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.
Work hard.
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:


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.


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.


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.


The start is fitting.

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


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 … 


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


Whatever they are:

[fill in your choice, these were mine]


Bitter cold


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







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!


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.




Sings a song.

But as all songs of faith well composed and well sung

This is


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.


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.




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


Among Abrahams’ descendants


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


Whatever they are:


Bitter cold


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.







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
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.

2018.12Dec16 Advent.3 01-Notes to the Lessons

Notes to the Lessons


After warnings of God’s judgment, God’s displeasure with God’s people, Zephaniah finally at the end of the book gets around to, starts to present that God is actually merciful and will save them.

Judgment as Good News is a theme this week, a most challenging one.

The first section is in the 3rd voice; the prophet addresses the people. The second section is in the first person; God addresses the people; the prophetic voice of the prophet claiming to speak for God.

The first words are simple, “Sing aloud…” which may not be so powerful until one remembers that in captivity, it is not safe to sing aloud. For to sing praise to God who is seen as a threat to one’s captors is to invite personal destruction.

So here it starts: hear this: Sing, and sing aloud, for there is no captor, no foreign power, no occupier to hear. There is only those who fear and love the Lord, and the Lord God, who can hear. All is well.

All that Zephaniah has prophesized has come to be: God has judged Israel. But now that God takes away those judgements.

Everything is changed. Israel’s enemies are turned away, and Israel need not fear disaster anymore!

There’s a wonderful freedom in that. Anyone who has lived under the threat of a disaster can recount the horror, and the relief when it is done. We watched flood waters rise two meters a night, coming one meter from flooding our house we built with our own labour. The whole neighbourhood already flooded, but ours was by chance built higher up the side of the valley, just enough as it turns out.

If you’ve ever been under threat from another person who seems focused on ruining you with lies, who has already ruined your reputation, finances, family, ability to work, and still will not quit, you know what it is to live under the threat of disaster.

The promise is that God is in our midst whereas before God had deserted Israel. Both seem to be quite frightful. To have God desert us is not unlike Martin Luther, condemned by the Church court. No great sentence except excommunication. Seems like not much until you remember that meant he was not considered a full person. He was not protected by any laws. Anyone could treat him however, and there were no consequences, even if he were killed, it was not murder.

So being without God is to have one’s life under constant threat. And if you’ve ever been somewhere where that is the case, you know it’s a horrible experience. And then to have that threat end… the relief is palpable, visceral, and profound.

The promise that God is in our midst can also be similarly terrifying, for with good reason the traditions are that seeing God face to face is to die. The awesome presence of God in person is too much for a human to survive. And if that does not do you in, then the fact that God knows every single truth about you. You cannot hide, pretend, or fake it. Every thought, intention, excuse and secret are there on the open page of your life, for God to see and respond to. And there is not a single one of us that deserves anything short of condemnation from God.

But that is not the kind of God that we trust in, believe in or that Zephaniah presents to Israel. God is a God who gives victory, who rejoices over us, who renews God’s love for us, who will exult us (it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it; we exult God!) with loud singing. The whole universe hears God singing … with joy … about us!

Now that makes up for anything our enemies can do to us, anything we might suffer at their hands, any disaster that might befall us.

And the voice changes from the prophet talking about God, to the prophet presenting God speaking directly to us.

Disaster is gone, reproach too. Our oppressors are history. And then the lame and the outcast (those who suffer in society through no fault of their own) will receive God’s blessings: their shame is turned to praise and renown in all the earth!

For us the same renown on all the earth, our fortunes are restored before our eyes, and,

The best part,

God brings us home.

Maybe not such a big deal if you’ve always been able to go home. But if you’ve been exiled or made homeless, or cast out by misfortune or ill intent of an enemy, then to be able to come home … to have a home to come to, and to be brought there … this is a miracle of hope realized.

For it is at home, where one can recuperate, recover, rest, live and work, eat and play, and spend time with family.


Isaiah, stands in for the Psalm, as this portion of Isaiah is a song (a psalm) already.

Where does the author put their trust? In God, for in God is salvation, the water of life that can be drawn only from God’s well supplied well of salvation.

The response to God’s act of saving: to give thanks, make known God’s deeds, sing praises to God, shout and sing for joy.

Again, this is all because God is in our midst. A terrifyingly wonderful blessing.


Paul is over the top with the Philipians, giving thanks for them and encouraging them to:

Rejoice, and again rejoice.

