Archive for December, 2012

Reading Ramblings – January 6, 2012

December 30, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: January 6, 2013 –
Epiphany Sunday

Texts:
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-11(12-15); Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew
2:1-12

Contextual
Notes:
Although Epiphany is sometimes considered a
separate liturgical season, it is best treated as a transitional
period. Anchored in the season of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday is
either the first or second (middle) actual Sunday of the Christmas
season, with one more week of the Christmas/Epiphany season before we
enter a brief period of Ordinary Time prior to Lent. Together,
Christmas and Epiphany each focus on one aspect of the two natures of
Christ. Christmas focuses us on the reality of his humanity.
Epiphany focuses us on the reality of his divinity. We hold both
equally true at the same time, without mixing or confusing the two,
thereby creating a new, third kind of entity that is neither creator
or creature. This was a major issue for the early Church,
determining how to faithfully talk about the incarnation of the
divine Word of God – and it is very easy to slip off in error by
either downplaying or denying one of his two aspects.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – The
previous chapter of Isaiah (59) is a call to repentance and a stern
warning of the coming power and wrath of God against those who reject
him. Isaiah 59:20 indicates that the Redeemer will come to the house
of Jacob, to those who have repented. There is no explicit statement
before chapter 60 begins saying that repentance has occurred – but
it is implied. 59:21 indicates that the Lord will send his Word to
dwell with his people forever. This is the prelude to chapter 60.

Now the redeemer comes to his people.
But the light of the redeemer dawning in the midst of his people’s
darkness has farther reaching implications than might have been
presumed. He is not just a light to his chosen people, but a light
to all peoples, and people from all over are drawn to that light and
acknowledge the royal nature of that light. It isn’t just that the
exiled people of God are returned home, but they are accompanied by
foreigners bearing gifts. While we can link this easily to the visit
of the magi, this is ultimately more accurately a preview of what
will happen in the final return of Jesus Christ. Once again a
prophet speaks the Word of God that touches on multiple truths across
multiple periods of time, finding final fulfillment in the permanent
dwelling of God with his people that will mark the new heaven and new
earth, reunified under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 72:1-11(12-15):
The emphasis again here is on the nature of the king who rules. The
kings of God’s people were supposed to be more like regents, with God
as the actual king. They did not govern of their own accord or
desires, but were to ensure that the people of God followed the
commands of God and offered the appropriate sacrifices. This was the
king’s highest duty – and one that all the kings of Israel and
Judah failed in to one degree or another. This is the metric for the
historical evaluation of a given king in historical books such as 1 &
2 Kings or 1 & 2 Chronicles – did the king follow and enforce
the Word of God or not?

As with the Isaiah text, while this is
a royal psalm likely used at the coronation of a new king, it is a
psalm that is ultimately only fulfilled perfectly in the reign of
Jesus Christ. It describes what that perfect reign will look like,
and, like the Isaiah text, makes clear that gifts and submission will
be brought from destinations other than just the people of God. The
optional verses for today (12-15) emphasize the practical things that
mark a king guided by the wisdom and strength of God. We will see
these kingly attributes in Jesus Christ over the course of the rest
of the year’s readings.

Ephesians 3:1-12 –
Paul hammers home in these verses on the inclusion of the Gentiles
in the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just the Messiah to
the Jewish people, He is the Messiah of the world. While this has
not always been fully disclosed in the prophets of old, by the grace
of the Holy Spirit enlightening and guiding Paul, this truth is being
fully disclosed at last. By the grace of Jesus Christ, all humanity
is offered the opportunity to return to full communion with God the
Father, no longer divided and separated from him by sin or rebellion.
While it seems obvious to us that the Old Testament is constantly
referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of
salvation, the assumption in Jesus’ and Paul’s day was that the
Gentiles either would not be included, or would be included in a
lesser fashion. Paul argues in passages such as this that the
Gentiles have the same birthright, the same right as heirs to God’s
grace in Jesus Christ as the chosen people of God.

