The Ninth Day of Christmas

bread-2915817_960_720

Gen. 12:1-7Heb. 11:1-12John 6:35-42, 48-51

We are now over half way through our Christmas celebration.  The mystery of the incarnation continues to unfold.  Today: “I am the bread of life!” Jesus explains in the context of a discussion with his followers about food, work, the ancestors.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread that has come down from heaven,” it is already in the context of manna in the wilderness.  He has invoked the name of Moses and spoken of manna.  He cryptically explains about himself that “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

To those theologians who demand that we take ever word of the Bible literally, I always want to point out this passage.  Jesus spoke in metaphors and in parables.  No one actually believes that he was a walking loaf of bread.  He was a man who died on a cross.  And these words, spoken in the 6th chapter of John, to the reader, evoke images of the Lord’s Supper.

These metaphors are meant to dance in our head and evoke ways in which he fed the world and how we can now as the Body of Christ.

It is a rich image.  To feed the world is one thing.  To be manna from heaven….

This is the gift that keeps on giving, even when it doesn’t feel like it.  It rains from heaven.  Abundantly.

So those disgusting communion wafers at communion that I grew up have actually come in handy!  They have evoked for me the manna in the wilderness.  The memory of them has connected me to our past, of wandering in the wilderness.  The people did not think they had plenty then, and maybe they didn’t.  But our meager loaves at communion are only foretastes of the true feast, a feast in heaven, and a feast for all ages.

When Jesus says he is “living bread” and that those who partake of him will never be hungry, and here I stand with this little wafer, again I am reminded that God is speaking to me in metaphor.  Certainly he doesn’t mean I won’t get physically hungry again.

No, it means something a heck of a lot deeper.  Often I say in my Eucharistic prayers that Jesus is the one “in whom ancient hungers are satisfied.”  To eat of the living bread means that spiritual hungers are satisfied.  It means that the darkness of hunger and want are but a shadow.  God is talking about the spiritual hungers that go well beyond that of “daily bread.”

The power of the Lord’s Supper is that of one that transcends even time.  The power of the cross and of the table bind us together in a way unseen and unheard before.  To those who feel unloved, there is love surrounding you at the table.  To those who feel they have no family, they find family at the table.  To those who harbor emotional pain, there is relief at the table.

This is the true power of the Incarnation!  This is the true power of the Christmas message.

This bread of heaven came down in this Christmas time to be one of us, and share in this life.  He came down only to be rejected, condemned, crucified, and on the third day resurrected.  He doesn’t just bind us to “feel-good” ideas, but to his death and resurrection, so that we can be free of this world and its anxiety.

May our ancient hungers be satisfied as we find a place at his table, this day, and always.

Lord let it be!

-Matt

Advertisements

New Year: Watch Night Services, Presbyterians, and God’s Covenant For You!

the-bible.jpg

Gen. 17:1-12a,15-16Col. 2:6-12John 16:23b-30

Did you know there was a time in the Presbyterian Church when New Year’s was a bigger celebration than Christmas?  Turning the page…putting the past behind us…confession…re-forming.  Starting to sound familiar?  Actually it took the form of New Year Watch Night Services.

Christmas, and the liturgical cycle as a whole, was seen as a “Roman Catholic thing” and Presbyterians, particularly our African-American congregations, who couldn’t imagine celebrating New Year’s Eve without their church family, and who brought a history of plenty of uplifting joyful music and long prayers, helped us blaze a tradition of Watch Night services.

The tradition goes back quite a ways, but the fuel for Presbyterian congregations in America probably got its start all the way back on December 31, 1862, when blacks were holding vigil for the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect on Jan 1, 1863.  It was “Freedom’s Eve”.

As the tradition developed there were often candlelight Watch services, with candelabras with 12 candles, one for each month of the year, and Presbyterians would recount the major events in the life of the congregation for that month.  Baptisms, marriages, deaths, mission trips, confirmations – these were all fair game.

As the New Year came, with the bells tolling at midnight, the congregation would be gathered around the Lord’s Table, celebrating freedom and new life.  It was a time to renew their covenant with God.

Not surprisingly, our New Year readings also tie into covenant and the beginning of Hebraic identity.  Abram is given the instructions, details, and signs of the covenant: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

I am struck by the PROMISE we see in scripture today.  Into our world full of broken promises, God speaks words that never erode.

Today promises are thrown around as more of a convenience to the one making them.  “This person will leave me alone if I just promise to do….”  Politicians come to mind.

God does not run away from the promises he has made.  No matter what we do, nothing can undo what was done at the cross on our behalf.

What I love about baptism is that you can’t undo it.  God has claimed us as his own, and that is final.  We live with a promise that will never be ripped away from us.