Put everything in God’s hands with prayer

And instead of worrying, to make our requests known to God.

Here Paul gives the blessing that has grown a tradition of use all it’s own: God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds.

How God works peace we most often simply cannot begin to fathom. But God does.

With this peace God guards our hearts and minds … and that is all we can ask God for ever anyway.

John the Gospel

John proclaims the Good News to those who come out to be baptized. Well actually he exhorts them, and the writer John says that’s good news. We know the writer John is a different John because Herod has John the Baptist beheaded while Jesus is still alive, long before any of the Gospels were written, the Gospel according to John being the last one to be written.

The best dates we have for the Gospels being written are: Mark 66–70, Matthew and Luke 85–90, and John 90–110. Subtract 30-33 years for how many years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. So today’s Gospel was written roughly 60-80 years after John the Baptist and Jesus were killed.

There are two ways to start looking at this, well let’s call it a paradox. First look at the definition of Exhortation and see how that can be good or Good News. The second is to look at what the Gospel says John did, and ask how that is good or Good News.

The Oxford dictionary defines exhortation as “n[oun] address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.
‘exhortations to consumers to switch off electrical appliances’
mass noun ‘no amount of exhortation had any effect’

Problem A: works righteousness: repent and earn God’s favour, through baptism.

Problem A explained: there is no one who can repent, change oneself, enough to earn God’s favour. Exhortation is a false good news. It’s actually a trap, a diversion, a call to fully occupy oneself with an impossible task, in order to accomplish a goal. But the task cannot be accomplished, so it keeps one from reaching the goal. When, other tasks are possible, if extremely difficult, but can be accomplished, and the goal can be reached. Actually since the goal is to gain God’s favour it is moot goal. God promises us God’s favour. We cannot earn it, we do not need to earn it. Any attempt to do so is futile, and can consume life, all of life.

Problem B: what John says to the people coming out to be baptized is not really so benign as “emphatically urging someone to do something”. It is rather nasty things that John says about people from the get go: You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come! Repent! Don’t count on being a descendant of Abraham. God can create Abraham’s descendants from stones. But be warned, the axe is at the root, Your root, and any person that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.

Hot stuff, already the fires of damnation are leaping at our feet, as the axe is swung back to come slamming back down on the root of our existence, us poor sinners all!

And then flow the exhortations, or rather generalized accusations of malfeasance, which may have been earned or not.

What does he tell people?: All good stuff, share that second coat, as well as any food. Notice it is not spare food, it’s all food. Which should put one aware that a lot of people did not have ANY food. It was common. Which by the way is still the case today, if you had not noticed or had forgotten. The problem is not supply. There is enough food to feed everyone. The problem is distribution and hoarding and over consumption, says the guy with a fat belly.

Mailing your unwanted food off to someone hungry in Africa or China, of course, is not the solution. The need is also local and it is world wide.

So good for John in naming the problem; But how is that Good News?

And he goes on: tax collectors collect only what you are prescribed. And soldiers do not extort money with threats. So good: generally live honorably and stop the threats and graft and corruption.

But how is that Good News. Yes of course it’s good for the rest of us, but what about the tax collector and soldier who has been reduced from a well-paying job, to a job that barely puts food on the table?

Then comes the clarity, if it were not already crystal clear: John the Baptist is not the Messiah. Jesus is still coming, and he will baptize, not with water and calls for repentance, but with the Spirit [and assurances that God already favours us, so get on with responding by being and doing appropriately. – It’s not about earning God’s favour. It’s about responding to the blessed reality that is already there: so stop sacrificing other people in order to fake that you are good enough for God’s favour. You are not good enough, you can’t be good enough and you never will be. God’s favour is a free gift, so stop trying to earn it and get on with living it out, or living out of it, since it is a ‘home’ and a way of being.

Again: how is John’s insulting the people, as well deserved as it may have been, and telling them to repent and earn God’s favour … how is all this good or Good News?

Answers come to mind like: the Good News is like a two-edged sword, or word.

Or we really do need to stop sinning, and we do need to start taking care of each other and we do need to stop stealing life’s essentials from other people.

All this is true.

None of this is good. It may be calls to be good. But the act of calling someone to be good, at least the way John the Baptist does it, is not good. It may be a lot of evil fun: naming other’s sins and rubbing it in their faces. But it is not good. It may be necessary, but it is not good.

It is a distraction from the real Good News. And it may be, in the writing and in real life, the foil that sets Jesus up to bring Good News that is unlike any other news the people have heard.