Matthew 2:1-12 –
God’s
people have to be awakened to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy by
non-Jews from a foreign land. What God’s own people could not see in
their own prophets, others could see quite plainly, and took
appropriate action on. A king has been born. Tribute must be paid.

Or
not. Herod’s response and the response of “all Jerusalem” is not
rejoicing and seeking to bring tribute, but rather uncertainty. They
are “troubled” by this news, rather than comforted. The wisdom
revealed to then in the Old Testament prophets by the power of the
Holy Spirit is also a wisdom that guides the return of the magi
homewards. While others may seek to frustrate the plans of God, this
is not possible! The magi return home by an alternate route,
negating the need to visit Herod in his quarters in Jerusalem. This
saves the infant Jesus’ life, but as Matthew 2:13-18 make clear, not
everyone was spared from Herod’s plans.

The
Son of God is the rightful king of all creation, the only one willing
and able to perfectly obey the Word of God, and in doing so to truly
bring blessing and peace to all peoples and all creation. Naturally,
this will create divisiveness among those who have a stake in the
status quo. Those accustomed to ruling passively or actively through
wealth, influence, alliances and all other manner of techniques will
see the King of Kings for the threat to their way of life that He
really is. While many Christians seem intent on reconciling Jesus to
their particular political or economic ideologies, Jesus comes not to
reinforce one over another, but rather to dispense with all such
ideologies. There will be no opportunity to bribe or co-opt or
otherwise undermine the rule of this one perfect King.

So
our sinful natures will naturally reject his call for submission and
obedience. Whether as alleged rulers of our own hearts, or rulers of
nations, we find ourselves balking at the call for submission,
seeking to secure for ourselves some level of preference in the new
kingdom. We should not be surprised that nations around the world –
and increasingly our own nation – see Christianity and Jesus Christ
as incompatible with their aims and goals. He is incompatible. He
does not come to compete against the powers of the world but to
receive their tributes and offerings.

And
He will receive them! They may not all be joyful or willing, but
they will all be inevitable. When the Kingdom of God is revealed in
fullness and glory, there is only one other kingdom to flee to to
avoid it. Those who choose this other kingdom, thinking thereby to
increase the possibility of their own personal power, will be
tragically and eternally disappointed. That other kingdom has a
ruler already, one who shows the greatest of cruelty and hatred
towards God’s creation. Those who seek to rule in hell will find
that no such option exists. We are creatures of God, and we are
built to serve. We can either serve the master who loves us and
cares for us, or we can sell ourselves into the slavery of the rebel
prince who will spend eternity exploiting our misery for his own
twisted joy.

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Restoring Faith in Humanity…

December 30, 2012

one lawsuit at a time.

Please, tell me you aren’t surprised by this.  Disgusted?  Check.  Surprised.  *sigh*

I’m Baaaacckk…

December 29, 2012

We’ve nearly completed the move into our new home.  We survived the wonderful – but taxing – Christmas worship season, accentuated this year by a memorial service the weekend before Christmas and a wedding the weekend before that.  We’ve been swamped, but God is good and we’re already feeling settled in our new digs.  While my days of recuperation time this week were spent in moving-related issues rather than actually recuperating, what a blessing to be busy in such beautiful ways.

