December 19, 2021
One thing I think we all do during this Christmas season is, either on or around Christmas day, we’ll either pile into a car laden with gifts and travel to a relative’s house who hosts the annual Christmas get-together, or we’ll be that host, waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s really one of the more wonderful parts of this season, that it’s a time when even people who don’t get to see their family very often still get the chance to get together, exchange gifts, tell stories, and be with each other for a little while. But sometimes, that trip can’t wait. There are some circumstances where a trip has to happen now.
That’s what Mary did in our reading this morning. Right after she had gotten news from Gabriel that she was chosen by God to bring the savior into the world, after she had agreed to the plan and prepared herself to be a teenaged mother, maybe the possible consequences of that decision started to occur to her. She was engaged, but she wasn’t married. She lived in a small town; people would talk. What had she gotten herself into? She didn’t have any idea what to expect! But she remembered that her cousin, Elizabeth, was in her own unique situation too. And she lived far away; far enough to insulate Mary from prying eyes and gossiping tongues, at least until she could figure things out. So she got her stuff together—much like we do for our Christmas get-togethers—and travelled the eighty some miles from Galilee to Judea to see her cousin.
December 12, 2021
Today is the Sunday of joy. Like I was telling the kids, the third candle of Advent is the pink one, representing the joy of this season of waiting. That pink is a leftover from when Advent was a season that echoed Lent—and there is a Sunday in Lent that’s also meant to be a little bit of joy during the season. As the days are getting shorter around us, as the busyness of the holidays might be getting to us, and as we might be distracted by all the expectations of the holidays, it’s good to have a day in this season where we just take a moment to remember joy.
Like the joy Zephaniah prophesied about. Rejoice and sing Zion! Why? The great reunion is approaching! He insists on joy because the people of Israel have been in exile in Babylon for seventy years, and the day is fast approaching when they would have a joyful homecoming. These people had lived in a foreign land, unable to go home, for decades.
December 5, 2021
I’ve always loved history books. I know that the joke is always about how boring history is, but to me, it’s the most fascinating story of all of us. And there was, for the longest time, a particular trend in writing history called the “Great Man History.” Basically, all of history could be understood by tracing the actions and lives of the powerful people (who were almost always men) and ordering history around it. It’s why we see the fall of the Roman Republic through the lens of Julius Caesar, or the course of modern history through the lens of Queen Victoria. Basically, any time you read a history where the chapters are based who was in charge at the time, that’s Great Man History.
So it should come as no surprise that Luke’s gospel decided to list off a series of Great Men for us to find the historical setting of today’s gospel reading. Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, and don’t forget the high priests Anas and Caiaphas. These were the names that shook the world. They ordered the course of world history, so much that whole historical periods could be referenced simply by when they were rulers. But then Luke does what the Bible always seems to do in these cases: he undermines that powerful set.
November 28, 2021
Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention to the world. Knowing what’s going on is one thing, but really paying attention to the world can be exhausting. Paying attention makes it feel like the portents of doom that Jesus predicted seem to be happening all the time. The signs in the heavens speak of a climate in rapid change. The nations in an uproar as the world feels like it’s tottering, war breaking out and regional rivalries threatening to undo peace so carefully crafted. People seem to be going crazy, with a man driving an SUV into a Christmas parade just the latest example. A pandemic that is just too persistent, threatening to cast a cloud over another holiday season. Paying attention to the world can be exhausting.
It makes sense that there are people who are paying attention, who have moved toward despair. I think especially of the youth summit that preceded the COP26 climate talks. These youth leaders seemed convinced that climate change would not be realistically confronted, that they were doomed to reap the interest on their ancestor’s loan from the earth. And that kind of despair can be tempting. It can beckon when the world seems to be shaking, when the stars appear to be falling, when doom seems to be the order of the day.