Spirit Child

X STORIES ABOUT JESUS' CHILDHOODX JESUS BOY KILLERType = ArtScans RGB : Gamma = 1.9X JESUS INVITES EVERYONE TO THE TABLEX JESUS MEDIATED THE POWER OF GODX JESUS HAD A SENSE OF HUMORX 2x4X IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKEX LOOKING FOR CLUES TO THE ADULT IN THE CHILDX SPIRIT CHILD ISLAThe first followers of Jesus had walked with him, talked with him, eaten with him. They witnessed his miracles and listened to his teaching. Those first followers of Jesus had experienced Jesus alive after his death, and they expected his imminent return, when history would come to a conclusion, everything would be made right the wicked would get their just deserts and the righteous would enter into the glory of the Kingdom of God.
As time passed the early followers of Jesus had to refocus their faith. Maybe Jesus wasn’t returning right away. Maybe it was necessary to collect and write down the stories about Jesus and the teaching of Jesus for people who had never seen him, or known him, or heard him. The second and third generations of believers became interested in the life of Jesus before his ministry began. Matthew and Luke produced birth narratives that confirmed the specialness of Jesus and made claims to rival the Roman Empire’s claims about the Caesa
If we read carefully we will notice Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives are contradictory. In Matthew, Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem, and they were forced to flee to Egypt, because King Herod was looking for them to destroy the child. When Herod died, Mary and Joseph returned to Israel, but they moved further North and settled in Nazareth, because Herod’s crazy son Archelaus was ruling Judea. In Luke, Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth, and they were forced to travel to Bethlehem in order to pay a head tax. Jesus was born, while they were in Bethlehem, and then they returned to Nazareth their home. These contradictions suggest there was no reliable information about the birth of Jesus. Many subsequent non-canonical gospels told fanciful tales about Jesus as a miracle working, sometimes mean spirited child. For instance in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a playmate dispersed some water Jesus had collected, so Jesus cursed the child and the child died — Jesus the boy killer. In truth the only story to survive in the canonical gospels about Jesus’ youth dates from the time he was Twelve.
Jesus parents were portrayed as pious Jews who made the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. On this particular trip overwhelmed by the Holy City and the Temple, Jesus remained behind, when his parents left to return to Galilee. There were no miracles claimed other than the precociousness of a child who was in the words of Marcus Borg a “spirit person.” He was in touch with the life of the spirit to an extent most other humans are not. He spent his time listening, and asking questions of the teachers of the law on Solomon’s porch. The teachers in their turn asked him questions, for this was the primary form of learning of the day.
The early church deserves credit for including in the canon only a credible story about Jesus’ childhood, rather than stories that couldn’t possibly have been true, or even stories that portrayed Jesus out of character like Jesus the boy killer. By refusing to include highly imaginative stories about the childhood of Jesus the church helped to preserve the credibility of the rest of the gospel narrative.
In the story of Jesus at the age of twelve in the Temple, the early church was affirming the specialness of Jesus. Not as a different category of being, but as a very special human being, a spirit person. When my Institute for Clergy Excellence group met with Bible Scholar Marcus Borg in 2008 he explained that Jesus was able to transcend his ego dominated consciousness in order to see the world around him from a universal or divine perspective. This transcendent consciousness made Jesus a spirit person, a subversive sage, a social prophet, and a movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion. One of the principle marks of Jesus’ ministry was the healings he performed. He was able to reach out and call forth the healing power within others because of his compassion.
SLIDE 7: JESUS INVITED EVERYONE TO THE TABLE
Another important mark of the ministry of Jesus was his feeding of multitudes and his willingness to eat with anyone. Jesus’ world was divided between clean and unclean. This was a ritual caste system intended to divide and give status to those who adhered to the prescribed purity laws.
Jesus spoke against the purity system in sayings like “blessed are the pure in heart” and in parables like that of the Good Samaritan. Compassion not purity is God’s measure of holiness. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in aphorisms and parables that contradicted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards and punishments.
SLIDE 8: JESUS MEDIATED THE POWER OF GOD TO OTHERS
Jesus was so in touch with the life of the spirit he was able to help other people to reach out and touch transcendence. In that way Jesus helped to mediate the power of God to others. Through his touch the very healing power of God flowed through people. But Jesus mediated the divine in community. Healing was a communal practice, restoring people to right relationship with God and other people, often reversing the ostracism of the purity system. The central act of worship in the community of faith Jesus left behind is a communal meal, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at God’s table.
SLIDE 9: TEMPLE WAS ONE OF THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD
Our story this morning attempts to imagine Jesus as a child. Precocious, spirit centered, aware of the great religious foundation of Judaism symbolized by the Temple in Jerusalem it only seemed natural that Jesus would seek to stay in the Temple. Some travelers in the First Century world considered Herod’s Temple to be one of the wonders of the world. There are blocks of solid limestone set into the Western Wall that are so large modern engineers still cannot figure out how the stones were maneuvered into place. For a peasant boy from a provincial village the structure of the Temple would have been truly awesome. The Jerusalem limestone has a slightly golden hue, and Herod pioneered a method of beveling the stones so that when the rising or setting sun would shine on the Temple it glowed with a golden hue. In addition gathered in a covered structure called Solomon’s Porch, the greatest sages of Judaism gathered to teach students, and to dispute with one another. In an age without electronic media or even a print media, oral disputation and discussion was one of the principal forms of entertainment. Again for a poor boy from a small village, sitting and listening to the great sages on Solomon’s porch would have been an incredible treat.
SLIDE 10: JESUS HAD A SENSE OF HUMOR
In our story, when Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus he was sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions. Apparently he was also being asked questions by the great sages, and the onlookers were astonished by the answers Jesus provided. Apparently the adult Jesus had a considerable wit. It is most disappointing that much of Jesus’ humor has been squeezed out of the gospel by mistranslation and a tendency to read his words too seriously and literally.
SLIDE 11: TWO BY FOUR IN YOUR OWN EYE
For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “why can you see the speck of saw dust in your neighbor’s eye, when you cannot see the two by four sticking out of your own eye?” If we can just picture that, it is ridiculous. Jesus intended his metaphor to be humorous. Another ridiculous metaphor Jesus intended to be humorous has serious people, who think they have to read Jesus literally tied up in knots. “If your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye should cause you to sin, pluck it out.” Can you imagine Jesus’ followers pulling out their knives or swords and cutting off their hands? Jesus had a quick wit and a well developed sense of humor.
SLIDE 12: IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?
I can imagine there were some Jesus jokes that have been lost. Like have you heard the one about the Sadducee, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who walked into the bar? And the bartender said, “we don’t serve your kind!” Or the Sadducee, the Pharisee and the Roman soldier who walked into the bar, and the bartender said, “Is this some kind of a joke?” The lost humor of Jesus.
I can imagine as a child, Jesus was precocious, engaging, quick witted and humorous all traits the sages on Solomon’s porch would have appreciated. He was a spirit child, the charismatic quality that drew people to him during his ministry was already present.
SLIDE 13: LOOKING FOR CLUES TO THE ADULT IN THE CHILD
The early Christians were not unlike us. When someone becomes famous we study stories from their childhood to see if we can discover clues that help to explain the character of the adult they became – George Washington and the cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln reading a book by the firelight. Even when stories may not be entirely factually correct, we still tell them in an attempt to capture the meaning behind the character. The early church was similarly curious about Jesus and settled on our story from Luke about the spirit child who amazed the great sages of the Temple.
SLIDE 14: ISLA YVONNE HAYDEN — SPIRIT CHILD
This morning we are baptizing a special child, Isla Yvonne Hayden. We will promise to walk with Katie in raising Isla and to nurture her in faith. And who knows years from now we may look back see we had a spirit child in the making.