Foil: so lets go with that.

And then, since we already have God’s favour, let’s get around to solving world hunger, and the mal-distribution of the necessities of life: air, water, food, clothing, shelter, meaningful labour and love.

Now if our churches were about that, then we would actually be living out of the Gospel as our home, our way of being.

Welcome home. Life just got a lot more difficult, because the hungry are coming to supper, and breakfast and lunch. And the homeless are moving in with us. And the despised sinners are coming to coffee and tea with us, after they have shared the cup and bread with us.

Welcome home, because this is home to Jesus, with the hungry, the poor and homeless – even the crazies, and with those people we despise and find their sins abhorrent.

And we thought the Good News was anything close to good news for us. Except living at home with the hungry, the homeless, the outcasts … that is home for Jesus, and it is the life that is blessed.

It is not comfortable.

But then the Gospel properly proclaimed and heard never is. It is revolutionary: it makes things revolve, not around what we want, but what God wants for God’s people, which are all people.

2 Advent Sermon Draft

As always I recommend reading the notes first, in the order they were posted for a Sunday.

The Answer is: God created us, Christ freed us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us … all so that we will be saints. On our own though we can do nothing good; we are always slaves to sin. Yet by the Holy Spirit working in us, we can be Christ’s hands, heart and presence in this world. Generally God does not disrupt the order of creation with obvious miracles; instead God uses the order of creation to bring us to be God’s miracles when and where and to whom God chooses.

That answer is to the real life exam question of this time of Advent: What must, can, and will we do? Like all the questions placed before us by the Gospel, God always gives us the answers first, then puts the questions to us. So I thought I best preach it that way, too.

The second answer that is needed even before the first is to the question ‘Who are we?’ We are God’s people, the people of the Covenant that God unilaterally made with us.

The citizens of the medieval-turned-modern city Coventry England can be truly proud of the 12th century Saint Michael’s Cathedral.

14 November 1940, Germany targeted Coventry’s factories, largely producing armaments and munitions, with a massive aerial bombardment. It was a clear and moonlit evening when the first of 400 bombers dropped its load. That night for 11 hours, 500 tons of bombs landed on Coventry. Collateral damage was extensive since the factories were close to the city center: Dead 554 people, Wounded 865, Four fifths of the city burned or destroyed. Of the gothic cathedral only a shell remained.

The next morning people gathered in the smoldering ruins of the Cathedral. Provost Howard, of the Cathedral, said: “It will be rebuilt to the glory of God.”

Jock Forbes, a stonemason, tied together two of the partially burned oak beams from the roof into the form of a cross, turning the smoking ruble into a Calvary. The Reverend A. P. Wale, a local priest, took three of the many medieval nails, which lay among the ruins, and bound them together into the form of another cross. These crosses are two of the most famous in modern Christendom.

They carried the clear message of forgiveness as the people chose not to hate and despise their enemy for the terrible destruction. Hatred and bitterness destroy life. They eat away at one’s soul. Instead the people ensured that their choice to forgive was understood by all.

Two months later Jock Forbes built a stone altar in the Sanctuary. His charred cross stood behind it, and the Cross of Nails sat on the altar. The words “Father Forgive” are inscribed on the wall behind the Altar.

The Allied forces similarly bombed Dresden in Germany. Coventry and Dresden chose each other to become sister cities after the war. (SERMONSHOP, Elizabeth Kugel Pastor, FUMC, reworked TL) They were Covenant people, together.

If ever there is a time for which the question is ‘What can and must we do?’ it is Advent. Of course the pressure to get ready for Christmas gifts, meals, travel, visits, parties, and holidays in general is great. But all that only displaces the real pressures of Advent. The lessons for today call us to prepare the way of the Lord and to behave so that we are pure and blameless on the Day of Christ’s return!

This is the ultimate to-do list. There are many tasks in life that are purely optional, like watching sports or playing cards or knitting sweaters. Yes, I am winking at all us die hard sports fans or card players. I just threw in the knitting, because it may not be optional at all.

Other tasks may seem optional but they really may not be so optional after all; like spending time with family and friends, or knitting.

Yet other tasks top out the important and urgent categories of life, like breathing, eating and exercising, and loving; maybe knitting if you need to stay warm through the winter. And praying, not just when our lives are threatened by the over-bold bus driver’s driving.

How then do we categorize Living as a Christian? Who gets to decide what it is anyway? Is it optional? After all we do get to choose, right! But is it even something we can do?

