Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Isaiah pulls out the stops so frequently that you might want to discipline yourself to notice that he has done so here too. That’s likely why those who choose for the lectionary placed this passage for the first Sunday after Christmas.
It’s also a fine piece to illustrate similes and metaphors.
- Selected similes
- has clothed me in the garments of salvation
- has covered me with the robe of righteousness….
- until her vindication shines out like the dawn
- and her salvation like a burning torch
- As a bridegroom decks himself….
- As a bride adorns herself
- As the earth brings forth its shoots
- as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up
- The mouth of the Lord will …
- You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord
- and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Notice also the careful periodicity (parallelism).
Less attractive for me is Isaiah’s choice to boast for Jews and Jerusalem to be first place in any line up for God’s attention. Isaiah was writing in the time of King Uzziah, who died in the 740s before Christ.
Jews do not give this passage a Christian reading. They still expect a messiah.
Christians who see Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy risk falling prey to an exalted sense of our exclusive importance in God’s plans for all creation. Remember that Caesar is to sack Jerusalem from March through September in 70 AD, a mere 38 years after the death of Jesus. According to Josephus, there were 1.1 million casualties. The conquerors celebrated its capture on the Arch of Titus in Rome.
Jerusalem was outside Jewish control from 70ad until 1948, when the Allied Forces re-established Israel.
Not to be a spoil sport, I remind myself that this “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord” was short-lived, and even its recovery from 1948 has meant disenfranchisement for Palestinians. I try to remember the current political reality of Israel and Palestine even as I celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
Psalm 147 or 147:13-21
The psalm is in synch with Isaiah 61 in singing praise for Jerusalem and for God’s preferential treatment given it.
He has established peace on your borders; * he satisfies you with the finest wheat.
The psalmist asserts an exclusive Jewish franchise on God:
He declares his word to Jacob, * his statutes and his judgments to Israel.
He has not done so to any other nation; * to them he has not revealed his judgments. Hallelujah!
For several months this year I used a signature file for email that added to my contact information this quote from today’s reading:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.
The church violates Saint’s claim if it requires lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered to live under the law no longer required of hetero Christians. All are justified by Jesus’ righteousness, not by our own. Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross for absolutely everybody, indeed for the whole world.
Saint pushes his claim with legal terms for a Christian’s inheritance:
So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
In Romans 8, Saint went even further:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We are co-heirs with Christ, all of us.
I know that it is uppity of me to say so, but say so I must, not just for lgbt Christians, but also for the health and sanity of heterosexual Christians: heterosexual Christians are flat out wrong when they behave towards lgbt Christians with no respect for the fact that we are co-heirs with Christ.
On October 1st I preached at St. Andrew’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan at a service to honor the 10th anniversary of the Oasis Ministry in that diocese. The Rev. Joe Summers is on the Oasis board, and he retold my story in a sermon titled “Joy” which he preached at The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 10th, 2010
Louie was born and grew up in Anniston Alabama, the town made famous because it was there that in 1961 the Freedom Riders were so viciously attacked and their bus bombed. Louie met his future spouse Ernest, an African-American man, in the fall of 1973 in Atlanta. Louie lived in a small town called Fort Valley, Georgia. After courting for five months they were married and then lived together, a gay inter-racial couple in Fort Valley until 1979. When Louie moved to Fort Valley he went to the Black Episcopal Church in town. (At this point Ernest wasn't an Episcopalian). But Louie's growing notoriety led the priest and vestry to ask him to leave. Knowing it was God who had invited him to the church--he couldn't in good conscience. Thankfully, three women on the vestry who had voted against asking him to leave organized the other women in the church to make made sure that each Sunday there was always someone sitting with him.
The priest was furious. Finally, the Bishop intervened and issued a summons for Louie to appear before an ecclesiastical court. William Stringfellow heard about this and arranged for Louie to have a pro-bono lawyer. When they got before the Standing committee of the diocese the lawyer pointed out that there was nothing in the canons that allowed a Bishop to call a lay person before a church court unless they were on the vestry and Louie was not.
The Bishop was clearly humiliated and apologized explaining that he had acted in anger. Later, this same Bishop, went on to sponsor a resolution that stated that marriage is the standard for holy relationships which was then used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in our church for decades.
But throughout this time Louie kept loving and kept praying for this Bishop and the day came when this same Bishop, presided at the Eucharist at a national Integrity gathering and said to those gathered: "For decades Louie Crew tried to tell me that God loved him as much as he loved me but I couldn't believe it. But he was right and I was wrong." [bolding mine – LC]
Later this same Bishop [the late Rt. Rev. Bennett J. Sims, Bishop of Atlanta] wrote in his autobiography how it was coming to know Louie and Ernest that transformed his ideas about sexual orientation and loving relationships.
Love your enemies--how crazy that sounds till you hear something like this.
I treasure +Bennett Sims. He and I became friends long before we agreed about homosexuality. He was generously vulnerable even in our arguments. I was profoundly moved when, at his request, I was a reader at his interment at Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore on August 5, 2006. I hope that I will have his grace to grow and change even in my old age. I hope that I will have his generosity to make myself vulnerable by loving well even those with whom I disagree. I look forward to being with him in heaven.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the “synoptic gospels.” syn means ‘alike’ and optic has to do with “seeing.” The synoptic gospels use the same way of looking at a story. Each gives basically a chronological account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each shares many of the same stories.
The gospel of John breaks out of that mode. While it contains some of the same stories, in John’s book meaning trumps narrative.
John is studiedly, deliberately philosophical. He begins, “In the beginning was the Word….”
The Greek term λόγος ’logos’ appears in hundreds of English words, such as psychology, biology, anthropology, eschatology….” Meaning, ‘the study of’ –-the study of the psyche (soul or mind), the study of living organisms, the study of human kind and culture, the study of the end times….”
John amplifies what he means by λόγος :
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Only then does John get specific and personal:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. God was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote their gospels before John wrote his, and they steadily focus on concrete details. John privileges abstraction.
In all four gospels, God, the immortal one, the creator, enters creation and takes on our mortality. He lives and dies as one of us.
Recently Ernest and I visited the Grand Canyon. A friend described it as “God’s coloring book.” It is awesome to face in all its grandeur and splendor this physical record of millions of years in the life of the Colorado River in a place relatively recently known as “the state of Arizona.”
Saint John changes that awesome focus to ask, “Who is God and how can we mortals know God?” He answers, “From the beginning, God is λόγος ’logos "The Word.”This λόγος became flesh, as Jesus, and dwelt among us mortals.
Do you believe that?
What does it mean to you?