Advent 4 – Sermon: Cold Song Revolution Salvation

In today’s Gospel Mary sings joyfully of what God has done, as many have since. Singing about God’s acts for us can have real consequences.

In East Germany in 1989 for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered to sing on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas. Histories of the “velvet revolution” often overlook that over two months their numbers grew from just over a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city. They sang songs of hope and protest and justice, until their songs changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the GDR secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015 reworked TL)

Tim visited in the GDR in the early 80’s and heard for himself the unknowable truth that was nonetheless well-known among church leaders: namely that Eric Honecker, leader of the GDR, and Bishop Schönberger head of the Lutheran Church, knew and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis. The two leaders had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …

Well … among church leaders the lack of contingency for singing was well-known, and known as an intentional ‘lack of preparation’ by Honecker. Together and so as not to be documented or suspected by the Russians, the two leaders planned for the fall of East Germany back into a reunified Germany, through singing in the church.

Our song is from today’s Psalm: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

This refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.

Most everyone can remember a time when we felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming our faces. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, and streets for weeks. Then the sun shines free, welcomed and warm. For those few moments All is well.

Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of C for Jesus the Christ, the key of G for God, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish. As if caught in a spirit storm we find no joy, no purpose, no goodness in life. All is lost. Stretch this to make it the only vivid memory in our minds, and the hope that sustains us disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life.

Then enter into our lives God’s face, shining down on us as warm sunshine … and all is transformed … joy, purpose and goodness overflow each moment. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Julian of Norwich.]

Basking in God’s face shining in on us is beyond compare.

In the OT lesson for today Micah has, in typical prophet mode, let the people know they have sinned and are suffering because they are separated from God. Then he offers a vision, a restoration to the times of old. Like David a leader will rise. Micah gives the people the promise of a political solution for the challenges of his day.

We have used his words for much more; we’ve seen Jesus promised in them, and Jesus is so far beyond a political solution. Jesus is God’s complete and final solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin.

While the reasoning in the letter to the Hebrews may be dense, as obscure as the religious law it reflects, our second lesson for today makes clear that Jesus is the one-time sacrifice for all time foretold by the prophets. He replaces blood sacrifice and the indecipherable religious laws, traditions and ideas.

Even now, we can’t keep all God’s laws; no one is good enough to earn God’s favour. We need God’s saving action now and again and again, so we sing: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

In the Gospel for today Mary sings a version of Hannah’s song. As all songs of faith, well composed and well sung, Mary sings a revolutionary song.

It is not just revolutionary in that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us. Mary’s song is revolutionary in that it threatens corrupt power with God’s good order.

More than a few corrupt rulers have banned it.“The Magnificat was banned by the bishop from being sung or read in India under British rule. In the 1980’s, it was banned in Guatemala. In Argentina the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War (1976-1983) – placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, and the military junta then outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.” – – The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected The Messiah To Be Like https://kairoscenter.org/sermons-bible-studies-liturgies/politics-christmas-roman-empire/marys-magnificat-luke-146-55/ modified TL 2018

Why all the resistance, Mary’s song starts with Joy? What better way to start singing of God’s face shining upon us.

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn away from the powerful to the powerless. God looks to her, a lowly servant, caught pregnant out of wedlock. Yet Mary expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to and is doing through her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation. God has great strength, and chooses to show it … Not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride. God scatters corrupt rulers as if they were despised weeds.

God then lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry, with good, nourishing food that makes for health. But the Rich God sends away empty handed. This revolution changes all power and privilege so that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing, for to them God promises good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Using the Magnificat can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy; but it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor, who must count on God’s grace to survive each day. For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege.

We must work hard to survive the challenges of life whatever they may be: storms of climate change. bitter COLD.


Cold Bitter cold survival One step at a time

Flood, famine, war, addictions, earthquakes, disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … disappearing children. Or cancer and other life taking diseases.

A teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large hospital. One of her first pupils was a preteen Tommy. His teacher said he needed to work on his grammar – especially adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson.

The teacher found Tommy … in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy, terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shook her. Not knowing what else to do, the young teacher worked through her per-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain they completed the lesson.

The teacher then fled the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She avoided that area of the hospital. Then one morning she ran into one of Tommy’s nurses.

“What did you do to him?” the nurse demanded. The teacher was shocked and in dread. The nurse continued. “We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. After your visit he changed. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.”

In disbelief the teacher returned to Tommy’s bedside. Still in pain, he was sitting up smiling a smile that reached his eyes. Tommy explained to the teacher, “I thought I was going to die for sure. Then you came. When you left I knew I couldn’t be dying. Who would bother to teach a dying boy the difference between adjectives and adverbs?” (source unknown)

Our challenges may be worse than Adjectives and Adverbs. They may be loved ones who abuse and take everything we have and more. Or enemies that want vengeance for things we never did. Coworkers who are mean, or haughty and proud. Or institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or our challenges may be just plain Evil, in so many different guises, tempting us to try futilely to make our own lives good enough for God.

From all that we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves. So we cry out in song: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved! Amen

Advent 4 – Rough Draft Sermon

Note that the headings are not part of the text to preach. Just for organization and brought forward from Outline.

Still missing one story, of the Magnificat being prohibited. It’s here somewhere. But then this obviously needs LESS by half not MORE.

This is not my childhood in Tanganyika when services were all day and sermons multiple hours long.

Mary sings

The Gospel Lesson is Mary’s Song. She sings it loud as many have since. It is a song sung even by captives and always by people of joy and hope. But be careful, singing this song and others can have unforeseen consequences.

Velvet Revolution story

The protesters in Leipzig in 1989 knew (the power of singing) well. While that element sometimes gets overlooked in the histories of the “velvet revolution,” it’s striking to note that for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas – to sing, and over two months their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city, singing songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015)

But in the DDR in the 80’s (Tim visited and heard this for himself) it was a well-known, unknowable, among church leaders and government people:

Eric Honecker, leader of the DDR, and Bishop Schönberger, knew each other, and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis.

Honecker and Schönberger had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …

Well, the lack of contingency for singing was known well among church leaders, and known as an intentional ‘lack of preparation’ by Honecker. Together and so as not to be documented, the two leaders planned for the fall of East Germany back into a reunified Germany.

Today our song is from the Psalm

Refrain

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Shining face: the image from winter sun

The refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.

Most everyone can remember a time when they felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming one’s face. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, days, and roads (streets for city dwellers) and for a time, the sun shines free, welcomed and warm … and for those few moments everything is alright. All is well in the world.

Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of G for God, the key of C for Jesus Christ, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish and no matter the circumstances of our lives, we find no joy, no purpose, no meaning for a life, for a year, for a day, for a moment. All is lost. Stretch this to time enough to make it the only memory that lives vivid in one’s mind, and the hope that sustains one disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life at that time.

Then enter on to the scene of our lives played out on a stage for all to see: God’s face, shining down on us … and all is transformed … there is no lack of joy, purpose and meaning for our lives. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Thank you Julian of Norwich.]

It is so good to bask in God’s shining in on us, knowing we will be saved.

Which just about sets the stage for a good nap. So I did at this point in writing the sermon, and in listening you may want to as well.

A nap

Begin able to nap is a sign of God’s presence

Amidst the challenges, to be able to rest in peace, or rather rest peacefully, when one’s enemies would prefer one rested in peace.

And after the nap, restored almost as good as new, we move on to face the challenges of our days.

Micah

In the OT lesson for today Micah has in typical prophet mode let the people know they have sinned and are suffering because of it.

Then he offers a vision, a restoration of to the times of old. Like David a leader will rise.

He gives the people the promise of a political solution for the challenges of his day.

We have used his words for much more, we’ve seen Jesus promised in them, and Jesus is so far beyond a political solution.

Jesus is God’s complete and final solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin.

Hebrews:

Beyond comprehension

If you think Hebrews is beyond comprehension, good for you. It is written just as obscurely as the complicated laws of Jesus’ day: and no one understood it then either. Still we use it and I turn to it in the sermon because it makes clear that Jesus is the one time sacrifice,

who replaces blood sacrifice and the indecipherable religious laws, traditions and ideas.

Jesus is One sacrifice, one solution for salvation for all people, for all time.

Old Injustice … still

In those days then, with the complicated laws, Justice was who knows you, not what you do, since no one can keep the law. Not much has changed with today’s civil law – for some people who are wrongly found guilty, despite what the evidence is that should exonerated them. And our jails are filled with native men, and innocent men falsely charged by their intimate partner.

What’s gone wrong with us? We use to do allow a man to use the justice system to put an innocent woman in jail, or to keep her drugged for decades in a mental institution. Now it’s men. What’s wrong with us?!

All have and do and will sin

Still now, no one can keep God’s laws; no one is good enough to earn God’s favour.

We need God’s saving action now and now again and again, so we sing:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Mary’s Song

Mary Sings a song. As all songs of faith well composed and well sung Mary sings a REVOLUTIONARY song.

It is not just revolutionary in that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

[Story of song banned.]

JOY

The start to Mary’s song is fitting. Mary starts with Joy. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

THE LOWLY … GOOD NEWS

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn away from the powerful to the powerless.

God looks to her, a lowly servant, caught pregnant before being married.

And Mary rightfully expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

THE MIGHTY, THE OTHER KIND OF GOOD NEWS

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride.

God scatters them with their plain foolish pride their meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

Which is why many unjust rulers prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

God then lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, with not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

The Rich God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes all power and privilege.

So that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing, for to them God promises good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificat can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the Challenges

Whatever they are:

[fill in your choice, these were mine]

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, or self-righteous and judgmental, or self-declared entitled. OR the challenges of

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Adjectives and Adverbs

“A young teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large city hospital. She taught those young patients who missed a lot of school. She developed a routine. When she received a student’s name, she first phoned the child’s regular school teacher to find out if there were any particular areas the child needed to work on.”

“One ordinary day her list included a 12-year-old boy named Tommy. When she spoke to his teacher, she discovered that Tommy needed to work on his grammar – particularly adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson and took it up with her to the boy’s room.”

“The teacher, being fairly new to the hospital, only first realized when she arrived on the floor that Tommy’s room was in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy – terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shocked her to her core. But not really knowing what else to do, the young teacher began to work through her pre-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain, together they completed the assignment.”

“After the lesson, the teacher fled from the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She was ashamed that she had not met Tommy’s obvious needs, somehow better.”

“For the next few days the teacher avoided that area of the hospital, not wanting to see Tommy or any of the staff who worked with him. Then one morning she found herself in the elevator with the nurse who had shown her the way to Tommy’s room.”

“‘What did you do to him?’ the nurse demanded. Lost for words, the teacher just looked at the nurse, wishing she were any place else. ‘What did you say?’ the nurse continued. ‘After you left, Tommy was a changed boy. We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. But his attitude was totally different after your visit. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.’”

“In disbelief, the teacher allowed herself to be led back to Tommy’s bedside. Sure enough, he was sitting up now. He was still in pain, but he was smiling, and that smile reached his eyes. Tommy explained to the teacher, ‘I thought I was going to die for sure. Then you came. When you left I knew I couldn’t be dying. Who would bother to teach a dying boy the difference between adjectives and adverbs?’” (source unknown)

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all that we need to be saved from, for we cannot save ourselves!

So we sing with a cry:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Amen

Advent 4 – Lessons All Updated

New Notes

Micah 5.2-5a

Bethlehem, home of David, shall produce another ruler of Israel, who comes from old stock, like in ancient days.

From Micah’s prophecy we can read the things that he and the people he spoke to, were looking for in a Saviour.

To understand this better, remember that Israel is far from its ‘glory days’ when David ruled. Of course the ‘good ole’ days usually get much better after time passes, and one can conveniently forget the not so good parts of the old days. The downfall of Israel though is more than just inner decay, and wishful remembrances. The people have been conquered by their enemies, they serve a foreign ruler, and they cannot openly and freely worship their God, the God of Abraham, who with Moses leading, brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

The prophets have made it abundantly clear that the reason the people have fallen so hard and deep is that they have not been true to their God. They have forgotten the deliverance God provided, the food in the wilderness, the reasons to worship God, the reasons not to take advantage of each other or their neighbours, or even their enemies.

Instead they have been sinful.

Well we know that every person in every generation is a sinful being, and cannot free themselves. We also believe that God does not put us into harm’s way, as punishment for our sins. We do not carry forward the faith so often reflected in the Old Testament, that if we are good, God favours us, and if we are bad, God punishes us.

We believe that people are not punished for their sins, so much as people suffer their (and other people’s) sins.

God holds us in favour, no matter what. But God does want us to behave well in response, to reflect for all around us the saving Grace that God extends to us.

We are not in exile, least not 75% of the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by a foreign ruler, least not 5% the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by an evil and sinful ruler, least not 0% of the world’s population.

(These statistics are not scientifically established, they are just wild guesses, but statements of truth none the less.)

