Category: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany

It’s All Your Fault!

There are at least two reasons to like the Nashville Predators hockey team. First, the yellow uniforms. Obviously. You have to admire a team that cares so little about the intimidation factor that they’re willing to skate out in mustard yellow. Second, the Preds fans have (had?) this delightful tradition that follows each of the home team’s goals. They begin by serenading the opponent’s goaltender, chanting his last name in a kind of whiny, mocking voice, and punctuating the ridicule by screaming, “It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault, it’s all your fault!!” It’s great fun—at least if you’re on the right end of the score. I watched a bit of a Predators game last night before heading out to my own beer league hockey game where, as it happens, half of the goals our team gave up were, well, all my fault. Luckily there aren’t many fans at beer league hockey games and the few who do show up can’t be bothered to summon the requisite energy for mockery.
The season of Advent offers up an annual set of stark contradictions, at least in the West, and at least for those who go to church. On the one hand, we are surrounded by all kinds of Christmas-y kitsch and market-driven feel-good-ishness. There are lights and shopping and specialty coffees and all manner of other things designed to get us into the spirit of the season (and to loosen our grips on our wallets). On the other hand, for those who darken the door of a church during the first few Sundays of Advent, there are scripture readings that bring us face to face with wild prophets and ominous scenes of judgment and woe. There is talk of refining fires and an axe ready to fell an unfruitful tree and people shaking with foreboding for what will come on the earth when Son of Man comes in glory. There are also messages of comfort and hope, to be sure. But the season Advent thrusts us headlong into a narrative of judgment which isn’t always pleasant and certainly isn’t marketable.
The prophets are kind of a frustrating bunch. On the one hand, they offer some of Scripture’s most beautiful words of hope. They speak of the Righteous Branch who will usher in justice and righteousness. They promise a restoration of fortunes and point to the One who will gather up his people and rejoice over them with gladness. The herald a coming day when human beings will draw water from the wells of salvation with joy. They proclaim the Advent of the Prince of Peace who comes to meet the hopes and fears of all the years. They very often speak these words to people who are suffering in exile, far from home, seemingly abandoned by God, and without hope. And yet on the other hand, the prophets speak harsh language of condemnation and blame. They rant and they rave, wild-eyed, to anyone who will listen, screaming, in a sense, It’s all your fault! Your sins have caused or will cause your suffering. God is punishing you! You should know better! It’s all your fault!
There could scarcely be a less welcome message in our cultural context. This is surely victim-blaming of the very highest and most reprehensible order. This is kicking people while they are down. This is piling guilt and shame upon suffering. This is crushing the vulnerable and the weak with the intolerable burden of divine punishment as the “explanation” for their plight.  Who can tolerate such a message? Can you imagine the psychological and sociological damage that such a narrative would inflict upon a people? This is surely nothing less than unnecessarily traumatizing an already traumatized community.
It wasn’t an appealing approach for its first hearers either. The prophets were not a particularly esteemed lot. They were ridiculed and ignored, at best. At worst, they were nailed to a cross. Nobody much likes being told that it’s all their fault and we will go to great lengths to silence voices that tell us it is. And yet, the people of Israel (and, later, the church) have insisted upon preserving these words in their Scriptures. They have, retroactively at the very least, insisted upon interpreting their suffering theologically. There are socio-political explanations for why people find themselves in exile (literal or metaphorical), of course. The people of Israel knew this and we know it, too. It’s far easier to explain the Assyrians and Babylonians as the temporary fillers of a political power vacuum than as God’s chosen instrument of moral reproach for his people. But Israel and the church have scandalously insisted upon the latter approach. The judgment of God has been deemed preferable to the absence of God. It’s all your fault! has been deemed preferable to There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this.
As it happens, I’m not particularly into blaming and shaming as a pedagogical strategy.  I don’t like the image of God it implies. The prophets make me uncomfortable with all of their annoying bleating about sin and judgment and injustice and idolatry and God knows what else. I much prefer their words of hope and consolation to the rest of it. The prophets offend me, at times. And this is probably as it should be. I need the prophets. We all do, whether we realize it or not. We, who will blame almost anyone but ourselves for our trials need to be forced to entertain the possibility that some things might actually be our fault. We for whom judgment is deemed offensive—perhaps the last remaining sin—need to hear voices of a coming reckoning and refining.
The prophets hold before us a God and a coming that isn’t what we would prefer but is absolutely what we need. A God of mind- and faith-stretching paradoxes. A God who speaks both judgment and hope. A God who inflicts both a wound and a healing. A God who binds in order to set free. A God who says, “Who will comfort you at the wrath and rebuke of your God?” and “See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering.” A God who both lays the blame and takes the blame.
——
The image above was created by Patrick Foster and taken from this year’s Christian Seasons Calendar. It is a wild-eyed prophet named John the Baptist who saw something beautiful and ominious coming and offended plenty of people in preparing the way. 

