Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Miracle You and I and Jesus are Here!


Christmas Sermon
Gospel of Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2009 At Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, Texas

Scripture from Luke 2:1-20:  In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 1This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Prayer: Place on my lips the word of salvation, in my heart a love that welcomes all, and in the depths of my being, the light of faith and hope, which the darkness can never overcome. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some thoughts:
It is a miracle you and I are here reading this blog.

According to biologists, and reported by the author Bill Bryson in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, it is a miracle you and I are here at all. It is possible that if your two parents had not bonded just when they did, possibly at that very second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here. And if their parents had not done so in the same timely manner you wouldn’t be here either. Likewise this is true for their parents, and their parents before them, and so on and so on.

These ancestral particularities add up. Trace your lineage to the time of Abraham Lincoln and you have 250 of these unique and time sensitive parings. Go back to the time of Shakespeare and you have no less than 16,384 ancestors exchanging genetic material in a way that would eventually and miraculously result in you.

At 20 generations each of you has 1 million, 48 thousand, and 576 unique parings. At 25 generations you and I have no fewer than 33 million 554 thousand 432 men and women upon whose “devoted couplings our existence depends.”

At 30 generations (remember these are moms and dads only) you are at 1 billion, 73 million, 741 thousand, and 824.

At 64 generations, roughly the time of Jesus, our eventual existence depends upon no less than 10 to the 18th or 1 quintillion. If you trace this back to the time of King David you can more than double the number of unique, timely, miraculous couplings that have taken place to make you and I – quite particularly – us.

Surely by now you have figured out that surely something has gone wrong with my math. As a graduate with a degree in Studio Arts, this would be a good guess. Remember though this is Bryson’s math, based upon biological research. And you would be partly correct if you were led to this decision by the realization that there haven’t even been that many people in existence on the earth. However, the biology and math are pretty accurate. What we see in this example is that, while unique and dependant upon precise time and exact exchanges of DNA – we are also all, quite literally – family.

And so it is tonight that we gather as family to celebrate what is a very unique birth, the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to Mary and Joseph.

In our Gospel Luke is eager to provide the story of that unique and particular birth, in an orderly account not shy of giving names, dates, and places of our Savior’s birth.
Jesus as our Messiah and Savior is born into a royal but all too impoverished family of the House of David -- to Mary and Joseph.

Arriving in Bethlehem, the site from which the Messiah is to be born, Mary gives birth to Jesus. We are told she gives birth in the middle of an outdoor or open air place where travelers gather and animals are fed.

At the end of his life, Jesus will be wrapped in linen, tonight he is swaddled in bands of cloth.

He will have no place to be laid to rest; tonight there is no room in the inn.

He will be laid in a tomb, tonight he is laid, the bread of life, in a manger where animals feed.

His parents are literally homeless, and for family are surrounded by shepherds – the first ones to hear God’s Good news. The lowliest laborers come to the poorest of places, to worship and impoverished king.

To those whom no good news is ever given, receive the very first tidings by God’s angel, accompanied no less by a legion of angels singing: Glory to God.

The shepherds received a prophecy telling them how, where, and in what state they will find their Savior, their Davidic King, their brother, their hope and their life.

So it is that they are the first in our human family, unique in and of themselves, to come and worship Jesus, telling Mary all that had happened and why they were there, which she had wondered about…

The shepherds as a response to the unique birth, the glad tidings, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy family leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen and had been told to them.

Children are always gifts to us, and Jesus Christ is a true, special, and unique gift to the human family, and to our spiritual family.

We, you and I. are like the shepherds in this story; perhaps not in the outdoor agricultural kind of way – but in the fact that we are hopeful members of Christ’s family. Uniquely us and particularly us, we are given the opportunity to make a worshipful response to Christ’s birth tonight, again for the first time, but we are also given the opportunity to leave this place glorifying and praising God.

We are given the opportunity to place the words of salvation on our lips for others to hear.

We are given the opportunity to feel in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ that welcomes all people.

We are given the opportunity to embrace a light that enlightens our souls with faith and hope – which darkness may not overcome.