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Bible Study December 31 for Worship January 13

Bible Study December 31 for Worship January 13

Luke 315 As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ,
16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
17 His 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.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,
20 added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,
22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

COMMENTARY

Epiphany means to be revealed, and during Epiphany season our scriptures focus upon stories of the revealing of Jesus to the world. Last week we had the Christ Child revealed to the Wise men, this week Jesus is revealed in his baptism.

The three Synoptic Gospels were clear that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Gospel of John tries to finesse that issue by never actually presenting the baptism of Jesus. Probably by the end of the First Century, when the Gospel of John was being written, the early church was embarrassed to admit that Jesus had been a follower of John.

John was preaching a gospel of angry judgment to come. He was pointing to a time of reckoning, when an other worldly messianic figure would come to execute justice and judgment. John principally got into trouble with Herod Antipas by preaching against his marriage to Herodias, who had been married to his brother Phillip. Apparently Phillip divorced Herodias and Antipas then married her, and there was certainly some suspicion of illicit relationships leading up to the divorce and remarriage. But even if there had been no adultery according to Mosaic Law Herod could have only married Herodias, if Phillip had died, and then only if Phillip had left no children. Also both Phillip and Antipas would have been half uncles of Herodias. This close kinship may have been enough to have been prescribed by the incest regulations of the law.

What happened, when Jesus came up out of the water after his baptism? Were the dove and the voice seen and heard by anyone else? Hollywood usually presents the dove and the voice as if everyone present could see and hear them. The voice and the dove may have been subjective experiences of Jesus alone. We don’t know, but we can speculate. Apparently even after Jesus witnessed the dove and heard the voice, John continued his ministry as if nothing had happened. According to legend after John had been arrested he sent two of his followers to Jesus to ask, are you the one, or should we look for another? This represents a level of uncertainty that is inconsistent, if John had seen the dove and heard the voice.

Clearly whatever happened, his baptism was a turning point for Jesus. His life could never be the same after that experience. For many people who want to believe that Jesus had a fully developed messianic consciousness even at birth, the very idea of a turning point in Jesus’ life is blasphemous. If he experienced a turning point, then that would call into question the very idea that Jesus was pre-destined to be the messiah, the son of God. And experiencing a turning point is just somehow too human for someone we want to put on a pedestal, so we don’t have to follow his example.

But what if Jesus was truly human like us. Then we might all ask ourselves, what have been the significant turning points in our lives, and how was God involved in those important moments? If God is still speaking, maybe God speaks in those decisive moments in our lives. We might all wish God would send a dove and a voice or sign posts to point the way at the turning points in our lives. Most of the time, however, we don’t even know we are at a turning point, until we look back in hindsight. Also turning points at least in the moment are seldom as clear as they seem in hindsight. Consider that after his baptism Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness considering the implications of his call to messiahship. He had to work through several temptations in that time of contemplation. Perhaps he was even questioning the very meaning of the dove and the voice during that time.

Week of January 7 – January 13: First Sunday After Epiphany – Luke 3:15-22 – Affirmed by Love – Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17.

Epiphany means to be revealed, and during Epiphany season our scriptures focus upon stories of the revealing of Jesus to the world. Last week we had the Christ Child revealed to the Wise men, this week Jesus is revealed in his baptism.

The three Synoptic Gospels were clear that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Gospel of John tries to finesse that issue by never actually presenting the baptism of Jesus. Probably by the end of the First Century, when the Gospel of John was being written, the early church was embarrassed to admit that Jesus had been a follower of John.

What happened, when Jesus came up out of the water after his baptism? If someone had had a video camera, would they have been able to record anything? Or were the dove and the voice visible to anyone besides Jesus? We don’t know, but we can speculate. Apparently even after Jesus witnessed the dove and heard the voice, John continued his ministry as if nothing had happened. According to legend after John had been arrested he sent two of his followers to Jesus to ask, are you the one, or should we look for another? This represents a level of uncertainty that is inconsistent, if John had seen the dove and heard the voice.

Clearly whatever happened, his baptism was a turning point for Jesus. His life could never be the same after that experience. We might all ask ourselves, what have been the significant turning points in our lives, and how was God involved in those important moments? God is still speaking, and God speaks in those decisive moments in our lives. But then those are considerations for next week.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. According to the text when asked whether or not he was the Messiah, how did John respond?

2. According to the text John baptized with water, what was his successor going to use for baptism?

3. According to the text did John predict his successor would be an all loving all accepting messiah, or a figure of judgment and punishment?

