Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 1: Our Wandering Savior

Sermon for this Sunday's difficult reading, the flight into Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, can be found here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Tale of the Innkeeper's Wife: A Sermon for Christmas Eve

You can find it here.

Christmas Blessings

May your days and your nights be merry and bright.

May the One who comes among us light your way.

May our world know peace in our day, in every heart and home and all throughout the earth.

May we all understand how intimately we are connected.

Christmas blessings to you all, my friends.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent 5 Thursday: O Immanuel

O Immanuel, our Sovereign and Lawgiver, desire of the nations and Savior of all: Come and save us, O Lord our God. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent 4: Wednesday: O Rex Gentium

O Ruler of the Nations, Sovereign for whom the people long, you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity. Come, save us all, whom you formed out of clay. Come, Lord Jesus.


This is the sound of longing.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent 4 Tuesday: O Oriens

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, Sun of justice: Come, shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Come, Lord Jesus.

On the longest night our longing turns towards the dawn.

In our day this night was marked by a full lunar eclipse, the first time the solstice has coincided with that celestial event since the 1600's. In my neck of the deep dark woods, there was too much cloud cover to be able to see. But for many this longest night offered a view of even the moon being extinguished, and the optical illusion created under these conditions that the stars around the moon are falling. At the sub-rational level, it feels like the end of all things.

But it is not the end of all things. It is, instead, the turning point. Beginning today the days will lengthen, slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly. So imperceptibly that the church, in a rare display of self-deprecating humor, celebrates this day that well-known "doubter," the apostle Thomas. I can only assume that, either we are celebrating him because we can revel in being for faithful because we are sure we know what's coming, or, perhaps more charitably, we know that Thomas knows that the Light truly is returning, has returned.

I offer you a poem by the wonderful Madeleine L'Engle, who, thanks to her marvelous book, "WinterSongs," has become an essential part of my Advent celebrations.

O come O come Emmanuel
within this fragile vessel here to dwell.
O Child conceived by heaven's power,
give me Thy strength: it is the hour.

O Come thou Wisdom from on high
like any babe, at life you cry;
for me, like any mother, birth
was hard, O light of earth.

O come, O come thou Lord of might
whose birth came hastily at night;
born in the stable, in blood and pain,
is this the king who comes to reign?

O come, thou rod of Jesse's stem,
the stars will be thy diadem.
How can the infinite finite be?
Why choose, child, to be born of me?

O come, thou key of David, come,
and open the door to my heart-home.
I cannot love thee as a king--
so fragile and so small a thing.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high,
I saw the signs that marked the sky.
I heard the beat of angel's wings;
I saw the shepherds and the kings.

O come, desire of nations, be
simply a human child to me.
Let me not weep that you are born.
The night is gone. Now gleams the morn.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
God's Son, God's Self, with us to dwell.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent 4 Monday: O Clavis David

O Key of David, Scepter over the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: Come to set free the prisoners who live in darkness and the shadow of death. Come, Lord Jesus.


At a certain point in my life I realized I had spent a lot of time banging on, and then clawing on, doors that were closed to me.  I mean this, of course, in an emotional sense. It had to do with relationships in which the person I cared for withdrew and I was left feeling like I was out in the cold (a metaphor that has come home to me this year in a new way, as we have both experienced record-breaking cold temperatures where I live, AND as I have been unusually cold myself this year). 

I carried around this image of myself clawing at doors that would never open to me. At a certain point I realized it had to do with, childhood stuff, blah blah blah. I also realized that I had closed doors to others-- one significant way in which I had done this was by piling on about 200 extra pounds. I was an impenetrable fortress, not exactly a "decision" I made, but also not something I felt equipped to do anything about until much, much later. 

The Messianic title we remember today is "Key of David," the One who is truly in charge of opening and closing doors-- whether they be the doors to our hearts or the bars that wall in prisoners. I have learned, on my journey, that the opening of those doors was made possible only by yielding that control to the One who was always in control anyway.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent 4 Sunday: O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, rising as a sign for all the peoples, before you earthly rulers will keep silent, and nations give you honor: Come quickly to deliver us. Come, Lord Jesus.

I have written about this before, here. The Christmas of my freshman year in college (what will that be like for Petra?), I almost didn't come home for Christmas. 