Micah speaks to a people who are in exile, who need hope of redemption and deliverance from the horrors of their time. The best promise the prophet has to hand on to is the promise of political deliverance.

God will bring a ruler who will rule like David did.

Until that ruler is born, though, the God will give the people up to their enemies.

But when his mother gives him birth, then, from this small clan among the people of Abraham, his kindred will return to their homeland. And this ruler will feed his flock.

This is the image of David, the Shepherd, leading his people as a nation, as he did when he was younger and worked as a shepherd for his father.

The benefit for this small clan, and for all the people of God, will be that they will live securely; they shall live in peace, brought by this ruler.

This was the hope of the people, as presented by Micah as the promise to them, which God provided to them, which they had desperate need of. They needed the hope. They needed the political saviour, or so they thought.

They waited, hoped, and fought a revolution or two, hoping to realize this promise given by God, a promise that fueled them and renewed them and gave them reason to go on, even in the worst of times.

Hundreds of years later, they still waited … for

A political saviour.

The writers of the Gospels, the scholars of the early Church, for centuries, understood that this and similar Old Testament passages were in fact prophecies about Jesus. For Jesus was a descendent of David, born in Bethlehem, of a small clam, and though the hoped for political freedom did not arrive, they understood that Jesus brought a freedom, greater than any political freedom; a freedom greater than any one time. Jesus brought freedom from chaos and evil, and from sin and the consequence of being separated from God because we are not good enough for God.

(Jesus redeemed us, but God had been doing this all along. Jesus made it clearly so, obvious … yet it remains a matter of faith, not proof. How else is God to communicate this message: that God loves us, other than to demonstrate it as a human being living among us on earth? So God loves us.

The challenge of life is NOT to see if we can be good enough to earn God’s love and Grace. The challenge of life is, realizing, believing, trusting that God already loves and redeems us, … the real challenge is to life this, to live out of this love, to live this love out. How are we doing at that?)

Knowing that God, as demonstrated by God as Jesus born, living, dying, resurrected among us … knowing and trusting that God has redeemed us, is for us, loves us: This is true freedom. This is true peace. A freedom and peace for all people of all time.

Micah almost for sure had no idea that so many millennia later we would place such a hope as foretold in his words; but he would probably not mind either.

Even given this hope, promise and real peace provided by Christ, after weeks of stress and late nights, horrors of what is, and enemies that want me dead and gone, I still need sleep. So a nap.

A peaceful nap in the wilderness, in warmth, with freedom to ski, take photos, write, and work to make life better … all in all to live well, despite my enemies’ evil wishes.

But one human body is only able to do so much for so long, and then it also needs rest, peace, recovery … and hope that God will end also these trials and tribulations brought on by my enemies; lies and their ancient need to scapegoat instead of taking responsibility for their own sin. It ruins lives, corrupts the youth and children and burns a wide swath of destruction through the community, church and far beyond.

So while some will look for political freedom, a benevolent ruler, which would be wonderful, I am thankful already for a bit of sunlight, a bit of warmth, and a bit of peace … all which make for a small opportunity to take a short nap.

I’ll leave that for you to calculate how exactly that fits in the notes for Micah.

Psalm 80.1-7

The people are in trouble, grave trouble, as people are of every age. It’s a matter of whether they know it or not.

So they cry:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

It is a refrain, and a refrain for all time, whether we know we should be singing it at all, whether we know we should be singing at all.

The refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.

Most everyone can remember a time when they felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming one’s face. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, days, and roads (streets for city dwellers) and for a time, the sun shines free, welcomed and warm … and for those few moments everything is alright. All is well in the world.

Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of G for God, the key of C for Jesus Christ, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish and no matter the circumstances of our lives, we find no joy, no purpose, no meaning for a life, for a year, for a day, for a moment. All is lost. Stretch this to time enough to make it the only memory that lives vivid in one’s mind, and the hope that sustains one disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life at that time.

Then enter on to the scene of our lives played out on a stage for all to see: God’s face, shining down on us … and all is transformed … there is no lack of joy, purpose and meaning for our lives. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Thank you Julian of Norwich.]

This reminds me constantly of the Irish blessing: … XXXXX

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall gently upon your field,
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

And the prayer: may we be just warm enough to enjoy the snow, with just enough to eat not to treat each other as hungry animals. XXXX

This refrain for the Psalm is quite the refrain, for the 4th Sunday of Advent. It ought to be sung well. Clearly as the refrain, not only in the Psalm recitation/singing, but throughout the service:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

For this is the refrain of Advent: our hope is in God, in the person of Jesus once born on earth as one of us, and yet to return to earth. This is the hope of all hope, the basis of all our hope. We bask it this hope … especially when the world challenges us with every form of disaster and destruction.

The destruction is, like a good Psalm, not detailed, not so specific, that it fits only one time. It is a song of the congregation for generations. But the trouble of the people is not displayed as inconsequential.

God’s anger fumes against the people. That is not just God deserting the people but remembering their sins and letting them suffer all the power of God’s anger.

They have bread of tears, bowls of tears to drink.

They are the derision of their neighbours and their enemies have not only won, but scorn their very existence.

But the hope is there: Our prayer is that God will find the strength to come as a saviour to free us from our enemies’ scorn and our neighbours’ derision.

The good shepherd arrives. Remember how David led the people? Now, again we like dumb sheep need a saviour again.

Don’t we always?! But don’t we especially also this December, even this 4th Advent, this 23 December?

You can fill in what is called news. It is seldom if ever New, but the same old, old repeated ad nauseam the troubles of people, as in every generation … but it is our trouble, old troubles presented to us as new. And if you live through a disaster, it is new to you, so there is that: The troubles are new to those who suffer them. And we cannot healthily dismiss the horror and need of those brothers and sisters who suffer troubles. Living through troubles is what binds us humans together into communities of life, instead of communities of hell, blaming, complaining, and back-biting.

And is it not in the face our particular kind of trouble this December 23, that we need to sing aloud for all to hear:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

I could tell you the troubles I have been given, thank you very much to all those who lie about me, but the interest for the congregation is not my troubles, but our troubles in the midst of which, Jesus appears, God’s face shines on us, and the Holy Spirit delivers us.

More to come on Hebrews and Luke, the Magnificat.

Hebrews 10.5-10

Hebrews is a letter written to people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah; a people of the ancients, the Law and the Prophets. They are people of the Temple, who bring their sacrifices to the altar. The blood life of the animal sacrificed, replacing their blood, brings God’s favour. It is an acknowledgement of one’s own sins and the need to be accountable for them before God. Their own sins, before God (like ours also) requires the life of the sinner to make payment, so grievous is even just one sin for it separates one from God, which is to be dead, even if one is still walking.