 

Syndicated from Rumblings

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Look Up

The season of Advent approaches and with it the ever-present temptation to dwell in the saccharine, the safe, the sanitized—harmless images of God’s coming that trouble us far less than they ought to. I feel this temptation every year. It’s easy to prepare for the coming of a harmless child that is with us but demands little of us. It was and is all too easy for earth receive her king poorly.
To guard against these temptations, I conscript Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be my Advent companion each year. His little book of Advent devotionals called God is in the Manger is a welcome antidote to all of the ways that I might reduce Advent to less than it ought to be. This reflection is called, “Look Up, Your Redemption is Drawing Near”:

Let’s not deceive ourselves. “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28), whether we know it or not, and the only question is: Are we going to let it come to us too, or are we going to resist it? Are we going to join this movement that comes down from heaven to earth, or are we going to close ourselves off? Christmas is coming—whether it is with us or without us depends on each and every one of us.
Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and… who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who are burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Some Timely Links

For this week: I love this week’s Lectionary readings from 1 Samuel and wanted to share links to a couple of things I’ve written about Hannah: Some thoughts on Hannah’s prayer: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (with a link to a full sermon) Reflections on Hannah’s song: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 I’m less fond of  this week’s Gospel…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Slow (adjective)

Slow (adjective) : moving or operating, or designed to do so, only at a low speed; not quick or fast. synonyms: unhurried, leisurely, steady, sedate, poky, sluggish

Every year, January 1st brings a wave of declarations and intentions splashing across my facebook page.  I've hardly started purging the house of Christmas clutter and somehow it seems everyone else has already shaken off the dust of the old year and moved headlong into the new.  

In the face of it, I find myself feeling out of pace.  Here I am spinning my wheels while the rest of the world races ahead.  

Pining my slowness earlier this week, I thought of my paternal Grandma.  She never did anything fast, as far as I can remember.  She ate slow, walked slow, talked slow.  She buttered bread slow and somehow managed to make large dinners that were ready right-on-time while working at a snail's pace.  

Recalling her slow ways, I remembered the comfort she gave even in the midst of (or perhaps because of) her predictable slowness.  I remember her lamenting once, during a visit to an Amish farm in Lancaster PA, how she missed the slowness of the old days, how everything was so hurried now, she felt she couldn't keep up.

Remembering my Grandma's slowness, I felt less alone, more able to accept my own, often poky, pace. 

//

Slow isn't sexy.  A poky puppy is cute, but doesn't hold our attention span for long when the rest of the world is racing by.  And, though we offer lip-service to the value of 'slowing down' or embracing an 'unhurried' life, we're quick to defend our productivity lest we somehow be deemed lazy or, worse, slow.  

I guess it's one thing to choose slow.  Another to be slow, by nature.  

//

This morning, while pushing myself to get ahead and make up for my slow, I remembered a conversation my husband had with my mother-in-law when he first told her we were dating.  

His mom asked, among other things, "If she fast?  Can she get things done?" 

It's was a funny question to ask, because my husband lives on the slow side of things as well.  Maybe she thought he needed someone to kick-up the pace and keep things moving along?  

Whatever she had in mind, it was not to be.  My husband answered immediately and with certainty, "No, I've never seen her do anything fast."

Remembering his reply, I smiled, and felt another layer of self-imposed judgement about the pace at which I live, slide off, like an ill-fitting skin.  

//

I think there are a lot of people who miss slow, but most of us feel we can't really afford it.  Here, I guess, is where the slow people (like me) have something to offer.  Hitching along at our leisurely pace we seem to stand out as a symbol that slow is not lost and, what's more, slow is sustainable.  Slow may even be the only sustainable speed in a world committed to fast without pause.  

What struck me most in the online definition of slow quoted above, is the phrase "designed to do so."  Maybe that's what I am - designed to move slowly, to offer steady in a world off-kilter.  I like the way that phrase hints at the intentionality of making something (or someone) slow.  Almost like slow itself has a purpose or is a gift.  

Who needs the gift of your slow today?  What practices help you live more in tune with your own natural pace?   

Syndicated from This Contemplative Life

Epiphany of the Lord: Gospel Passage & Old Testament Passage – The identity and might of the Lord God Jesus Christ

Today is the Epiphany of the Lord, the day when the evidence of Jesus as the Son of God is considered and pondered. Sometimes this day points to God identifying Jesus at his baptism. And within this same week the lectionary scripture passages take up the theme of Jesus’ baptism. But for today our focus and setting is when the Wise Men come to see the baby Jesus. Ad if it seems slightly out of step from the other passages, that is because the RCL separates out this day from whatever other passages might be used.