My family had a long-standing tradition of ignoring Christmas at home (the apartment above the store) and throwing ourselves-- all of ourselves-- into Christmas in the business. My brother and I wrapped bottles, we decorated windows. But upstairs-- it wasn't Christmas, there were no carols played on record players, there was no tree after the year I was 7. There were some good reasons for this: retail, especially small-business-family-owned-and-operated retail, is exhausting at this time of year. I look at Beloved, working 63 hours a week right now. But also, my mother hated Christmas. I don't know whether it was because of traumatic childhood memories of deprivation, or some other circumstance she never shared with me. But she hated it. The music, the decor, the tree.

So beginning the Christmas I was 8, we always went to Florida. My mom would take my brother and me as soon as school was out,  and my dad would join us on Christmas day. And-- please understand-- I loved it. I am a swimmer, always have been, and my joy and delight was to be in the pool or the ocean all day, every day. I had a tradition of diving into the pool at midnight on New Year's.... that was my real celebration. I was a very fortunate little girl. I wanted for nothing.

Except, I wanted Christmas. So, when one of my roommates invited me  to her home for the holidays, a place her parents always decked out in grand Christmas fashion, I leapt at the idea. And I told my mother. And after a brief pause, she said, "We will have a tree this year."

So I went home. And when I got there, there was a naked tree in the living room, and a box of decorations and some lights. And I set about decorating the tree all alone, while listening to a Christmas record I'd bought at the Harvard C00p; "Christmas in Cambridge" with the Harvard/ Radcliffe Glee Club. And I was happy.

I've thought about this memory a lot this year, one reason being, I've been very late getting my tree (it finally made it into the house last night), and I have been hesitant to get it, partially, because of what's been going on with Petra. I was afraid the idea of the tree would be unwelcome to her-- well, not unwelcome, exactly, but more work, more stress. I had to decide I was willing to decorate the tree alone, and that would be just fine. I decided it would be.

The anthem here, Virga Jesse by Anton Bruckner, was on that Christmas record, the first I'd ever owned-- the first ever to make its way into my childhood home. Here is the translation of the lyrics:

The branch from Jesse blooms:
a Virgin brings forth God and man:
God restores peace,
reconciling in Himself the lowest with the highest.

This O antiphon has a way, always, of filling me with a kind of awe... here is the mystery, that the roots planted there, blossom here in the most thrilling and unexpected and glorious way. As I drove home last night with the tree nestled in the car (the trunk was right next to me, and the smell of the pine was glorious), I gave thanks for the roots that make my delight in this season so deep and sweet.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tears, some joyful, some not

I received the news as I was driving home from an enormous grocery store trip-- the kind of trip where you stock up on your canned goods, and your dried fruit, and your pasta and your rice and your eggs. It was a big trip, and long, because-- my goodness, a week before Christmas, and I suppose there are many parties between now and then. And so, my favorite grocery store was jammed with people, most of whom were in fairly pleasant-to-festive moods.

So I headed home with my trunk full of food, and the sun was shining to warm up the inside of my car on a cold day, and I heard my cell phone thunk with a text message. Assuming it was Petra, I took the next safe opportunity (a red light) to steal a quick look.

It was a text from the Human Rights Campaign. The procedural vote to permit the real vote on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell had passed. It was all but certain: that wretched, unjust law that makes the US less safe by denying gifted and educated and trained military personnel the opportunity to serve was going down. At last.

I immediately broke into tears. Real tears. I sobbed. It took me by surprise, actually, the force of my tears. Sometimes we don't understand the weight of what we blithely call "current events" until they take us by the shoulders and give us a good shake.

I called Beloved, and told her. "It's done. They're repealing it. Don't Ask Don't Tell is no more." And my love, who was in hear early twenties when Stonewall was in the news, joined me in my emotion. She didn't cry. She was jubilant. She just kept saying, "Isn't it amazing when the right thing happens?"

Here is a photo, from the NY Times, of someone who is weeping, but not from joy. This was taken after the Dream act was defeated, a piece of legislation that would have enabled those in this country without documentation, but who are clearly striving to be productive members of our society, a chance, a shot at that fabled great American dream. I suppose the Senate only had it in them to free one group from bondage today.

