We continue in the Gospel of Luke with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are old and they are childless.   Zechariah is a priest (not sure I mentioned that before)…and he has been chosen to offer the incense offering.   He is at the altar where he had for so many years prayed for a child when the Angel came to him.  The Angel told him that Elizabeth would bear a child, a child filled with the Holy Spirit, a child who would pave the way for Jesus.  Zechariah, a priest, standing in the Temple, at the altar, lost sight of the miracle in front of him.   He simply could not see it.  He doesn’t ask about the Holy Spirit… or about the “Lord” who is coming,  He’s still hung up on his own struggles.   He says to the Angel (you might not know, or in case you have forgotten) “My wife and I are old, so how is this possible?”.  The Angel gives a resounding “just-who-do-you-think-you’re-talking to” response. 

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

In other words…. do you think for a moment that God doesn’t know that you’re old. Do you think this is impossible for God?   If what comes out of your mouth is not going to be helpful, why don’t you just be quiet for a while.    

Here is where the story gets comical.  Zechariah is now mute.  He hangs back at the altar for as long as he can, but all of these people are waiting for their priest to return.   He finally comes out and starts pantomiming what has happened.   It is this crazy game of Temple charades.   He finally gives up and goes home.  He remains mute until the John the Baptist is born.   

Back up for just a moment to the part where the Angel first comes to Zrchariah.   The NRSV translation says that Zachariah was “terrified.”  The Greek word there is tarasso.   In the book “Light of the World”, Levine says the connotation here is that Zachariah is startled or shaken up.  Luke uses this word when Jesus asked the two men on the road to Emmaus,  “Why are you “tarasso”?  (shaken up)  

“The sense of being shaken up is Advent good news.  Christmas should be more than putting up the tree and wrapping the presents.  It should give birth to something that shakes up the routine, something that gets us to see the world otherwise.  That shaking up is what it means to follow Jesus.  To love one’s enemy is scary; to take up one’s cross is terrifying.  Yet at the same time, Luke reminds us, there is a legacy that carries us forward and a promise that God will remember the covenant and bring about eternal justice.”   (Amy-Jill Levine, Light of the World.)

Grace and Peace at Advent

The doll in the swing, circa 1961.  One of my favorite Christmas memories.   Oddly enough, what I remember most about that moment is the smell.  The smell of that doll would stay with me.   I now realize that smell was the plastic of the doll. (Yes, most likely the non-biodegradable PVC plastic… and dolly is probably in some landfill waiting for Jesus to return…. but let’s not go there today.   It’s Advent)  To this day I equate the smell of that doll to new things, good things, happy times.     

Our memories, like our lives are not Norman Rockwell paintings, perfection frozen on canvas.  If we look closely enough, inside each treasured memory there is a nugget of reality, a reminder that crazy, complicated, beautiful and sacred can exist together in this life. 

We remember, and guess what; God remembers.  God remembers,  but  not in some score-keeping, “gotcha” kind of  way;  God remembers God’s promises, the covenants of love and grace.

Now here’s a twist:  “God remembers” is also the next character we meet in the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, It is Zechariah (he comes just after Herod) and his name means “God remembers”.  

I know, I know.   I can hear some of you saying, “It’s day four of Advent … what happened to Mary? Where’s Joseph?   In Yoda-speak: “Patience you must have.”   The story of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth is often “passed over”.  But it is part of the Christmas story and it is one of those zany, crazy stories, so “unreal” that it makes the big story very real.  

 In classic Abraham and Sarah fashion, Zechariah and Elizabeth are an older couple who do not have children. Luke 1:6  “Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.”

 (Of course,  in the days before sperm counts and infertility clinics, the couple was childless so the woman had to be barren  just sayin…sorry.. feeling a little feminist and feisty this morning)

 Soooo… God sends an Angel to Zechariah to tell them that Elizabeth will have a child, not just a child, a very special son.   Their son would be filled with the Holy Spirit and he would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  We know that son as John the Baptist who did indeed prepare the way for Jesus. 

