Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

A Light in the Window

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. John 1:9

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, taking an evening stroll through my neighborhood is a joy. Christmas tree lights offer color and sparkle. Santas and snowmen – light-up, blow-up, and of the hard plastic variety – populate front yards. Wreaths and garlands hang on doors, illuminated by porch lights. And in the windows, candles.

Most of those things disappear within a few days of December giving way to January. But this year, the candles remain. As if by some spiritual consensus, the candles shine through window panes still, offering light in the darkness for whomever happens to pass by. These candles don’t offer light selectively, they illuminate the path for everyone and anyone.

What a simple, faithful truth these candles reveal: the true light is for everyone, no exceptions. You, me, and everyone else. If that isn’t a sure sign of hope and love, what is?

Shining A Star Light

Readings: Psalm 124; Jeremiah 31:15-17; Revelation 21:1-7; Matthew 2:11b-18

Opening their treasure chests, they (the Magi) offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod say that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” [Matthew 2:11b-18, NRSV]

In all my years at church, I’ve only heard one or two sermons on it. No one seems eager to offer such a horror story between Christmas at the manger and magi on Epiphany. The magi go home by another road, Jesus and his family escape to Egypt; it’s easier to focus on these good outcomes than on what happened in the left behind town of Bethlehem. But the story is there, a testament to the cruelty the world visits upon the young and innocent who lack the means or opportunity to find a safe haven.

The madness of a single person in a position of power can extinguish life, stealing the future of so many without thought and sometimes seemingly without repercussions. Sometimes, such evil is hard to see or understand in a direct way ; it’s contours are obscured in darkness. It is only when a light is shining that it becomes visible, and is recognized for what it is.

Epiphany is revelation, a light shining on God In Our World. Epiphany is revelation, a light shining on evil within our world and ourselves. I would do well to remember this. Better to see the cruelty in my own heart and offer it up to God for transformation than to visit it upon the innocents in my own place and time.

OMG

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12); John 1:1-14

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was the Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into the Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed, and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. [The Message, John 1:1-14]

John 1: 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
 
When I worked in San Antonio there were large billboards that had messages of faith prominently displayed along major highways. These billboards could be seen in various parts of the country and were rather thought-provoking. One I remember said “DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO COME DOWN THERE!” and was signed “GOD”. I remember thinking, “well, I guess we did—thank you.”
These words in John’s prologue say it all. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, interprets this verse: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”. How amazing and awesome is this!
This Word that was in the very beginning, which was with God, which was God, which created all things, is now here in our midst as one of us. Jesus has arrived and is living next door. May we invite him into our homes and welcome him into our hearts today. Oh, my God!
Offered by Bill Albritton, seeker of the Life-Light.

Children and Shepherds, Seeking Jesus

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

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. This 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.” [Luke 2:8-15, NRSV]

When I think of the Advent season,I go back to my roots.
I was born in a small rural village called Newbold,  just outside Rugby, Warwickshire, England. My sisters and I attended St. Botolph’s Sunday School in a small stone church similar to Christ Church. I’m sure that’s where we heard the Christmas story. We knew about the shepherds on a winter’s night listening and seeing the beautiful angels.
We went Christmas caroling and the one carol that I remember was Once in Royal David’s City stood a lowly cattle shed We were familiar with cattle sheds because the hillsides in our village had sheep and cows and cattle sheds. This is where the Christmas story came to life.
We could imagine the shining stars all about and one special star that guided the three kings to the cattle shed where Jesus was born. In that small village we could imagine shepherds on the hillsides with angels and bright stars. We were filled with anticipation, but not for presents and gifts.
When Christmas finally came we were filled  with the same excitement as the shepherds felt to see the Holy  Infant. We enjoyed home baked candy, cookies and cakes. We were very happy, filled with the Christmas spirit.
So Advent to me brings back warm feelings that I felt as a nine year old child. On a cold winter’s night I still enjoy the bright stars and I am still looking for that bright star which will lead me to Baby Jesus  and the true meaning of Christmas.
Offered by Anita Trottier, child of God bound for Bethlehem.
  [Holy Family,  by Margaret Hill]

Waiting Time

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; I Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 11:1-11

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promises he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” [Luke 1:46b-55, NRSV]

It is a time of waiting. It seems to have been a time of waiting for a long time. Waiting for the ravages of the pandemic to cease. Waiting to be with people we know and love. Waiting to hug our grandchildren not just have a virtual chat with them. Waiting to let go of the fear. We wait for something to change, for things to get better.

