Archive for December, 2015

Wet Bar Wednesday – Dream

December 30, 2015

With family in town, happy hour can become a pretty important thing.  My sister-in-law prefers sweeter drinks, and this was a big hit

  • 3/4 oz white rum
  • 3/4 oz creme de banana (banana liquor – weird, but it works)
  • 2 tsp cream (milk will work)
  • 2 tsp pineapple juice
  • splash of grenadine

Mix all the ingredients together and pour over ice to enjoy.

I found that substituting Malibu (coconut flavored) rum for the white rum added an additional tropical flair.  But regardless, enjoy!

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One and Only

December 29, 2015

What does it take to be great?  Everybody and their uncle appears to have ideas about that these days, given the number of books, blogs, video series, and other media devoted to helping you attain your maximum potential.  It’s one thing to think positively about yourself.  But the ability to influence how others view you, particularly those who come after you?  That’s a much trickier thing to control.

Thanks to Chuck & Linda for dropping off a copy of this op-ed that ran last week.  Mr. Hutchinson provides a brief overview of competing ideas about who Jesus of Nazareth really was.  The assumption is that the reader is not convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Incarnate Son of God sent to deliver us from our sins, but that the reader likely subscribes to some other theory, or perhaps is not inclined to accept or care about any of them.  Perhaps the reader is committed to the idea that in a “pluralistic society” it is offensive that any one person or ideology should be give special treatment.

But the fact remains, as the article points out, that Jesus is easily the most influential person in all of human history.  What can explain this?  While Bart Ehrman offers various theories, none of these are very compelling.  History is full of villains and heroes of varying degrees and abilities.  None of them can boast of changing not just their communities but the entire world with their work.  Nobody even comes close.

Now, this is not the fallacy of appealing to numbers or popularity. The fact that a lot of people believe not merely in a historical Jesus but in a divine Jesus does not in and of itself prove that the Christian assertions are true. But it ought to give someone reason to investigate further than the rudimentary and flimsy alternative theories that are often offered.  If Jesus is really a historical person, what sort of historical person could have this sort of impact on the world?

There have been no shortage of “apocalyptic prophets”, just in the Bible alone let alone in all of human history and experience!  But none of those have had the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had.  Likewise the world has had no shortage of violent revolutionaries or wisdom sages.  And there have been plenty of people who have died for misunderstood reasons and false accusations.  Yet these people don’t ignite world-wide followings.  These people don’t change the course of human history.

How many people do you imagine were killed by the Romans?  Just in Palestine alone?  Thousands?  Tens of thousands?  We know of multiple people who tried to rouse people to revolution during the first century AD and failed.  Do they have followers around the world who center their lives around them?  Hardly.  Even people like Mother Teresa who enjoy the respect of many don’t spawn religions.

Jesus makes the impact He does specifically because of who and what He claims to be, the divine Son of God incarnate, through whose death and resurrection humanity has the promise and hope of salvation and eternal life.  Being nice or kind or wise are all wonderful attributes but they don’t spawn religions and in general people are not overly willing to suffer and die for someone with those character traits.  Trying to separate out who Jesus claimed to be from his impact on history doesn’t make much sense.  Only when He is investigated based on his self-understanding can we appreciate how He could have the impact He does, even two thousand years later.

 

Reinterpreting Christmas

December 28, 2015

My Christmas Eve sermon was based on an image that was popular on Facebook in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  You can find the image here.

I attempted to engage an artist buddy of mine on this but he didn’t seem very game.  The image is very arresting.  It grabs at your attention as soon as you begin seeing what is going on in the image.  This isn’t just any young couple, this is the Holy Couple, reinterpreted.  Mary and Joseph in a modern context.  You begin to see the Biblical references as soon as you look at the image in detail.  Dave’s City Hotel (King David), which has a new man_ger (manger).  Advertisements for Weisman, Good News, Starr, Shephard.  Mary’s wearing a Nazareth hoodie and is clearly pregnant.  Joseph is Jose.  I could close to 20 different Biblical references.

The question becomes, why do this?  Why reinterpret the Biblical events in modern terms?  I’m sure from an artistic sense it helps bring the story alive, make it more relevant.  Not something just from long ago and far away but something that could happen today, in our town.  People have always done this through the ages and across cultures.  We make the story a bit like us, and that draws us closer to the story.