So it is that we wish one another Merry Christmas tonight – out of hope, love, faith, and the promise of peace which comes from unity. Tonight no one is a stranger, all are brother, sister, mother, and father. Tonight we walk into the darkness together lighting the world with the light of a newborn child – Jesus Christ: Mary’s Son of God, the shepherd’s Savior, the angel’s Messiah, and our impoverished and humble King.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wondrous Christmas

My father and mother never bought our Christmas tree until after the fourth Sunday in Advent. Sometimes, that meant going for our tree on Christmas Eve! Aside from the excitement this tradition created for me and my siblings, it always heightened the Christmas tree shopping adventure. One year we couldn't find a tree at all. It was 1976, and we were living in the Heights at the time, near downtown Houston. I was 10. We ended up driving the family Country Squire station wagon all the way out to a garden store on the Katy Freeway near Kirkwood on the western edge of Houston. We found a few trees as the store was closing. I can still remember my Dad smiling to himself as he paid 50 cents for that 13-foot tree! It was enormous and we had to cut the top off to get it to fit in our living room. It was a wondrous site.

Every Christmas season is a wondrous time. It is with wonder that we, as Christians, look back to see and remember a homeless family who searched for shelter, for a place to rest. We wonder of the prophets' visions of God with us, and the reality of his manger throne. We wonder at the meaning of a king whose power becomes evident in the powerless form of an infant swaddled in a manger. We wonder about the love and joy of a mother and father who looked at their child Jesus and beheld the creator of the cosmos--not unlike the wonder you and I might feel when we hold a baby and feel a sense of awe at the miracle of birth. We wonder at the love between God and his creation.

Christmas is a time to wonder about the light that rests in the hearts of every Christian making their journey along life's road. I wonder how the light of Christ, the coming of the Christ Child to a family so many years ago, changes and transforms how we are family, one to another, today. How do we offer that light to others? How might we live our lives so that when people meet us and know us and work with us... they see that light in our eyes and in our hearts? How does this light shine through actions we take to make the world a different and better place?

I have a feeling that my wondering will lead me to the sure and certain knowledge that being a Christian in this world is helping to find homes for the homeless, power for the powerless, food for the hungry, hope for the hopeless, and joy for the joyless.

So I pray, may our Christmas be wondrous. And may we in our wondering find the infant Christ, and may he give us the heart and voice of prophets, the awe and wisdom of a sage, the joy of Bethlehem shepherds, and the humility and love of the holy family so much so that our wondering changes the lives of those around us throughout the year.



The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle

IX Bishop of Texas

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Fourth Sunday in Advent


Scripture Notes
If you are interested in following the notes on the scripture through the Christmas Holidays go to http://www.texasbishop.blogspot.com/
 and or http://www.hitchhikersguidetoluke.blogspot.com/ and sign up to receive a message when the updates occur (RSS feed or follow on Facebook).

This week is the fourth Sunday in Advent and you can connect with the Textweek resources here: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk1b.htm. The passage can be found electronically at Oremus here: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+1:39-56&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Thoughts on Scripture
In this, the fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel lesson (Luke 1:39-56) offers us the story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth and Zechariah's home. We cannot read this lesson without reflecting on the passage before--wherein Gabriel visited and announced the coming of the "Son of God"--and that this child is to be born in the lineage of the great Hebrew King, David. We learned that this new royal son is to bring into creation a new reign, an eternal reign of God.

Our doubts rise at the miraculous news, just as Mary's must have, wondering and pondering the meaning of this message. The angel puts her heart and mind at rest, reminding her that this is the God of the Hebrews who had done miraculous things, things that cannot be believed, things that are told from parent to child. This is the God who sent Abraham wandering. This is the God who gave Sarah a child in her old age. This is the God who brought Joseph into Egypt and protected him there. This is the God who frees them from slavery and provides for them in the desert. This is the God who returned his people to their land and built up a great city and temple, Jerusalem. This is the God of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. This is the God who loves his people. He is inaugurating a new heavenly reign in which all the world will be invited to participate and to dwell within.

You may have doubts but our ancestral faith story tells us that nothing is impossible with this God. We might remember these words from Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son."

Chris Haslam writes: For redemption through God’s might in the Old Testament, see Exodus 6:6 (delivery from slavery in Egypt); Deuteronomy 4:34 (“by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt”); Jeremiah 27:5 (“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth”); Isaiah 40:10; 51:9. (find more comments like this one from Haslam at: http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cadv4l.shtml)

For Luke, the author of these passages, Gabriel's news is the inauguration of the final stage in salvation history. So then, we see these very first words of Luke's Gospel--his good news to his readers--is that their salvation is deeply rooted in the story of their ancient faith ancestors.

This is true for us just as it was for the first readers of the Gospel of Luke. Do we in this moment begin to meet and know Jesus again for the first time, renewing in this, the fourth Sunday of Advent, our relationship with Jesus -- bringing our final act of preparation for Christ's birth on Christmas to a close and opening for us a way to enter into God's eternal reign?