Thanks to Lois for forwarding me this article.  I commented a couple of weeks ago that we will search for answers to this tragedy in all the wrong places as a society.  But if society discards the concept of evil (despite an overwhelming majority of Americans claiming some form of belief in a roughly Judeo-Christian God), we are left with no choice but to seek answers within ourselves.  Literally.  
We can look for answers genetically.  Ultimately I don’t think this is going to lead us to solutions.  In fact, I suspect that it is going to lead us down far darker paths.  If there isn’t a genetic link (and I use that term very loosely, since the ability to know that a particular mutation or genetic marker is in fact the cause of violent behavior seems almost incomprehensibly unlikely), then we’re back where we started – terrified of everything and everyone yet blithely convinced that we ourselves must be normal and healthy because we aren’t out shooting up schools.
If a genetic link is found, we enter a new level of testing.  Will we test unborn children for genetic defects that include the aforehypothesized violence marker?  Are couples bearing children who test positive for this marker going to be encouraged – passively or actively – to abort their child just in case?  As is already argued for unborn children with physical or intellectual differences, will unborn babies with this genetic marker for violence be labeled as lives not worth living?  Unlikely to ever experience happiness and satisfaction at the arbitrary level that we define as normal?  
As it always has been, the answer to the problem of evil lies beyond our reach.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play in curbing evil within ourselves and others.  But it does mean that we aren’t going to fix it on our own.  We’ve been told since the Enlightenment that we can and will.  Instead, we discover only a greater pervasiveness of evil and violence.  We’ll keep looking for answers to the question of evil that don’t show ourselves as being part of the problem.  But that isn’t going to solve the problem of evil.  For that, we have to turn to a 2000-year old empty tomb, and the promise that the tomb’s former occupant is coming back.  

Reading Ramblings – December 30, 2012

December 24, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: December 30, 2012,
First Sunday after Christmas

Texts:
Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15; Psalm 111; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40

Contextual
Notes:
We now enter the season of Christmas. While
we make a distinction between the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany,
they were originally one longer single season. Their division marks
two different focii – in Christmas we focus on the incarnation of
God – the Son of God made man; fully human. In Epiphany we shift
focus to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Christmas pushes us to
consider that the baby in the manger really is a baby, and yet really
is the Son of God. Our readings highlight the humanity of the
Messiah during the season of Christmas.

Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15 –
At first this seems like a strange choice for today. However it
links the saving work of God through the baby Jesus with the saving
work of God in bringing his people out of slavery. The single
greatest event of the New Testament is linked firmly with the single
greatest event of the Old Testament. As such, verse 14 is key.

Everything that we have belongs to the
Lord. But the firstborn was special in the covenant community of the
Israelites. As a remembrance of the deliverance of God in saving his
people from the angel of death in the Exodus from Egypt, their firstborns will always be
redeemed specially. This act places each succeeding generation of
Israelites in the sandals of the slaves freed from Egypt.

Psalm 111: A hymn of
praise. Why should we give thanks to the Lord? How are his works
great and splendorous? Verse 5 – He provides food for his hungry
faithful. Verse 6 – He has demonstrated his power. Verse 7 – He
has given his people the law by which they now know how to live
faithfully. Verse 9 – He has sent redemption to his people and
entered into a covenant with them. The hearers of this Psalm would
have thought of the Lord’s rescue of his people from slavery in
Egypt. But we can read verse 9 in terms of the new covenant in the
body and blood of Jesus Christ. This reading links what we
experience in part and await in full with the first coming of our
Savior.

Colossians 3:12-17 –
How do we respond to the good news of our Savior’s incarnation?
What difference should the Nativity of our Lord make in our lives?
It should dictate the way we live. If the Son of God – the second
person of the Trinity – was willing to come among us as a baby in a
manger, how much more should we be able to bear up under even trying
circumstances? How much more so should we be able to deal in love
with people in our community of faith and family? Jesus is not just
the reason for the season, He is the reason for everything that the
Christian does.

Luke 2:22-40 –
What
child is this, the song leads us to question. But Scripture is very
clear. Luke is working on providing an orderly account of Jesus
based on interviews with eye-witnesses. His intent is that his
reader might “have certainty concerning the things you have been
taught.” How does Luke do this? He piles up the attestations of
the divinity of Jesus Christ. An angel appears to Mary. Mary and
Elizabeth share a special moment of awe in last week’s reading. And
now Simeon and Anna both are led by the Holy Spirit to make prophetic
utterances and offer praise to God because of the birth of Jesus of
Nazareth. Luke’s readers may not be Jewish, but Luke makes it clear
that even devout Jews acknowledge the special nature of the Christ
child.  