But while I like this image a lot, I have concerns about what the intent is.  I think the artist has provided us with his intent, both in how he chooses to depict the couple and with an interpretative verse on the side of the phone booth – Ezekiel 34:15-16, which reads:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

The verse is one about justice.  And if that is the interpretative verse for this image, then I want to look at it again and see what about justice this graphic directs me to.

I notice that the couple are not like me after all.  Not in terms of ethnicity, at least.  Their features seem to indicate Hispanic background, reinforced by the “Jose” on his shirt.  Their manner of dress seems to indicate a lower economic strata, reinforced by their presence in the rain outside of a convenience mart in an arguably less-than-ideal part of town.  They look uncertain, and their two small bags seem to indicate they are traveling light and perhaps have run into some problems.  How do these relate to the verses about justice?

Well, how do they relate to the original story, first of all?

Mary and Joseph weren’t ethnic minorities in Bethlehem.  They weren’t illegal immigrants or refugees.  They would have looked and sounded like everyone else.  While they were likely simple people and certainly not wealthy by our standards, they probably weren’t any poorer than the average citizens of Bethlehem.  They weren’t going to Bethlehem in hopes of getting a hotel room, as Bethlehem was so small that it likely wouldn’t have such a thing.  They were probably planning on staying with family, which is why they were in Bethlehem in the first place.  Why that didn’t work out we aren’t told, but the overall narrative indicates that they probably stayed with family after this first night, and for the next month or so as well.

What is the justice then, in the original story?  Is it a matter of economics or race relations?  No.  The justice that the original story is bound up with is far deeper and more pervasive.

This is the problem I have with the graphic.  It takes us away from the issue of the virgin birth of Jesus as the redeemer of the world and places our attention almost exclusively on our own issues and concerns.  I feel as though the artist wants the viewer to answer the question Well, would you give this couple a place to stay?  What are your views towards other ethnicities?  What prejudices do you harbor based on fashion or economic status?

These aren’t the issues with Jesus’ birth.  Jesus comes to eradicate social and economic and ethnic prejudices and injustices, to be sure.  But He comes to do so as part of his larger purpose of defeating Satan, sin, and death.  I worry that the graphic diverts our attention away from the saving work of Jesus, at the beginning through an unlikely and otherwise obscure couple,  and instead asks us to focus on ourselves.

If we are perturbed by the couple and admit that we wouldn’t likely help them, we are to feel guilty no doubt.  But what if we empathize with them appropriately and can honestly say that we would help them out, would invite them into our home (and not just our garage)?  Should we feel good about ourselves?   Smug?  Superior?  Dangerous ground, there.

Whether I empathize with the couple or not, I need the baby in the manger.  I need the Christ-child because the depths of my sin run far deeper than whatever social commentary someone arbitrarily uses as a metric.  This graphic is not the Christmas story, for me.  It is at best a mirror on part of my sinfulness, part that the Christ child comes to suffer and die for.  But I still need his suffering and death even if I’m happy with what I see in this particular mirror.

The point of the Christmas story is not social commentary.  Rather it highlights the simplicity with which the Son of God enters creation.  The creation He spoke into existence.  The creation which will deny him and crucify him.  The creation that his death and resurrection will restore.  All themes the first few verses of John’s Gospel pick up on and highlight for us.  God once again uses the imperfect, the unworthy, the simple to come to us and bring us his good gifts.  A tiny baby.  Tap water.  Wine and bread.  God meets us where we least expect him, where we are least worthy of him.  Not when we are feeling smug about our social consciousness but when we are lost in our sin.  He does the unimaginable, he saves us.

What we find is this isn’t justice at all.  It is purely and completely mercy.  Completely a gift.  We do not get what we deserve, rather we get his goodness.  The justice He brings ultimately isn’t for us, but for evil. For Satan.  He is condemned and we are pardoned.  He is sentenced and our chains are broken.  Jesus truly is the priceless gift above all gifts.  Merry Christmas.

 

 

Reading Ramblings – January 3, 2016

December 27, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Christmas – January 3, 2016

Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52

Context: What is wisdom? Obedience to God’s established order is wisdom. Today’s readings give us our only glimpse of Jesus between his birth and the beginning of his public ministry and emphasizing his embodiment of wisdom. Like Solomon nearly 1000 years earlier, Jesus delights in his Father’s will. However unlike Solomon, who sinned in offering sacrifices in places other than where the Ark of the Covenant resided, Jesus resists the temptation to sin through usurping the authority of his parents.