4. According to the text why was Herod reproved by John?

5. According to the text what did Herod do in response to John’s preaching?

6. According to the text when did Jesus come to John to be baptized?

7. According to the text what happened to Jesus after his baptism?

8. According to the text was this even perceptible to everyone or only to Jesus?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. If God sent an angry punishing messiah into the world, where do you think he/she would start?

2. What kind of messiah do you think John was looking for?

3. Do you think John’s challenge to Herod’s marriage was the primary event that triggered his arrest, or do you think there may have been other reasons for his arrest?

4. Do you think the voice and the dove after Jesus’ baptism could be seen and heard by everyone or only by Jesus?

5. How many major turning points would you say you have experienced in your life?

6. Do you see any common threads running through those turning points?

7. In looking back do you see God’s presence in any of those turning points?

8. Did any of your turning points call you to greater spiritual growth or greater service?


Rabbi Ephraim of Bethlehem

X INCARNATIONRabbi Ephraim picRabbi Ephraim of Bethlehem
Good evening. I am Rabbi Ephraim of Bethlehem, and tonight I want to share with you unusual, frightening, and wonderful events that have occurred in our village. Events so extraordinary, so terrifying and awesome they take my breath away, and my friends I believe I have been touched by God. Some people say touched in the head, but perhaps that is a sign of being touched by God. For when God draws near, no one remains unchanged.
But let me see, my story begins years ago. I learned Torah at the feet of Rabbi Eliakim, blessed be his memory. When first I read the Law of Moses from the bema at the age of twelve, the men of the synagogue said, “He shall be our next Rabbi.” And so from that day it was decided that I should be apprenticed to Rabbi Eliakim, who was an apothecary, that I might learn from him the making of medicine and the words of Torah. Day after day I worked beside Eliakim to learn the grinding and mixing of herbs, plants, roots and earths to make medicines for healing. Rabbi Eliakim had learned the arts of the apothecary from his father, who had learned them from his father before, who had learned the mixing of plants, herbs, roots and remedies in Babylon. He also trained me in the art of circumcision with a steady hand, and each day after the daily minion we would stay in the synagogue to study the scrolls of the law and the prophets.
One day not long before his death Rabbi Eliakim confided in me: “My son, I feel the tremors of death rattling in my bones. The foxglove no longer relieves the pains in my chest, and there is a secret I must confide in you. All my life I have waited for the coming of God’s Messiah, but now I fear that I shall not live to greet him, when he arrives. But you, you must be on the watch for him, for he will come, and when he comes it will be in our little village of Bethlehem.”
“But Rabbi, how do you know this?” I interrupted.
“Come look here in the prophet Micah: ‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah , who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old from ancient days.’ I believe this prophecy shall come true, though I will not live to see it. You will be the Rabbi, and you Ephraim must recognize him, so that you can greet the Messiah for me.”
“Master, I will do my best,” I replied, “but by what sign will I know of his coming?”
“Bring me the scroll of the fourth book of Moses. Now you read beginning here,” he commanded.
The withered forefinger of Eliakim was resting on part of the Oracle of the prophet Balaam. I began reading: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. . .”
“Look and wait,” whispered Eliakim, “look and wait for a special star to appear, and then you shall know the Messiah is near.”
Rabbi Eliakim died the next spring and I became the Rabbi of Bethlehem. For several years each night I would look up in the sky in search of the star prophesied by Balaam. But no star appeared, and over time I lost heart. There were medicines to make, newborns to circumcise, my synagogue duties, students to teach, prayers, weddings, blessings, burials and my own growing family to look after. I stopped going out at night to search the stars.
Then in the fortieth year of the reign of Herod the King, Herod the Pig may the mighty one of Israel blot out his name, the cursed Romans ordered a census that they might tax us more efficiently. In order to be counted every man was required with his wife and children to return to the village of his ancestors. The roads were full of traffic, and the Inns were overflowing. As the Rabbi of our community it was my responsibility to administer the charity of the synagogue to impoverished travelers. So many people needed shelter and food, and there were sick ones. I was so busy I did not have time to think — time to stop and look up at the stars.
Excuse me, I am being called to make up some medicine, I will return shortly.

