Release Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Sir,

I have been very pleased to hear that my fellow Information Technology professional Mohamedou Ould Slahi is being considered for release from military prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval base.

It has been a very long time in coming.

Please do everything you can to expedite Mohamedou Slahi’s release from our custody.

release1

Trinity in Community

This is the sermon I presented for 22 May 2016 – Trinity Sunday.
The readings for this Sunday follow the sermon.
Listen to this sermon here.

I noticed something interesting in our lessons for today.
In every one of our lessons, the congregation, the community of believers is being addressed.

In our reading from Isaiah, Wisdom is speaking,

To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

Wisdom is not speaking to an individual person, she speaks to all of us, to all that live.

In our reading from Romans, the Apostle Paul is speaking to everyone who lives in Rome. In Romans chapter 1 verse 7

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints

Paul goes on to list all the people in Rome he is speaking to, Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians, and Greeks.
The congregation of believers,
the entire Christian community.

In our reading from the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and through them to all of us who are here today. Jesus is talking about how the spirit of truth, the holy spirit, who will speak to us individually, however, Jesus is addressing this message to the group,
to the congregation,
to the people who will become the Christian community.

When I was growing up, I thought of my relationship to God as that of a one-on-one personal relationship. My understanding of what it was to be a Christian was that it only involved Jesus Christ and myself. That if I believed in Jesus, and God our Father and Creator, that I was a Christian. That I would be guided by the Holy Spirit in prayer. But look at what Paul wrote to the Romans in our reading for today.

we are justified by faith
we have peace with God
we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand

Paul does not use I anywhere in this passage,
because he is speaking about and to his brothers and sisters in Christ,
the Christian community.

What I had not understood for so many years was how important the Christian community, the community of believers, is in our relationship with our Creator and God. All the theology I’ve been studying in the past several years has stressed that the surest way for a Christian to lose their way is for them to spend too much time by themselves.
Even the people that you would think were all on their own, like the holy hermits of the desert, or contemplative Christians: our brothers and sisters in abbeys and monasteries, live in community.

To become a Christian, all we need to do is to believe in the risen Christ, who was sent by the Lord God our Father and Creator. But to really live in Christ as a Christian, we are called to do more.
To study scripture,
to pray for understanding,
to listen in stillness for that quiet voice of the spirit of God,
And there is yet another thing that keeps us on the right path:

For our own Christian formation we should also live in a community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is in the community that those insights we gain from our study and prayer and contemplation can be tested.
It is the community that grounds us and can help us when we let either our imagination or our fears get the better of us.
It is our brothers and sisters who mirror our beliefs and actions back to us, so that we are able to see ourselves as we are.

It is easy for me preach about community, but it is sometimes incredibly hard to live in community. Especially when that community is helping us to see our own faults. Is it not those people who are most like us, who irritate us the most?

(pause)

So what does all this have to do with the holy Trinity?

The last time I was scheduled to preach on Trinity Sunday two years ago, I was given this book by my mother-in-law, “What are they saying about the Trinity”, by Fr. Joseph Bracken. Fr. Bracken was a Jesuit priest on the faculty at Xavier University and he also preached at my wife Darlene’s church, St. Dismas in Waukegan, while she was growing up. By the time I received this book, I had already written my sermon, so I just put it aside.

This year, I was assigned Trinity Sunday again, so I finally read and studied Fr. Bracken’s book. I was astonished to find that among the more recent theories about the nature of the holy Trinity, many modern theologians are discussing the interactions between God’s persons as a community. That the experience of God in three persons by the first Christians has lead to a new understanding, a new modern philosophical realization of God as a community.

Here is a quotation from one of these modern theologians, Juan Luis Segundo also of the Society of Jesus from his book “Our Idea of God”.

“For, as long as God has thus been conceived as a being totally independent of his creatures, human beings have tended ……, to imitate God in seeking their own self-fulfillment in terms of self-sufficiency and independence of others. If, however, God is understood to be a society of three persons who are sympathetically involved with men and women in history, then human beings will perhaps recognize more readily that they too have a basically social orientation, that the perfection of their nature lies in interdependence with others for the achievement of common goals, not in some unattainable ideal of independence and self-sufficiency.”

The perfection of our nature, lies in our interdependence with others.
That independent, self-sufficiency is unattainable and unrealistic. That, perhaps, our belief in the holy Trinity, our God as a community of persons, should make us think, should make us aware, of how much we depend on other people.
That we do not have to go it alone.
That God created us to live in community with each other.