This is where the story gets a little wonky.  Zechariah dishes out some “back talk” and the Angel is having none of that.  The story gets juicy and  the Angel comeback is one of my favorite verses.   Stay tuned.  

Grace and Peace at Advent

Myra

For much of my life I would read Tolstoy’s War and Peace every year.   It is such a beautifully written novel, a wonderful story.   But every year, somewhere in the book I would stop and realize that something was missing.   Because I cannot read Russian, the novel’s original language, I must rely on someone else’s translation. Nuance is often lost in translation.   I would stop mid book and wonder, “what am I missing?”  

We are tracking the Christmas Story in the Book of Luke and this week I learned something interesting about this Gospel in its original language.  In her book “Light of the World”, Amy-Jill Levin explains the dramatic shift of the language in Luke.   The first five verses of Luke are an introduction, and explanation for what and why he is writing. 

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,  I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Look at these verses carefully; it is very interesting, even in English.  (note…the shout out for Theophilus.  This has confused theologians throughout history.  No one knows just who Theophilus is.   He could have been a patron of Luke, or because the word translates “of God”… it might have been a general term for the early church.)  Here’s the kicker…. These first five verses were written in immaculate, formal and beautiful Greek, showing education and writing skill not seen in the other Gospels. 

Then in verse five, Luke begins the Christmas story… “In the days of Herod of Judea…”   There is a dramatic shift in the language. Luke shifts into what scholars call the Septuagint, the language of the Hebrews, the language of the Old Testament.   “The shift in the Greek is palpable, like going from modern English to Shakespearean language.  With the shift, Luke takes us to the past world of early Jewish history.  Luke thus insists: to understand Jesus requires understanding Jewish history and Jewish texts.”  (Amy Jill Levine “Light of the World”)

From perfect Greek to ancient Greek… who knew?   Levine continues:  “Luke is telling gentile converts (early Christians):  the history of Israel is now a part of your history as well.  It is a part of your story.  Read, remember and rejoice.”

So what does all of this mean for us, here, on the third day of Advent 2019?  It means that the story we are entering is sacred.  It is not the two dimensional Christmas card manger scene.  It is a story with deep roots. It is a story steeped in tradition.     Levine is right.  It is OUR story. 

Grace and Peace at Advent.

Myra

Ok, it’s Monday.   I’m still regretting that last meal of stuffing and French toast casserole… yes.. in the same meal… on the same plate.  (I’m carb loading…)     It’s a new day, a new week and Advent is swinging into high gear.   For a moment, help me stop obsessing about calories and carbs and let’s jump into the Christmas story. Let’s dive head first into the historical context of the story, because where and when matter.    We begin with the Gospel of Luke.  Luke gives us the most vivid picture of the manger scene and only in Luke do we find the Angels and the shepherds.   Most scholars believe that Luke was a companion of Paul, that he was probably a physician.  The skill and knowledge in his writing show that he was educated, but I like the Gospel of Luke because he is a story teller.   He knows how to tell a story and he has a deep sense of setting, context, and history.     

The Christmas story in Luke begins with these words…. “In the days of King Herod of Judea” .   Yes, Luke was putting the story of Jesus into a historical setting, but it is much more than that.   Luke was writing to the early church and the name Herod would have sent a shiver down the spine of every reader.   We got a sense of who Herod was, in the Gospel of Matthew.  Herod learns about the birth of Jesus from the Wise Men then orders the deaths of every male Jewish child under the age of 2.   As scholars are quick to point out, that mass killing has no historical verification.  ( It was not mentioned in any other historical documents of the day.)  But few would argue that it gives us an accurate picture of Herod.    What is documented among the historians is the fact that Herod murdered two of his own sons, one of his wives along with her mother, brother and grandfather.   This was not only Roman rule, this was Roman rule under a man who was dark and cruel, and this gets top billing the telling of the Christmas story.  Everything that happened, happened   “in the days of King Herod.”   There is a universal gasp as the story begins. 