What a way to start the year off!  We not only look back to our roots in Abraham and Sarah, but to our roots in baptism, and to the beginning of God’s love affair with us, a love that will never die.

May your New Year be bright!   And may the Light of Christmas continue to surround and fill you.

-Matt

Seventh Day of Christmas – Light

light-bulb-3104355_1280.jpg

Isa. 26:1-92 Cor. 5:16-6:2John 8:12-19

The Seventh Day of Christmas we see Light.

Jesus is the Light of the World.  He reveals the fullness of humanity and the fullness of God.   He says himself, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

And yet, this gets him in trouble with the Pharisees, who see him as a prophet speaking from a human perspective.  They declare, “You are testifying on your own behalf: your testimony is not valid.”

Part of the disconnect is that they are judging him from a human standard.  We understand Jesus as God, just as much as a prophet.

What this means for us in that from now on “we regard NO ONE from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view….So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

How are we like light to others?  How well do you share the light?  As we follow the one true Light, are we blocking the light for others to see, or instead are we spreading and sharing the light?

What does it mean to have the light of life?  Burden?  Responsibility?  Freedom?

Let us do more than walk in the light – let us share the light and become the light for others.

-Matt

The Fourth Day of Christmas

web3-massacre-of-the-innocents-public-domain.jpg

AM Psalm 226Isaiah 49:13-23Matthew 18:1-14
PM Psalm 19126Isaiah 54:1-13Mark 10:13-16

The Fourth Day of Christmas brings with it some nightmare readings!

The Slaughter of the Innocents is recounted, that terrifying story of Herod ordering all the males under two years old to be killed.  This is paired with readings that are the antithesis of this.  In Mark 10, Jesus welcome the little children, and in Matthew 18 he challenges his disciples to do the same.

As the Christmas story reveals itself, we quickly realize that Christ was born into a hostile and hard world that literally hunts him down.  The story is dark and wrought with trouble ahead.  This story continues to play out in our world today with the often horrific treatment of refugees and immigrants.

It is hard to make heads or tails of this story, and why the gospel writer decided to include it.  Here are my thoughts on why:  1) Love is stronger than Hate,  2) God will find a way,  and 3) Jesus threatens the established power – don’t forget that!

Herod was power hungry.  The arrival of a Messiah, at the least meant political disturbance in an important region, but at its worst threatened Herod’s power.  And while Jesus came not looking for political power, he nonetheless threatened the establishment.  We come to see this in its full force in the book of Acts, where many new disciples do not fit the norm of political correctness.  They venture out proclaiming new allegiances and new modes of being.

Is it not the same today?  We are not hunted down like Herod’s slaughter, but we Christians still threaten the establishment.   We include all and welcome all, in a world that builds walls, demonizes those that are different, continues to cast out gays, women, minorities, you name it.

We come to testify to the Light, that God’s ways are not the world’s ways, that we march to a different tune, where even children have equal standing in God’s eyes, where wealth is shared (look at all the new disciples in Acts), and where love reigns over fear and war.

Imagine a world where everyone loves one another?  How would political parties survive if we were all one?  What purpose would the military industrial complex hold if we all loved each other?

Jesus came to upend the rich and powerful.  And although he did not do that politically, he threatens nonetheless, preaching a gospel of Love and goodwill over all the earth.

Be a radical with me today.

-Matt

Third Day of Christmas

backofsergiusicon_john1-5

St. John:

AM Psalm 9798Proverbs 8:22-30John 13:20-35
PM: Psalm 145Isaiah 44:1-81 John 5:1-12

On the Third Day of Christmas, God gives us the gift of LOVE in our readings today.

In John we are commanded to love one another and shown how this love radiates forth into the Christian community.

John gives us so many gifts through his words, writing a gospel and three epistles (and some also think Revelation). In his gospel we hear about the Word made flesh, and how he dwelt among us. The Word was also the light to all people. This is how John speaks of the Incarnation.

In his epistles, we almost see an extension of this theme of the Word dwelling among us. In 1 John 5 we hear that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” In this way, John would see Christmas as a time to celebrate ALL of us being born of God, not just Jesus. We love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. We have all been born out of love, and into the love of God in Christ Jesus.

What a wonderful way to think about Christmas! We celebrate that ALL OF US have been born anew, and born of God. This is the meaning of eternal life. And at its heart is the gift of LOVE, for it is that which brings us out of water and blood and into the truth.

-Matt

St. Stephen – The World Wants You To Forget Him

St.-Stephens-Day_ss_459247948-790x400

AM Psalm 28302 Chronicles 24:17-22Acts 6:1-7
PM Psalm 118Wisdom 4:7-15Acts 7:59-8:8

On the Second Day of Christmas we remember Stephen, the deacon and the first martyr of the Christian Church.  His story is told in the 6th and 7th chapters of the Book of Acts.