Instead of sacrificing people, an animal’s blood-life stands in for the human. Human sacrifice God does not want. God made this obvious in God’s interruption of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac on the altar on the mountain. No more child sacrifice. No more human sacrifice. But animal sacrifice stands in for human sacrifice.

The temple, with its institution of priests, and power, and money, and laws developed this far beyond simple sacrifices into what many called an impossible demand placed on the people. If the priests wanted to condemn someone of a law, it was always possible, for no one could keep all the complicated, sometimes even contradictory laws. Keeping on the right side of the law did not demand compliance, but the outward appearances and currying favour with those with enough power to assure one was never charged with breaking the law.

Enter Jesus into this. The letter to the Hebrews, in perfect imitation of the people of power’s obfuscations of the law, sets out in the lesson for Advent 4 that Jesus ends the temple sacrifices and institutes that, by God’s will, Jesus was the last sacrifice, the last blood-life required by God to make things right between humans and God.

So we are, forever, made right with God, by the sacrifice of one human who is also God, Godself. As it always was and is and will be: only God can set things right between us and God. Only God can make it right between you and God, between me and God. There is no one who does not sin, each moment all one’s life. There is no one who can make up for even one seemingly innocuous sin. There is not ‘grand gesture’ that any of us can perform or undergo to make up for even one sin, yet alone a lifetime’s sins, or a seemingly severe sin, like murder by suicide or attempted murder by suicide. There is no ‘grand gesture’ that makes us right with God, like ‘coming to Christ’ or believing with all one’s heart, or repenting, or devoting one’s life to God, or confessing and making atonement or making things right with other people. There is not even getting baptized. Baptism is God’s act, a sign for us to remember that the one baptized, specifically, has been made right with God, by God, by Grace.

That is to say: God does it solely because God chooses, irrespective of what we may or may not have done, thought, believed, chosen.

Which is exactly what Hebrews says today: it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

There are lawyers, and even myself a philosopher and theologian, who can decipher how the earlier passage is used to arrive at this end. But it is not logical, A + B then C, which bring us to G, for Grace.

Christ speaks to God

A: in the words of the Old Testament prophets clearly stating that God does not want or desire burnt offerings and sacrifices.

B: Instead God has prepared a body for Jesus.

C: And this is God’s will.

Put together simply by juxtaposition, and attributed to Jesus with the conclusion clearly made that the last statement C was intended to apply to B, was intended to counter A.

What seems logical lacks the basis: Jesus is not even quoted here as having said these separate things together, nor do the Gospels. But that is the illogic of a religious statement.

We believe the result. But no reasonable person would accept this argument as valid or helpful or significant.

But the writer of Hebrews presents it. The writings came to be authoritative in the early Christian church and it is included in the Canon, the Holy Scriptures. And we use it in our lectionary, logical and sound or not.

One of the many significant things to note is that this passage reminds us that we humans always want to be the ones in control of our relationship with God. We go to all ends to make it happen, and hide from ourselves that we are trying to wrestle control of our lives from God. That is the root of all sin, to try to displace God in God’s universe and in our lives as creatures in that universe … creatures who by our very nature are in a relationship with God, whether we like it, admit it, or deny it. And that relationship is determined wholly by God; including that God has given us freedom to choose to participate in that relationship of blessing, or not. Thus theologians have always worked at trying to explain how our freedom to choose fits together with God determining everything. Explanations run the gamut from God determines even our ‘free choice’ (there is no real free choice) to our free choice (given by God) undermines God’s power forever thereafter and we really do control the universe and our relationship with God, … and the explanations run the gamut using almost every possibility in between.

Luther landed, with many others, calling such matters, matters of faith, dealing with them as paradoxes. We are simultaneously both saints (God’s choice) and sinners (our free choice).

For Luther then (though he was not completely consistent about this either) God chooses to save us (through Jesus’ sacrifice); yet we have the free choice to separate ourselves, not only temporarily but permanently from God.

This is called our sinful, prideful insistence on sinning against the Holy Spirit – never too exactly defined, which would have the ugly consequence of giving avenue to evil people to lord it over others that they have sinned worse than any other and (by the determination of these evil people) the sinner is condemned and can be without consequence separated from life (killed, but it is not murder. Which of course still happens all the time under many guises, also in Canada to completely innocent people – open your eyes!)

Which is to say: the logic of it is not what is significant.

What is ultimately the most significant thing in all of life … the thing that really matters is simple: we rely solely on God’s Mercy, Grace, and Love is; we can and ought to reflect that Mercy, Grace, and Love in our lives, for ourselves, for our neighbours, and especially for our enemies. Whether we do or not, does not change God or God’s relationship with us, ours with God. It changes us, and it either gives life or robs life … from us, from our loved ones, from our neighbours, and from even our enemies.

So choose: do we want today, to give life, or take life!

God gives you and me the ability to make that choice each day, each moment, and the consequences are REAL.

But Jesus’ story is God telling us, that God alone determines our relationship with God. So stop the futile and life robbing behaviours, beliefs and condemnations that sacrifice others (and ourselves) as if that were going to make things right between any of us and God.

That’s God’s work, done, accomplished, for ever, and for everyone.

Get on with living, and living well … no matter what else is our life.

For that is what God created us to be and do:.. To choose to love, ourselves, our neighbours, and especially our enemies; for that is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds and our strength.

So we cry:

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

Luke 1.39-45- (46-55)

A visit

It is just a visit with a relative: Mary, pregnant before she is married, heads to the hills to see Elizabeth, wife of the one of the priests. Elizabeth is pregnant as well and at the sound of the guest’s greeting, her fetus leaps in her.

Elizabeth cries out, and exclaims (ok, how did she know already that Mary was to give birth to God’s own son, the saviour of the universe, but it’s a story, so not all of it is going to make all the logical and logistical sense of an historical account. This is an account of the purpose of God. So of course Elizabeth knows Mary’s son will be their saviour!)

Surprise at Jesus’ visit

Elizabeth cries out and exclaims that Mary is blessed among women and her son is blessed as well. Elizabeth is more than a bit astounded, that Mary, the mother of her Lord, has come to visit her!

We ought to be so surprised that Jesus comes to us, every day, every minute. For what do we deserve but God’s condemnation! But we do not see Jesus, even standing beside us.

Or we are so used to Jesus’ presence with us that we behave like we are bored with it, as if nothing significant were to come of God standing with us, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. Gracing us with God’s presence, promising us that all will be well … even when there is nothing that is well at all to be seen or known. For when God is with us, already all things are well, all manner of things are well.