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

And the Old Testament passage continues this theme with passage from Isaiah.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

Scripture, and the intersection of scripture passages, make it abundantly clear that Jesus was always ordained to be the Son of God. From infancy on that fact is made apparent over and over again. In the temple when he was presented, and again when he is a young boy staying in the temple for several days talking with the temple leaders. And if we let that be our focus, it might be hard to allow ourselves to think about Jesus as being human like one of us. All this week we have been seeing Jesus as holy and divine, and the Son of God the mighty Creator. But that is Jesus seen through the lens of the Divine. I am hoping that there will be other scripture passages in the coming weeks that allow us to feel humanity of Jesus. Someone we can come to when the road we are is tough, and our strength is giving out. Because that is an important aspect of Jesus also. Shalom.

Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year B 2018 Tagged: Character of Jesus Christ, Christian Journey, Christian Life, Discipleship, Discipline in the Church, Epiphany of the Lord, Gospel Passage, Nature of Jesus Christ, Old Testament Passage, Revised Common Lectionary
Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

My Year of Creating and a Free Gift For You

As my one word for 2017, “Create” turned out to be an apt summary for my year. As I sought to be open to what God might create in me, that led to new blog articles, new ways of doing ministry, new connections both on-line and in real life, and the creation of a new … Continue reading My Year of Creating and a Free Gift For You
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

A Pastor’s 12 Days of Christmas

We are in the midst of the 12 days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas day and end with Epiphany (January 6). Here is a new version of the famous song for all of my clergy colleagues trying to get a little rest and then lead God’s people into a new year. (Fortunately, this is…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Nothing to Hide

Some people choose a word to guide them into a new year. A word to orient them, to remind them, to challenge and convict them. I’ve done this before with varying degrees of success. This year, however, I’m choosing a story. It’s a story I’ve written about often on this blog, but one that I never tire of reading and re-reading and writing about and discovering new ways to situate myself within. It’s a story that, like all the best stories, tells the truth in different ways and from multiple vantage points. It’s a story that keeps on teaching and inviting and rebuking and restoring. It’s a story that has kept me busy for a few decades at least, so it’s probably up to the task of another year.
I am speaking of the story told in John 8:2-11. We know it well, right? A woman has been caught in adultery. Or, perhas we ought to say, “a woman who has been isolated in her adultery.” It takes two to tango, as the saying goes, but women have always been easier and more convienient to name and shame. At any rate, the law requires that she be stoned and there’s a parade of very religious men eager to get on with doing “what the bible says.” Yet when Jesus is asked to validate all of this zealous judgment (or, probably more accurately, when they attempt to trap him), he famously replies, “Whoever is without sin can cast the first stone.” This sends the very religious men home feeling rather grumpy and not nearly as righteous as they had hoped. And then Jesus says to the woman, “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I. Go, leave your life of sin.”
It’s quite a story. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many times I read it. Which is a good thing, because I need this story in countless ways.
I need it because I am far too prone to wag my finger at sinners, even if in the privacy of my own mind. I so easily default to “The law says we should…” I too naturally look askance at those whose sin is sensational and obvious and happily unlike my own. I am rather more hungry for judgment and, by extension, personal vindication (for I am not nearly so bad as that, right?) than I would like to admit. I need this story because it lines me up with all the other self-righteous religious hypocrites with stones in their hands and judgment at the ready. This is who I am.
I need it because I am not nearly so righteous as I imagine myself to be or as I project to the world out there. I may not be dragged before the tribunals of religious men in the way that this woman was, but there is certainly no less darkness in me than in her. If anything, there’s more. That my sins are not paraded out in front of others for public consumption and greedy titillation does not make them any less toxic or corrosive or, well, sinful. I, like her, am caught in the act, if not by others than certainly by the God who made me. I am an expert at hiding my sin from others and even from myself. But I cannot hide from the one true Judge.
I need it because like every other human being who calls themself a “Christian,” I am called to walk the world like Jesus. And if Jesus—the only one who legitimately could have done so—refused to condemn this “sinner,” how much more should I be prepared to hold my tongue and release my stones? I need to constantly be reminded of how God himself dealt with sinners like her to see how God deals with sinners like me and to remember how I’m supposed to deal with all the other sinners that cross my path.
I need this story because no matter how scary it might initially seem, there is no better place to be than alone and face to face with Jesus, seeing and being seen, knowing and being known, nothing to hide, rid of all pretense, defensese lowered, hands open, at the mercy of God.
Yes, this is a very good story for a new year. Because while 2018 will undoubtedly contain some surprises, there are a few ways in which I know that I will not be surprised. I will sin against others in 2018. And I will be sinned against (even if probably less than I imagine). I will never stop needing to give and to receive these words: “I do not condemn you. Now go and leave that which is destroying you.” This story tells truths that I will never stop needing.
I am strongly inclined to think that the world, on the whole, could do with less condemnation and more mercy in 2018. But even if I am wrong about that (I am perhaps a poor judge of what something as big as “the world” might need), I know that I need to go and learn what Jesus meant when he said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