When we realize that our strength comes through cooperation;
with our neighbors,
with our family and friends,
with our brothers and sisters in the church.

It is truly wonderful that we continue to find new insights in the most holy Trinity.
The Spirit of truth continues to speak to us.

It is just as Jesus said in our gospel reading.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me,
because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.
Amen.

 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”

Romans 5:1-5
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which
we stand;
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character
produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own,
but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and
declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.
For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Citizenfour

President Barack Obama,

Just watched the movie “Citizenfour“. It is pretty damning account of the crimes of our intelligence services against, well, everyone. I highly recommend it to you.

The intelligence services who all report to you.

The intelligence services whose leaders have forgotten to whom they are ultimately responsible.

The intelligence services whose leaders know that you are not going to hold them accountable.

Enjoy,

citizenfour

Anastasia

My daughter wrote this poem ten years ago, with her permission I post it here.

In the golden city,
On a diamond throne she sits,
Anastasia!

Where my heart belongs,
That is where it always lies,
Anastasia!

On the empty throne lies
A crown that was her own,
Anastasia!

The battle was fought;
The sky blackened by arrows,
Anastasia!

There our Queen sat still,
Enclosed in a silent gloom,
Anastasia!

In that starry night,
The ground was soaked with dark blood,
Anastasia!

On that fateful day,
Demons came up and took her away,
Anastasia!

Cursed and swore we did,
On and on we kept calling,
Anastasia!

In the dark we searched,
Until we found the hidden lair,
Anastasia!

Our weapons were wasted,
We fought until we could not fight,
Anastasia!

As I turned retreating,
I got a look at our Queen,
Anastasia!

She was not alone,
All the slain were there with her,
Anastasia!

I could not go forward,
I could only go backward,
Anastasia!

As I saw her eyes,
There was only pity and sorrow,
Anastasia!

There she was silent,
How I wanted to join her,
Anastasia!

My eyes pleaded,
My only task has failed,
Anastasia!

People would mock me,
She would haunt me forever,
Anastasia!

I will now wander,
I am only a shadow,
Anastasia!

Please, let me join you,
Where you are; I will be happy,
Anastasia!

My spirit is gone,
I will fall on my sword soon,
Anastasia!

My love, ’tis for you I go,
I will go to the halls of death,
Anastasia!

Listen to my tale,
So listen to my sorrow,
Anastasia!

The Mystic

Is there not more?
More that we can see,
more than we can touch.
Unseen, unheard, yet present.

Before we invented history,
we explored the unknowable.
Through ritual, fasting, prayer and pain,
pursuing wisdom through the dreamtime.

Christians and Muslims, Brahmans and Buddhists,
and too many others to name or number.
Influenced all by that nameless presence,
which whispers to our souls.

Perhaps, all arts have this source,
a wellspring deep within our being.
In spiration* with all creation,
we inhale deeply of pure, raw, possibility.

See for yourself.
Close your mouth and eyes.
Quiet the restless mind.
Listen in stillness.

Listen not only with your ears.
Listen with your entire being,
feelings, guts, blood, and bone.
Trust your Self.

Is there not more?
More that we can see,
more than we can touch.
Unseen, unheard, yet present.

* spiration

1 obsolete : the action of breathing as a creative or life-giving function of the Deity
2 obsolete : the action of breathing as a physical function of man and animals

The Seer

“What is Truth?”, They ask.
“Truth surrounds us, can you not see it?
Feel, touch, taste, hear it?”,
whispers the Seer.

She whispers on purpose.
Angry mobs with stones,
are unusually restive;
when obvious truths too loudly are revealed.

There are none so blind,
as those who choose not to see.
So it is, with most of us.
We live among the lies we tell ourselves.

If only, we had known,
we tell ourselves.
If only, we had realized,
what might have been!

She only knows what is.
She will tell us, if we ask.
“Listen closely.”,
whispers the Seer.

The Alchemist

Light, that’s all it was.
A light divine,
too pure, too bright for mere mortal eyes.
I still see it in my dreams.

Prentice to Albreq, I was then.
Clearing an oaken bench, long disused.
Curious flask, holding a metallic powder.
Well sealed with wax and twine tied in knots Gordian.

Of course, I opened said curious flask,
testing the powder by means arcane,
discovering nothing.
A candle knocked o’er the powder which remained.

Light, pure light, in that darkened room.
Burning like the fire of the Greeks.
Neither sand or water would put it out,
burning through a hands width of solid oak.

Many years it has been,
many lustra* since I became master,
many powders have I tested.
I quest still to find that powder.