We are simultaneously saints and sinners. We can do nothing good or righteous on our own; we are always slaves to sin. But by Holy Spirit we can be Christ’s hands, heart, and presence. We can be Christ’s presence because God alone made a covenant with us. Our God is a God who gives the answers to the exams, then gives the exam, though it may not be as easy as it sounds.

When the Gospel cries out to us: Repent! Prepare! It requires a response from us. Then we can do the hard work of changing our hearts, minds and souls, again and again, from sinner behaviour to saint actions.

Being Christ’s hands, heart and presence requires of us everything we are, have, can muster, and more. It requires from us Courage, Kindness, Compassion, Forgiveness, Grace, and more just like Christ. We can only meet the challenges if we allow ourselves to be God’s miracles.

There once was a man who was wicked but he wanted to be good. So he went to a costume maker. The costume maker said, “Here, wear this.” It was a halo costume. The man thought it was foolish but put it on. The man saw a beggar and was about to turn away, but remembered he had a halo on, so he gave the beggar some money. Next he ran into his wife whom he usually abused, but he caught sight of himself in a mirror, and so he treated her well. So the man’s day continued. After he returned the costume that night, as he walked home the man glanced in window and saw that he still reflected a halo.

This may seem like Fake it until you make it. It’s also called Cognitive Counseling. For God it’s the other way around. God makes us saints. Then God calls us to be and do what we already are and can do, We ARE God’s miracles and blessings for others.

What kind of miracles can we be, besides being the people who choose to forgive instead of hate? We can hold a lonely, dying person. We can provide a meal that saves a life. We can provide shelter and homes to those who cannot afford or find or manage a home on their own. We can welcome the strangers, the sinners we find abhorrent, and give them a place to be heard, to worship, to be honoured as real people, sinners though they are, just like us. We can reach out across the city and across the world to share the necessities of life, which we have in abundance, with those who need desperately. We can work to bring governments to provide as we cannot: even in Canada we have not provided clean water to people in many communities, not just for years, but for decades!

We can be like Paul for each other; reaching out with holy words to guide, support and inspire each other to be the saints that God makes us to be.

As I read this list of examples, I know this is not only what we can do, it is what we, collectively, are doing; Because God makes us Covenant people the miracles that God’s people need.

The Real Life Exam Question for today, from the Gospel, is What are we to do this Advent?

The answer is God alone is righteous, gracious and forgiving. We are God’s children, and Covenant People. We are God’s miracles, God’s saints who are Christ’s hands, heart and presence of forgiveness, acceptance, and inspiration for all who need Christ this Advent season.

What are we to do? We do what God makes us to be.

Exam time is over, now comes the real test: Advent, week 2.


Comments are welcome at shm at prwebs ddot com

Advent 2 Notes

Advent Preparations

After days of manual Fabricating and creating
Out of ¼ inch metal, without a welder or a cutting torch, just a grinder and lots of cutting wheels, and a drill and bits and bolts and nuts
And old junk and new junk
Cut up to make something that may save my life
And certainly will help keep me safer this cold winter,
I came to the lessons for this Sunday
With an eye to working to accomplish a something that will be useful.
It is Good labour, labour with tangible results, fabricating, fixing, and building.
It is lifesaving, purposeful and rewarding.
And then
I wanted to see,
If there were tangible work prescribed for us in the Gospel, what results would it produce?
Is there something for us to accomplish?

First some general notes about the lessons.
Malachi is Hebrew meaning ‘messenger’. We do not know much more than that about the writer of Malachi. It is written for the post-exilic remnant, anticipating or returning or establishing themselves in a devastated homeland, familiar, but so changed. The writer tells the people that worship in the temple, with sacrifices and all will be re-established, and that will be how God is with them.

The Psalm is the beautifully familiar, if not well known, canticle from Luke, which is used in various liturgies, including Holden Evening Prayer, by Marty Haugen.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is, along with those to the Thessalonians, among his warmest and most joyful. While we are not completely surprised, either by the sinners we see in the other Pauline letters (and in our congregations) or by the saints we see in these affectionate and warm Pauline letters … still both extremes repeatedly do catch us off guard. Oh, yes, there are saints in our congregations, too. Perhaps we take them, too, for granted?