For Elizabeth understands that Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew, meaning saviour) is indeed God’s son, our saviour; this infant is the boy that will grow to be the man who will save us all …

No More Scapegoating

And Jesus will make it obvious that we do not need to sacrifice anyone else anymore; no more scapegoating.

All this is astounding

Is unusual

Is unique.

But

Then

Mary

Sings a song.

But as all songs of faith well composed and well sung

This is

REVOLUTIONARY

Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in

More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

JOY

The start is fitting.

Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

THE LOWLY … GOOD NEWS

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.

God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.

And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

THE MIGHTY, THE OTHER KIND OF GOOD NEWS

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,

But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

And this causes many unjust rulers to prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?

God lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, with not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

But

The

Rich

God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes all power and privilege.

And those of us caught in the bottom of injustice can sing

Can sing loudly, for all to hear,

That God has come,

In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day God comes to Israel, today to us, to whomever and where ever we are.

God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are

By grace alone

Counted

Among Abrahams’ descendants

Forever.

God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificat can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the

Challenges

Whatever they are:

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, or self-righteous and judgmental, or self-declared entitled. OR the challenges of

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Note to Notes, Outlines, Sermons

I publish sometimes without time to do a great proof reading. And even then there will be typos and other improvements to make. Sometimes I will get around to them, or not.
Today I have some corrections and updates to the notes for this Sunday, all the lessons together.
Instead of correcting each lesson’s post, I’ve posted them all together.

Then to Outlines: sometimes I will include a comment like: “fill it in” which usually means the details are in the comments. This can also be the case for drafts of sermons. XXX or more X’s means I need to come back, look up something, and finish that section.
I usually get back to it, soon. But if not it is sometimes a reference that you could find and correct … and smile at how my memory works … partially and sometimes barely enough.
Enjoy.
Work hard.
Sing
but with care
it can change the world.

 

Sometimes the point is out of view.

Advent 4 – Outline

Mary sings

And it is quite the song.

Sung loud.

It’s sung with joy, and it’s been sung often since.

But be careful, singing this song may have unforeseen consequences.

Velvet Revolution story

The protesters in Leipzig in 1989 knew (the power of singing) well. While that element sometimes gets overlooked in the histories of the “velvet revolution,” it’s striking to note that for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas – to sing, and over two months their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city, singing songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015)

But in the DDR in the 80’s (Tim visited and heard this for himself) it was a well-known, unknowable, among church leaders and government people:

Eric Honecker, leader of the DDR, and Bishop Schönberger, knew each other, and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis.

Honecker and Schönberger had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …

Well the lack of contingency for singing was known well among church leaders, and known as an intentional ‘lack of preparation’ by Honecker. Together and so as not to be documented, the two leaders planned for the fall of East Germany back into a reunified Germany.

One still needs to be careful when one chooses to sing, especially if one choose to sing as Mary does.

Bit first the other lessons, because they set the stage for us to better appreciate Mary’s simple song.

Today our song is from the Psalm:

Refrain

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Shining face: the image from winter sun

Fill it in

It is so good to bask in God’s shining in on us, knowing we will be saved.

Which just about sets the stage for a good nap.

A nap

A sign of God’s presence

Amidst the challenges, to be able to rest in peace, or rather rest peacefully, when one’s enemies would prefer one rested in peace.

And after the nap, restored almost as good as new, we move on with our busy days.

Micah

political solution

The promise of a political solution for the very present like of old

Use of his words for more:

Beyond political solution

Jesus, a very not political solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin, which is more than any political solution could be.

Hebrews:

Beyond comprehension

If you think Hebrews is beyond comprehension, good for you. It is written just as obscurely as the complicated laws of Jesus’ day: and no one understood it then either.

Jesus, Last Sacrifice, a new justice

But the point of Hebrews: that’s clear

Jesus is the one time sacrifice,

who replaces blood sacrifice and in decipherable webs of laws.

One sacrifice, one salvation for all people, for all time.

Old [sic] [in]justice

In those days then, with the complicated laws, Justice was who knows you, not what you do, since no one can keep the law. Not much has changed with civil law – for some people who are guilty, despite what the evidence is that should exonerated them. And our jails are filled with native men, and innocent men falsely charged by their intimate partner.

What’s gone wrong with us? We use to do this to women, allow a man put her away for nothing, or for nothing keep her drugged for decades in a mental institution. Now it’s men. What’s wrong with us?!

All have and do and will sin

Still now, no one can keep God’s laws, no one good enough to earn God’s favour.

We need God’s saving action now and now again and again

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Mary’s Song

More than once in history, tyrannical rulers have banned the singing of this song, for it is revolutionary, in the political sense.

[Story of song banned.]

Mary Sings a song. As all songs of faith well composed and well sung Mary sings a REVOLUTIONARY song.

Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

JOY

The start is fitting.

Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

THE LOWLY … GOOD NEWS

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.

God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.

And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

THE MIGHTY, THE OTHER KIND OF GOOD NEWS

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,

But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

Which is why many unjust rulers prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?

God lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, with not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

But The Rich God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes all power and privilege.

So that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing

The lowly Can sing loudly, for all to hear,

That God has come,

In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day God comes to Israel, today to us, to whomever and where ever we are.

God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are By grace alone Counted Among Abrahams’ descendants … Forever.

God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificat can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the

Challenges

Whatever they are:

[fill in your choice, these were mine]

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, or self-righteous and judgmental, or self-declared entitled. OR the challenges of

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Adjectives and Adverbs

“A young teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large city hospital. She taught those young patients who missed a lot of school. She developed a routine. When she received a student’s name, she first phoned the child’s regular school teacher to find out if there were any particular areas the child needed to work on.”

“One ordinary day her list included a 12-year-old boy named Tommy. When she spoke to his teacher, she discovered that Tommy needed to work on his grammar – particularly adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson and took it up with her to the boy’s room.”

“The teacher, being fairly new to the hospital, only first realized when she arrived on the floor that Tommy’s room was in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy – terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shocked her to her core. But not really knowing what else to do, the young teacher began to work through her pre-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain, together they completed the assignment.”

“After the lesson, the teacher fled from the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She was ashamed that she had not met Tommy’s obvious needs, somehow better.”

“For the next few days the teacher avoided that area of the hospital, not wanting to see Tommy or any of the staff who worked with him. Then one morning she found herself in the elevator with the nurse who had shown her the way to Tommy’s room.”