1 Kings 3:4-15 – Solomon ascends the throne at the age of 40 or so. He is no child, and has been raised all his life in the court of his father. He is well versed in court protocol. But he recognizes as well that above all things a ruler must be wise, and this recognition that kingship is not for the personal enjoyment of the king but for the benefit of his subjects pleases God. The Temple does not yet exist, but the author of this book clearly feels that Solomon’s use of the high places to make sacrifices to God is inappropriate. The inference is that Solomon should have only been making sacrifices before the Ark of the Covenant.

Yet despite Solomon’s failure in this regard, God comes to him and offers to grant Solomon a request. Solomon, though clearly viewed Scripturally as a great king, is not beloved of God because of his obedience. Solomon is sinful and imperfect and therefore cannot please God through obedience. However his sinfulness does not prevent him from understanding that obedience to God’s Word is crucial, and that wisdom consists in knowing how to be obedient.

Psalm 119:97-104 – The great acrostic psalm, each section of this psalm revolves around a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (in this case the Hebrew letter mem), each section dealing with the pre-eminence of God’s Word as a guide for living. In this section the Word of God gives advantage over one’s enemies (v.98), who are presumed to be acting contrary to the Word of God and therefore are inherently unwise. While people may have great knowledge in many areas, knowledge of God’s Word is pre-eminent because it is not merely an intellectual pursuit but a shaping of one’s life (v. 99). Once upon a time, theology was acknowledged as the highest of intellectual disciplines! Likewise, growing old is a blessing from God, but a greater blessing is to immerse oneself in the Word of God (v.100), which enlightens more than experience alone. But knowing God’s Word is not enough. One must allow the Word of God to guide, keeping from evil (v.101) and providing encouragement for continued study and application (v.103). As one grows in God’s wisdom, any alternative to God’s Word is seen more easily as falsehood that cannot offer any real blessing.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – God the Father, as the architect of creation and salvation is to be praised for giving his Messiah, through whom we are blessed with everything that we need spiritually (knowledge of Jesus as the incarnate, resurrected Son of God and source of our salvation). The blessing of faith in Jesus Christ is the means by which we are made holy and blameless before God the Father. Don’t let Paul’s language in this passage confuse you. Who has God chosen ‘before the foundation of the world’ (v.4), and ‘predestined for adoption (v.5)? Those who are in Christ would certainly fit this description. But is there anyone whom God has not intended his Son for? Is there anyone whom God has determined cannot and willnot merit the forgiveness received through faith in Jesus Christ? Is the forgiveness found in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection withheld from anyone? No. All are intended by God to avail themselves by faith of the forgiveness that leads to eternal life. We should avoid inferring what this passage does not say. It does not say that God chose us (Christians) and not others, or that He predestined Christians for faith and not others. All are chosen. All are predestined to have access to the mercy of God the Father through faith in God the Son. Not all will accept this reality, however. This does not mean that God actively predestined them for rejection. To interpret these passages in that way runs contrary to the whole of the Biblical witness. Those in faith are privy to the recognition of Jesus as the incarnation of God’s Word and wisdom and plan for the salvation of all creation.

It is this faith that grants us our inheritance as brothers and sisters of Christ and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Further, we are granted the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, proof of our inheritance.

Luke 2:40-52 – I’m regularly asked why we don’t know more about Jesus’ childhood, and Luke seems like the most likely of the Gospel authors to provide it to us based upon the methodology he describes (1:1-4). While we are naturally curious about Jesus’ childhood, we have been conditioned by the study of psychology to treat such information as not only interesting but also essential to understanding Jesus. It is our default, then, to assume that the Gospels are faulty in their scarcity of detail in this respect. However we must recognize that biography in the first century is different from biography today. It focused on the important aspets of someone’s life. We must assume that Jesus’ childhood was in most respects normal. He was undoubtedly an obedient and dutiful son and brother (I disagree with the Roman Catholic insistence that Jesus had no blood brothers from his mother Mary). I don’t have a way to conceptualize what a perfect child would be like, but that is not necessary for my acceptance of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who saves me from my sin.

Luke clearly understands Jesus to be the promised Messiah. So what he reports to us of Jesus’ birth and childhood draw our attention to specific aspects of the Messiah, namely his perfection in obedience to the will of God (which includes obedience to his parents), which requires a devotion to the Word of God. As we saw last week, that obedience began in eternity with his acceptance of God the Father’s plan of salvation, and continued through Jesus’ earthly parents directly after his birth. As Jesus grows He must inculcate that obedience for himself, and tt is not possible to obey God if you do not know what God says. Rather than relying on some sort of inner voice, Jesus models obedience to God grounded in the revealed Word of God.

