Thursday, December 26, 2013

e-vo for week of Christmas Day

Dearest e-votees-

Merry Christmas!

The world has been leaning into this season, in some form, since prior to Halloween. Now that the presents have come and gone some in the world are leaning into the next big thing--New Year's Eve? Super Bowl? Groundhog's Day? etc., etc.

The truth is that we in the church linger in the good news of Christmas--the light shining into the darkness. And next we move into Epiphany (starting January 6th) where we pay particular attention to what this heavenly light reveals into our broody and shadowy world.

May your time with family and friends, food and drink, song and good cheer continue to be blessed. And may God bathe you in the light that we so desperately need.



1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14, NRSV

The thing about darkness is that we like it. We can hide in darkness--and do things we'd rather others not know about and perhaps can't even bring ourselves to acknowledge. We can lurk in the darkness--the ambiguity found in the gray lets us be sloppy with our actions and our motives. We can go after others in the darkness--setting upon others and ducking accountability as such assaults are much easier to perpetrate in the shadows. The thing about darkness is that sometimes we would gladly choose it over the revealing light.

The thing is that the dark world needs light to be brought to bear. God sent the light in the form and life of Jesus. In baptism we are connected with that renewed life. We are called to bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. That is why we quote Matthew 5:16 to baptismal parties: In the same way, light your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. We, like John, are not the light, but we are sent to testify to the light. We have been graced by the true light, which enlightens everyone, which has come into the world.

Because God has come to us, all humanity, and has empowered us to receive Jesus we are made the children of God. We are born initially through the gift of the marvelous creation of God and fleshly impulses. We are reborn, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or a human decision, but by God's will. When we pray "Thy will be done..." we are, in part, praying the would become more realized children of God.

God, the Word, Jesus, has become flesh and lived among us. Jesus still brings grace and salvation to bear on all flesh and continues to live among us. We have been graced to see glimpses of his glory. His glory is full of grace and truth. May all of our days and ways be shaped by that grace and that truth as well.

God, change our dark-loving ways into ones that accept and emit your light. May we bear shiny witness that does little else save bear witness to your salvation. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

e-vo for week of December 18

Dearest e-votees-

This week we have the foretelling of Jesus birth as spoken in Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bar a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

It is this "God with us" that is our hope. Thanks be to God.



18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25, NRSV

There is very little recorded in Matthew about Mary's carrying of the Christ child. No angelic visitation with Mary, no Mary and Elizabeth interaction, no Magnificat, no angels nor shepherds--all of those are found in Luke. What we have is a promise from God (through Isaiah's writings hundreds of years ago) and the fulfillment of that promise.

Sometimes we allow the story to get so very cluttered. We allow other scriptures, our imaginations, church traditions and intrusions from the world to crowd out the space needed for the Christ child. In truth it is still often the case that there is no room for "God with us". We surround ourselves with so much baggage (literal and figurative) that we put obstructions between ourselves and God.

Some would say we should discard these obstacles and draw near to God. The truth is that we would make yet another obstruction out of our own efforts or our own decision or our own wisdom in being a wise person who seeks him still. When we make it about us drawing near to God we make it into an idol.

The good news is that God made a promise and that God delivered on that promise. God initiated, God delivered and God delivers us still.

You might find yourself blessed (as well as amused) if you check out Retooning the Nativity. The trappings of the season are fine as long as we don't become entrapped in them and separated from God.

God, we thank you that you don't wait for us to seek you but that you insert yourself into our needy and sin-stained world. Help us receive you. Help us all to have a blessed Christmas celebration. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

e-vo for week of December 11

Dearest e-votees-

John the Baptist is, again, front and center in the gospel lesson for this Sunday.

Will Jesus' words about John accomplish what he intended?



2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 3:1-12, NRSV

Jesus says "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Why would we take offense at Jesus? He came to heal the blind, to cure the lame, to cleanse the lepers, to restore hearing, to raise the dead and to bring good news to the poor. How would we take offense at that?

In order to heal one who is deaf and blind there seems to be a need for them to be aware of their perceptive deficits. To restore hearing and sight means that we might need to acknowledge that we can't hear or see so well. Just try to persuade someone who is losing their visual or audio acuity and you will experience the old Adam and the old Eve: "I can hear just fine, why is everybody mumbling?" or "Who turned down the lights?" We don't like having our perceptions challenged.

In order to cure the lame there needs to be some acknowledgment that they aren't walking the right way. We aren't too keen on being told our walk is off.

In order to cure someone who is unclean there needs to be a come-to-Jesus moment where the dirt is laid bare. We aren't so inclined to be shown to be dirty.

To raise the dead involves the death being called out. The parts of us that think we are still alive and well take issue with being called dead. We cling to our so-called life.

To bring good news to the poor may well involve bringing some sobering news to the rich. We don't like having the current distribution of wealth challenged. Status quo is just fine with us.

Bottom line: In order to have our way prepared to receive Jesus we might need to find out how least in the kingdom of heaven are we. The preparing of the soil involves tilling and turning. We take offense when we think we are already there. Or at least not as needy as that one over there (cue up the pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple). Truth is we are as needy as they come. God is coming for us and John helps prepare the way by speaking truth. Will we hear it or will we be too busy taking offense?

God, offend us that we may be made well. Amen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

e-vo for week of December 4

Dearest e-votees-

John the Baptist is front and center in the gospel lesson for this Sunday.

But, by the end of the lesson, John is already shuffling to the back and to the side. (as John says in John 3:30 "He must increase. But I must decrease.")



3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12, NRSV

The task of Advent is to let ourselves be put aside so that the one who is coming--the one who is much more powerful than we, the one whose sandals we are not worthy to carry--can come and take his rightful place front and center. He will come and baptize us and all with the Holy Spirit and fire.

We are waiting for Jesus to come and take his place in the manger. That place isn't front and center. That place is behind and below. God came into the world to bring salvation and the world couldn't be bothered to provide a proper birthing place. If Jesus were to come again into the world as a peasant baby do you think he would be treated much better? If maybe a travelling pair of young parents-to-be showed up on our doorstep would we have room among all of our holiday fixings and rushing abouts? Would our jam-packed days and mile-long to-do lists have any room for God made flesh coming into the world unexpectedly? I suppose we wouldn't be so very different than those who were too full to make room for the one who brings true fullness to the empty places of our lives.

We are waiting for Jesus to come and take his place at the end of time. That place will most definitely be front and center. All will know when Jesus comes again. God will come into the world to usher in the kingdom we pray about so very often. The kingdom will undoubtedly look different than we expect. We so often miss the mark in terms of what God's plans and visions are. There is one way to prepare for this kingdom to arrive. We are to repent. That is, we are to let God turn us around. We have wandered away like sheep. God wants to turn us back. There were presumably sheep with the shepherds at the manger--we are the sheep that are invited to surround Jesus when he comes again. He will be front and center. We will be around and adoring. We will experience what we have been praying for all these many years. Thanks be to God that God's promises are sure and good.

God, help us to wait and to give you your rightful place. Amen.