If this happened to me, I would rush to my closest relative's side -- and that is what Mary does -- bringing us to the Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent. When she arrives and tells Elizabeth, the child in her womb leaps. This reminds us of the ancient story of the leaping children in Rebecca's womb, brothers Esau and Jacob. Perhaps this is even a foretelling of their relationship and the shifting of power from prophet to savior?

Elizabeth's response is faithful as she wonders how she might be so blessed as to receive the visitation of Mary. And Mary is portrayed as a model believer, having faith and hope in God's promises to her. This is the meaning of "blessed" in Luke's Gospel, that she is portrayed as a faithful follower of God. Sometimes we believe the word blessed in the scriptures refers to God's blessings, here and throughout Luke, blessed refers to the idea that the person who receives the blessing is a good steward, faithful follower and believer. It is in their actions, not God's, that show forth and invite the acclamation from those who witness their faith that they are blessed.

I wonder what it would be like to go through the rest of the days between now and Christmas and, where we witness faithful people following Jesus and helping and aiding the less fortunate, doing kind work on behalf of others, working to heal those who are infirmed … what if we mentally and prayerfully marked them as blessed people in our lives? What if we actually verbalized, as does Elizabeth in our Gospel, their giftedness and told them they were blessed?

It is in this moment that Mary offers the words of the Magnificat. I imagine Mary reflecting on the story of her people and the immense sense of collision with her life this news from Gabriel, the leaping of the child in Elizabeth's womb, and the words Elizabeth offer. I cannot describe the potential of this moment. But Mary does describe it and speaks out proclaiming God's greatness and her willingness to serve the Lord and be obedient in all things. She will be a steward and disciple because of all that God has provided for her. In remembering her people's story she proclaims and glorifies God because God is compassionate. Mary knows and calls out that this God keeps his promises and is faithful to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, and all the patriarchs and matriarchs.

Mary is rehearsing Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. We see that the past work of God is begun anew in the conception of Jesus. Mighty work is done from the lowliest of people. God is continuing salvation history and fulfilling his promises made to Abraham. But the message of Jesus is a reconstituted reign and a diversified Israel where by all those who have called their father Abraham (remember John the Baptist's words from last week) are joined by all those whose baptism with the Holy Spirit by Jesus may now find their home in Jerusalem. This is not simply an ethnic heritage, but one open to the adoption of God's children not in the fold of Abraham's family.

As we meditate upon the meaning of the words of Luke's Gospel it would be too easy to see this as a past event. Yet this is our story. It is certainly my story. From my parents and faith family I inherit the story of Jesus and the ever widening circles of his reign and his grace-filled embrace. Like Elizabeth I have the opportunity to bear witness to visions of blessed people who faithfully follow Jesus and aid those who are without, in accordance with John the Baptist's proclamation.

I also have the opportunity to thank God in this the fourth Sunday of Advent for my inheritance and the gift given to me in Jesus. Still more opportunity lies before me though, recognizing that my heart leaps at the news of my relationship with the about-to-be-born Jesus. But I also have work to do. So may my words and your words be as Mary's … “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reflections about the Third Sunday of Advent


The passage this week is Luke 3:7-18.


7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

To connect to text week's resources for all the readings follow this link: http://www.textweek.com/yearc/adventc3.htm; to look at resources for the Gospel reading follow this link: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk3b.htm


The passage can be found here at Oremus: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+3:7-18&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Some thoughts...
We continue this week the story of John the Baptist's proclamation of baptism. We remember the uniqueness of this baptism as a metanoia or turning that is essential bedrock within the catholic tradition of our church. While there were many prophets in that time and scholars recognize that baptism was not unusual, we see in the Gospel a self differentiation for the follower of Jesus in the lukan community that sees baptism as a primary way a Christian marks their choice to follow Jesus. We can easily imagine in this unique combination of accepting an ordered life in the manner of Jesus and the water of baptism as a cleansing ritual the growth of our understanding that sins are forgiven and life is forever changed in baptism.

John the Baptizer is not offering us an opportunity to adopt his way of life where home is the desert, clothes are skins, foods are grasshoppers and wild honey, there are no alcoholic beverages and prayer and fasting mark the hours of the day. John is offering us in his proclamation and act of baptism an opportunity to turn away from our previous life to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is very possible that some of these words, which make up the synoptic tradition, are deeply rooted in the earliest Christian documents of sayings and traditions. Sometimes these documents are called Q.