Jesus’ behavior in this story is not sinful. Jesus does not set out with the intent to cause his parents alarm, or to disobey explicit instructions. Rather, He is captivated by the Word of God, and having access to those learned in that Word. The hours and even days fly by in a blur as He grapples with the Word, intellectually learning it gradually as every human being must, rather than relying on some divine and exceptional knowledge. Jesus’ role in this story is that of the student of God’s Word, the holiest of positions for any follower of God and one accessible to all in one way or another.

However He will not allow his devotion to God’s Word to become sinful, driving him to disobedience of his parents. Literal fulfillment of the words of Psalm 119 does not permit Jesus to ignore the commandment to honor father and mother. His explanation is honest but also submissive. His position as the child is not to lecture or upbraid his parents. He merely makes it clear what they themselves would have acknowledged – study of God’s Word is the best way to spend one’s time. He immediately reiterates his obedience to them as their son, leaving the Temple and his passion for God’s Word in order to be obedient to his parents.

Sunday Is Coming

December 25, 2015

I don’t know about you, but right about now, or more accurately, in a few minutes from now, is my favorite time of the entire Christmas season. The moment when I can breathe a sigh of relief. Good or bad, right or wrong, brilliant or mundane, I will have survived Christmas. I will have discharged my duties as your pastor. You might think I did great or awful, but it will be too late to change any of that. You might be seething or dumbfounded or in shocked, pained silence, but I’ll be smiling on the inside anticipating watching my family open presents, enjoying a Christmas nap, and relaxing the rest of the day. It’s the same sort of feeling I get most every Sunday just as the sermon wraps up. Assuming I haven’t preached heresy and nobody has died mid-sermon, I can relax. It’s the most relaxing time of the week for me.

My seminary homiletices (preaching) professor was fond of saying repeatedly through the course Sunday is coming. Three little words that strike terror into most pastors’ hearts. For Sunday is of course a day of holy obligations. Of bringing God’s Word to God’s people. Of leading and guiding people through the rituals of worship that the people of God have engaged in for two millenia. The responsibility of exercising publicly the private rights of a particular group of followers of Jesus the Messiah. As such, it is a day, or at least a morning, fraught with responsibility, privilege, honor.

Sunday is coming. And the words of that prof ring in my ears more than a decade later. They weren’t said as a threat, necessarily. Simply a reminder. A reminder that once we were out in the parish we wouldn’t have 20 hours a week to spend researching and writing our sermons. In the real world we would have obligations. The resposibility, the privilege, the honor of shepherding God’s people. That would take time, as it should. But whether the week was filled with appointments, hospital visits, calls on the homebound, administrative duties, fixing the church plumbing, and cooking for the men’s breakfast Bible study, Sunday is coming.

While most of you have never given a sermon you understand this feeling of joy and dread, fear and awe, because for every single one of you, year after year, Christmas is coming. Played out on a larger calendar, you deal with the same thing that pastors do week after week. The resolutions to be more organized next year. To start the shopping early. To buy the Christmas cards when they’re pennies on the dollar the week after Christmas. To hit the home décor shops on Christmas 28th and scoop up all those gorgeous little decorative Christmas doo-dads when they’re 80% off. The resolution to finish the Christmas shopping in July, to get the Christmas cards out Thanksgiving weekend, to have gifts in the mail by the first weekend in December. Next year will be different, better. Next year you’ll be able to relax and really enjoy the meaning of the season. Next year you’ll decline some of those Christmas parties. Next year you won’t cave in to the pressure to present a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas Eve dinner while still attending both the grandkids’ Christmas performance and the candlelight service later. Next year you’ll have lost 15 pounds and fit back into that outfit you love so much.

It’s a warm afterglow that first week of Christmas. And then the next thing you know it’s December 1 again and you haven’t done anything the way you vowed. Everything has to get done, everywhere is crowded and crabby, prices are jacked sky high, the family won’t commit on when they’re going to come – if at all – for Christmas, you’ve lost your address book and gained 5 pounds. None of which really matters, because Christmas is coming.