Friday Fragments – December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012

Since the world doesn’t appear to be ending today, I’ll go ahead and post.

I say that not with the snarky dismissiveness that most people are likely to joke about, however.  Hopefully.  At least not now, in hindsight.  After all, I’m waiting for the end of the world as well.  Or perhaps more accurately, the rebirth of it.  Just because I don’t have a particular date pegged for the event doesn’t change the fact that I’m waiting.  Or should be.  
  • Here’s an interesting commentary on the role of community, even what might be considered very dysfunctional community.  Solo rock stars are more apt to end their lives than rock stars who are part of a group.  If dysfunctional community that can often be self-indulgent and obsessive over all manner of habits and addictions that are self-destructive stands a better chance of keeping someone alive than a lone self-indulgent, obsessive person, imagine what impact a nominally more positive community could have on someone’s life?  Hmmm.  Now where could we find that sort of community still today, in our fragmented American culture?  Hmmmm.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
  • Are you ready for the end of the world, or more accurately, something just short of the end of the world where you are one of the lone survivors fending for yourself against zombie hordes or desperate but ill-prepared neighbors?  Here’s your tool of choice:  the Crovel.  I find this fascinating in part because I discover it actually appeals to me.  I like the idea of being prepared for anything, ready to survive when others don’t.  The fact that I’m probably the least likely to survive undoubtedly fuels that errant strand of fantasizing in me.  Having survived the Y2K event and now (at least thus far) the Mayan apocalypse, I have to say however that my survival skills are pretty awesome, and I haven’t spent a dime.  More to the point, I’d be interested in knowing how many “preppers” (people actively preparing themselves and their homes/property to survive some sort of anarchic societal breakdown or zombie virus) survived hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, compared to their non-prepper neighbors?  Is there any evidence that such preparations really work when the actual emergency strikes?
  • Against my better judgment, I gotta say this is sorta cute.  Sorta.  Please do not quote me on that.  Please.  
  • Did you hold on to all your old cassette Walkmans and other cassette devices?  Prepare  to cash in on nostalgic bling in another 20-80 years.  Sony is discontinuing production of the cassette player/recorder.  A moment of silence, please.
This final article has got me thinking.  There has been no shortage of articles dedicated to the glories of the free-market system, particularly in light of the major changes being foisted upon our society today by socialist-inspired autocrats.  Christian writers as well seem rather keen to defend the free-market economy from allegations that it is anti-Christian in that it ignores the poor.  I suspect the argument is ultimately misplaced.
This article’s argument is that the free-market system is more Christian because it conveys the possibility of worth to every member in the market.  Everyone can contribute somehow economically, even those we tend to view as disabled or otherwise unsuitable for traditional workforce roles.  
I can roll with that.  What I have difficulty with is when we start justifying our human systems based on what the Son of God does, and more specifically, reading economic implications into the Messiah’s love.  That’s what this article does by interpreting the healing of the blind beggar in John 9 as demonstration of God’s love for this individual not merely in giving them their sight, but in giving them the ability to work.
What this article ignores is the free-market system’s prioritization and valuation of every person.  Yes, every person can contribute, but they can’t all contribute equally and therefore they are compensated proportionally.  When child labor was legal, they made very little money – arguably because they couldn’t do the work of a 28-year old man.  The same argument has probably been used to justify lower pay for women, though as we transition out of industrialized and agricultural work and more and more to information services, that argument definitely doesn’t hold water (if it ever did).  
The free-market does render some people (most people?) insignificant, while elevating and glorifying those who are deemed to have rarer and therefore more valuable skill sets.  The CEO of McDonald’s earns tons more than the 16-year old kid manning the fryers.  They are valued fundamentally differently.  What the free-market system allows for is the possibility that this 16-year old kid could someday be the CEO.  But the odds are against him.  
This is *not* how the Kingdom of God works.  We are not valued differently based on our contributions.  All are invited to the table that God has prepared, where none of us deserve to be there and can’t in any way repay our host.  Jesus’ healing in John 9 is not an endorsement of an economic system, but a systematic repudiation and reversal of all the things in this world that stunt or blunt or otherwise compromise God’s creation.  It is the demonstration of the inbreaking Kingdom of God which won’t simply prop up free-enterprise economies but will rather render them obsolete.  
I like free-market economies but I don’t think it’s wise or faithful to attempt to justify my preference with God.  I suspect this is exactly the tactic that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to use, and they were called some rather unflattering names for it – by the Son of God himself.  We need to be very careful to recognize that we are free to make the best of things in this world, but that our best efforts are nothing like the glory of God as He continues to reveal his plan and power in creation.
Thoughts?  