As I was saying, I had no time to stop and look up at the stars. So one evening as I was mixing rheumatism powders for Benjamin the Inn Keeper an older man leading a donkey with a young woman on its back came to my door. “Excuse me,” the man said, “we have traveled all the way from Nazareth in Galilee for the census, and the Inn has no room. A kindly gentleman directed us to you as the Rabbi of Bethlehem. My wife is heavy with child and I fear she will give birth tonight. For the sake of the Holy One of Israel, can you help us?”
“My Lord,” I thought, “why do you send them to me? There’s no room anywhere in Bethlehem tonight.”
“Well,” I began, “the Inn is full, my house is full, but let me see what I can do.”
“Oh thank you sir, thank you. I am Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth and this is Mary my wife. We would be grateful for any help you can give to us.”
I called two of my sons and sent them to inquire at the neighbors for a spare corner for the strangers. My daughter Rebekah I sent to fetch the mid-wife. A short time later my sons returned, no room anywhere. Then Ruth the mid-wife arrived.
“Sholom, Rabbi.”
“Sholom, Ruth,” I replied. “We have a problem. This woman is about to give birth, and there is no place for them to stay. Every spare corner in Bethlehem is filled.”
“Even Menachem’s big house is full?”
“Even Menachem’s big house is full,” I answered.
“What about that cave Johannan uses as a kind of stable? We build a fire. We find some blankets, some clean straw. I have delivered babies under worse conditions.”
I turned to Joseph. “What do you think?” I asked. “I’m afraid it’s the best we can do.”
“With God’s help, and your kindness,” he replied, “everything will be alright.”
Ruth the mid-wife, myself, Mary, Joseph and the donkey made our way to Johannan’s cave. I sent my son Eli to ask Johannan’s permission. When we got the fire going, and Ruth began to help Mary I noticed in the fire light that the woman was very young, almost a girl.
I turned to Joseph and asked, “the girl is very young, how long have you been married?”
“To tell the truth rabbi,” he began awkwardly, “the wedding was rushed.” We were betrothed a year ago, when her father, my good friend Joachim, died. May his memory live forever in Israel. There were no sons, no relatives, so I a widower proposed a marriage. Now I can care of my best friend’s wife and his daughter, and if we should have a son, my friend’s name will be preserved in Israel. But as I was saying, the wedding was rushed. Five months ago I discovered Mary was with child, so we married right away.
“Age makes one anxious I suppose,” I began.
“It is not as you think Rabbi,” Joseph interrupted. “Mary is a kind and virtuous girl. When I discovered her with child I was surprised for we had not yet, uh, come together as they say. And disappointed as I was, I resolved to divorce her quietly, so as not to bring shame on the memory of her father Joachim my friend. But then I had a dream. An angel appeared to me, and told me to take Mary for my wife for the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
I looked at this kindly old man with great patience and sympathy and said, “Yes, I’m sure you did the right thing.”
As the young woman cried out in pain, and Ruth the midwife encouraged her I marveled over the danger and challenge of entering the world. Pain, blood, flesh, life is fragile and wonderful, a gift, a messy gift, but still a gift from God.
As I left the cave I shook my head over a foolish old man, who was willing to believe his dream, and the miracle of hope born in the darkness. I returned home, ate my supper, now cold and made ready for bed. But in the middle of the night I heard knocking at my door. A loud insistent knocking as sometimes comes from those who need medicine in the middle of the night.
“Alright, alright,” I called out, “I’m coming already.” I walked toward the door, and as I did so, I noticed the voices on the other side far from being anxious and worried were indeed joyful and even a little drunk.
“Rabbi, rabbi, you must come and see what we have seen!”
I opened the door and found there five of our local shepherds smelling of wine and motioning me to come with them.
“Rabbi, you must come with us, we have seen angels.”
“You’ve been to the Inn, and drunk too much wine,” I replied.
“No,” protested one of the shepherds, “we went to the Inn after we saw the angels. And the angels said, ‘the Messiah has come.’ You must come and see, beautiful baby.”
“Baby, where,” I asked?
“In Johannan’s cave,” he replied, “most beautiful baby boy. Come see.”
“I’ll go see in the morning,” I replied my irritation growing, “you need to go home before you fall down, now good night.”
As I laid down to go back to sleep I remembered the angel of Joseph’s dream, and wondered, “could the shepherds have really seen angels? No,” I answered myself as I rolled over, “just too much wine on a cold night.”
Excuse me I hear my wife calling me, I will return shortly.

Now where was I? Yes, the shepherds. I had almost forgotten all about them, but eight days later, Joseph was at my door.
“Rabbi, rabbi, we had a son, and today is the day for his circumcision. Would you be so kind to come and do for our child the commandment of the Law.”
I looked into those old and excited eyes and couldn’t help but be infected by their joy. “Of course,” I said, as I went to get the ritual knife for the circumcision.”
I followed Joseph to Johannan’s cave, and the mother emerged carrying the infant. God made our flesh and called it good. And God commanded that the mark of the covenant should be on our flesh and written upon our hearts.
I began the ceremony. “Blessed be he who comes. May it be God’s will that in this child the messiah has been born.”
“Praised are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us in the ritual of circumcision. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to make this child enter into the covenant of Abraham our father.”
Joseph uncovered the child, so I could proceed with the circumcision. As I made the necessary incision the child cried. Blood, flesh, pain, part of the miracle that is our lives. But also joy, joy in our covenant and relationship with the almighty. So I prayed.
“Creator of the universe, may it be Your will to regard and accept this performance of circumcision, as if we had brought this child before Your glorious throne. And in Your abundant mercy, through Your holy angels, give a pure and holy heart to Yeshua, the son of Joseph, who we have now circumcised in honor of Your great Name. May his heart be wide open to comprehend Your holy Law, that he may learn and teach, keep and fulfill Your laws.”
I have performed the ritual of circumcision hundreds of times, and yet I was strangely moved by this child. As the sun was setting Joseph and Mary thanked me, and I began to walk home, still feeling like I had been blessed by this child — Yeshua. And then I looked up at the darkening sky as the stars were coming out and I noticed a new and brighter star I had never seen before. And then I remembered the words of the ritual: “Blessed be he who comes. May it be God’s will that in this child the messiah has been born.”
I remembered the words of Rabbi Eliakim: “look and wait for a special star to appear, and then you shall know the Messiah is near.”
Could it be this child I just touched with the knife was the Messiah? I ran back to the cave. Joseph was packing his donkey. “Where are you going,” I asked?
“The angel spoke to me in a dream again,” Joseph sighed. “Herod is looking for our child, and we must flee for the sake of his life.”
“Then you must go. Obey the angel,” I said. “But you will need provisions for your journey. Wait here, while I go into the Inn.”
“Benjamin,” I yelled, as I walked through the door of the Inn. “Get me four loaves of bread, some cheese and a small bottle of wine. And hurry, I have travelers I must send off on the road.”
Benjamin returned with the food, and I gave him his rheumatism powders, and returned to the cave.
“Joseph,” I called out, “here is some food for your journey.”
“You are too kind,” Joseph replied.
“No, it is the little I can do for the Messiah. I promised Rabbi Eliakim I would greet the Messiah for him, and I have had the honor of circumcising the Messiah. May your child be blessed for all the blessings he will bring to Israel. Flee from Herod. Travel quickly and safely.”
As Mary and Joseph vanished down the road I thought about how fragile life is flesh and blood, pain and suffering, but also joy and hope. May the Holy One of Israel reveal to each of you your star in the sky. And with each beat of your heart, may you embrace your flesh and your blood, even your pain and your suffering, and may God grant you to know hope and joy this Christmas.