Some tears of joy. Some tears of frustration, anger... but I pray not despair. I believe Martin Luther King was right. The arc of history bends towards justice. It is but a matter of time.

Advent 3 Saturday: O Adonai

O Adonai, Ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared in the burning bush to Moses and gave him the law on Sinai: Come with outstretched arm to save us. Come, Lord Jesus.

The title given to the Messiah here is "Adonai," Hebrew for "Lord." Adonai is used as a placeholder in the Hebrew bible for the unspeakable, unpronounceable, most holy name of God. Though the text may read the four letters-- yod, heh, vav, heh, which many Christians pronounce "Yahweh" or "Jehovah"-- the cantor in a synagogue will replace that word with "Adonai."

Of course, Adonai also means "Lord" in much the same way "Lord" has been understood as designating a man of great nobility-- as in the house of lords. So the use of Adonai as a Hebrew Messianic title does not automatically take us to the mystery of the incarnation. But the resonance is there for us, as Christians.

Here, a choir from Rome singing "O Adonai" with some fascinating silent film footage illustrating Moses and the Lord on Mount Sinai:

And here, something I wish I'd found yesterday: music of Hildegard of Bingen, "O virtus sapientiae":

Is it wrong for me to want to hear women's voices in these late Advent days?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 3 Friday: The O Antiphons Begin

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, you order all things with strength and gentleness: Come now and teach us the way to salvation. 

Come, Lord Jesus!

Beginning tonight, the Church's vesper prayers make use of the "O antiphons." seven words of praise and supplication which make use of Messianic titles found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day there is a new antiphon until Christmas Eve, when the church's prayer turns towards the birth of Jesus. 

Tonight's title is "Wisdom," in Latin, "Sapientia." It reminds us of the first verses of John's gospel: Christ comes forth from the mouth of God: he is the Word made flesh. As God's Word, he contains-- no, he embodies God's wisdom.

Wisdom is one of those slightly mischievous, slightly subversive titles for Jesus. Wisdom has a tradition of being translated into the feminine form, as in the Greek "Sophia" and the Hebrew Hokhmot.  Verbal femininity is not necessarily to be understood as female, until it is:

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
for my mouth will utter truth;

wickedness is an abomination to my lips.      Proverbs 8:1-7

There is a great and venerable tradition of personifying Wisdom female, and the case can be made (and has been made by actual scholars of Greek and Hebrew) that some of this seeps into the gospel portrayals of Jesus.

So, on this first night of the O antiphons, I invite you-- I invite myself!-- to remember the resonances of  the messianic title, "O Wisdom," as we wait with longing for the revealing of Christ.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 2 Friday

Today's lectionary passage from Isaiah 7 contains the "money" verses of prophecy for many Christians:

13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 

Phew! That's pretty potent stuff. One little discrepancy from the way we often hear it translated-- "Behold, the Virgin shall conceive," the alto sings in the Handel setting. Trouble is, the Hebrew doesn't say "virgin." It says, "young woman."

Other interesting things in this passage you won't hear too much about in the Christmas sermon:

20On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River - with the king of Assyria - the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well. 

And also,

23On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24With bow and arrows one will go there, for all the land will be briers and thorns; 25and as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread. 

Oh, we Christians are so great at plucking verses of scripture out of context to support the arguments we want to make.  Please don't get me wrong: my faith is in Emmanuel, God-With-Us, in Jesus. But this is precisely the same trouble we get into when we want to enforce all the verses we think are about particular understandings of sexuality, and ignore, for instance, all the verses in which Jesus tells us what we should do with our money.

What we need, when we read scripture, is some humility. Which, in fact, I think is found in the post below, in which Dave Matthews sings a song of Jesus that gives me chills.

Hear this, and I think you hear the words of another kind of prophet.

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary for a reasonable fee, less than
Reputable as known to be

His heart was full of love love love

Love love love
Love love is all around
When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said "oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to she'd a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around"

The blood of our children all around

The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
So the story goes, so I'm told
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me

Rumors insisited he soon would be

For his deviations
Taken into custody by the authorities
Less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers. all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Preparations were made

For his celebration day
He said "eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around"
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger have you fill

Me up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around

More lyrics:

A Christmas Song by.... Dave Matthews??

How have I never heard this until recently?