Out of the Frying Pan

December 20, 2012

Well, the President is pushing for gun reform.  On Facebook earlier in the week, someone posted a link to a cartoon (not this exact one, but very similar in sentiment) and they added their disgust and dismay that anyone could suggest that gun control laws here in the United States might lead the government to commit atrocities against its unarmed citizens.  After all, the situations here as opposed to communist Russia or Nazi Germany are completely different.  

I pray that they are.  
But history also indicates that bad ideas often motivated by good intentions.  Or masked by good intentions.  Good, proper, forward-thinking, and legal intentions.  It is only after such ideas are put into practice that abuse can occur.  It doesn’t mean it will occur, only that it becomes much, much more tempting.  Our founding fathers knew this through personal experience.  They were far more distrustful of the government than of individuals, a situation that is almost completely reversed now.  Only time will tell if gun control in the United States paves the way for epic abuses of power and human rights violations.  
But I can predict with absolute certainty that gun control will not eliminate the atrocities that are committed against one another in our country.  Banning assault rifles will only lead to people realizing that assault rifles are actually a very tiny minority of all homicides committed with guns (though they get a lot more attention).  Then we’ll need to extend the controls against a wider range of guns, since it seems illogical to say it’s OK to murder with one type of gun and not another.  That would be discrimination.  
I can empathize with proponents of gun control.  I can almost empathize with those who think all forms of guns should be made illegal.  But I don’t know anyone – regardless of their stance on this issue – who applauds what happened in Newtown last week.  I am appalled by the people who assert that those who resist gun control are somehow all closet terrorists and child-murderers.  If people were trained to think and argue rationally, these sorts of informal logical fallacies wouldn’t stand a chance.  But in a culture dictated by who screams the loudest and the longest, and who seems better able to make a case for somehow being a victim, ad hominem attacks and appeal to pity fallacies regularly substitute for calculated, careful thought and debate on an issue.  
Because of that, we’re all going to suffer, sooner or later.  
And, just to keep the discussion interesting, here’s a little reminder – guns are only one small way that we kill each other.  The number of ways we can kill each other seems to be growing with our reliance on technology.  While drones and homing bullets and other weaponry garners the headlines, there are far less glamorous but equally lethal risks from our reliance on technology and convenience.  Smart phones could turn out to be one of the hot new weapons of choice in the very near future.
But I doubt anyone is going to argue that we should ban them.  

Technology is Forever

December 19, 2012

I get that we’re a rapidly changing culture with technology at the center.  I get that some people think it’s cute to encourage their kids to be active on Facebook and other social media sites, at times allowing or encouraging falsification of data to get around restrictions on user age requirements.  I get it.