“‘What did you do to him?’ the nurse demanded. Lost for words, the teacher just looked at the nurse, wishing she were any place else. ‘What did you say?’ the nurse continued. ‘After you left, Tommy was a changed boy. We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. But his attitude was totally different after your visit. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.’”

“In disbelief, the teacher allowed herself to be led back to Tommy’s bedside. Sure enough, he was sitting up now. He was still in pain, but he was smiling, and that smile reached his eyes. Tommy explained to the teacher, ‘I thought I was going to die for sure. Then you came. When you left I knew I couldn’t be dying. Who would bother to teach a dying boy the difference between adjectives and adverbs?’” (source unknown)

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Amen

Advent 4 – Luke

Luke 1.39-45- (46-55)

A visit

It is just a visit with a relative, Mary, pregnant before she is married, heads to the hills to see Elizabeth, wife of the one of the priests. Elizabeth is pregnant as well and at the sound of the guest’s greeting, her fetus leaps in her.

Elizabeth cries out, and exclaims (ok, how did she know already that Mary was go give birth to God’s own son, the saviour of the universe, but it’s a story, so not all of it is going to make all the logical and logistical sense of an historical account. This is an account of the purpose of God. So of course Elizabeth knows Mary’s son will be their saviour!)

Surprise at Jesus’ visit

Elizabeth cries out and exclaims that Mary is blessed among women and her son is blessed as well. Elizabeth is more than a bit astounded, that Mary, the mother of her Lord, has come to visit her!

We ought to be so surprised that Jesus comes to us, every day, every minute. For what do we deserve but God’s condemnation!

Or we are so used to Jesus’ presence with us that we behave like we are bored with it, as if nothing significant were to come of God standing with us, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. Gracing us with God’s presence, promising us that all will be well … even when there is nothing that is well at all to be seen or known. For when God is with us, already all things are well, all manner of things are well.

For Elizabeth understands that Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew, meaning saviour) is indeed God’s son, our saviour; this infant is the boy that will grow to be the man who will save us all … 

No More Scapegoating

And make it obvious that we do not need to sacrifice anyone else anymore; no more scapegoating.

All this is astounding

Is unusual

Is unique.

But

Then

Mary

Sings a song.

But as all songs of faith well composed and well sung

This is

Revolutionary

Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in

More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

Joy

The start is fitting.

Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

The Lowly … Good News

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.

God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.

And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

The mighty, the other kind of Good News

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,

But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

And this causes many unjust rulers to prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?

God lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

But

The

Rich

God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes the power and privilege.

And those of us caught in the bottom of injustice

Can sing loudly, for all to hear,

That God has come,

In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day to Israel, today to us, whoever and where ever we are.

God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are 

By grace alone

Counted

Among Abrahams’ descendants

Forever.

God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificant can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the

Challenges

Whatever they are:

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, self-righteous and judgmental, and entitled.

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

Advent 4 – Hebrews

Hebrews 10.5-10


Hebrews is a letter written to people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah; a people of the ancients, the Law and the Prophets. They are people of the Temple, who bring their sacrifices to the altar. The blood life of the animal sacrificed, replacing their blood, brings God’s favour. It is an acknowledgement of one’s own sins and the need to be accountable for them before God. Their own sins, before God (like ours also) requires the life of the sinner to make payment, so grievous is even just one sin for it separates one from God, which is to be dead, even if one is still walking.
Instead of sacrificing people an animal’s blood-life stands in for the human. Human sacrifice God does not want. God made this obvious in God’s interruption of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac on the altar on the mountain. No more child sacrifice. No more human sacrifice. But animal sacrifice stands in for human sacrifice.
The temple, with its institution of priests, and power, and money, and laws developed this far beyond simple sacrifices into what many called an impossible demand placed on the people. If the priests wanted to condemn someone of a law, it was always possible, for no one could keep all the complicated, sometimes even contradictory laws. Keeping on the right side of the law did not demand compliance, but the outward appearances and currying favour with those with enough power to assure one was never charged with breaking the law.
Enter Jesus into this. The letter to the Hebrews, in perfect imitation of the people of power’s obfuscations of the law, sets out in the lesson for Advent 4 that Jesus ends the temple sacrifices and institutes that by God’s will, Jesus was the last sacrifice, the last blood-life required by God to make things right between humans and God.
So we are, forever, made right with God, by the sacrifice of one human who is also God, Godself. As it always was and is and will be: only God can set things right between us and God. Only God can make it right between you and God, between me and God. There is no one who does not sin, each moment all one’s life. There is no one who can make up for even the seemingly innocuous sin. There is not ‘grand gesture’ that any of us can perform or undergo to make up for even one sin, yet alone a lifetime’s, or a seemingly severe sin, like murder by suicide or attempted murder by suicide. There is no ‘grand gesture’ that makes us right with God, like ‘coming to Christ’ or believing with all one’s heart, or repenting, or devoting one’s life to God, or confessing and making atonement or making things right with other people. There is not even getting baptized. Baptism is God’s act, a sign for us to remember that the one baptized, specifically, has been made right with God, by God, by Grace.
That is God does it solely because God chooses, irrespective of what we may or may not have done, thought, believed, chosen.
Which is exactly what Hebrews says today: “it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
There are lawyers, and even myself a philosopher and theologian, who can decipher how the earlier passage is used to arrive at this end. But it is not logical, A + B then C, which bring us to G, for Grace.
Christ speaks to God
A: in the words of the Old Testament prophets clearly stating that God does not want or desire burnt offerings and sacrifices.
B: Instead God has prepared a body for Jesus.
C: And this is God’s will.
Put together simply by juxtaposition, and attributed to Jesus with the conclusion clearly made that the last statement C was intended to apply to B, was intended to counter A.
What seems logical lacks the basis: Jesus is not even quoted here as having said these separate things together, nor do the Gospels. But that is the illogic of a religious statement.
We believe the result. But no reasonable person would accept this argument as valid or helpful or significant.
But the writer of Hebrews presents it. The writings came to be authoritative in the early Christian church and it is included in the Canon, the Holy Scriptures. And we use it in our lectionary, logical and sound or not.
One of the many significant things to note is that this passage reminds us that we humans always want to be the ones in control of our relationship with God. We go to all ends to make it happen, and hide from ourselves that we are trying to wrestle control of our lives from God. That is the root of all sin, to try to displace God in God’s universe and in our lives as creatures in that universe … creatures who by our very nature are in a relationship with God, whether we like it, admit it, or deny it. And that relationship is determined wholly by God; including that God has given us freedom to choose to participate in that relationship of blessing, or not. Thus theologians have always worked at trying to explain how our freedom to choose fits together with God determining everything. Explanations run the gamut from God determines even our ‘free choice’ (there is no real free choice) to our free choice (given by God) undermines God’s power forever thereafter and we really do control the universe and our relationship with God, and almost every possibility in between.
Luther landed with many calling such matters of faith, dealing with them as paradoxes. We are simultaneously both saints (God’s choice) and sinners (our free choice).
For Luther then (though he was not completely consistent about this either) God chooses to save us (through Jesus’ sacrifice); yet we have the free choice to separate ourselves, not only temporarily but permanently from God (our sinful, prideful insistence on sinning against the Holy Spirit – never too exactly defined, which would have the ugly consequence of giving avenue to evil people to lord it over others that they have sinned worse than any other and (by the determination of these evil people) the sinner is condemned and can be without consequence separated from life (killed, but it is not murder. Which of course still happens all the time under many guises, also in Canada to completely innocent people – open your eyes!)
Which is to say: the logic of it is not what is significant.
What is ultimately the most significant thing in all of life is simple. We rely solely on God’s Mercy, Grace, and Love is, and we can and ought to reflect that Mercy, Grace, and Love in our lives, for ourselves, for our neighbours, and especially for our enemies. Whether we do or not, does not change God or God’s relationship with us, ours with God. It changes us, and it either gives life or robs life … from us, from our loved ones, from our neighbours, and from even our enemies.
So choose: do we want today, to give life, or take life!
God gives you and me the ability to make that choice each day, each moment, and the consequences are REAL.
But Jesus’ story is God telling us, that God alone determines our relationship with God. So stop the futile and life robbing behaviours, beliefs and condemnations that sacrifice others (and ourselves) as if that were going to make things right between any of us and God.
That’s God’s work, done, accomplished, for ever and everyone.
Get on with living, and living well … no matter what else is our life.
For that is what God created us to be and do:. To choose to love, ourselves, our neighbours, and especially our enemies; for that is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds and our strength.
So we cry:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