We know in the Gospel of Luke that the Pharisees and high priests will reject John's baptisms (7.30 and 20.5). Nevertheless, crowds of people looking for a savior come out to the Jordan to hear the message and receive the baptism, to take a sacramental journey into the wild places and wash as a pilgrimage towards ever new and transformed life.

They are met there by the wild John the Baptist calling them vipers! Jesus also will call those who live questionable lives with alternative and destructive intentions vipers (23.33). The people who come to John are recognized by him as people who are in need of change. They are in fact creatures of the desert place and the washing may prepare them for the coming kingdom, and deliverance from the wildness of this world into the grace of the coming reign of Christ.

We might well remember Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians 1:10 where Paul says, "you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming”.

In verse 8 we see the word “repentance," metanoia. The word in Greek literally means returning, or coming back to the way of life charted by the covenant between God and Israel. See also Exodus 19:3-6 (where God commands Moses to tell the Israelites “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation”); 24:3-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34 (“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. ... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts ... they shall all know me ... I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more”).

John the baptizer is demanding right living based on a sincere search for God’s will (Matthew 7:15-20; Galatians 5:22-23) and suited to the promise of repentance. We see this ancient covenant connection and the life of our faith ancestors throughout Luke's Gospel and Jesus teaching as we are reminded of “Abraham our ancestor”. See also Luke: 1:54-55, 72-73; 3:34; 13:16, 28-29; 19:9; 20:37; Acts 3:13, 25; 7:17, 32; 13:26; 26:6; 28:20; John 8:33, 39; Romans 2:28, 29. We are then named a desert people who have found our life and our faith in the bosom of God and deep within the well of his heart. For those who choose to live a life oriented on the Christ and his reign we see the promise and potential of a life lived not in scarcity but the bounty of grace which promised manna from heaven, that the lilies be clothed, that the poor would have good things and the hungry fed.

Verses 10 - 14 are unique to Luke's Gospel. Here we see the Gospel's proclamation that right living has to do with sharing what we are given, and that it is characterized by a special concern, sensitivity and action on behalf of the poor. Jesus in Luke's Gospel will speak clearly about stewardship of possessions and so central was this to Jesus' teachings that we see it mirrored throughout the Acts, see Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35.

We get a sense of the rich and the poor being unified in this proclamation of change and baptism, and in their ministry one to another. We cannot read verse 12ff without remembering here we are to hear of the story in Luke's Gospel of Zacchaeus the tax collector who gives half of his possessions to the poor.

So powerful was John's message and such a figure of hope and transformation was he that others believed he was the messiah. So it is the last verses of this passage that we see him continue to refocus our attention, beginning in verse 15, on the coming of Christ who ultimately will provide the Holy Spirit to the baptism of water. How often do we move into positions of power or authority or ministry and the glory which rightly belongs to Christ comes to us? In this advent season we are challenged to remember the humility of the Christ family as described in the Gospels and be challenged to do as John the baptizer does and point forward to the Christ who is truly working in us and our life together greater things than we can ask for or imagine.

As I think about these verses and the opportunity to preach this weekend, I am wondering how the season of Advent can serve to reorient our lives to our baptismal promises? How can our time, in the midst of preparations for Christmas celebrations, help us to see that we are to change, take a step back into the life of Christ? That we are called and challenged to live a particular life of continuous returning to the desert and waters of baptism for refreshment in a life's long journey. When we come to this place of Advent, we are to realize our place within the faith family of Abraham and seek not only to be reconciled with our Jesus but also to be reconciled with the right living which is to give to the poor, and to aid those who go without.

I recently read this Christmas rant: http://expatminister.org/2009/12/04/something-i-have-to-get-off-my-chest/. What was particularly stunning were these figures. Americans will spend some $450 billion to celebrate Christmas. In comparison, it would only take $10 billion to ensure clean water for every human being in the world, and $13 billion to keep folks from going hungry. Certainly these are numbers to make one pause in the face of Zaccheaus who gives away half of what he possesses to the poor. What if we lived out the change and right living John the Baptist offers us not only at Christmas but throughout the year?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Statement on Recent Election in Los Angeles

The recent election in the Diocese of Los Angeles of a partnered lesbian as bishop suffragan raises the questions of covenant and communion within The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion once again. Leadership in the Diocese of Texas has consistently adhered to the request for gracious restraint and a moratorium put forth in the Windsor Report and supports the ongoing process of a Covenant within the global Communion and will continue to do so.