What I don’t get it is how completely clueless people can be about the online environment, and the many ways it can be negatively used.  Not surprisingly, as kids are immature and figuring out all manner of social rituals and expectations, many of these negative uses involve kids.  
Becky sent me a link to this disturbing article that broke a few weeks ago, about a group of high school boys using a web site to maintain statistics about their sexual exploits as well as the girls they achieved them with.  It’s a disturbing article.  Be forewarned.  Then there is the news of a riot in a Swedish city because of allegations of an Instagram account that was used to compile allegations of sexual activity involving youth as young as 13 or 14.  
Do you remember peer pressure in high school?  Do you remember the constant rumor mills about who was doing what with whom?  Do you remember the snide comments and behind the back knives?  Do you remember the bullying?  Did you manage to find some sort of safe place from all of that?  Home or work or another environment where you could leave all of that behind, at least for a few hours a day?
Imagine not having that safe haven.  Imagine the combination of obsessing over your online persona and social life, while having that online experience full of all the garbage that you hear as you walk down the halls of your school.  Imagine never being able to get rid of those voices, to turn off the pressure.  Imagine that the demands and the insults are always as close as that pretty touch-screen on your smart phone.  
You can teach kids about how to use technology wisely.  You can try to teach your kids about human nature and our capacity for hurting one another.  Neither of these things is necessarily going to prepare them adequately to deal with the online pressure cooker.  Give your kids the blessing of a safe haven for as long as you can.  Soon enough they’ll be old enough to be insisting on certain types of online social media access, and at that point it may not make sense to deny it to them.  
But don’t rush them into it.  They may not be ready for it.

Good Intentions

December 18, 2012

That’s what a lot of Christians and congregations have, good intentions.  

The hyperconnectivity of our culture enables Christians and congregations to extend their influence far more easily than ever before.  It is possible to meet someone at a conference, discover that they live on the other side of the world, and be in regular, daily contact with this person via e-mail, Skype, and other options.  It is easy to form a bond based on emotional impressions and run with it.
None of this is bad.  
But all of this is risky, as this brief essay depicts.
Accountability is important but difficult to ensure.  Good intentions are laudable but also exploitable.  

Reading Ramblings – December 23, 2012

December 16, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: December 23, 2012,
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Texts:
Micah 5:2-5a, Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45(45-56)

Contextual
Notes:
It is the final Sunday of Advent. From here
we can peer forward with anticipation, already seeing the glow of
that marvelous star fixed over Bethlehem, so close enough to
Christmas to touch it. This year especially, as Christmas falls
early in the week, it is important to hold steady in our Advent
meditations, and not skip forward too quickly to the joy we
anticipate and need so desperately in the arrival of our Savior!

Micah 5:2-5a – The
promises of a Savior grow more explicit now that we are so close to
the Nativity of our Lord. In the midst of promises of military
threat and defeat, there is also the promise of a future ruler who
will restore the people of God. Ephrathah in verse 2 is synonymous
with Ephrath, an area very close to Bethlehem. The name occurs
frequently throughout the Old Testament as a place name, and is also
associated with Jesse, the father of David. Verse 1 sets the tone –
the people of God will be or are being attacked militarily, and
almost certain defeat awaits them. But verse 2 begins the promise
that whatever damage is done will one day be undone. The source of
this future hope is a descendant, but one who has his lineage from of
old, from ancient days. Verse 3 could be interpreted as a promise of
the Lord’s prophetic silence from the prophet Malachi until John the
Baptist, a period of 400 years or so. It is a message of hope, but
one that comes in a moment of despair. This is the nature and
purpose of hope – it is not hope if it comes in a moment of
certainty and confidence!

Psalm 80:1-7: Verse 1
draws on imagery associated with the Ark of the Covenant, with two
cherubim who spread their wings to touch and cover the ark. Verse 2
then continues this imagery by referring to three northern tribes who
were to go into battle third for Israel, following the Ark of the
Covenant, encamped to the West of the Ark, “around the sacred tent,
but not close to it” (Leviticus 2:2). This may indicate that the
Psalm was written in response to troubles in the Northern Kingdom
prior to its destruction by the Assyrians. The remaining verses a a
plea for mercy and deliverance. It is a forward looking hope based
firmly in the facts of the past. The author clearly sees that the
one to save them from their present troubles is essentially the
continuation of the one who saved them in the past.