And the refrain is love, love, love.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent 2 Tuesday

Ah, you who call evil good
     and good evil,
who put darkness for light
     and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
     and sweet for bitter!
Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes,
     and shrewd in your own sight! 

~Isaiah 5:20-21

This morning's lectionary reading from Isaiah hits me where I live.  This is my fear, that I cannot see what is good and what is evil because I am hopelessly compromised by my subjective experience. I no longer have these particular doubts in the area of sexuality (which is where one might reasonably expect me to). The theology I hold is just so clear, that a loving and all-powerful God would not create an entire class of individuals who were doomed by trying to live according to the way in which they were created. I believe we were all created, no matter where we are on the spectrum of sexualities, to live in communion and in community, and I believe we can all do that ethically and still be true to ourselves.

No, that's not the area that scares me. It's the other places-- the interpersonal relationship places, where I'm so sure I'm right, where I'm so sure I've got the wisdom, if only he/ she/ they could see with my "wise" eyes!

Advent is useful for this condition. Advent used to be considered a penitential season, as was Lent, but Advent has taken on a kinder, gentler tone in these last-- what, 50?--years or so. Instead of penance, we speak of preparation. Preparation always involves self-examination, or else it's not much help. So, on this cold and snowy Advent Tuesday, I wish you (and me) fruitful self-examination, and openness to the Spirit who will instruct us (if we could get around to listening).

I leave you with another of today's lectionary readings, a fitting blessing for an Advent day:

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 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.        ~ I Thessalonians 5:15-22

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent 1 Saturday

2On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. 3Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. 5Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. 6It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.             ~Isaiah 4:2-6

This is a classic early Advent text, in that it describes beauty and horror intermingled. Isaiah (the first Isaiah, writing at the time of Kings Uzziah and his son Hezekiah) warns against both Judah becoming a client state of the enormous and powerful Assyrian Empire, and against assimilation as expressed in a casual approach to worship of the one true God. Both kings ignore Isaiah until it is almost too late. Total devastation is averted. Significant devastation takes place.

So we have Isaiah describing Zion/ Jerusalem as beautifully restored and protected (about which he seems to be confident), and then, smack in the middle, the appearance of imagery that recalls the anti-woman rhetoric we find in many of the prophetic texts. The unfaithful city is a whore, its daughters are filthy. The bloodstains serve the dual purpose of reinforcing the image of the filth and also describing the devastation taking place at the hands of the Assyrians.

As much as I would like Advent to be about pregnancy and birth and awaiting in holy, candle-lit darkness the birth of this extraordinary baby, Advent forces my attention elsewhere. I can do as I did last Sunday and simply ignore it (I preached off lectionary-- after dealing with apocalyptic imagery in the Sundays of December, I needed to get to Jesus' birth). But it will not be ignored. It is the Glenn Close-Fatal-Attraction of the lectionary year: Advent will bring us images of death and destruction before it allows us to get to the baby.

That is because sea-change, world-upside-down events are believed to presage the coming of Jesus next time around. I'll say here what I say to everyone who asks (and, apparently, to some who don't). I don't believe God's plan is to destroy the earth. I believe there is too much in scripture-- including this passage-- that speaks of God's firm intention to provide us with restoration and and renewal. That God will be among us, face to face, is a firm promise. That this world will be a new creation, is set down here and in other places.

Below, my attempt at posting something that conveys both the chaos and the restoration, with the babe for good measure.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent 1 Wednesday

11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.     ~ 2 Peter 3:11-18
I know I don't need to tell you today is World AIDS Day. I share Sting's haunting "Hounds of Winter" because it is about the loss of the beloved in this season of growing cold and darkness. The selection from 2 Peter is one of today's lectionary readings (you can find them here, every day). I find its emphasis on waiting for the coming day of God to be so beautiful, so refreshing... we wait, not cowering in our bunkers with our five years' supply of canned goods and water filled with fear (as some would have us wait). Rather, we wait at peace, striving to be kind to one another. We live in stability, not anxiety (can I get an amen there?). We wait, hoping to grow in grace and knowledge. 
So much of this speaks to our attitude as a society towards those who are struggling with AIDS, or with sexual identity, or with the private violence that plagues their lives. We strive to offer this peace, this kindness, this stability. We wait for the day of God in the same way we live: hoping, day by day, to grow in grace and knowledge. I can get behind that.