God is showing up in the darkest of times with the brightest of lights.    God is not deterred by ugly politics or politicians, crazy or even cruelty.   In fact, the darker the night; the brighter the light.  God comes to earth as a vulnerable, helpless baby.  God knows how the story on earth will end, but he is not deterred.  Nothing stops the love of God.    In the words of the Apostle Paul:   “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

As Advent unfolds, the days in this part of the world get shorter.  The hours of darkness grow each day.  And the world continues on a path of chaos, and sometimes cruelty.   Still God continues to show up.  The story that began “In the days of Herod” is God’s story; it is Jesus’ story; it is our story.  

Grace and Peace at Advent

Myra

And just like that, in the blink of an eye, it is December 1 and the beginning of the Advent season.  I mean seriously, I still have left over turkey and stuffing in my refrigerator.   Left overs or no… Advent is here.  Those of you who have followed the blog for years know that I love Advent.  Year after year I am blown away by the sacredness of the season, the hidden treasures in the beautiful stories of the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Yes, the Christmas story is only recorded in two of the 4 Gospels and for the record, “Advent” is not found anywhere in the Bible.  I like to think of Advent as our human response to this overwhelming story of God coming to earth as a baby.    As human beings we need time to process, to plan and to find a true path to what is holy. 

Come along with me for the next 22 days as we explore the Christmas story in new ways.   I am reading Amy-Jill Levine’s book “Light of the Word” and it will no doubt find its way into the writings and stories of this year’s blog.   In my rush for the Hallmark Christmas moment, I often rush past the context and the complexity of the New Testament account of the birth of Christ.  Levine will always show me a fresh look at familiar Bible stories.  And year after year in the course of writing this blog, I find that if my heart and my mind are open, God will show me something new, something significant, something that helps me better understand God and myself. 

As an added Advent bonus… the picture below is my answer Pastor Jeff Nelson’s question regarding matching Christmas Pajamas…. “who does that?”    Who indeed! (Mimi with Josh, Laynie and Jayden Bryant- Christmas 2015)

Grace and Peace at Advent

Myra

“Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand. The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land…” These are the words from the old Hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” (by the way, the word fain means “gladly” …I looked it up.) Beneath the cross of Jesus, I would gladly take my stand.
I have been going through songs about the cross today. I actually sang a part of “the Old Rugged Cross” during my sermon this afternoon, then talked about how the I do not see the cross as the “emblem of suffering and shame” …as the song goes. I am looking at how our images of the cross can influence how we see God in the world, how we hear his call into the world. Jesus suffered and died… that is fact. And the cross would indeed be a symbol of that suffering and death and shame… if the story ended there, but it didn’t. For us, 2000 years later, the cross is just the beginning. With Easter the cross becomes a symbol of power – Christ’s power over death. With Easter the cross becomes a symbol of resurrection and new lifnciliation of the world that is not limited to a tribe of people in the Middle East. With Easter the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of the living God is unleashed into the world.
Back to “Beneath the cross of Jesus” I actually like the image of the next part of the song. It is the image of a mighty rock in a weary land. In the shadow of this mighty rock, beneath the cross of Jesus… for what we will take a stand. Every day we are called to take a stand. Do we stand for love, for inclusion, for justice? Do we stand for compassion and mercy for those around us? There is another line in the song in a later verse… “content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss.” On this Saturday night in Lent, it is a good time to ask ourselves. Are we sitting back, content to let the world go by? Or are we taking a stand for good in the world.
Grace and Peace at Lent.

M

On Thursday February 15, we will begin our Lenten Journey, blogging our way toward Easter.

 

 

Advent Blog Day 2

Dec 4 Luke 1:30  “But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you.”

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and I headed to the church to meet George Marck,( one of our worship leaders) to practice a couple of songs.  Ok, it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and it was (as we say in the south) slim pickins for special music.  I had agreed to sing two songs during the service.  Now on a good day and in the right key, I can muddle through.  But on this Friday, neither of those applied.  It had been a week of coughing and hacking and I had literally gone through both the Baptist and the Methodist Hymnals looking for a song in the “croak” range.  I ended up with a Johnny Cash arrangement of an old gospel song.  Seriously, a key for Johnny Cash and there were still some questionable notes for me.