The Gospel from Luke anchors the time. There was no set calendar, so the way to declare a time most clearly was through the years of the various rulers and high priests. These references are also Luke’s way of saying that Jesus was a real human and there were real political tyrants, or rulers anyway, Roman and otherwise, and the high priests had positions. Jesus’ Gospel came into this real world, and addressed not just the physical and spiritual maladies, but also the political and religious maladies as well.
Remember Luke is the physician who places Jesus as the ‘healer of our every ill’.
Here Luke foretells, with John’s call to repentance, Jesus’ ministry also to the political and religious leaders of the day … and by extension also the political and religious leaders of the readers’ days.

And then the rest of the thoughts from the lessons.

The messenger comes to the people, a messenger of the Lord.
In the exile, people understood that God had deserted them. That idea persists here, and the ‘Good News’ is that the Lord will return to the temple.
The end result will be that the offerings at the temple by Judah and Israel will, like of old, be pleasing to the Lord.
That’s the measure of proper sacrificial religion practiced right, and in good order.
The other piece of proper religion is the people’s delight in the covenant made by God with Abraham. This is a conflation of the covenants God made with Abraham into one covenant, but since Abraham is likely a conflation of multiple actual people into one forefather, the bearer of faith, why not conflate the covenants into just one.
These covenants with Abraham, unlike almost all others, were created unilaterally by God. Abraham did not have to agree, did not have to preform, and did not have to earn the benefits of the covenant. Some would say that Abraham did, but after the fact. We say with Paul, that it was reckoned to Abraham because of his faith, which faith was a gift from God. All of it then is a gift from God, and the covenant is God’s promise of offspring as many as the stars, and land. Which were for that place and time what made up security, along with lots of cattle.
One does then need to mention wives as well, the means to having offspring. But Abraham had Sarah, and Hagar her handmaid, whom Sarah gives to Abraham.
While the arguments abound, anyway you look at it Sarah was a handful, as was Abraham. Whether they honoured each other and to what degree seems to be based more on the experience of the observer, than the historical record, if that is to be trusted much either.
Let it just be said clearly: regardless of what our forbearers of faith may have been or done, we are to love the Lord, and that includes loving each other, and that means EVERY one, even our enemies. Loving means to fully honour every human as full humans, as full children of God, as simultaneously full (self-made) sinners and full (God-made) saints. Which is not ever going to be a simple matter to be accomplished by following a checklist or a set of rules. Loving and honouring is a work of art, with a lot of science thrown in, and then prayer … constantly. If in question, at least be kind.

It’s like finding a spouse: everything else can be accommodated, but find someone kind. (Tip of the hat to the writers of ‘About Time’, the movie, from the character of Tim’s father in his second best man’s toast. Being able to redo most weddings ought to be a requirement of getting married, except no one would get married … oh let’s see, hardly anyone is anymore anyway. – The movie About Time is one of a handful that I return to every once in a while. It’s one of those few movies that is worth most any effort spent to find it and watch it, and then return to view it. – so get your hands on it, watch it, and delight in it. It’s not a covenant, but easier to delight in for all that.)

The covenant, then and now, is God’s work, a promise, a contract signed by only the divine side. Count on it, and trust in it, and even delight in it. One has to ask: did the writer really think the people delighted in the covenant or did the writer just wish it were so?
As for the coming of the Lord, prepared for by the messenger, it is not unlike all anticipations of seeing the Lord, it is life-changing. The Lord will purify the people with the course fuller’s soap and with the intense fire of the smelter. Or the Lord will purify at least the priests, the sons of Levi, so that the temple is run in good order and the sacrifices are pleasing to the Lord.

Which begs the question: is there a work to be done there? Or do the people simply wait and let it happen to the sons of Levi?
Is it an accident that the Lord purifies like fire purifying silver and gold? Is that a suggestion that the people bring the priests their gold and silver?
Must we bring offerings in order to please God and therefore get from God what we want or need?
(Foreshadow or back-shadow: DOCH NEIN, no!!)