Every year this reality stares us in the face. Every year we feel unprepared, and every year Christmas arrives regardless. Memories are made and shared. Photos are snapped. Christmas hams are kept away from eager dogs. Babies get fed and wrapping paper gets cleaned up and stockings get filled and bicycles get put together regardless of missing three screws and the directions being written only in Korean. Every year we sit crumpled on the couch afterwards listening to the sounds of laughter or the sounds of silence, amazed that, regardless of how ready we weren’t, Christmas arrived anyways.

This is God’s gift to us each year and each week. Christmas is coming. Sunday is coming. And you and I being sinful and broken and pretty self-absorbed, we hear that as a call to arms, a call to man the battlements and prepare ourselves. To provision the larder and ensure that there’s enough brandy and eggnog for Aunt Karen. We hear it as the nails -on-the -chalkboard whispers of Satan telling us it’s all on me. I have to get it right. I have to pull it together. If I’m not ready it will be a fiasco so epic that my great-great-great-grandkids will walk by the still-smoking crater of what used to be our home and whisper about the year they failed Christmas. Christmas is coming. Sunday is coming. As a gift.  But Satan wants to steal this present off of our front porch like one of those people who steals UPS packages this time of year, and leave us instead with a flaming paper bag of steamy, stinky guilt that we try desperately to stamp out only to find out that our shoes are covered with it and we can’t get it off.

But today is a gift, not an obligation. It’s a present from God not a responsibility to shoulder. And it arrives whether we’re ready or not. Whether we’re happy with how we look or feel, or how the person next to us looks or feels. It arrives not because we caused it or created it or deserved it, but only and always because our God loves us and cares for us and desires to give us good things.

He gives us the best thing He can give us – his Son. Our Savior. Sure, the present isn’t wrapped very well by our aesthetic sensibilities. We might have preferred something a bit more sparkly, a few more bows on it. But He gives us his Son as a gift, and as anyone with any manners knows, you need to pay attention to the gift on the inside rather than the wrapping job on the outside.

He gives us his Son as a gift, as good news, as peace and joy and reconciliation. There’s nothing more to be done than to receive this gift. No need or ability for us to improve upon it. There are no batteries to be installed, no assembly required, no exchanges and no returns. One size fits all. It is the gift of God’s peace on earth, quite literally, his goodwill towards humanity.

Sunday is the day we observe the Sabbath, also a gift. A weekly reminder of God’s peace, God’s grace, God’s provision. It’s as easy for pastors to forget this every week as it is for you to forget this once a year. It isn’t about me. It’s about the God who gives good gifts to his people, and the response that naturally comes about when we receive a good gift. We can take the gift and put it on our back as another burden or responsibility, as another means of making ourselves feel good about our own efforts, but that’s ludicrous. Irresponsible. Rude. It’s far better to receive the gift and settle down to enjoy it. To really examine it. To really appreciate the magnitude of the thought, the depth of our need, and the goodness of our God who truly loves us. Christmas has come. Sunday is coming. Thanks be to God, go home and enjoy it. Amen.

Milestones

December 22, 2015

Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the first web site on the World Wide Web.  Granted, it wasn’t accessible for almost another year, but still.  Hard to believe that the Web is so recent, particularly when you consider that it would take several more years before people began to be aware of it beyond educational circles.

How many things that people once took for granted have been displaced by the World Wide Web and subsequent, related technologies?  Phone books?  Bookstores?  The list is probably astounding.

 

Sort of a Defense

December 21, 2015

Thanks to my wife for sharing this article by a Muslim religions scholar in San Diego.  I was excited to read it as it sounded like it might be what I’ve been looking for – an intelligent, theological explanation as to why ISIS is *not* legitimate Islam, while moderate, mostly Westernized Islam is.

Whether Muhammad was preaching a purely defensive interpretation of jihad while he was in Medina seems a matter of interpretation.  What is defense?  Does defense include offensive measures to right previous wrongs?  The treatment in this article is slippery and vague, and necessarily so undoubtedly given length considerations.

I was intrigued by his discussion of the Hadith, the body of writing claiming to describe the words and actions of Muhammad that were not part of the divinely revealed Qu’ran.  Though the Hadith is of immense importance in Islam, the author seems to marginalize that importance, casting doubt on it’s accuracy regarding Muhammad and focusing on it as primarily informative about the people who compiled it.  Who is a “specialist”?  Is that a Muslim professor?  An imam?  What is the distinction of use of the Hadith between a “specialist” and someone else?  Is that distinction important?  I suspect it probably is very important.