Syndicated from Rumblings

Magnificat

  Hillary Kobernick writes and pastors at a Mennonite congregation outside Chicago; in her spare time, she does competitive slam poetry and manages a contemporary theology blog at gatheringthestones.com. And, as you prepare for Christmas, here is a simple family worship service for Christmas morning. Christmas Morning Worship Scripture: from Isaiah 9 “The people who walked…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Season of Advent – Third Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – What is Coming (it is good stuff, so we need not worry)

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4)

Beloved reader, you may recognized the first few verses of this passage as what Jesus read from the scroll while in was in the synagogue in Nazareth. In some of the gospels, the people in his home town got a bit upset that he was (according to them) elevating himself to highly. But in fact he was very accurately describing his mission on earth.

Now it is interesting to consider and remember that Jesus says that at that moment those words have been fulfilled – at that moment. Not, I would tell biblical commentaries, as the time the writer of Isaiah wrote/spoke them. Some verses later the passage goes on . . .

“For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.” (Verses 8 – 9)

This is NOT about Jesus but about what the Lord God will do. Yes, the Lord God sent Jesus and in Jesus this was fulfilled . . . during Jesus’ lifetime! So, I ask, what are we doing with passage at Advent? We are, beloved reader, wrapping the birth of Jesus in the larger package of Jesus’ lifetime. What was known then, when this was spoken forth to the called and chosen people of God, was that the Lord God would do something! And that something would mark the called and chosen people of God as examples to the rest of the world. So, if this passage is taken and applied to Jesus, then it also needs to be used for us. We NEED to be examples to the nations, so that the Lord who has blessed us will be acknowledged. We need to say . . .

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Verses 10 – 11)

The whole point of prophesying and foretelling is to know what is coming and how to prepare for it – main tasks of Advent. But also important tasks for all of our lives, every season of our life. Evangelists warn (in both loud voices and quiet pleading tones) us that the end of this world is coming, and we need to prepare. However, as I think about it, this passage from Isaiah tells us what is coming so we can be prepared, but it is an assurance that our needs will be undertaken and met. That is the promise of Advent – that our needs will be met by what is coming.

As you, beloved reader, watch the days count down to Christmas, may you receive the assurance that your deepest needs will be fulfilled. Selah!

 

Filed under: Advent 2017 Tagged: Advent, Character of Jesus Christ, Christian Journey, Christian Life, Faith Life, God's Reign, Old Testament Passage, Revised Common Lectionary, Spirituality
Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Psalm 126: A Harvest of Joy

Andrea Zuercher lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and attends Peace Mennonite Church. In a previous life she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., where she pursued professional choral singing as an avocation. A copy editor by professionand inclination, she now enjoys the slower pace of living in a smaller city. She spends her free time reading,…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Season of Advent – Third Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Welcoming the good stuff

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18)

It is odd to think that the typical early Christian did not pay much heed to Jesus’ birth. For them that was not the important thing. The celebrating of Jesus’ birth came a few centuries after the establishing of the early church. They knew Jesus was born, and it was an unusual birth. But there was not a date or time of the year set down when Jesus’ birth was made note of; that came later. It was the impact of Jesus’ life that drew believers in. So, if we are looking to the epistle to find Advent advice. We will not find it.

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (Verses 19 – 22)

Paul is very good at letting his readers know what should be done to follow Jesus, honor the Lord God, and live a Christian life according to the Holy Spirit. We can, however, take his advice and try to apply it to living out Advent.

“Rejoice always” – it is easy to rejoice in Advent
“Pray without ceasing” – again, there are prayers and meditative prayers suited to Advent
“Give thanks in all circumstances” – whether your Advent and Christmas season is spent decking many halls or, as in my case, decking a small space, give thanks for what you and for the season. It is the will of God and of Christ that you give thanks.

Lastly, I join Paul in praying . . .

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” (Verses 23 – 24)

Selah!

Filed under: Advent 2017 Tagged: Advent, Discipleship, Discipline in the Church, Epistles Passage, Paul, Revised Common Lectionary
Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Christmas Lists

This reflection on I Thessalonians 5:16-24 was written by Samuel Voth Schrag and originally published on December 17, 2014. Samuel lives in Arlington, Texas, with his wife Rachel and children Jonah and Hannah. He served as pastor of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship from 2007-2017. Christmas is a season of lists- Santa has a list…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

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