From these and other obligations God has come to set us free. Or is it a different freedom that Luke writes about.
The Canticle of Luke’s says God frees us from our enemies, and all who hate us, which is a large enough pool of people. But does it also include those who pretend to be our friends and who then manipulate us out of our gold and silver in the name of religion? Martin Luther thought so.
Luther thought maybe not that Luke wrote so, but that God did so set us free.
Interesting that Luke names the covenant with Abraham as God’s promise to set us free from our enemies. Set me right if need be, but I don’t remember Abraham’s covenant as being more than children and land, but then conflation, so let’s add in another covenant of God’s and call it Abraham’s as well.
Even so, if you have land, then enemies can and will try to take it from you. So if you get to keep it, then I suppose God could corollary-wise have promised freedom from one’s enemies.
It is something to be able to worship without fear, and to be holy and righteous one’s whole life. But only God is righteous. God makes us saints, but we remain simultaneously sinners. As God-made saints we are holy, set aside to be a blessing to others, but never perfect or righteous, perhaps just self-righteous.
The interesting part is worship and fear. God’s covenant is expanded, as good Jewish law went, to include freedom to worship, and to worship free from fear.
Except, all worship of God begins with fear of God. Martin Luther explained the ten commandments well, beginning each explanation with ‘we are to fear and love God so that …’. The question is not whether to fear God, it is to fear God for what.
That God is a revengeful angry judge?
Well if you approach God that way, you may experience God that way.
Of course the favorite through history is to threaten everyone else with that fear of God and to reserve the gentle, compassionate God of mercy for oneself.
Now if we (historically speaking we)… if we properly feared God, and knew God as merciful and abounding in steadfast love, then we would reserve the judging God for ourselves, with grand doses of mercy and love and compassion and forgiveness … And we would tell others only of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
But then people with no fear of God, expecting only mercy and forgiveness, take that as freedom to do whatever they wish, and they end up wreaking havoc and chaos on the people around them. Are we still obliged to share that God is merciful for all. Is not the more complete picture of God needed for everyone, us included? God is a judge to be feared, for there are no excuses or lies or side paths or injustice as escapes: what we do and who we are is an open record for God. But our God is also a God of infinite love and mercy, forgiveness and new life.
If there is a work to be done, something to accomplish then it’s that. We can and ought to provide to each other a reverence for God, a fear, along with mercy, forgiveness and new life. Once we know God to be that way for ourselves, how can we not make it so for others in all we are and do?
That is to be holy, and only somewhat righteous … as far, and only as, God makes us holy and righteous. In other words, this is our work, the saints’ work; but we are only able to do it because God makes us saints.
But to worship without fear, and that fear being fear of others killing us if we worship our God to be feared, our God of love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, now that is a gift, and a thing to be coveted all one’s life.
Luke knew, as many did, and have since, that Jesus, the babe Joshua the saviour, was the infant child who would bring all this to be also for us (of each generation and place and people, us.)
And Luke reports that Jesus’ cousin, John, would come to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry by calling people to repent, to be forgiven; and through forgiveness to see God’s promises of salvation already happened and happening and yet to happen for them as well.

And then the image that steals every nature photographer’s heart, and many other hearts as well: In God’s tender compassion, the dawn from on high breaks in on us.
Now the sunrise many mornings is nothing short of a specular* event. But what is spectacularly special is that this light, this son-rise, this new dawn of all time, shines light (through the cracks –thank you L. Cohen) to all those who dwell in darkness, in the shadow of death.


The light shining on the snow.

Those in this time who dwell in darkness, in the shadow of death are great in number.
The darkness of being without the necessities of life, a unfathomable reality for a good third to half of those alive at any time is indeed a great darkness.
It is dark because the necessities exist in plenty, but we do not share them, not justly or lovingly, or mercifully, nor even kindly.
And the darkness of having the necessities while so many lack them … that is a mean kind of darkness, the kind that wears a pretty face and is cruel, or worse, apathetic to other’s darkness, as if ignoring other’s desperate needs makes the needs go away, and that oneself is somehow excused from the needs of life, the need to live well in the shadow of death. For death claims all of us. No human gets out of life alive. The fatality rate is 100% for all life on earth, also for humans. And all we can do in the face of death is to live lovingly, justly, mercifully and at least kindly, to ourselves and to others.
Pushing others to a premature death, does not somehow help us escape death. It may prolong our days, but at the cost of others’ lives … if we do that the darkness of death, their death, is eternally stained on us, on our very being.
However we deal with the shortness, cruelness, and plain old hardness of life, the light that Christ shines on us guides us to the ways of peace, for our own hearts, for our own families, for our own people, and for all other humans, now alive and yet to live.
It’s a path we create, like flagstones in sand, that we walk often if we are blessed.