Soul Friend

X INCARNATIONX MARY HAD RIGHT NERVOUSX MARY GOES TO ELIZABETHX SOUL FRIENDSX ANAM CARAX SOUL FRIENDSX ANAM CARAX MORE THAN HUMANX WHAT YOU TOOX PEOPLE WHO NURTURE AND SHEPHERD CHILDRENX MAYBE LIFE IN ALL ITS MESSINESSX MARY'S SONGX SPECIAL BAPTISMX WHAT ARE YOUR SPIRITUAL SONGSX SINGING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICESoul Friend,

A poor, unmarried, pregnant teenager in an occupied country is about as unlikely a candidate for the mother of the messiah as we could imagine. God does indeed show up in unlikely places (like feed troughs for animals?) The figure of Mary really does emphasize both the humanity of the messiah and the incarnation. Pregnancy, childbirth, dirty diapers and nursing are all very fleshy. Babies are messy. And Jesus entered the world the same way everyone else does with a cry and whimper and a need for unconditional love. We all enter the world through the trauma of birth.
SLIDE 4: MARY HAD A RIGHT TO BE NERVOUS
Mary had a right to be nervous. If she were indeed carrying the messiah, Herod the Great would think nothing of murdering her to eliminate any rival to his throne. He even killed his wife and some of his own children, because he believed they were plotting against him.
Also, Jewish culture did not look kindly on unwed mothers. Unless Joseph followed through and married Mary, at best her child would a bastard, barred from the congregation of Israel for ten generations, and at worst she could have been accused of adultery and both she and her unborn child could have been stoned to death — pretty grim beginning.
SLIDE 5: MARY GOES TO ELIZABETH
According to Luke Mary decided she needed to get away from Nazareth for a while, so she went to visit a cousin in the hill country of Judah, none other than Elizabeth, who after having been barren for many years was pregnant with John the Baptist. In all likelihood the connection between Elizabeth and Mary was made up by the early church in an attempt to win over followers of John the Baptist. But the desire to establish the connection represented the early church’s faith that somehow John had indeed prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. As we said in last Sunday’s sermon, however, John certainly would not have understood he was preparing the way for Jesus. But when we consider at least a third of Jesus’ disciples had been followers of John, then we can understand in their minds there was a relationship and perhaps a kinship – synchronicity.
SLIDE 6: SOUL FRIENDS
Luke’s story certainly makes some emotional sense. Here were two women, unexpectedly pregnant facing awesome challenges, carrying children announced by angels and destined to shake things up in the world. Both of them needed a friend – a soul friend.
SLIDE 7: ANAM CARA
Anthony Robinson last week wrote a devotion about our scripture this morning entitled “Anam Cara,” which is Celtic for Soul Friend. In his devotion he speculated that Mary was afraid and needed a friendly ear, and someone with whom she might be able to share some tears. Then Tony shared about himself as he wrote:
A couple years ago I made a somewhat similar journey just about this time of year. I went to visit a couple – friends – who are about my age and were also thinking about things that were on my mind and heart – work and retirement and what’s next.
The truth was I was feeling a bit scared – as I imagine Mary was also. I had come to understand that work meant a lot more things than a paycheck (although those are nice too). Work means relationships, role and purpose. I could see and foresee my work, if not ending, then changing. And a chapter was certainly ending. It can be a tough thing. I went looking for soul friends. People who could listen. People who could get it. And people who wouldn’t give me easy, lame advice or treat this as a “problem” to be “fixed.” Just listening was enough for in doing that my soul friends helped me to listen to myself. (And I would add in listening to himself through friends he may have been able to hear God.)
Mary found a soul friend in her cousin Elizabeth. On my trip I found John and Susan. In our talking and listening, our hanging out, there was an acknowledgment of deep change, and of some sifting of things of the soul. Sitting with soul friends helped open the way for me to live into a new time and chapter of life. We all need soul friends. Who are yours?
SLIDE 8: WHAT? YOU TOO!
We all need friends, good spiritual friends, who will pray with us and for us. And that is the covenant of our faith community to pray with and for one another. But not everyone in our community of faith can be a soul friend to us, someone who can listen, who gets it, who can hold our fears and our anxieties in their loving hearts without rushing to try to fix it, or offer lame advice, or see us as a problem to be managed. Soul Friends are one of God’s most precious and rarest of gifts.
C. S. Lewis perhaps captured part of the essence of a soul friend when he wrote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” Elizabeth and Mary were soul friends, and in the moment of their meeting, when Mary journeyed to Ein Kerem, meaning “spring of the vineyard,” Elizabeth immediately sensed that she and Mary shared an awesome secret. Hidden within their wombs was God’s promise of transformation for the world. And so Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
SLIDE 9: MORE THAN HUMAN?
The Catholic Church has created an exalted theology around the person of Mary. Mary was immaculately conceived — Mary Queen of Heaven — Mary the perpetual virgin. In many ways this kind of imaging of Mary is a denial of our flesh and our sexuality and parallels the exaltation of Jesus, and the denial of his sexuality, that makes him more than human and in so many ways has destroyed Jesus as an example for us. Jesus could forgive his enemies, because he was more than human. Jesus reached out to love everyone, because he was more than human. The unspoken caveat is that you and I don’t have to be held to the same standard, because we are only human.
SLIDE 10: MAYBE LIFE IN ALL ITS MESSINESS IS HOLY
I think there is another way to read our text. All women are blessed who help bring life into the world. For that matter, maybe men are blessed too. Fathers can be an important contribution to the life of children and our culture in general. If only we men understood our role in that process differently – more engaged. But then life is messy. Maybe the whole cycle of sexuality and reproduction is blessed and sacred, and it is time to embrace our sexuality as part of the goodness of God’s creation. As an act of creation God said our sexuality is good, it is very good.
SLIDE 11: PEOPLE WHO NURTURE AND SHEPHERD CHILDREN
Maybe in the wake of the tragedy of Sandyhook School, we can grow to appreciate that all people who nurture and shepherd the lives of our children are Holy. Of course then we may have to explain why we do not value the contributions of people who nurture and shepherd the lives of our children. Why child care workers are paid so poorly, why we do not lift up and honor teachers. Why we have legislators who claim that teachers don’t need to be paid a living wage, because they are supposed to be dedicated. Maybe all people who nurture and shepherd our children are Holy, and maybe if we can get out of our own selfish little perspectives we will come to learn that all children are “our children” our gift to the future.
SLIDE 12: SPECIAL BAPTISM
We will be baptizing a very special child next Sunday, Isla Yvonne Hayden, and I want all of us to take seriously the pledge we will be making as a congregation. We will walk with Katie as she loves and cares for Isla. We promise to provide nurture in the Christian faith so Isla can know God and follow Christ. We promise that here in this household of faith, Isla will experience the love, support and care of Christ. Maybe we will learn that all children are our children our gift to the future.
SLIDE 13: MARY’S SONG
Our text this week can offer us one more spiritual insight. When Elizabeth offers her greeting to Mary, Mary breaks into a song that is popularly known as the Magnificat of Mary. And we may be tempted to ask, how did she make up such a beautiful song on the spot? What scholars tell us is that Mary’s Magnificat is actually a takeoff on Hannah’s Song from the book of Samuel, Hannah sang, when she became miraculously pregnant. Those same scholars believe the Song of Hannah was a popular piece of liturgy sort of like a hymn Mary had memorized.
SLIDE 14: WHAT ARE YOUR SPIRITUAL SONGS?
And that thought leads me to ask, what spiritual songs do you carry around with you to comfort you when you are sad, to give you courage when you are afraid, to pick you up when you are down, or to simply express your overflowing joy when we are blessed and you know it! We all need songs to get us through this life, and as we grow older and our memories become less reliable, spiritual songs we have memorized become important friends to help carry us across the finish line. Sharon Youngkin shares with us that she has changed the words a little bit of “I Woke Up This Morning.” “I woke up this morning with my mind, thank you Jesus!” But even when we lose some of our grip on our minds it is our spiritual songs that can provide comfort and strength in the final challenges of life. For you see we store the words to important songs in a different part of our brains than mere prose. And that part of the brain is one of the last strongholds of our minds.
SLIDE 15: SINGING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
I recommend as a spiritual practice to choose a few favorite spiritual songs and sing them often, so that when we come to the end of our days we can be comforted or inspired by “Amazing Grace,” or “It Is Well With My Soul,” or “For All the Saints,” rather than “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” “Joy to the World,” is always appropriate.
Mary made a journey in search of a soul friend. And as we embrace our common humanity our flesh and our blood, and even our sexuality, as we bring children into the world and nurture them, as we pray with and for each other, we can become a holy blessing to each other and to the world. Like Mary let us sing spiritual songs for comfort, encouragement and to express our love and joy.