He implies that the Hadith has been misused to appropriate passages from the Qu’ran intended within a limited context for use in broader times and circumstances.  He cites a passage(but does not document the citation) and claims that this passage applied only to a certain time and condition.  But he doesn’t provide the textual support to undergird that assertion.  Why is his interpretation of this passage in that way more valid than the broader interpretation of ISIS?

He espouses a very western interpretation of what gives rise to radicalism.  Radicalism is a matter of education and empowerment and economics.  He tacitly dismisses the idea that anyone might actually believe some of the rhetoric and goals of ISIS.  This isn’t a religious issue, then, but merely a sociological and economic one.  The writer claims to be Muslim – what does he believe about his religion, then?

This is where he completely side-steps the issue.  Rather than addressing whether there are legitimate Qu’ranic texts that support violence in our time, he sidesteps by opining about how all religious texts have been misused to legitimize violence.  This may be very true, but it doesn’t answer his question, so his assertion that there’s no point in answering it doesn’t hold water, logically.

The fact that other religious texts have been misused for justifying violence does not address the question -which the author himself raises – of whether the Qu’ran does specifically.  And this really matters.  If the Qu’ran does legitimize violence in a broad manner (as opposed to the limited, contextual violence of the Hebrew/Christian Old Testament), then there is a problem much greater than education or economics.  It is a problem that must be addressed by the Muslim community, and to simply claim that Isis doesn’t match your preferred way of practicing Islam doesn’t solve the problem at all.

The author pushes the solution to the problem to others, rather than to the theological leaders of Islam.  Warning people about falling pray to “demagoguery” is only helpful if there is clear, vocal, consistent refutation of demagoguery as such.  How does one determine what is demagoguery and what is not?  What constitutes a reliable authority on the Qu’ran, and by what means is that reliability established?

Agreed, the Muslim population of the world has the difficult but important duty of demonstrating the true character of their religion, but that also requires clear voices on what that actually means.  Sidestepping the whole religious violence in the Qu’ran issue is not helpful, either to Muslims seeking to be faithful to their religion or outsiders seeking to make sense of Islam and its followers.

Reading Ramblings – December 27, 2015

December 20, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 27, 2015

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

Context: The Christ-child has arrived. The Son of God incarnate, really and truly incarnate. So his parents do for him what the Law requires. In this reading, we witness Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus for redemption. This ceremony is known as Pidyon Haben and is still performed today by devout Jews. It applies only to a Jewish woman who gives birth to her first child, and that first child must be a boy. The father presents the baby to a Kohen, a descendant of Aaron. A ritual exchange of words ensues, with the Kohen asking the father if the father would rather have his son back or keep the redemption money, traditionally five silver coins (used in lieu of the blood sacrifice required in Exodus). The father indicates the boy. The Kohen may keep the coins, but sometimes returns them as a gift to the family. There is no option for the father to refuse his son back, or for the Kohen to keep him. It is purely a formality.

The readings today stress incorporation into God’s family. Jesus arrives in the world on Christmas, becoming part of the human family. He becomes part of God’s chosen people through the faithful actions of his parents.

Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15 – God has finally allowed the Pharaoh to be defeated. In darkness, the firstborn of Egypt dead in their homes, the Israelites are ordered to depart. Yet even as they are leaving, God is instructing Moses as to how they will remember this event. The Passover commemorates the Exodus, but the redemption of firstborn sons commemorates the deaths of the Egyptian firstborn children and animals. The redemption is to be symbolic – God is not commanding child sacrifice. Rather, by a very specific act associated with a firstborn son, God’s people will be reminded of what their freedom from slavery and death cost them. Pharaoh had decreed the death of all Hebrew children. No redemption was offered. God requires redemption only for male first-borns, with the understanding that the redemption is mandatory. The father cannot choose not to redeem his son. Likewise, God could not choose not to save his people from their death sentence in Egypt. His faithfulness to his covenant promises is re-enacted with each generation.

Psalm 111 – Praise is given to God for who He is and what He has done, and for the fact that He himself has caused his people to remember these works (v.4) as a source of remembering his mercy and grace. Certainly we are prone, in this age of instant information and a never-ending cascade of bad news, to forget God’s goodness, how He acts today to sustain us and how He has acted in the past. It could easily be argued that were it not for God commanding the remembrance of his gracious and merciful acts, we would be as quick to forget them as his people in the Old Testament. Our memories are all too short, and our attention all too quickly diverted.