Hebrews 10:5-10 –
This Epistle lesson links clearly the Nativity of our Lord to his
purpose in perfect obedience to God the Father’s will. Though God
the Father instituted the sacrificial system for the Israelites, that
sacrificial system was never intended as the final solution to the
problem of sin. Not only that, the system itself became corrupt –
the letter of the law was observed without the spirit of the law.
Sacrifices became a law in themselves, devoid of the deeper
significance of repentance which they were intended to be bound up
with. So it came to be that the very system God instituted became a
system that no longer pleased God. Jesus demonstrates the true
purpose of the first system – obedience. The sacrifices were
intended to assist God’s people with the issue of obedience – a
function the sacrifices had largely ceased to accomplish. But Jesus’
faithful obedience fulfilled the Father’s desire for his creation.
As such, sacrifices are no longer necessary, whether the blood
sacrifices of the Old Testament, or our modern (incorrect)
equivocations for them, such as tithing. We tithe not out of
obligation to our Lord but out of gratitude. Not based on who we
have been, but who we have been made to be in the waters of baptism.

Luke 1:39-45(46-56):
As
Lutherans we struggle with Mary. Our historical context of conflict
with the Roman Catholic church has made us deeply suspicious and
resistant to much focus on Mary, lest we be misunderstood as
worshiping her. But veneration for the theotokos,
the Mother of God, is only appropriate! Her role in salvation
history and human kind is unprecedented, and yet at the same time
thoroughly human.

The reading this morning picks up with Mary’s departure for her older
cousin Elizabeth. We might well -imagine that this was no different
than our own, not-too-recent practices of bundling off young women
who turn up unexpectedly pregnant to a relatives home in another town
to avoid the daily scandal of the situation. While Matthew provides
a bit more insight into the mind of Joseph and his perspective on the
situation, Luke comes alongside Mary in his narrative. As a
frightened young woman she flees for support and even safety perhaps,
to her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary’s flight is not insubstantial – from Nazareth in Galilee to
the hill country of Judah is a considerable journey requiring
planning and care. Luke does not give us these details, but rather
shows the unique relationship between Mary and Elizabeth as well as
Jesus and John the Baptist, their respective children. Most
important for Luke is the nature of the Christ child that Mary
carries. The angelic messenger Gabriel reveals his nature.
Elizabeth confirms this nature. Mary herself, perhaps in a moment of
prophetic ecstasy, also bursts into song regarding her child. This
three-fold testimony in Luke’s account is intended to dispel any
doubt about the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth. He may be the son
of Mary, but He is also far more, thus making Mary far more than a
frightened unwed mother.

Mary’s song here emphasizes the nature of her child and God’s work
through him in traditionally prophetic terms. It also is in keeping
with the songs of other Biblical women who experienced the miraculous
provision of the Lord (Moses’ sister Miriam – Exodus 15:20ff;
Hannah – 1Samuel 2:1ff). When the Lord delivers us, it is
appropriate to give him thanks and praise! As such, this exultation
of Mary has come to be known as the Magnificat (from the first word
of the song in its Latin translation), and it is used the the
traditional evening Vespers service of the Church.   

Making Sense of it All

December 16, 2012

Those words caught my eye this evening as I broke my vow and allowed my eyes to scan over several articles detailing different aspects of the horror that is the massacre of children in Connecticut.  The words were part of a brief statement released by the parents of the shooter.  I have no doubt that they are struggling to make sense of it all, as is the rest of the world.  This entry is not a commentary on the particular speaker of these words in this context.  The agony of the shooter’s parents must be close to unbearable.  My heart goes to them as it does to the families of the shooter’s victims.  

It is mankind’s privilege and struggle to seek to make sense of the universe around us.  But there is something to be said for taking the search for sense too far.  