When the waiting has gone on as long as this waiting has, it’s hard to hold on to hope. I think it was hard for Mary, too. She and other Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for a long time. So, to keep holding on to hope, Mary remembered. She remembered all that had happened, all that God has done. And in that remembering hope blossomed. And when hoped blossomed she was ready. Ready to join in the work of God.

It sometimes helps to sing our remembering. If that’s true for you, here’s a hymn that might help:

A Song of Praise (Tune: Hyfrydol, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”)

Now I lift my song of praises, God my soul does magnify.

Now I sing in great rejoicing, to God’s blessings testify.

For our God has looked with favor on the servant meek and low.

From now on all generations, blessing, honor will bestow.

God has shown great strength and power, brought the proud and might down,

Lifted up the lowly people as a sign that love abounds.

God has given to the hungry good things that they may be filled.

And the rich have been made empty, sent away their voices stilled.

Holy is God’s name forever, for our God has done great things.

Mercy comes to all who fear God, those who live the praise they sing.

God has helped the faithful servant, showing mercy, justice, love.

So forever we will serve God, lift our song of praise above.

May the faith we share together be a faith like Mary’s own.

May the life we live together prove our trust in God alone.

God of challenge and disruption, God whose ways our own confound,

May we celebrate and follow when the world’s turned upside down.

Offered by Jeff Jones, writer bound for Bethlehem.

Taking Note(s)

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; I Samuel 1:19-28; Hebrews 8:1-13

God finds fault with them when he says, 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord.

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.’

In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

Imagine, looking up and seeing in the stars a divine and predictable pattern so immense that one lifetime cannot see its end. (Cecil J. Schneer, UNH, 1983)

In a science lecture on the history of astronomy, a geology professor revealed to my nineteen year old self the wonder of the stars in their courses, and how it had inspired people from all over the world for thousands of years.  His words opened a door into a deep but until then unseen reality. But when I looked around at the other learners in the class, the holiness of the moment had gone largely unnoticed. The person next to me had dutifully copied the sentence in his notebook, unaware of the wondrous revelation taking place before him.

The same happened in a music theory class on the circle of keys and in an oceanography lecture on the ocean’s deep, unseen currents. These extraordinary revelations were duly noted by everyone in attendance, but rarely noticed.

I could decide that these instances came to me because I’m more perceptive than others. But self-deception of that magnitude is exhausting, and I just don’t have the energy to maintain it. I’m certain that in other classes where I memorized material and kept good notes, there were moments of revelation – I just never lifted my eyes from the paper to behold them. I learned the lesson and passed the class, but I missed the miracle of it all. What was written on paper was never written on my heart.

 

If I’m not careful, I can read Hebrews, or any scripture, take good notes, and miss the whole point. I can even twist the words to discount the very tradition that fostered God With Us. But the fault isn’t with the law of love, it’s with my heart that doesn’t want its inscription.

Maybe Advent is God waiting for me to stop taking notes and look up as much as it is me waiting for God With Us to arrive in Bethlehem.

 

 

 

 

Pass the Potato

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; I Samuel 1:1-18; Hebrews 9:1-14

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary…But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with human hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have  been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! [Hebrews 9:11-14, NRSV]

It’s very hard for most of us to let go of anger, guilt, resentment, and a whole host of other emotions that threaten to crush us with their sheer weight. It’s why we have particular acts to help us let go of such things – confession, both individual and general; absolution, both individual and corporate; penance as a way to act out regret and remorse. It’s all designed to lift the burden that we don’t seem capable of casting off of ourselves: a way to pass the awful potato of soul death.

Sometimes, the mechanics of it all take a dark turn. Instead of handing it over to the loving hands of God, we throw the existential spud at someone else, or a whole group of someone elses. All our bad stuff now becomes theirs. We turn some other group into sin personified, then feel perfectly justified and holy in punishing them, even unto death. And this pass-the-potato game goes both ways: sometimes we hand it on, sometimes it’s handed to us.

Jesus came to end this game, not by improving our potato passing skills, but by stepping in the middle of it. Instead of handing it on, he took it out of play. Our failings don’t burden others, and theirs no longer become our burdens.

