Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, January 2, 2011. Second Sunday after Christmas

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Recently I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a brilliant novel focused mainly on Thomas Cromwell, sometime secretary and chief operator for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, thereafter chief minister for King Henry VIII from 1532-1540 and close confidant of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533-1556. Cranmer wrote many of the collects in our Book of Common Prayer.

Almost all politicians in England in those days were church politicians, given the Church of England’s increasingly tenuous relations with the Church of Rome while Henry, with wife after wife, desperately attempted to sire a male successor to the English throne.

Archbishop Cranmer had wife issues of his own. As a clergyman he had taken a vow of celibacy; yet in “Cranmer’s Box” he secreted his wife as he carted her from place to place. With many other machinations Cranmer served his king and country.

We might find Cranmer’s machinations in some ways encouraging, reminding us that our own machinations do not cut off our access to God nor to language that effects for us candid transport to God.

We have no way of knowing who wrote any one of the collects, but if Cranmer wrote this one, surely he understood the humility God required in sharing Cranmer’s own humanity.

If God can make so great a movement towards us, there is indeed hope that me may, in spite of manifold sins and wickedness, share Jesus’ divine life.

God’s incarnation as Jesus makes Christians’ relationship to God symbiotic, not merely loosely spiritual or a synthetic imitation. The dignity of human nature “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored” indeed! Come, let us adore Him!

Jeremiah 31:7-14

For weeks we have read Jeremiah’s steady pessimism, his great sorrow at how bad everything has been going. His own name gave us the English term a jeremiad,” which means ‘a doleful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes.'

In Jeremiah 31, the gloom dissipates:

Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;

and again:

I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the LORD.

God wants us too to experience such an epiphany. Into the midst of all the dolor that we might muster, the baby Jesus arrives as a major counterstatement.

Psalm 84: 1-12

The lectionary gives the option of omitting the last four verses. Please don’t.

Given the grand musical fare and many other events going on in the life of parishes during this holiday season, you might well be tempted to take the shorter version, but please resist. Keep the psalm intact, especially in Episcopal Churches at this time, when the eleventh verse works with marvelous double entendre:

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

At the 1994 General Convention in Indianapolis, Rt. Rev. Edward MacBurney, Bishop of Quincy, famously complained in the House of Bishops that Integrity, the organization of lgbt Episcopalians, had managed to cut verse 3 when the convention had sung Hymn 645, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”

Integrity did no such thing. Both the third and fourth verses of this hymn are marked with an asterisk in The Hymnal, indicating that they may be treated as optional. The liturgist of the day took this accommodation.

The Good Bishop was quite exercised not to be able to sing the words to damn lgbt Christians: “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed.” He seized his bully pulpit to highlight these words about us.

I too regret that the liturgist for the day elected to omit verse 3, thereby denying the Good Bishop and the rest of us an opportunity to hear that phrase in full context:

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing, brought me

That is good news for lgbt Christians indeed! It is good news for absolutely everybody. “The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.”

In June 2009, at 81, Bishop MacBurney renounced his orders in the Episcopal Church and joined a breakaway group. I miss him.

Psalm 84 assures Ed MacBurney and all the rest of us,

No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

Even Saint is on a tare for joy today! His prayer is a model for all of us concerned for the spiritual health and maturity of our friends and of ourselves:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Yes, God, give us eyes to see all the glorious inheritance you intend for us and for absolutely everybody.

Luke 2:41-52

How did Luke know this story? Most likely Mary told it. It was she who “treasured all these things in her heart.”

Luke stresses, as Mary with the gift of hindsight must have stressed, that she and Joseph did not understand the child’s explanation, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Like most parents, they must have been near panic after three days of searching for him.

“Why have you treated us like this?” they asked him.

Luke stresses, as Mary, again with the gift of hindsight must have stressed, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”

Luke is writing long after Jesus’ adulthood, death, and resurrection. He carefully collects all the stories he can from those close to Jesus. Imbedded in Mary’s memory, if indeed it is her story Luke shares, is her own epiphany:

Ahhh. So that’s what was really going on! At the time I noticed only my own panic about my son. He was really God’s son, on loan to me. And I had nothing to worry about at all.

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