Articles by the score assure us that experts of all stripes are actively working at this very moment to unravel what happened in the mind of Adam Lanza that would prompt him to such violent actions.  I have no doubt those experts are indeed working feverishly.  I am grateful for their efforts, but I suspect that when all is said and done, whatever we do or don’t learn about Mr. Lanza won’t really matter much.  It certainly won’t change the destruction that has been wrought.  The best it can do is help some people, at some level, to come to some level of understanding about what happened. To literally make sense of it.  
Because if we can make a bit of sense of it, the horror is dulled somewhat.  And more importantly, the fear is dulled somewhat.
Without making sense of it, we are left with an illusion-shattering glimpse into the capacity of evil in our world and in the heart and mind of one young man.  That is a glimpse that fewer and people are able to handle, I suspect, as fewer and fewer people have a framework to make sense of it in.  It’s like walking along in a dark room, only to have someone flip on a light switch revealing that you are traversing a narrow beam of wood suspended over a pit filled with half-glimpsed, fully-imagined, nightmare-inducing writhing, coiling, hissing hints of unspeakable horror.  Before the light went on, you saw no reason to worry about your steps.  Now that you know how a misstep might affect you, you cannot move a single muscle.
But if we can make some sense of it, then we can assume that we are not really in danger of slipping into the abyss of darkness that overcame Mr. Lanza.  We can nullify or minimize the fear.  If we can make some sense of it, we can take comfort that we don’t know anyone personally who is suffering from such illnesses of the mind and spirit, and therefore we are somehow safer.  If we can make sense of it all, we can pull up our security blanket of assuming that now that we know what the reason was, we can prevent that reason from ever occurring again in another fragile or susceptible young mind.  If we can eliminate bullying, or medicate personality disorders, or at least prevent people from owning guns, we can all sleep safer at night.
We will have made some sense of it.  But will it really make any more sense than it does now?
In the midst of Advent we move through penitential postures and poses.  We consider our shortcomings and failures large and small.  We recognize that within each one of us is the seed of evil that waits, hoping to gain power over us.  “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7).  Advent calls us to recognize that we cannot master it.  We can sometimes minimize it.  We can cover it up and hide it.  We can decorate it and pretend it is something that it isn’t.  We can compare it to the evil we see or suspect in others and take comfort that the evil in us seems so much less harmful.  But it remains sinful and evil, its desire for us remains, and its hunger is insatiable.  
Advent provides the Christian with a way of “making sense” of the senseless violence of the world.  We make sense of it by recognizing that it is within all of us, in different ways and forms.  Far from comforting us, this terrifies us.  It reveals the precariousness of our lives not simply from the aspect of our tenuous or illusory self-control over the evil within us, but it reveals how dangerously vulnerable we are to the flares and eruptions of evil in those around us.  It forces us to see how a stranger coming out of nowhere can alter our lives forever.  
How do we cope with this fear?  
Denial might sound appealing, but in our hyperconnected culture it is difficult to achieve any longer. Every day brings new reminders near and far of the evil that crouches at our door.  
We can attempt to make sense of it, pretending that evil isn’t really evil but rather psychological or psychiatric disturbance.  We can try to believe that we can treat or medicate or soothe or isolate people with these particular symptoms and thereby eliminate the threat to the rest of us.  
We can opt for deliberate ignorance, which is what most of us do.  Assuming that our days and weeks will go just as we intend, with no interruptions or intrusions.  We remain masters of our destiny, safely piloting our tiny vessels through wave and wind and shoal.  
Or we can cry out for help.  Cry out for comfort.  Cry out in honesty of fear and uncertainty and acknowledgement of our weakness and inability to cope with the evil in ourselves and the world around us alone.  We can cry out for God to help us.  To save us.  To redeem us.  To vindicate us.  To crush evil once and for all, to purge us and the world around us and everyone in it from the effects of sin and the power and mastery it seeks over us.  
This is Advent.  It makes Christmas morning that much more powerful.  For unto us, a child is born.  Unto us, a Savior is given.  (Isaiah 9:6)  He will not make sense of it all – He will put all to right.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.