My prentice has now been given this task,
carefully putting each powder to the flame.
Well warned is he by his master’s blindness,
since that day.

Light, that’s all it was.
A light divine,
too pure, too bright for mere mortal eyes.
I still see it in my dreams.

* Lustra – plural form of Lustrum – 5 years

Desert Fathers

I gave the Ash Wednesday sermon at my church today.

The readings for this sermon are below.

Listen to this sermon here.

About four years ago, I started meeting with Steven Godfrey our former priest here at St. Martin’s, to talk about my calling to ministry in the church. In one of our first meetings he told me about the desert fathers. I have since studied the stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers. Their teachings have fundamentally changed my understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

When I read our gospel lesson and the reading from Isaiah for today – Ash Wednesday – I was immediately reminded of the practices of these Christian ascetics who lived in the desert so long ago.

In the third century after the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, many Christian men and women in northern Egypt decided to dedicate themselves wholly and completely to prayer. They traveled into a deserted region now known as the Nitrian desert in northern Egypt. They supported themselves with small vegetable gardens and the weaving of reed baskets which they sold in nearby market towns. They were the first Christian monks and nuns, and became known collectively as the desert fathers. From all over the Christian world, religious people traveled to this region of Egypt to ask them questions or to become monks themselves. Some of their stories and sayings were written down and are a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in Christian contemplation and mysticism. One of the many pilgrims who traveled to the desert was Saint John Cassian, who published his own book of the sayings of the desert fathers – “Conferences of the Desert Fathers” in 420 AD. After publishing this book, John Cassian devoted his life to the founding of a ‘desert father like’ monastic community in southern France near Marseilles. Cassian’s book “Conferences of the Desert Fathers” was also a major influence for Saint Benedict nearly 200 years later when he established his monastic rule, and to the present day the stories of the desert fathers are read by nuns and monks in their daily offices.

On this first day of our season of Lent, it is good to remember the desert fathers and mothers. As ascetics, they fasted all of the time, and they were very hard core, a fast for the desert mothers or fathers was not eating at all. Many of them as part of this religious practice only ate every other day. They practiced poverty, earning only enough to keep them alive, and giving anything extra they earned to the poor. The goal of the desert fathers and mothers was to be constantly in prayer and contemplation, not only in the time they set aside for prayer and study in their cells, but at all times, even while they were working to support themselves.

The desert fathers following the example of Jesus, practiced extreme humility in everything they did. There are many different ways that the desert fathers and mothers practiced this extreme humility.

To not to allow yourself to care if others either praise you or insult you.

The practice of hospitality, sharing everything they have with anyone visiting them. Sitting down and eating with their visitors, even if by so doing so they were breaking their own fasts, so that their visitors would not be ashamed to accept their hospitality.

One of their most difficult practices (for me to follow) is to not do anything which might cause your brothers and sisters to sin. Always returning good to another whether you have received either good or evil from them. Say, someone steals something from you. A desert father practicing extreme humility forgives the thief, instead of accusing the thief. Because if the thief were to be accused – he or she would probably deny the theft – and then the thief, just because of the accusation – will have committed two sins, stealing and lying.

Today, the practice of extreme humility I want to concentrate on is that of false reputation. When we glorify ourselves before our friends and neighbors. This follows directly from our gospel reading for today, as Jesus is reminding us that when we seek to pray, to worship, and in our charity work; we should not be doing it in a showy way as a performance, to gain favor among our fellow men and women. I think we have all witnessed religious leaders who in public pray with flowery phrases and are highly regarded for their charity and piety.
Jesus warns us against this showy behavior in public.
Jesus teaches us to pray, and perform our good works in secret.

There is a story about a desert father who would travel to town to attend church services on Sundays. He did not want people to have a false regard for him by seeing him go to church, so he would always sneak into and out of the church and sit behind a pillar on a side aisle during services so that no one would see him.

The desert mother Amma Sarah said this about her reputation, “If I prayed that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, so I shall rather pray that my heart shall be pure towards all”

Here is another desert father story about reputation. There was a monk named Abba Moses who was widely known for his wisdom. The provincial governor wanted to talk with Abba Moses and sent two of his servants to bring Moses to him. Abba Moses heard they were coming and left his cell to avoid meeting with them. Moses ended up on the same road as the two servants, and they asked Moses for directions not knowing him as the man they had been sent to find. Moses told them that they were wasting their time, that Abba Moses was a false and unworthy monk. Moses was so convincing, the servants decided not to continue on their journey and headed back to the nearby town, where they learned that the anonymous monk in the desert they had met was in fact Abba Moses himself. The story ends with the governor greatly edified by the humility of Abba Moses returning to the capital without ever meeting with him.