The more I sang, the less confident I got, so we called it a day.  Then George said, “I have a song I want to play for you.  It is my favorite Christmas song.  I have been working on this new arrangement.  Let me know what you think.”  He began to play this beautiful rendition of “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne.”    It was like the Angels popped out from behind the chairs and shouted “Surprise!”   This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.  It brings back precious memories of choirs and Christmases  long ago.  And it has that chorus that is my Christmas mantra.  “O Come to my heart, Lord Jesus.  There is room in my heart for thee.”

When was the last time God surprised you?  There is a great devotion from Sara Young’s “Jesus Calling”  that says.  “Before you get out of bed, Jesus has already been working to prepare the path that will get you through this day.  There are hidden treasures strategically placed along the way.”

Some of the most precious surprises from God are simple and small, but they are just what we need when we need it.   Let’s go into this day with our eyes wide open to the hidden treasures, the surprises God has for us today.

Grace and Peace at Advent

MM

Lenten Blog Day 21 – The Parking Lot

Note:  This blog is dedicated to my friend and colleague, Doug Ross who just sent me a “tick-tock” –are you blogging today email…lol.  and to my daughter Blair whose Mimi to the rescue non-emergency-emergency has shifted my scheduled for the day.  (yes, Blair, this story will make the blog one day….but not today.)

Today, I’m talking about the Parking Lot of prayer.  At the company where I work, we had our quarterly meeting on Monday, led by my friend (and leadership guru) Rom LaPointe.  I love to watch the interaction when the leaders of the company sit down together.  Rom’s job was to shift this table full of type As focused on their own area to look at the strategies of the company as a whole.  Rom is great at this.  Still with every key strategy, someone (like me) had a specific issue that needed to be discussed.  A critical, super important issue, I might add.  But an issue that would definitely dominate the discussion. (ferrous/ non-ferrous… inside joke, don’t go there.)  So Rom would take these ever so important issues and put them in the “parking lot.”   This is just to say, yes these are important, but we are not going to talk about them right now.

I was thinking about that this morning as I began my morning prayer.   As I tried to quiet my mind and my heart, some important issues came to mind.  Now these are things that I do want to bring to God, but if I start down that road first thing, I will not get to some other, equally important things…like praise and the many, many things for which I am thankful.  So I put them in the parking lot of prayer, and moved on.

One thing to remember about the parking lot is …you do need to go back there and pull them out.  I am trying to set aside a specific time where I can go to God and concentrate on these issues that were weighing on me this morning.  Don’t be afraid to “park” some issues, but then don’t forget to go back to the lot and deal with them.

 

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.  Psalm 89:15

 

Grace and Peace on this beautiful day in Lent.

MM

Lenten Blog Day 20- Trust

At the heart of prayer is trust.  We trust that there is a God who hears us and answers us. The author Sara Young suggests saying out loud during the day, “I trust you Jesus.”  It sounds simplistic and especially if you are out in the world, it may seem difficult, but you can always find a moment where you can whisper those words.  In doing so you affirm with yourself that you do “trust” Jesus.  Songs are often a part of my prayer because they are so engrained in my brain.  The chorus of this old hymn filters into my prayers and into my day so often.

“Jesus, Jesus how I trust you

How I’ve proved Him o’re and o’re

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus.

Oh for grace to trust Him more.”

 

Jesus, I trust you.  I can look back at my life and see you hand, over and over. It is all the proof that I need.  Jesus I do trust you, but “oh for grace to trust you more.”

You see trust is an evolving thing.  It is not an on/ off switch.  We are tempted to say, “Either you trust me or you don’t”.  That misses the levels of trust that exist.  I say that I trust in Jesus.  But two seconds later,  I might doubt or try to take control.   I am definitely a work in process when it comes to trust.

Again,  oh for grace to trust him more.

 

“How priceless is your unfailing love.

Both high and low among men find refuge

In the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house;

You give them drink from your river of delights

For with you is the fountain of life i

In your light we see light.”

Psalm 36: 7-9