitude of Mary… even in her state of “doubt, troubled heart, confusion, and being disturbed.” She loved and trusted God. She loved and trusted God to such a degree she wholeheartedly agreed to a plan that would lead her to possible stoning, rejection by friends and family, put her in harm’s way up to even facing death at multiple points in her life, disgrace, distress, and so much more that is not good. The cost to become the woman God desired and fulfill the plan God had for her would be high, but she said, “may it be as you say to your servant.” I believe it is the surrendered heart of Mary that paved the way for all the promises that God made to her through the words of Gabriel. I can only imagine and wonder what God has in store for those of us willing to full submit and surrender our hearts to Him in the same way as Mary.

A Psalm and a Prayer

I will sing of the Lord‘s loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next. That’s why I say, “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever! You establish your faithfulness in heaven.” You said, “I made a covenant with my chosen one; I promised my servant David: ‘I will establish your offspring forever; I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.'” (Psalm 89:1-4 CEB)

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming,, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reighns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent (2014): Key of David, the Kingdom of Light

20DEC2014—3rd Saturday ADVENT Year B

Advent: Key of David, the Kingdom of Light

Scripture Reading:  Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 55, 138, 139  Isaiah 10:20-27  Jude 17-25  Luke 3:1-9

December 20th: O Clavis David (Is. 9:6; 22:22): “O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

In that day the LORD will end the bondage of his people. He will break the yoke of slavery and lift it from their shoulders. (Isaiah 10:27)

But you dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. (Jude 20-21)

We have observed extended reflection on the themes of hope, peace, and joy during the past three weeks of Advent. Tomorrow begins week four and our theme changes to love as we light our fourth candle. Even now my mind is swirling with thoughts about the love of God for me and all that it entails and implies. The Bible says things like, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), and “Greater love has no man…” (John 15:13), and “While we were yet sinners…” (Romans 5:8).These are all wonderful examples revealing the love of God for men, but what boggles my mind even more is the promise and experienced reality of God inhabiting the souls of men through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God and man joined… Christ sharing the glory that he had before the world… with men. Incredible. This is the coming of Divine Love; God and man in holy union, joined now and joined for eternity. Wow!

Quite often out of an intimate encounter with God encounters with other human beings become possible… If you are the beloved of God, if you start thinking about other people’s lives, you start realizing that they are as beloved as you are. One of the profound experiences of the spiritual life is that when you discover yourself as being the beloved son or daughter of God, you suddenly have new eyes to see the belovedness of other people.—Henri Nouwen.

This week I will focus my thoughts and heart on what this love means to me today and how this love translates to the world around me. What is the transformation God desires to affect in me as His Spirit, which dwells in me, perfects and makes me into the reflected image of the SON, our Savior, Jesus. May it be so in His Name for His Glory. Amen. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:9)

Contemplation of Christ does not mean an emotional sort of pious daydream; it means entering by a deliberate, self-oblivious and humble attention into the tremendous mysteries of His Life—mysteries which each give us some deep truth about the life and Will of God and the power and vocation of a soul that is given to God—mysteries which each one of us in particular is called to make part of our very lives. They will break up, into colors we can deal with, that white light of God’s Holiness at which we cannot look. -Evelyn Underhill

A Psalm and a Prayer

The LORD will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.  (Psalm 138:8) 14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. 15 My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened.17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me! (Psalm 139:14-17 CEB) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)

O Loving heavenly Father, whose blessed Son did suffer for the whole world, grant that we may know you better, love you more, and serve you with a more perfect will. Lord, I admit that I often feel inadequate, in spite of your promises. Often I hold back. Help me to take the risks of faith, to be aware of your affirming presence in my life. Now, in Advent, sharpen my spirit and my senses, and enable me to pay attention to the moments of God-radiance when you ask me to look, to listen, and to be a peacemaker. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

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