What I love about these stories of men and women is that their humanity, both their virtues and their faults, have been preserved as well as their practices and beliefs.

A certain wandering brother came to a monastery. He saw the brethren working, and rebuked them, saying, “Why do you labor for food which perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part.” Referring to the story of Mary and Martha, where Mary just visits with Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house. So the abbot gave a book to this brother to read, and put him into an empty cell. At the ninth hour (which is about 3 in the afternoon) the brother looked out and gazed along the path to see if anyone was coming to call him to a meal. After a while he went to the abbot, and asked, “Did the brethren eat to-day?” The abbot told him that they had already eaten. Then said the brother, “Why did you not call me?” The abbot answered him, “You are a spiritual man. You have surely no need of such food as we eat. We, indeed, are but carnal; we must eat. We labor, but you have chosen the good part. You read all day, and have no wish to receive carnal food.” At this point this brother asked the abbot and the other brethren of the monastery to forgive him.

As we celebrate and observe Lent this year, remember that it is not important what people may think about you.
Our reputation should be the least of our concerns.

For Lent this year:
Find some practice,
perhaps some offering of your time and attention,
perhaps some self-sacrifice that no one else need know about.
Perform this offering to the Lord in secret, as though your left hand knows not what your right hand is doing.

In our lessons for today, the prophet Isaiah has some suggestions for us about what we might do for Lent this year, I am reading from the God’s Word version of Isaiah.

Is this the kind of fasting I have chosen?
Should people humble themselves for [only] a day?
Is fasting just bowing your head like a cattail
and making your bed from sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call fasting?
Is this an acceptable day to the LORD?
This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
Loosen the chains of wickedness,
untie the straps of the yoke,
let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke.
Share your food with the hungry,
take the poor and homeless into your house,
and cover them with clothes when you see [them] naked.
Don’t refuse to help your relatives.
Then your light will break through like the dawn, and you will heal quickly.
Your righteousness will go ahead of you,
and the glory of the LORD will guard you from behind.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer.
You will cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am!”

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see– we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Police Reform in Chicago

Rahm Emanuel
City Hall
121 N. LaSalle Street
Chicago, Illinois 60602

Mayor Rahm Emanuel,

As a proudly liberal, Roosevelt Democrat, I have long disliked how the Democratic party has abandoned liberalism to embrace more ‘business’ oriented policies. Your neoconservative Democratic party does not bash unions but it does not protect them either. It establishes healthcare insurance for more or less everyone but not universal healthcare. It has tacitly endorsed torture by not prosecuting the war criminal George W Bush, and directly advocated murder by executing Osama bin Laden (and many others) without trial. I mourned for Chicago when you were elected Mayor, wondering what city services/concessions you would sell off next. As expected, you continued the attack on the Chicago Public Schools, what passes for neocon education policy practically demands it. (because unions are bad) In spite of all of the above, I was pleased and very surprised by your speech on December 9th of this year. There might yet be some hope for you.

You have a problem. Your police department like most police departments in the United States has attitude issues among the rank and file. Every time they go out into a non-white neighborhood, you have the potential for another police killing like the one on December 26th. Do you like those ‘Rahm Failed Us’ sweat shirts the Black Lives Matter activists had printed up? Black people have been murdered by the Chicago police since the city police force was first organized in 1835. They know that there is no way this is going to stop anytime soon. So they have decided to go after you. Like big game hunters, Black Lives Matter – Chicago wants your head for their political trophy wall. You are bringing in the Feds, but that is not going to save you. You fired the chief of police, but I have yet to hear of any American police chief with the courage to enact the reforms that are required. (Wholeheartedly supporting the prosecution of police officers who have murdered those they are supposed to be protecting.) By the time a police officer has the experience to become a chief of police, they have embodied that ‘us against them’ mentality which allows the officer on the beat to believe that he/she has the right to kill.

If you want to politically survive as mayor of Chicago you are going to have to choose to support the people instead of blindly supporting our police force.

Possible Initiatives

  • Police on the beat need to supervised. Perhaps you could have representatives from local neighborhood watch organizations ride with the police on their patrols.
  • Your Independent Police Review Authority oversight board is a joke. You should immediately (apologize to and then) call back Lorenzo Davis, the Independent Police Review Authority Supervising Investigator you fired this past July. (And then back him up 100 percent!)