Notes to Advent 4 – Psalm

Psalm 80.1-7
The people are in trouble, grave trouble, as people are of every age. It’s a matter of whether they know it or not.
So they cry:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
It is a refrain, and a refrain for all time, whether we know we should be singing it at all, whether we know we should be singing at all.
The refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.
Most everyone can remember a time when they felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming one’s face. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, days, and roads (streets for city dwellers) and for a time, the sun shines free, welcomed and warm … and for those few moments everything is alright. All is well in the world.
Now take the memory and transposed it into the key of G for God, the key of C for Jesus Christ, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish and no matter the circumstances of our lives, we find no joy, no purpose, no meaning for a life, for a year, for a day, for a moment. All is lost. Stretch this to time enough to make it the only memory that lives vivid in one’s mind, and the hope that sustains one disappears. God has deserted us.
Then enter on to the scene of our lives played out on a stage for all to see: God’s face, shining down on us … and all is transformed … there is no lack of joy, purpose and meaning for our lives. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Thank you Julian of Norwich.]
This reminds me constantly of the Irish blessing: … 
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rains fall gently upon your field,
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand
….
And that prayer: may we be just warm enough to enjoy the snow, with just enough to eat not to treat each other as hungry animals. 
This is the refrain for the Psalm. Quite the refrain, for the 4 Sunday of Advent. It ought to be sung well. Clearly as the refrain, not only in the Psalm recitation/singing, but throughout the service:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
For this is the refrain of Advent: our hope is in God, in the person of Jesus once born on earth as one of us, and yet to return to earth. This is the hope of all hope, the basis of all our hope. We bask it this hope … especially when the world challenges us with every form of disaster and destruction.
The destruction is, like a good Psalm, not detailed, not so specific, that it fits only one time. It is a song of the congregation for generations. But the trouble of the people is not displayed as inconsequential.
God’s anger fumes against the people. That is not just God deserting the people but remembering their sins and letting them suffer all the power of God’s anger.
They have bread of tears, bowls of tears to drink.
They are the derision of their neighbours and their enemies have not only won, but scorn their very existence.
But the hope is there: Our prayer is that God will find the strength to come as a saviour to free us from our enemies’ scorn and our neighbours’ derision.
The good shepherd arrives. Remember how David led the people, and we like dumb sheep need a saviour again.
Don’t we always?! But don’t we especially also this December, even this 4 Advent, this 23 December?
You can fill in what is called news. It is seldom if ever New, but the same old, old repeated at nausea the troubles of people, as in every generation … but it is our trouble, our old troubles presented to us as new. And if you live through a disaster, it is new to you, so there is that: The troubles are new to those who suffer them. And we cannot healthily dismiss the horror and need of those brothers and sisters who suffer troubles. Living through troubles is what binds us humans together into communities of life, instead of communities of hell, blaming, complaining, and back-biting.
And is it not in the face our particular kind of trouble this December 23, that we need to sing aloud for all to hear:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
I could tell you the troubles I have been given, thank you very much all those who lie about me, but the interest for the congregation is not mine, but our, troubles in the midst of which, Jesus appears, God’s face shines on us, and the Holy Spirit delivers us.
More to come on Hebrews and Luke, the Magnificat.

Notes to Advent 4 – Micah

Micah 5.2-5a

Bethlehem, home of David, shall produce another ruler of Israel, who comes from old stock, like in ancient days.

From Micah’s prophecy we can read the things that he and the people he spoke to, were looking for in a Saviour.

To understand this better, remember that Israel is far from its ‘glory days’ when David ruled. Of course the ‘good ole’ days usually get much better after time passes, and one can conveniently forget the not so good parts of the old days. The downfall of Israel though is more than just inner decay, and wishful remembrances. The people have been conquered by their enemies, they serve a foreign ruler, and they cannot openly and freely worship their God, the God of Abraham, who with Moses leading,brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

The prophets have made it abundantly clear that the reason the people have fallen so hard and deep is that they have not been true to their God. They have forgotten the deliverance God provided,the food in the wilderness, the reasons to worship God, the reasons not to take advantage of each other or their neighbours, or even their enemies.

Instead they have been sinful.

Well we know that every person in every generation is a sinful being, and cannot free themselves. We also believe that God does not put us into harm’s way, as punishment for our sins. We do not carry forward the faith so often reflected in the Old Testament, that if we are good, God favours us, and if we are bad, God punishes us.

We believe that people are not punished for their sins, so much as people suffer their (and other people’s)sins.

God holds us in favour, no matter what. But God does want us to behave well in response, to reflect for all around us the save Grace that God extends to us.