Bible Study December 24 for Worship January 6

Bible Study December 24 for Worship January 6

Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;
11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

COMMENTARY

January 6th is Epiphany the celebration of the first revelation of Jesus to the outside world in the form of the Wisemen. In Spanish Speaking Countries it is El Dio de los Tres Reyes, or the Day of the Three Kings. In those countries the three Kings leave gifts for children on Epiphany. In countries where people open gifts on Christmas, Epiphany becomes the 12th Day of Christmas. The appointed lesson for the day is the visitation of the Three Kings from Matthew. The purpose of the Story of the Three Kings is to rival the claims of the Roman Empire. Suetonius the Roman historian claimed that a special star appeared to mark the birth of Augustus and that an important astrologer of the day claimed that Augustus’ horoscope had forecast that he would become the world ruler.

The Three Kings were presumably from Babylon that was the recognized center of astrology in the ancient world. Making the claim that the magi had identified Jesus as the world ruler was a major coup for the early church. According to the Babylonian Star Charts the most probable candidate for the “star” mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (the word star being used in its astrological connotation, a portent associated with a heavenly configuration, as in the phrase “his star is rising”) was the aforementioned rare triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces that occurred in the year 7 BCE, which for the astrologers of the time would have signaled the birth of a new King of the Jews that Herod was supposedly so worried about.
According to the Babylonian system of astrology Jupiter represented the supreme God of the universe, Saturn was the “Steady One,” and the constellation of Pisces was associated with the god of wisdom, life, and creation, as well as being associated with the Jewish people. When this “star” was seen “in the East” (Babylonia/Persia, the center of astrology at the time, to the east of Israel/Judea), Rome’s authority in the Middle East was not yet well-established, and the Jews were looking for a leader to throw off the Roman occupation. Some scholars contend that the Babylonian astrological interpretation of the triple conjunction would have been “the end of the old world order and the birth of a new king chosen by God.” Support for this theory can be found in the fact that early Christians used the astrological symbol for Pisces (Icthys,) the constellation where the triple conjunction occurred, as a symbol for Jesus and of their new religion, and as the symbol of the fruition of the so-called acrostic prophecy of the Erythraean Sibyl.
The story of the three Kings is used by Matthew to bring Herod into the story. Herod the Great was a native prince in the Roman Empire, and he was quite mad. The Romans didn’t really care how their native princes treated their people, so long as they kept firm control, collected taxes and sent money to Rome.

Herod was a brutal ruler. He made sure that he quelled any attempts at rebellion. On one occasion after a rebellion in Galilee, Herod lined the road from Galilee to Jerusalem by crucifying over 2,000 rebels to line the road. He taxed his people into poverty in order to send money to Rome, and his taxes made the population all the more restive. On top of his brutality Herod was also paranoid. On one occasion he suspected a butler of plotting against him, so he had the butler tortured until the poor man in his pain named co-conspirators (who probably had not been plotting.) He then had the co-conspirators brought in and tortured until they named names. Finally, Herod had over 2000 people gathered in the arena in Jerusalem who he suspected of treason, and he unleashed his personal body guard of elite German soldiers to slaughter the 2,000 people, while he watched.

Vilifying Herod was easy and popular. The point of the story is to contrast the Messiah of Love with the old politics of power and oppression. Jesus rules! For our purposes I think we can think of Herod as representing the “old politics,” where the ends justify the means, and the Principles of Empire rule: Principles of Empire

1. Human beings need to be governed from the top down.
2. The top 1% of the Empire’s population will accumulate the majority of the power and wealth.
3. The Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rules.
4. Violence is the preferred method for enforcing order within an Empire.

Jesus the King born in a stable laid in a feed trough for animals represents a new day, where the meek will inherit the earth, and everyone will have enough because everyone shares. Of course the old politics seeks to destroy the Holy Child, and 33 years later the old politics succeeds in crucifying Jesus. But love rises stronger than before. God’s promise — Love Wins

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. Who was King in Judea, when Jesus was born?
2. According to the text, where were Mary and Joseph living, when Jesus was born?