Paul’s special joy for the Philippians:
Paul had started a number of congregations. He actually seems to have fond memories of a few of them. I’ve seen a few congregations in my day, started none, and I have a few fond memories. The rest … like Paul I can say they did not disappoint in making obvious the Grace of Christ … as needed for all of us sinners.
So Paul is joyed to write to the Philippians who have been with him through it all, the exuberant start-ups, the angry reactions, the imprisonment, the continued effort to proclaim the Gospel. Paul gives his all, and more than once dodges the crowd’s anger, and more than once lands in prison, and more than once gets out, and more than once impresses his guards, even converting a few, whose life he saves by not running when he is able, and terrifying a few who learn he is a Roman citizen. Roman citizens were not to be dealt with unjustly without cause … or there were repercussions.
I don’t have the Greek available to me now, but I’m pretty sure (can anyone verify) that the reference to the one who started them on their way will bring them to completion, is none other than Paul himself.
A little self-congratulations taken, explained, and probably well-earned.
And then to the point of my initial question: Is there something we should be accomplishing, because Paul prays that the Philippians can accomplish it: that they will be ‘be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness’….
I guess I should be a follower of Paul and not a descendant of sorts of Martin Luther. I could shoot for ‘pure and blameless’. And that as a product of the harvest of righteousness. So I attain righteousness first, then comes the harvest, then I am pure and blameless. Easy to write out those steps to perfection before Christ.
Except I believe, and experience tells me it’s blessedly right, that every one of us God-made saints, is also still simultaneously a wretched self-made sinner. That sinner part is inescapable, no matter what I try, you try, we try or they try. We are bound to sin, not just likely to sin, but tied and fettered to being sinners who do sin … and cause ourselves and others no end of grief and woe.
Now to be fair to Paul, even though he probably deserves all the above quite fairly since he did theology pretty much ad hoc (which is his gift to us), he does say that our righteousness, which becomes our being ‘pure and blameless’ is not self-made, nor is it for one’s own glory. That righteousness ‘comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God’. So it all starts and depends on God working in us. But Paul still does push his congregations and us his readers, to exert ourselves to being what Christ makes us able to be. I guess we could call it, fulfilling the God-made saint in us, even as the sinner lives on, strong and healthy.
The other obvious point is not in the words, but the situation. Paul continues to care for the congregations he starts. He continues to write to then and encourage them to be all they can be.
We all need a Paul in our lives, staying in touch with us, no matter the place, time or circumstances, who pushes us to be God-made saints with the greatest of integrity that we can muster.
And we can and need to be that ‘Paul’ for others. There is no one who becomes and remains a Christian without participating in community, at least through time. Encouragement is crucial. Reminders are crucial. Putting in some effort is crucial, otherwise the Good News of Jesus our saviour becomes banal. The Gospel is life changing because we take it to heart and choose to change, day after day, to change again to be who Christ guides us to be, and who God makes us able to be: saints. That we can is a miracle, that we do is awfully impressive. Impressive that God would do that much for us in us.
So perhaps we should all shoot for pure and blameless.
Forgiveness may be required, but what else would God want from us, but to accept forgiveness, the free gift from God that gives us life, and breath and real freedom.

Luke’s Gospel:
Filling the valleys, leveling the mountains, making the crooked straight, and the rough smooth. Anchored in history, Jesus addressing even earthly power, in all its forms. Again, made visible through the forgiveness of sins, experienced in baptism, a baptism of repentance, of the 180°, a dance step, an unusual one of switching partners, from devil that makes you do it (evil), to God who makes you able to do it (blessing others).
Returning to the Gospel after days of creating and fabricating from metal, for one’s own life sake and safety: does the Gospel require of us that we accomplish something, or are we just supposed to be able to sleep soundly at night*?
Luke anchors the story of John in the wilderness in the political and religious reality of the day. John points to Jesus, and Luke points to the two, and wants us not to forget that all that Jesus does also has political and religious impact. Jesus is not just a religious or spiritual event. Everything changes, not with God, but with what we know clearly about God: God does not want us to sacrifice each other anymore. The difference is also about all kinds of power.

From where the Word lands, it starts rustic and simple: the Word of the Lord comes to John in the wilderness.
People have been seeking out the wilderness for healing and health and perspective from the beginning of time. John does, too. There the Word lands right on him.