It’s revolutionary – this truth that we don’t have to live in an endless cycle of pass-the-potato-of-existential-angst. Clearly, God doesn’t want us to play the game any longer. When we decide we don’t want to play it, when we refuse to play it, when we walk away from it, it’s more than revolutionary: it’s holy.

 

An Alternate Reality: From Doing to Being

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

“…Go, do all that is in your heart…” 2 Samuel 7:3

“…I will give you rest…” 2 Samuel 7:11

After 51 years of intense and often overwhelming striving – 45 in the paid workforce and six as an unpaid but very busy and highly responsible worker at home – I retired last month, as in stepped away, clocked out, retreated.

What happened next seemed inevitable. Having withdrawn from the frenetic hustle, I moved to the desert (literally). I, like other reclusive types before me, have simplified, downshifted, and consciously relinquished much that gave my life meaning before. I sold my businesses, seriously pared through material possessions, said goodbye to family and friends, and re-located to a different state.

Here I now am doing “all that is in [my] heart.”  At first this was mainly recovering – lots of sleep, changes in diet and exercise routines, daily immersion in nature, much reflection amid the incredible quiet. I’ve been aided in my solitude by the covid shelter-in-place mandate. I have received much needed rest. Many has been the day when, at the end of it, I realize I’ve not spoken to or interacted with another person all day. Am I lonely in this extreme seclusion? No. I feel as if I’m on the receiving end of a reward long-earned and long-deferred. I revel in my isolation and am feeling divinely ministered to and understood.  As other verses in 1 Samuel assert: For the Lord is a God who knows what  you have done… and …He will protect his faithful ones.

In my current minimalistic experience, I am finding great peace. All the heretofore life motivating “shoulds” have fallen away. Desert creatures are my brethren. Sensory experiences no longer involve words and images on screens; now they center around appreciation of sunrises, starry skies, sunsets, and good books.

As you reflect during Advent, I offer to you my recent observation that as the externals of my life have drained away, the internal gifts have bubbled up. It took deliberate and mindful action to effect this massive life change, but, now that it has come, I am truly full of thanksgiving and praise for this God-provided time of rest to do all that is in my heart. I wish it for you as well, or whatever the desires of your heart may be. Blessings to all of you!

Offered by Jill Fredrickson, desert traveler bound for Bethlehem.

Mysteries and Why Not’s

Readings: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Judges 13:2-24; John 7:40-52

I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;

my hand shall always remain with him… [Psalm 89:20, NRSV]

I love a good mystery. While most real life crimes are committed by the usual suspects (spouse, sibling, business partner, etc.), it’s almost never true in a well written mystery. On the rare occasion that the butler/husband/heir did do it, the reasons are never as simple as they often are in real life. A good mystery is exactly that: a mystery.

Life outside criminal investigations is rarely simple or obvious. There isn’t a living being that can be fully understood. It’s difficult to predict what any particular person might do when faced with a challenge or put in a dangerous situation. Who can work under pressure? Who will find an unexpected solution to a vexing problem? Who will find the strength and courage to risk life and limb to save others? It’s almost impossible to know in advance.

The same was true when today’s passages were written. Who would have thought that the poetry writing, dancing-before-God-and-people, youngest son and shepherd would be chosen by God to rule? Who would have thought a poor teenager and a carpenter would be the ones to raise God-With-Us? Why a locust eating backwoods preacher as the forerunner? Why a Nazarene born in a stable?

In this holy world where mystery abounds, God only knows who will be chosen next. Why not you? Why not me?

Dance

Readings: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:12-19; Hebrews 1:5-14

It was told to King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom, and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the peoples, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes. [2 Samuel 6:12-19, NRSV]

Unseemly. Dancing in the street in a less than regal outfit was not what a king was supposed to do. Of that, Michal was certain. Her new husband was embarrassing himself and her with his unorthodox leaping and shouting. She despised him for it. Kings weren’t supposed to act that way; a certain decorum was expected when appearing before the people. But David wasn’t dancing for the audience gathered in the street. He was dancing because he was in the presence of God.

When you experience the sheer joy of being alive and in God’s presence, measured words and slow steps just won’t do. It doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t matter whose eyes are on you.

It’s time to dance!