3. Where did the wise men come from?

4. What did the wise men ask of Herod?

5. Who provided the answer?

6. What did Herod ask the wise men to do for him?

7. According to the text what led the wise men to the child?

8. According to the text what gifts did the wise men bring?

9. According to the text why did the wise men not return to Herod?

10. Where did the wise men go?

LET’S ALL THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. How has the story of the wise men influenced our celebration of Christmas?

2. In the First Century people believed the stars provided signs of the future. What signs do we look for today?

3. In what ways do you think Herod was just like any other political leader?

4. Can you think of any political leaders in the last 200 years you could compare to Herod?

5. What purposes do you think the wise men served for Matthew as a story teller?

6. How have the principles of Empire changed?

7. Do you think Jesus had any political purposes?

8. How does the message of Jesus differ from the principles of Empire?

9. In our current situation how do you think we as followers of Jesus can spread the message of Jesus?

Week of December 31, 2012 – January 6, 2013: Epiphany Sunday – Matthew 2:1-12 – Where Is the Child – Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12.


Bible Study December 17 for Worship December 30

Luke 2: 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.
42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom;
43 and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,
44 but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances;
45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions;
47 and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48 And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”
49 And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
50 And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.
51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

COMMENTARY

The first followers of Jesus had walked with him, talked with him, eaten with him. They witnessed his miracles and listened to his teaching. Those first followers of Jesus had experienced Jesus alive after his death, and they expected his imminent return, when history would come to a conclusion, everything would be made right the wicked would get their just deserts and the righteous would enter into the glory of the Kingdom of God.

As time passed the early followers of Jesus had to refocus their faith. Maybe Jesus wasn’t returning right away. Maybe it was necessary to collect and write down the stories about Jesus and the teaching of Jesus for people who had never seen him, or known him, or heard him. The second and third generations of believers became interested in the life of Jesus before his ministry began. Matthew and Luke produced birth narratives that confirmed the specialness of Jesus and made claims to rival the Roman Empires claims about the Caesars.

Since Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives are contradictory, we can assume there was no reliable information about the birth of Jesus. Many subsequent non-canonical gospels told fanciful tales about Jesus as a miracle working, sometimes mean spirited child. The only story to survive in the canonical gospels about Jesus’ youth dates from the time he was Twelve.

His parents are portrayed as pious Jews who made the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. On this particular trip overwhelmed by the Holy City and the Temple, Jesus remained behind, when his parents left to return to Galilee. There are no miracles claimed other than the precociousness of a child who was in the words of Marcus Borg a “spirit person.” He was in touch with the life of the spirit to an extent most other humans are not. He spent his time listening, and asking questions of the teachers of the law on Solomon’s porch. The teacher in their turn asked him questions, for this was the primary form of learning of the day.

His parents were apparently unaware of his absence from the company returning to Galilee. Several explanations have been put forward to explain this apparent lack of parental attentiveness. One possibility is that the parents assumed he was walking with other relatives. A very creative explanation is that Jesus at the age of twelve was on the cusp of manhood. The men marched at the front of the caravan to clear the road of wild animals, bandits and other dangers. The women and children brought up the rear. Since Jesus was in that in between stage it might be understandable that his mother assumed he was walking in the front with his father, while his father assumed Jesus was walking in the rear with his mother. Also Mary may have had younger children in tow. (If this was the case, before Mary and Joseph could return to the City, they would have had to have recruited relatives to take the other children on to Nazareth.) However it happened, Jesus stayed behind in the City.

How did Jesus survive on his own for three days? There was creative begging. There might be sheltered corners where someone could curl up and sleep in the Temple itself. There is always the possibility that he really didn’t go missing for three days. The point of the story was to confirm that even at an early age Jesus demonstrated intelligence, wisdom and closeness to God – “did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The early church deserves credit for including in the canon only a credible story about Jesus’ childhood, rather than stories that couldn’t possibly be true. By refusing to include highly imaginative stories about the childhood of Jesus the church preserved the credibility of the rest of the gospel narrative.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. How often does the text claim Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover?

2. How old was Jesus on this occasion?

3. When his parents left town to return to Galilee, what did Jesus do?

4. How long before Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing?

5. How long did Mary and Joseph search for Jesus before finding him?

6. Where did they find Jesus?

7. What was Jesus doing when his parents found him?

8. What did the parents say to the boy?

9. What was Jesus’ response to his parents?

10. How did his parents interpret what he said to them?

11. What was the result of the incident?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Why do you think the church admitted this story into the canon?

2. What do you think would have happened if the church had included stories about Jesus as a child miracle worker?

3. Do you think Jesus must have been precocious as a child?

4. What details from Jesus’ childhood do you wish had been preserved?

5. What are the family stories told about your own childhood?

6. Do you have any favorite stories about your own children or brothers and sisters?

7. When do you think you gave your parents the biggest “scare” or “problem?”

8. Is there some story from your childhood, or young adulthood, that you think is helpful in understanding your spiritual journey?

9. How would you describe where you think you are on your spiritual journey right now?

Week of December 24 – December 30: First Sunday of Christmastide – Luke 2:41-52 – Who Is This Child? – I Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Psalm 148, Colossians 3:12-17.


Make Ready

Make Ready

X SOMETIMES ONLY IN HINDSIGHTSometimes only in hindsight can we see connections.  When Alabama lost to Texas A&M on November 12, after having led in the polls all season as the defending national college football champion, I for one figured that was it.  They were out of the running, since there were three other major undefeated teams.  Who could have foreseen that the very next Saturday, both Kansas State and Oregon would be upset by their opponents thus re-opening a possible way to the National Championship for Alabama?  Sometimes the story lies hidden until other developments open the way.  Jesus was a poor carpenter living in the hill country of Galilee until John’s voice crying out in the wilderness called him to leave the village of Nazareth and step onto the stage of history.