John picks up with everything symbolic and meaningful. He goes to the Jordan. This is the river that Moses did not cross, which Joshua did with the people who had been in the wilderness for 40 years, after God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
John has a more profound freedom that he proclaims: this is not just freedom from slavery. This is freedom of the ultimate kind.
It starts with the forgiveness of sins, our sins. John offers people the path to forgiveness: a baptism of repentance … in the waters of the Jordan River. Repentance is that 180° turn from dancing with the devil, to dancing gracefully with God.
Now there is something for people to do, something people can do and ought to do.
In anticipation of Jesus’ ministry, coming out into the public, John calls to the people to prepare the way for the Lord. Repent!
Make his paths straight, fill in the valleys, make the mountains and hills low, make straight the crooked, and make smooth the rough ways.
But no ordinary person can do any of that.
No extraordinary person can do any of that, either. Geography is geography.
With so many developments in technology today we can literally move mountains. Or at least dig dry ponds eight blocks big, and sink a park down to the bottom of it. Or mine from the surface down hundreds of feet, take what we want and either leave it a mess or fill it all in so nice it hardly looks like we touched the surface. But that’s with machines, and the technology of today. Back then it would have taken centuries of slave labour to accomplish the leveling, preparing and smoothing.
Obviously Luke is not talking literally, but figuratively.
Still is that something that they and we can do?
Can we prepare the way for the Lord?
For the Lord, can we fill in the valleys, level mountains, straighten the paths, and make smooth the rough ways?
Can we repent and change dance partners, switching from the sinner’s dance to the saint’s dance?
I suppose there is something to that.
Imagining it may be something we can do, but it’s like being a saint: it is possible only in our imagination. We are still stuck being sinners, dancing with the devil. God can make us saints. We … not so much. Actually we … not at all.
So why the call to repentance by John in preparation for Jesus?
Maybe it is all appearances? Jesus’ story needs someone to prepare the people like they have not been ever before? … Not so much.

The end result is fabulous. It is the ultimate change: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
I suppose there may be a caveat: that some see it but do not receive it?
Not going with that either.
The promise of God is that all will see the salvation of God.
And we do.
We may still be dancing with the devil, but God is dancing with us, a graceful, beautiful dance.
There is not much we can do one way or another on that, except keep dancing.

How do we respond knowing that God is dancing with us, always?
Do we know what it is to see salvation?
It will change one’s heart, mind and soul.
We just might end up kind.
Or we might be the one who tells the truth, even when it costs us.
Or we might dance more assuredly through each challenge, knowing that no matter what, the Lord has come, the dance is graceful and beautiful, and all is well with us and with the world.

Whatever the challenge, the mountain, the valley, the crooked way, or the rough spot of our lives, even when we do not prepare the way for the Lord, the Lord finds us as we are, where we are, and declares us acceptable to God. The Dance goes on.

Is there something we can do, ought to do, must do?
There is nothing we can do to be acceptable to God. We never can deserve that.
Yet God gives us that freely.

Then we can dance, and breathe, and there is a freedom in not having to prove ourselves to God, or to ourselves. That’s worth everything.

When it comes to doing, is it best to work on metal and wood and have a doable goal?
When it comes to salvation; we need a miracle. We need God to make us saints. And that is the goal of all goals.
Life is less like a box of chocolates, and more like a dance – a wild and slow, energetic and lethargic, a sickening repetitive and an engaging, enthralling dance.

In God’s tender compassion, the dawn from on high breaks in on us

What are we to do this Advent? What preparations are we to engage in and accomplish?

We are to respond to God’s work in all creation, especially God’s work of making us saints, with thanksgiving. And we are to then be the blessing we can be, for others!

Which means to be kind, and to be loving, gracious, forgiving, and reflectors of the spectacular light of Christ that is visible to us most because of our own sins.

It is not so much a task list as an art, with everything including science and prayer thrown in, especially prayer.

It is the art of being Christ’s hands, feet, words, and grace for others, as we dance gracefully toward Christmas and all the challenges of life that are to come.


No that is not a miss-spelling, look it up if you’re not familiar with it. It is the light that makes photos more than pictures.

* To be able to sleep soundly:
A farmer, poor, needs a hired hand. They are hard to come by, and good ones even more rare. He interviews the one fellow who comes to town, asking him what his qualifications are. The answer is simple if not much help: I can sleep soundly at night.
With no other options the farmer hires the hand. A month or so later a terrible storm kicks up. The farmer runs outside, crying for the hired man to get up and help him secure everything so it is not ruined in the storm: the loose gate, the shingles missing on the roof, the fence post bearing weight from a fallen tree, the watering trough that’s teetering on uneven ground; the list is endless.
The hired hand cannot be woken up. So the farmer runs outside to start saving what he can by himself. But each place he looks, everything is already fixed and secured, storm-readied.
He goes back to bed, thanking God. For now he understands the hired hand’s qualification is everything.