We are not in exile, least not 75% o f the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by a foreign ruler, least not 5% the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by an evil and sinful ruler, least not 0%of the world’s population. (These statistics are not scientifically established, they are just wild guesses, but statements of truth none the less.)

Micah speaks to a people who are in exile, who need hope of redemption and deliverance from the horrors of their time. The best promise they hand on to is the promise of political deliverance.

God will bring a ruler who will rule like David did.

Until that ruler is born, though, the God will give the people up to their enemies.

But when his mother gives him birth,then, from this small clan among the people of Abraham, his kindred will return to their homeland. And this ruler will feed his flock.

This is the image of David, the Shepherd, leading his people as a nation, as he did when he was younger and worked as a shepherd for his father.

The benefit for this small clan, and for all the people of God, will be that they will live securely; they shall live in peace, brought by this ruler.

This was the hope of the people, as presented by Micah as the promise to them, which God provided to them, which they had desperate need of. They needed the hope. They needed the political saviour, or so they thought.

They waited, hoped, and fought a revolution or two, hoping to realize this promise given by God, a promise that fueled them and renewed them and gave them reason to go on, even in the worst of times.

Hundreds of years later, they still waited.

The writers of the Gospels, the scholars of the early Church, for centuries, understood that this and similar Old Testament passages were in fact prophecies about Jesus. For Jesus was a descendant of David, born in Bethlehem, of a small clam, and though the hoped for political freedom did not arrive, they understood that Jesus brought a freedom,greater than any political freedom; a freedom greater than any one time. Jesus brought freedom from chaos and evil, and from sin and the consequence of being separated from God because we are not good enough for God.

(Jesus redeemed us, but God had been doing this all along. Jesus made it clearly so, obvious … yet it remains a matter of faith, not proof. How else is God to communicate this message: that God loves us, other than to demonstrate it as a human being living among us on earth. So God loves us. The challenge of life is NOT to see if we can be good enough to earn God’s love and Grace. The challenge of life is, realizing, believing,trusting that God already loves and redeems us, … the real challenge is to life this, to live out of this love, to live this love out. How are we doing at that?)

Knowing that God, as demonstrated by God as Jesus born, living, dying, resurrected among us … knowing and trusting that God has redeemed us, is for us, loves us: This is true freedom. This is true peace. A freedom and peace for all people of all time.

Micah almost for sure had no idea that so many millennia later we would place such a hope as foretold in his words; but he would probably not mind either.

Even given this hope, promise and real peace provided by Christ, after weeks of stress and late nights, horrors of what is, and enemies that want me dead and gone. I still need sleep. So a nap.

A peaceful nap in the wilderness, in warmth, with freedom to ski, take photos, write, and work to make life better …all in all to live well, despite my enemies evil wishes.

But one human body is only able to do so much for so long, and then it also needs rest, peace, recovery … and hope that God will end also these trials and tribulations brought on by my enemies;lies and their ancient need to scapegoat instead of taking responsibility for their own sin. It ruins lives, corrupts the youth and children and burns a wide swath of destruction through the community, church and far beyond.

So while some will look for political freedom, a benevolent ruler, which would be wonderful, I am thankful already for a bit of sunlight, a bit of warmth, and a bit of peace … all which make fora small opportunity to take a short nap.

I’ll leave that for you to calculate how exactly that fits in the notes for Micah.

Advent 3 Outline

I. Bad News is Good News
A. John the Baptist
insults them
warns them of the wrath of God coming to them
exhorts the people
exhorts them to
To repent
To do good for others,
And not to take advantage of others for their own benefit
B. Sword of God’s judgment
Awesome power of seeing God face to face
Tradition: no one lives
Exceptions notable
Moses
Now us
Still we are purified
Ax laid to the root in us that does not bear good fruit
Burned in the unquenchable fire
Bad news for those who lose
Are those who had all for themselves
Those who win
Everyone who God chooses to bless with faith
Good News for some Bad for others
We ALL are both all the time


II. Appropriate response
A. Sing Aloud
Contrast to not being able or safe to sing
Under Threat, 
Natural or another person
not able to sing, constant vigilance
In captivity
Singing a threat to captors
Dangerous to sing
Now Freedom to sing
B. Joy
The choice to habitually respond with gratitude
Wait 90 seconds with bad emotions
Free of emotional charge, able to move beyond reptilian to choose
To recognize more than flight, fight or freeze
Habitual choice to rejoice always, in all circumstances
Brain lays down pathways, shortcuts for quick responses to similar circumstances
Possible to respond with joy to everything
Cannot choose not to experience negative emotions, dangerous if we could,
Can choose to wait, to pause, to evaluate, to respond with reasoned choice to every bad circumstance.
Joy is not the absence of sorrow, grief, pain, 
Joy is the recognition that God is present, blessing every moment, even the most difficult.
Good News even in midst of terrible challenges, even if Good News is God’s 2x edge sword:
Joy always
God present especially clear in the worst of times

III. God is for us
A. Blessings – 
not that we get what we want
but that God gets for us what God wants.
John the Baptist: tough words bring Good News
God’s order for us all arrives with the Messiah
Not the messiah people want
But God’s messiah for us
No more sacrifice of each other to get through life.
This is joy
This is coming home
This is worth living for
This is freedom
From fear, anxiety, shame, effects of enemies that would destroy
This is living out of what God wants for us, not what we want for ourselves
B. Coming Home
Contrast to not welcome, unable, dangerous, or homeless
Security, Accepted as is, Rest, Able to receive and to give security, acceptance, a place for rest, recovery, healing, and inspiration to be what God makes us to be
C. Christ is come
Christ was born,
Christ is born again, each day, each Christmas
Christ will come again, basis for all hope
Holy Spirit moves us to recognize again
Christ was and is born, and 
Christ will come again, to once again change the world, 
D. God’s Revolution
A revolution to all order, so that all things will revolve around what God wants for us
Instead of what we want for ourselves

IV. Advent is
Advent is not a time to hide, or to bury oneself in Pre-Christmas hectic
Advent is a time to

Reflect deeply
Be awestruck
Realize God’s power to change the world, and us, all of us, each of us. Be purified.

Act appropriately
Ensure all have the basics of life
Ensure all have clean air and water
Ensure all have good food and clothing
Ensure all have shelter, but more
A home, safety, acceptance, to be loved
Ensure all have opportunity for meaningful labour
Ensure all are able to choose to love, one’s neighbour, the outcasts, most of all one’s enemies,
And to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul.

Be joyful, in all circumstances
Share goodness of life in all ways with all around us.

V. Now may the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard safe our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.