Colossians 3:12-17 – As with God’s chosen people, there are signs by which his people today are marked. While followers of Christ are not compelled to circumcise their baby boys or redeem their male first-borns with silver, our identity in Christ is just as much a part of who we are. Those brought into the body of Christ are not marked physically, but by changes in their very nature. We become marked by peace – not because we are naturally peaceful but because our peace comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit. Baptized into Christ’s death and anticipation rising again as with his resurrection, our lives are transformed by this hope. It is not that Christians are nice. It is that Christians are to live in awareness of all God has given them already in his Son.

Luke 2:22-40 – Joseph and Mary are obedient in bringing their young son to the Temple to redeem him there with the customary sacrifice. They are also there to perform the purification rituals required for Mary (v.22). Mary would have been considered ritual unclean for seven days after the birth of Jesus, and for an additional 33 days (Leviticus 12:1-8). As they come to the Temple then, Jesus is already over a month old, Mary will have already offered her sacrifice, and they are en route to the redemption ritual for Jesus.

Their minds are no doubt preoccupied with many things, and we can be fairly sure that an encounter with Simeon and then Anna was not among them. Simeon’s words are still used in traditional western liturgy and are known as the Nunc Dimittis, which are the opening words in Latin. While many are inclined to interpret Simeon’s song as a request for death, yet this seems an unlikely purpose. While Simeon is often assumed to be old, we are not explicitly told this in the text. We are told that the Holy Spirit has prompted him on this particular day to go to the Temple. As such, Simeon’s song seems much more appropriate as an acknowledgement that God the Holy Spirit has fulfilled his promise to Simeon, and Simeon is content to return to his home.

Perhaps we assume Simeon is aged because of his request to hold the baby. Would a mother or father naturally relinquish their newborn to the hands of a stranger? But if Simeon is not threatening, perhaps they would consider it. Simeon also confers a blessing to Mary and Joseph, an action typically associated with someone older. On the other hand, we are told that Anna is advanced in years (v.36). She is a prophetess and a widow, and she is described in terms that make her a holy woman. Is she drawn towards the holy couple because of Simeon? The text isn’t clear. But it is clear that she has been divinely guided in her response.

Luke’s first two chapters have painted Jesus’ parents as obedient. Mary receives Gabriel’s message in humility. They circumcise Jesus on schedule, they give him the name Gabriel commanded Mary to. Mary offers the appropriate sacrifice for her childbirth. They come to the Temple for the redemption of Jesus. They receive the prophecies of Simeon and Anna. Then they return home, having accomplished everything according to the Law of the Lord (v.39). Everything has been done appropriately for Jesus. He has been brought properly into the family of God’s people.

The combination of the miraculous and the mundane can easily escape us in these opening chapters of Luke. Angelic visitations, miraculous pregnancies, and then the ordinary, common procedures of any new parent. Luke will round out his description of Jesus’ youth in the next few verses, still precious little information by our modern standards of biography. But Luke clearly establishes his purpose. Jesus embodies fully the divine and human. He is conceived miraculously but delivered normally. In the routine events of taking him to the Temple his extraordinary future is prophesied. He is the incarnate Son of God by whom everything that has existence now exists (John 1:3). Yet He is brought into God’s chosen people by the ordinary means. If He is to substitute for us under divine wrath, He must embody us in everyday ways. He can be our substitute because He is our brother according to the flesh.

Wet Bar Wednesday – A Day at the Beach

December 16, 2015

While other beach drinks are perhaps more infamous, this one proved to be delicious!

  • 1 part coconut rum (Malibu Rum or other)
  • 1/2 part Amaretto
  • 4 parts orange juice
  • 1/2 part grenadine

Mix all of the ingredients together and serve over ice.  We found this to be too sweet for our taste.  You could back off on (or eliminate) the grenadine if you aren’t worried about the color of the drink (it will be a darker orange rather than a ruddy pink).  Alternately, you can add 1/2 part of lemon juice to help temper the sweetness.  This worked well for us.  Enjoy!

 

 

Wednesday Musings

December 16, 2015

Some miscellaneous sharings this morning.

First, check out this poetic meditation on baptism from Chad Bird.  Very beautiful indeed.

Because I grew up with the A Charlie Brown Christmas, I get kinda sentimental about it.  I thought that this little observation was interesting.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this particular aspect of the show, and it is poetic as well.