If you are as serious about police reform as you are about ever again holding political office in the city of Chicago; you are going to have to prove it to all the people of Chicago – not just the white people.

rahm1 rahm2 rahm3 rahm4

We are going to have a baby!

This is the sermon I presented for 20 December 2015 – Fourth Sunday in Advent

The readings for this Sunday follow the sermon.

Listen to this sermon here.

 

Today is the last Sunday in Advent. The candles of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy are lighted today in anticipation.

We are going to have a baby!

We’ve been waiting all month for this blessed event!

The birth of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ!

In our gospel reading we are reminded that there are two unexpected pregnancies in Mary’s extended family. Mary herself, pregnant before her marriage with Joseph, and Mary’s Aunt Elizabeth with an inexplicably, unexpected late in life pregnancy; which when Mary hears of it, she immediately travels to be with her aunt.

Our gospel reading has both Elizabeth and Mary breaking out in poetic songs of praise as they greet each other. Now I rather doubt that Elizabeth and Mary actually spoke to each other in quite so stilted and formal a way. These songs of praise in the gospel of Luke are intended to convey to us the emotions and feelings of these two women who are each experiencing a miracle. The miracle of new life. I think one of our lessons for today is that every child born is a miracle. Every child changes forever the lives of its parents, and as it grows and develops that child changes the world. Every one of us, is part of this mysterious continuing miracle.

We are born into this world,
and if we lucky enough in time, we become parents ourselves.
For all of us who have been parents, isn’t it strange how we acted as if we had discovered parenting for the first time? Just because it was the first time that we had been the parents.

There is another reason the writer of Luke, includes these marvelous, joyous, and triumphant songs to God to announce the births of John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ. In the gospel of Luke, we are being reminded of another mother who proclaimed her thanks to God for the birth of her son. In the book of First Samuel, Hannah the mother of Samuel, is given just this same sort of marvelous, joyous song of praise as she dedicates her son Samuel to God’s service. Hannah as a mother, is similar to Elizabeth, in that Hannah was considered unable to have children before she conceived Samuel. Samuel in his call to service, is similar to Mary, in how he answered God’s call, obedient to the will of God – just as Mary answers the call to become the mother of Jesus.

Samuel was a prophet, the last of the Judges of Israel. The time of Samuel’s birth was a very bad time for the Jewish people. Samuel was raised by the chief priest of the Israelites, Eli. The first prophecy given to Samuel by the Lord was God’s judgment against Eli’s sons. Eli’s sons had followed their father into the priesthood, but unlike their father; they had become terrible, corrupt priests. The sons of Eli had abused their authority as priests, they did not worship God but lorded over the people, and Eli was unable or unwilling to discipline or control them. When Eli’s sons led the Israelite armies against the Philistines, not only did the Israelites lose the battle, but they also allowed the Philistines to capture the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant, the most sacred of relics, the golden box which contained the broken stone tablets upon which God himself had inscribed the ten commandments. When Eli heard the news that his sons had been killed, and the ark of the covenant had been lost, he fell to the ground and died. Samuel become the leader of the Israelites even as his adopted father and mentor Eli died. Samuel led the people of Israel to a great military victory over the Philistines. But the people of Israel were not content, even after the invaders had been driven out of their land. They wanted Samuel to establish kings to rule their country. So Samuel reluctantly anointed Saul as king over them.

Just as in Samuel’s time, the Palestine in which Mary and Elizabeth lived was under the foreign rule and occupation of the Roman empire. The author of Luke is making a point with this comparison between Jesus and Samuel. That Samuel had set free the Israelite people from foreign domination but he could not free them from their own worldly desires. The Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them; they did not appreciate that they were a people set apart by God, that they could be governed differently. If the Philistines and the Amorites are ruled by kings, then that is what the people of Israel wanted for themselves. Samuel established an Israelite kingdom. But like all earthly kingdoms, the kings of the Jewish people caused them as many hardships as any foreign invasion.

With these comparisons with the past, the author of Luke is describing the birth of a new king, a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom.
This new king, heralded by angels, is not born to rule according to the human customs of this world. The kingdom of Christ Jesus exists everywhere we follow the word and spirit of God our Father and Creator.
When we care for each other.
When we share what we have.
When we recognize Jesus in each other.
When we love each other as Jesus loves every one of us.

This week, as we make our final preparations, in joyous anticipation for the birth of our Lord.
Let us also praise the Lord our God in joyous celebration like Elizabeth, Hannah, and Mary.

Every child is a miracle, created as a child of God, let us make the advent of all children be as anticipated and joyous.

 

Micah 5:2-5a

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

Hebrews 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
[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 promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]