John the Baptist didn’t intend to prepare the way for theX JOHN DIDN'T INTEND ministry of Jesus, any more than Baylor and Stanford meant to open a path to the National Championship for Alabama, but sometimes history has a way of creating connections we only recognize in hindsight.  Probably Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist, although, the followers of John the Baptist were a much looser association than the people who later followed Jesus.  One Biblical scholar has claimed that in having people come out into the wilderness to him for baptism, John was like a sole proprietorship, while Jesus in sending his disciples out to spread the message of healing and shared eating to the world was like a franchise.  The difference in organization between John and Jesus meant that the early church was successful in spreading its message, while the followers of John faded in significance.

X NO ONE IS GOING TO LAY DOWN FOR ALABAMAJust as no one in the Baylor locker room said, “Let’s beat Kansas State for Alabama.”  And no one in the Stanford locker room said, “Oh if we beat Oregon, maybe Alabama can go to the BCS Championship.”  And no one last week in the Georgia locker room said, “Let’s let Alabama win, so they can go to the championship game.”  And I will guarantee you no one in the Notre Dame locker room is going to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Alabama won the Championship two years in a row!”

X SIMPLER WAY OF LIFEJohn’s message was revolutionary on three levels.  First, he was calling his listeners to a simpler way of life.  Come out into the desert and learn how to simplify your lives.  Since the beginning of the great modern recession many people in our consumer oriented society have become open to a message of simplifying our lives.  Consume less, reuse and recycle, don’t borrow to purchase things we don’t need.

X WHEN EVERYONE SHARESSecond, John preached that if everyone shared there would be enough for all.  Jesus enlarged upon this theme by inviting people to sit down and eat together, thus challenging the caste system that had grown up around clean and unclean – kosher and non-kosher.

John’s message originally focused on leveling society by sharing:

Luke  3: 10  And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?”

11  And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

 

X FAITH IS A DECISIONThe third revolutionary aspect of John’s ministry was his insistence that faith had to be a decision rather than a matter of birth.  It was not enough to be born Jewish, Luke 3: 8  Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  The practice of Baptism was a ritual cleansing used in the conversion of gentiles to Judaism.  John’s baptism opened the way for the church to convert the gentiles, and the incredible expansion of the message of the gospel throughout the world.

X CHRISTIAN FAITH ADAPTSAgain John could not foresee how his revolutionary baptism would open the way for a new and different faith with its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures to explode onto the world stage.  Indeed, the franchise aspect of Jesus’ message has made Christianity one of the most flexible religions in the world.  The story of Jesus adapts from culture to culture more easily than any other faith.  While Islam has rivaled Christianity in its evangelistic spread, Islam still refuses to translate the Quran into anything but Arabic, while the Bible has been translated into almost every language in the world.  Jesus has been artistically adapted to every race and culture of the globe.  According to Harvey Cox Christianity is now the fastest growing religion in the world.  While the church in Western Europe and North America struggles to survive choked by the affluence of the West, the church in the third World is exploding.  Christianity is growing so fast in China, some church leaders there speculate that China could become a majority Christian nation.  Of course these churches in the third world look very different from our staid, buttoned up white churches of North America and Europe.  There is discussion in the churches of the third world of the need to send missionaries to re-evangelize Europe and North America.

X INFUSION OF ENERGYWhen the Birmingham 8 met with the Dean of the Waldensian Seminary in Rome, he shared with us that the new life flowing into the Waldensian Church was coming from African immigrants to Italy.  The Waldensians are the descendants of a pre-reformation Protestant movement in Italy and Switzerland.  Thus the Waldensian churches are over 800 years old, but very conservative and quietly pietistic. New life and enthusiasm in worship and preaching is being breathed into their fellowship by converts from Africa who are first and second generation Christians.  Maybe John the Baptist was right:  “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  The energy of the Jesus movement at this point in history is among the poor and the non-white.

CPM Obama Inauguration reaction 01.jpgWe often cannot see what God is up to in history until we can look back in hindsight, and that applies to our individual lives too.  Have you ever wondered how you were going to get through some really difficult challenge and only after it was all over could you see God’s hand in the events of your life?  Sort of like a sentence from Talitha Arnold’s Still Speaking Devotion:  “Even if our experiences of God’s saving grace haven’t had the special effects of the Exodus, I suspect each of us can, as the old Spiritual sings, ‘look back in wonder at how we got through.’”  Can we think of times in our lives when we look back in wonder at how we got through?

X synchronicityAnother mark of God’s saving grace in our lives is synchronicity.   Carl Jung described synchronicity as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.  Now some people would say, “oh that’s just coincidence.”

I am reminded of the teacher who asked her class, “can anyone give me an example of coincidence?”

And an enthusiastic young man waved his hand and when called on said, “My Mom and Dad got married on the same day at the same time!”

X GUIDANCESome things just happen, but have you ever experienced a coincidence that was so powerful there just had to be something more behind it than mere chance?   Maybe some of the coincidences in our lives are really little God happenings.  Let me share with you a devotion by an anonymous author about the word GUIDANCE.

X DANCING WITH GODWhen I meditate on the word GUIDANCE, I keep seeing “dance” at the end of the word.  I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing.  When two people try to lead, nothing feels right.  The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky.  When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music.  One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another.   It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully.  The dance takes surrender and trust, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.

X God u  and  i  DanceMy eyes come to the word GUIDANCE.

When I see “G,” I think of God, followed by “u” and “i.”  God, “u” and “i” dance.  God, you, and I dance.  If I will only pray, and become willing to trust, that I will receive guidance for my life, I can allow God to lead.  I hope you dance with God today.
X PREPARATIONAdvent is about preparation, preparing ourselves to dance with God, opening our eyes to see God’s wonder around us.  Allowing ourselves to be open to the synchronicities that happen in our lives prepared to act upon them.  The opportunity that opened up for the Alabama football team to go to the BCS Championship game wouldn’t have meant much, if they had not prepared themselves to go play Georgia in Atlanta last weekend.  So make ready God’s opportunities are all around us.  John the Baptist could not have foreseen how his ministry would open the opportunity for a whole new way of seeing and experiencing God.  We can’t know in advance what wonders God will perform in our lives.  All we can do is be open to God’s guidance, be watchful for the little events and prayers that are God’s attempts to gently nudge us and guide in the directions God wants us to go.

And if you have the chance to sit it out or dance, then dance.  Dance with God!

X DANCE