The Diocese of Los Angeles and the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, elected on December 5, must now follow a consent process. The implications of this vote are far reaching and it remains to be seen if more than half of TEC’s 109 diocesan standing committees and more than half of the diocesan bishops will approve her election. It may take up to four months for the consent process to unfold.

The Windsor Report, written following the election and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, NH in 2003, requested a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops and in 2006, The Episcopal Church agreed to refrain from electing additional actively gay bishops. This summer, the Church’s General Convention acknowledged there is great diversity of opinion within the Church on the issue of sexuality, marriage and ordination.

The Diocese of Texas is a diverse diocese and opinions among our clergy and our laity vary on the issue of sexuality. We have many gay and lesbian members across the diocese and week after week they join with the rest of our Church as faithful communicants to worship and work on behalf of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the blessing of diverse opinions on scripture and sexuality, while as a whole the Diocese of Texas has continued and continues to offer a clear response to the wider Communion through a traditional teaching on marriage and ordination.

Even so, the Diocese of Texas has always supported both the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process which seeks to realize a Communion where everyone across the globe has a voice in the common life of the Church. We cannot isolate ourselves by listening only to the voices of any one province, or even the voices of any one diocese within our province. In the Diocese of Texas we are interested in our relationships locally and abroad, believing we are stronger when we listen to and partner with diverse cultures around the world.

As bishop of the Diocese of Texas I will continue to honor the request of my brother and sister bishops across our province and the Communion, and the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and will not consent to the Rev. Glasspool’s election.

While I will not vote to consent to this election, I am unified with others throughout the Anglican Communion around the issues of safeguarding human rights everywhere. We reject the pending Ugandan legislation that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate portions of that country's anti-homosexuality laws. I believe that “efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005). This has been the position of Anglican bodies, including several Lambeth Conferences. The Primates’ Meeting noted that, as Anglicans, “we assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship” (Primates’ Communiqué, Dromantine, 2005). Recently, our Presiding Bishop has spoken out and our Archbishop has been meeting intensively with the leaders of Uganda to ensure the dignity of every human being is honored as a creature of God.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2nd Sunday in Advent, Wilderness Wonderings



A Thought or Two For the Second Sunday in Advent (Luke 3:1-6)


The opening words of our Gospel for Sunday give us on the one hand the authority of this world (vs 1: "Fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius") and on the other hand a new authority (vs 2: "the word of God came"). This new authority is one inaugurated in very real time and is measured by grace and not power. It is a time of renewed salvation history deeply linked to the past and intimately connected with readers, and our own, present.

Who cannot relate to the feeling of "wilderness." While we might know of John's possible connection to Qumran and other wilderness communities it is not this that connects us but rather the feeling of being followers of Jesus in a strange land with competing stories about the nature and values of culture. We relate to the ancient Hebrews in Israel, we relate to the occupied Israelites of Jesus' own time. We relate because we too struggle with a captivity which is hallmarked by consumerism and debt and recession; not to mention the stress and strains of family and relationships. The world is a wild place and we find our home in it as foreigners in a strange land, longing for the Kingdom of God present, and not yet fully realized. We long in that wilderness to hear the voice crying out.

We as Christians understand John the Baptist as the agent to fulfill the ancient prophesies: Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5 (“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes”).

Baptism we are shown in Luke's Gospel is at once seen as the ancient and present way of deliverance and entrance into the kingdom of grace with a prophet king named Jesus. To the Jews of the time and to Luke's reader John is proclaiming and acting out a preparation for the coming of Jesus. It s a proclamation being made to the whole world a proclamation we know as the Gospel.

I will be thinking this week of how the time and the season of Advent offer us a time to connect with the real world wilderness of the people in and outside of our congregations. How do we as people already baptized, already living within a kingdom without walls, take a Gospel of grace into the world around us, proclaiming Jesus and proclaiming the opportunity of hope and joy and transformation that awaits those who choose to follow him and work under his Lordship? What are the real world differences we as Christians can make?

Last night a friend reminded me of Jackson Browne's song Rebel Jesus. Find it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxDwy8JkFFI&feature=fvw That has me thinking of the challenge we face. It has me thinking of how the mission field can really challenge us to be better at our work as a church.

As Mary pondered these things, the season of Advent is a season of pondering. So, I am pondering and hope you will join me in that corporate work of prayer, discernment, preparation, and pondering.

Blog Archive

Quotes

  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball