Friday, December 29, 2023

Christmas 1B

the first Sunday of Christmas Galatians 4L4
Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

The First Sunday of Christmas 2023

But when the fullness
of time had come,
God sent his Son,
born of a woman,
born under the law.

Galatians 4:4

Luke 2:22-23, 25-32, 39-40

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord: 23 as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord",

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.

27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 "Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Purification and Presentation

Although February 2nd is the formal date for Mary's ritual purification and Jesus' presentation and consecration, for this seventh day of Christmas, the lectionary condenses time to forty days after Jesus' birth.

Today's gospel reading brings us a very Jewish Jesus with his parents fulfilling the requirements of ceremonial religious law that Luke refers to as "Law of Moses." In this passage, law doesn't specifically refer to the Sinai Covenant of the Ten Words or Commandments.

Paul's Birth Narrative

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as children of God… then also an heir." Galatians 4:4-7

The Apostle Paul emphasizes death and resurrection so much that for him, the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection. In his only account of Jesus' birth, Paul refers to Jesus being born under the law's power, its boundaries, and the law's redemptive promise. Jesus' birth leads to our becoming God's offspring, as Paul proclaims elsewhere. Especially in Romans 8:12-17, he also mentions our unearned inheritance and glorification in Christ.

Paul and Luke both know a Jesus who from the start claims his place in the story of God's people Israel. Luke 2:21 tells us Jesus had been circumcised at eight days of age (the church observes the Feast of the Name of Jesus on January 1st, when this Galatians passage is the second lection), and to further meet the demands of ritual ceremonial law, Joseph and Mary dedicated Jesus back to God during the same temple visit as Mary's purification.

Luke 2:39 says Jesus' parents "finished everything the law required" before returning home to Nazareth.


Luke's gospel uniquely includes three canticles or New Testament psalms; each has a place in the Liturgy of the Hours. Canticle comes from Latin for song or sing.

• Luke 1:46-55 Magnificat – "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…" at Evening Prayer or Vespers that's typically sung at nightfall.

This is Jesus' mother Mary's song in response to angel Gabriel's announcement she will become the mother of Jesus.

• Luke 1:67-79 Benedictus – "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people" at Morning Prayer, an office that generally combines elements of Lauds and Matins.

John the Baptist's father Zechariah's sings in response to news of his son's upcoming birth. This is John the Baptist's father and not Zechariah from the book of the twelve or minor prophets.

• Luke 2:29-32 Nunc Dimittis – "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared…" this is the canticle for Compline or Night Prayer.

Temple priest Simeon sings because he recognizes Jesus as savior of the world.

God With Us

During Advent we waited and prepared for Jesus' birth as God with us – Emmanuel – the name the angel told Joseph to name the baby. Simeon had waited in the temple a very long time because God had promised Simeon he would experience God's Anointed One, the Messiah.

Martin Luther at his Wittenberg Reform and John Calvin at his Geneva Reform both included the Nunc Dimittis toward the end of their Holy Communion liturgies. Like Simeon, after we receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation we are ready for anything because we know the fullness of God's promised salvation. We know it because we've seen it, tasted it, touched it, smelled it, heard it…

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Nativity 2023

Christmas Wisdom 18:14-15
Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

Nativity 2023

When all things were
wrapped in deep silence, and
night in her swift course
was half spent,
your almighty Word,
O Lord, leapt down from
your throne in heaven.

Wisdom 18:14-15

Titus 2:11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Letter to Titus

Martin Luther loved the anonymous letter to Titus! Written late in the first century or early in the second, with vocabulary, grammar, and overall sensibility that's clearly not from Paul of Tarsus, Titus belongs to a group of epistles from writers who used the Apostle Paul's name as a compliment to gain authority, credibility, and readers! People in that time and place didn't have our emphasis on correct attribution of intellectual or creative output and our robust legal protections. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus form a trio of what sometimes are called pastoral letters.

Titus probably was a gentile Greek from Antioch. At the time of this letter, he was a teacher and church administrator on the island of Crete. We read about Titus as disciple, ministry, and missionary companion of Paul earlier in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 7. The next chapter, 2 Corinthians 8:16-24, includes Paul's enthusiastic commendation of Titus.

You can find an overview of Titus in Enter the Bible.

Grace Has Appeared!

In the infant Jesus, we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste God's presence and God's presents. This undeserved gift brings "salvation to all people." What does grace taste like? What does grace sound like and look like?

I often remember some of my experiences of Christmas Eucharist, or Christ's Mass. Julotta starting very early Christmas morning—that thoroughly English-speaking congregation originally was Swedish. Although he probably couldn't speak more than very basic conversational Swedish, the pastor pronounced Swedish fairly well, and every year he read a sermon by Luther someone had translated into Swedish. A mostly choral festival in a Former City. Communing just after midnight in Previous City. A couple of Christmas day morning macaronic English-Spanish liturgies in Tucson, Arizona. Bright and sparkling Christmas day mornings at Church on the Hill in Previous City. And there are more, of course… what are your memories of Holy Communion on Jesus' natal day?

In the Lord's supper, grace appears again and again. To "Body of Christ, given for you," we respond, "Amen!"

Acts of the Apostles

Theologian of grace Martin Luther loved this epistle with He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:14

Gifts of life that compel us to reach out in gratitude and offer life as gift to others. How could, why would, we do otherwise?

In the Acts of the Apostles we hear:
The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When Barnabas arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
Acts 11:21-23

Barnabas "saw the grace of God!" Not a splendiferous sermon. Not an impeccable liturgy. Not breathtaking stained glass windows. What was this grace that had appeared so people could see it, hear it, feel it, sense it? From what we know about the early church, it was shalom sufficiency for all. A common-wealth with enough to eat. Warm clothes to wear. A community of support. Work for those who were able. Grace offered back by God's own people who were passionate for those good deeds that offer life to all people without reservation.

Body of Christ? Amen!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Advent 4B

Advent 4 2023
Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2020

The Mighty One
has scattered the proud
in the imaginations of their hearts
and filled the hungry
with good things!

Luke 1:51-53

Advent 2023

This has been the shortest possible Advent, with the fourth Sunday of Advent on Sunday morning easing into Christmas Eve on Sunday evening. Around the interwebs I've noticed that quite a few churches plan to forego Sunday morning worship on the 24th. In order to experience all four Advent Sundays, some observed the first Sunday of Advent on November 26th, or what otherwise was Reign of Christ Sunday.


At least some time during Advent, why not listen to God's counsel and promise to David through the prophet Nathan? How can we not read Gabriel's announcement to Mary? Why wouldn't we sing Mary's Magnificat with its promise of the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation? The dawn of hope and possibility?

2 Samuel 7:2, 4-7, 11b

2 The king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 11b Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

Despite his knowledge of the on-the-move God of the covenants who journeyed with the people, David's desire to construct a quality home where God could take up residence was more than reasonable. Other divinities of the Ancient Near East (ANE) were territorial place gods; David went along with what he'd observed and with human logic, exactly as we often do. Figuring out how to contextualize ministries can be a complex process, and all of us make mistakes.

This passage contains more than one meaning for house: a physical structure at a settled location as a dwelling place for God or people; and …the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

God promises a house as the biological and familial inheritance we hear about in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. According to Luke 2:4, "Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David."

People sometimes announce they've bought or rented a home, but we really buy or rent houses, apartments, and condos. Love, care, encounters, and time turn those spaces into homes. Stucco, wood, stone, cousins, aunts, friends, and grands, ultimately house is a place of belonging. In addition to Christmas carols and secular seasonal music, we've been hearing songs like "Who Says You Can't Go Home Again?" by Bon Jovi, "I'm Going to Make this Place Your Home" by Phillip Philips, "Home" by One Direction, and they fit in fine.

Annunciation – Luke 1:26, 31, 34-38

26 The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

31 "And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."

34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." …

From the start, scripture reveals God's initiative and grace as God chooses, calls, prepares, and sends people. This is Mary's call story! In the Eastern church Mary is Theotokos or God-bearer. Mary carried Jesus, God's Word of promise, in her body (the literally em-bodied Word) with her wherever she went. Mary shows us how to trust and embody God's word.

Magnificat – Luke 1:39, 46-55

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted her cousin Elizabeth.

46 And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Every day at Evening Prayer or Vespers, we sing Mary's Holy Spirit-inspired canticle. You may be aware of how well people memorized scripture – literally taking it to heart – two millennia ago. Although we have the words Luke wrote, Mary probably sang a very similar song because this passage is closely based on Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary would have been able to recite and make Hannah's words her own. A few weeks ago on Five Minute Friday I reminded everyone, "Hope for the death of death starts with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth."

Word in the World

Mary asks, "How can this be?" Angel (Messenger) Gabriel explains it will happen because the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High overshadow you.

Pregnant Mary carried God's Word of promise (Jesus the Word) in her body everywhere she went. We have been baptized into Jesus the Christ, the one whose body he promised his followers would become. Like Mary, as the church we carry God's Word of Promise (Jesus!) with us wherever we go. How can this be? The Holy Spirit has come upon us!

As God reminded David and Nathan, God always has traveled alongside the people. God calls us to be wherever the people are: in the 'hood, at the supermarket, beside the taco stand; in the corporate boardroom, at the dog park, in the city council meeting; embodied in the world's hopes, plans, yearnings, and dreams…

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Advent 3B

Isaiah 61:1-2
Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

The Third Sunday of Advent 2023 
To bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the year of the Lord's favour!

Isaiah 61:1-2

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Gaudete! Rejoice! Invitation!

The third Sunday of Advent sometimes is called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday from the opening of the entrance prayer in the Latin rite. Taking a joy-filled break originated when Advent was mostly penitential rather than our contemporary season of hope. Blue is advent's color for the hope of newness and rebirth; blue sometimes is advent's color because of sorrow, grief, and loss. Just as on the fourth Sunday in Lent, for this third Advent Sunday, churches who have them often use rose or pink vestments and paraments to indicate a joy-filled intermission.

Are any of my readers ready to research and present a history of Advent? Whenever we begin a new liturgical season I provide a quick overview, but It's always about current Western churches—Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and other traditions that follow the ecumenical calendar. I know that information well, but I know close to zero about non-Western churches and about the overall timeline of how the church year evolved.

Isaiah, Prophets

Again this week God speaks through Third Isaiah, offering challenge, comfort, and hope to the southern kingdom Judah after some exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild infrastructure, community, and traditions. He (it probably was a guy) also spoke to people who'd stayed behind and never left Jerusalem.

Prophets speak against the political, economic, social, and religious status quo. Prophets call people to repent, to turn around, to re-direct their lives. But more than anything, prophecy announces God doing a new thing, the inbreaking of the reign of heaven on earth, resurrection from the dead! This week's particular proclamation is exactly that: urban rebirth; rebuilding from ruins, blight and devastation; turning upside down the community's sorrow, grief, lack of initiative. (Sometimes you just feel like giving up.) Resonating with the universalism we find throughout the entire book of Isaiah, these words affirm God does all this for everyone, everywhere.

Isaiah, Jesus

Along with most commentators, I had many notes and ideas about this amazing passage from 3rd Isaiah. However, I can't do everything every week or any week, so at least I'll mention that in Luke's gospel, Jesus read and affirmed these promises to initiate his public ministry.

16…Jesus went to [his hometown Nazareth] synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." … 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4

Does that sound like something we need right now? Does it sound like the ministry God has called us to?

Fun fact: Isaiah 61:11 uses the word sprout three times: earth sprouts; garden sprouts; righteousness and praise sprouts. This passage also uses three different words for God/Lord: Yahweh; Adonai; Elohim

Advent Music

Many churches and Christian schools hold a celebration of scripture lessons and Advent-Christmas Carols on one of the Sundays of Advent. Do you have favorite Advent and Christmas memories, music, and practices?

• Are you ready for Christmas music? Have you been listening to carols or singing them?
• Have you enjoyed any in-person or virtual holiday concerts, either mostly religious or mostly secular events? Or maybe you're waiting for closer to December 24th? I've enjoyed several holiday themed TV specials.
• Are you ready with a list of favorite winter (since we reside in the northern hemisphere) holiday songs and traditions?

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Advent 2B

Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low,
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together!

Isaiah 40:4-5

Isaiah 40:1-5; 9

1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"

Advent / Isaiah

Scriptures on the first Sunday of Advent announced the end of the world as it always had been. I love starting a new year a month before the one on January 1st! During the season of Advent we wait and hope together for the infant Jesus. We wait and hope together. Today's first reading tells us we will experience God's glory together, too.

Last week's Old Testament reading came from Third Isaiah, God's spokesperson featured in chapters 56 - 56, who's sometimes known as the post-exilic Isaiah. Back in Jerusalem and Judah after being exiled to Babylon, God's people engaged in rebuilding social, economic, and religious structures and infrastructure. In some ways they'd returned home to the land of promise, but so much had been destroyed and devastated, they'd need to do a whole lot before they again could live in safety, comfort, and shalom, before they'd recapture a sense of belonging, a feeling "we're home now."

This week for the second Sunday of Advent we hear from the opening of Second Isaiah (chapters 40 - 55), who ministered with inspired poetry during the Babylonian exile. We know today's First Reading, "Comfort ye… every valley" from Handel's Messiah. In today's scripture, Isaiah announces God's arrival—or more accurately, God with them in a way people could see and appreciate because God never had left. God then calls the people (Zion) to announce God no longer being hidden. In exactly the same way, God calls us to proclaim and testify to God's presence in the world today.

The Road Home

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

Exiles in the culturally and politically strange Babylon wanted to go home, though you may remember Jeremiah telling them to settle down and contribute to Babylon's greater good—the original "Bloom Where You Are Planted" that's written down in Jeremiah 29:4-7.

The road second Isaiah sings about is not for the exiles' return home; maybe surprisingly, the highway is for God's journey.

For most of us in this mobile, peripatetic society and culture (maybe you've heard of digital nomads?), homecoming is a street, a path, an avenue, and not a static location, even if our GPS thinks it can locate us on specific coordinates. Isaiah continues with talk about the earth moving and major civil engineering enterprises: Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. All that sounds easier to walk on and drive on than we'd expected or known in the past, and probably quicker, too.

• How do you capture (or recapture) a sense of belonging, that feeling "I'm home now?"

• Is home for you a perspective or a location, or is home both a viewpoint and a place?

• Do you have a particular attachment to a childhood home or homes, to the city or town where you grew up, to a grandparent's house, or to a vacation spot you enjoyed when you were growing up?

• Do you ever go back to your place of roots, desire to go back, or do you consider that chapter thankfully closed? Or maybe wistfully finished?

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Advent 1B

Advent 1 2023 Isaiah 64L1
Advent-Nativity designs created from Winter Essentials
by Alena Bugrova with legal reuse rights

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Advent Hope

With the first Sunday of Advent, the church begins a new year of grace as it waits for Jesus' birth. Advent means toward (ad) the coming (venire). Maybe you know esperar in Spanish means wait, hope, and expect? Advent is a harbinger of Easter when we celebrate hope's fulfillment.

Opening each window in your advent calendar reveals a mini-surprise that brings us closer to the gift of Jesus' birth, brings us nearer the day we'll give gifts and receive gifts. At church and at home, Advent wreaths are another sign of the season that's especially welcome in the northern hemisphere as we anticipate Jesus' lighting the world at the darkest time of year.

But calendars and candles are homespun and tame. They have become too familiar. Advent calls us to get to the root, literally to be radical.

Advent Apocalyptic

With calls to repentance and hope, Advent definitely is a season of waiting and watching. Every year's scripture readings open up Advent with a splash of apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it—the end of death, destruction, empire, violence, exploitation. The end of despair and discouragement. The dawn of hope and possibility. Apocalyptic/ apocalypse means revealing or uncovering something that's hidden. Very broadly, apocalyptic is a type of writing that uses one concept to illustrate another and that needs to be responsibly interpreted.

We're now in Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) year B with Mark as the featured gospel; here's a short overview of Mark. I'm reflecting on the Hebrew bible passage, so here's Mark 13:24-37 the gospel reading for today. It's from the middle of Mark's passion narrative!

Today's First Reading

Today's Third Isaiah comes from back on home land in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Along the way from Egypt through the promised land, into exile and back, the Israelites had lived some solid theology. Like us, in their heads they knew God could not be controlled by humans or confined to a small space. They already had experienced God as an extraordinary deity who heard the people, traveled alongside, and entered into unbreakable covenant them them. In their heads they knew God never would leave them. However, similar to our experiences, events had gone down in ways that made them wonder if God had disappeared.

This poetry is interesting because instead of characteristic prophetic content that addresses the people with inspired words from God, we hear the people speaking to God. Pleading with God. Begging God to remember! It's very much like the psalms! The Hebrew for "tear open" implies a rip or rupture that cannot be mended, and is similar to the Greek word used when the temple curtain tore at Jesus' death.

During Advent we wait for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who obliterates divisions between earth and heaven. This Jesus heals creation's brokenness and prepares our future.

Memory and Hope

It often feels as if God has abandoned this planet. With the overall state of the world, egregious and targeted violence everywhere, climate degradation, social distancing and estrangement (in more than one sense), and psychological distress that has led almost everyone to seek some kind of solution for restoring their emotional and mental wellness, even people who routinely trust God, frequently sense God's presence, and pray a lot have serious doubts. This week's second lection from 1 Corinthians 1:7 says "we wait for the revealing [literally apocalypse] of our Lord Jesus Christ." In today's first reading the people beg for God's self-revelation and intervention because they have a history with this God. They remember. And they remind God.

Advent calendars and candles have become almost too familiar. Advent calls us to the root – to ground zero – of our lives together as people of God. We recreate our history with God in Word and Sacrament as we join with God's people in every place, every time. Worship and sacraments make those past events present to us right here and right now. As we re-member and re-enact the past, we trust God's future redemption and astonishing actions yet to come because we have lived solid theology with this God. Getting to the taproot of our lives together with God, we actually remember the future. We wait and watch and look for signs of God's tomorrows breaking into our midst.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Mark's Gospel

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

Concept, Author, Date

• Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year B belongs to Mark's gospel. Along with Luke and Matthew, Mark is a synoptic gospel that views Jesus from a similar perspective, although each has a distinctive personality. As the shortest and most immediate of the four canonical gospels, Mark is the one for texting and tweeting (also known as posting on the app called X).

• Prior to Mark, good news or gospel was the returning Roman general's announcement of annihilating the enemy. Mark subverts that into the Good News of God's victory over sin and death, the triumph of the reign of life. All known manuscripts carry the heading The Gospel According to Mark, but this Mark probably is an unknown person or group and not Peter's ministry companion John Mark.

• Probably written to Greek speaking gentile Christians, possibly but not probably as early as 45 C.E., almost definitely no later than shortly after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E..

• Between them, Matthew and Luke include 631 of Mark's 661 verses. with about 90% in Matthew, 50% in Luke, making Mark's gospel an important resource for Luke and Matthew.


A variety of documents that circulated in the dynamic oral tradition before being written down. Scholars sometimes consider a possible source called Q for the first letter of the German Quelle; "Quelle" means source or river. Was there really a Q? That's still unknown. Was Mark Q? Almost definitely not.


• Proclamation / announcement rather than history
• No birth narrative
• No resurrection account
• Mark doesn't mention Jesus' earthly father Joseph, yet because 6:2-3 asks, 2 "…What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 2 Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?…" we identify Jesus' as a tekton, something like a multiskilled handyman.
• Many miracles, healings, and exorcisms
• Mark famously features the Messianic secret: Jesus tells everyone don't tell anyone!
• Just as in Matthew and Luke, Mark's Jesus loves to refer to himself as "Son of Man" – the Human One.

After his baptism followed by 40 days in the wilderness that Matthew and Luke also report (but in greater detail), Jesus calls disciples Simon, Andrew, James, and John; then in his first act of public ministry, Jesus casts out a demon during a synagogue service.

Just as for Luke, in Mark's gospel the journey to Jerusalem and the cross is particularly intentional and incessant. For Mark, Jesus' passion and death provide the fullest understanding of Jesus' purpose and identity.


Mark brings us God coming near to humanity and to all creation. God no longer is far away, behind the clouds. Think of how central the Jerusalem temple was to economic, political, and religious life! In Jesus of Nazareth, God no longer is contained and protected in the temple. Is there a new God in town? (But then again, all four gospel accounts are about God-with-us, God-among-us, God-for-us…)

Mark particularly asks, "Where do we look for God? Where do we find God?"

• Not hidden behind clouds or anywhere far from earth
• Not in the temple – but on the cross
• Not in established religious, economic, political institutions – but outside the city limits, in the wilderness. In the stranger and outcast.

During this year of Mark's gospel, let's consider: do we find God in the mainline church and in mainstream society?
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1