Now if you are thinking like I am, “What on earth does Stephen, a martyr, have to do with Christmas?” you are not alone!

Originally St. Stephen’s Feast Day just happened to coincide with the Second Day of Christmas, and originally the two had nothing to do with one another.  But as time has gone on, more connections have been made between the two, and I think it is a good thing.

One of the clues to the connection I see between Christmas and Stephen is in that fancy word DEACON.  A deacon is one who cares for others.  Stephen was one of the first deacons, and was called upon in the Book of Acts to assist with helping the needy widows and others who were being neglected.

Have you ever heard of Boxing Day?  In the United Kingdom it is actually a nationally recognized holiday, traditionally the day following Dec. 25.  Although it has become a day when employers give gifts to employees, it historically was a day when people would “box” clothing, food, and other items to give to those in need.  These were Alms Boxes or Christmas Boxes.  As a deacon in the 1st Century Church, St Stephen had this same responsibility, distributing such items to widows, orphans, and the poor and afflicted.

St. Stephen is a good reminder that Christmas is not all about us.  It is not about amassing as many material goods as one can, which is often the pervasive drive of our greed-driven consumeristic culture.  The undercurrent of sin/greed lurks in the shadows.  Somehow our culture has traded in the truth of the gospel for a lie: that we can find happiness by gathering as many worldly possessions as we can.  St. Stephen flies in the face of that.

The world does not want us to remember St. Stephen.  They want us to forget about his spirit.  The world wants us to horde, and consume, and keep consuming.

We as Christians stand diametrically opposed to that culture.  We are more interested in giving.  We are more interested in losing our lives, than building up for ourselves treasures on earth.

The world is not about GIVE GIVE GIVE, but about GET GET GET.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how Stephen died.  He was martyred.  And why?  Because he threatened the establishment.  Because the truth of the gospel is radical, and it affects every fiber of our being.  It transforms lives.  Stephen, with his transformed life, sought to turn the tables on those who had power and influence, and arm those who did not.  That threatened those in power.  And he paid for it with his life.

Is it not the same for us?  Does Christmas not transform every fiber of our being?  Does the gift of the Christ Child not lead to such ecstatic joy that goodwill overflows from us, and needs to be shared?

Is the gift of Christmas only for us?  Or is it for all the world?

Let’s get to spreading that Gift.

-Matt

Merry Christmas

merry-christmas-2953721_960_720.jpg

AM Psalm 2, 85; PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132
Zech. 2:10-13; 1 John 4:7-16; John 3:31-36

Merry Christmas to you!  Once again, we encounter one of the great mysteries of our faith:  God with us – God among us, as one of us, sharing our grief and sorrows.  Sharing joy as well.

Embracing the mystery of the darkness is not something that comes easy to us USAmericans.  We sugar coat everything.  We numb our lives by running from the darkness at every turn.  This is part of the whole “build a wall” if you hadn’t noticed.  It is why we are always shopping and gambling and drinking, I suspect too.

But there is an aspect of the darkness, the fear, that we do not run from.

Christians turn into the darkness unafraid.  You could even say we embrace the darkness fully.  And that is what Christmas is about.  And by doing so, we embrace the Light.

Last night many of us experienced darkness, with acolytes sharing the light at a Candlelight service.  We are also near the darkest day of the year.  It gets dark early.  It is hard to escape the dark these days.  A perfect time for Christmas, and the coming of the Light!

Once again we turn our attention to the special readings for the 12 Days of Christmas.  Today is Day 1.  Today we celebrate the coming of the Christ-child to earth.

Today is prophecy.  Zechariah assures us that the Lord will, “come and dwell in our midst.”  That day will also see many nations joining themselves to the Lord.  Often this is the focus of the Messiah’s coming.  This is a person who will bring people together, not separate people with walls or any other means.

Christ did bring many together, but not by breaking down governmental lines.  Instead we are bound together in our differences in a body and a spirit – the Body of Christ, the Church.  No political revolution here.  Instead we got a revolution of the heart.  Our unity, it turns out, is not homogenous language, country affiliation, or even doctrine, but a unity in diversity.

John explores a different face of the Messiah’s coming.  “The one who comes from above is above all, the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things”  Also we hear that “the Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.” So this leader of ours is more than a political pundit.  He is God.  God sent to earth to be one of us.  And we are part of this extravagant love.

That is aggressive love!

And that really is the kernel of the Christmas message – that God came to us, to be one of us, to gather us closer together and closer to him, and he did it in a radical and unexpected way.  Today is what separates us from our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.  Some of them find this aspect of our faith upsetting, or even offensive.

God with us – Immanuel.  It is the heart of it all.

May God go with you today!  A Merry Christmas to you all.

-Matt