Joseph’s Dream

Matthew 1:18-25The Fourth Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 18, 2016

“As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream . . .” (Matthew 1:20)

advent-4aJoseph did not dream.

Never.

At least he never remembered much about any dreams until that dream with its unexpected announcement and troubling intimacy.

Dreams might come to the lazy. However Joseph, after a long day of chores and responsibilities, always slept like a rock. Dreams might trouble those who were anxious—about money, the past or future, status—and would waste their nights in restless turmoil. Joseph didn’t worry . . . he worked.

He was a simple man.

He was a faithful man.

He was an honest man.

And he was a man in love with Mary.

And yet there was that damn with its persuasive voice and impossible demands. It stalked his waking mind like a feral cat he’d made the mistake of feeding.

Before the dream, he had reconciled himself to not caring how or why or when Mary had become pregnant. He loved her. An awful or embarrassing or youthful or shameful thing had taken place and she didn’t want to talk about it. That was fine. He loved her. Joseph had overheard several of the comments made about Mary when she went to the well for water and—if it hadn’t been for Mary giving him her stern, warning look—he would’ve taken his fists to those gossipers and rumor mongers.

Let the neighbors chatter. A village always had too many idiots. Continue reading →

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Abraham’s Descendants

Luke 1:46-55The Third Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 11, 2016

“Just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants . . .” (Luke 1:55)

advent-3aI am Muslim.

I am Jewish.

I am Christian.

I am Abraham’s descendant.

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s anticipation of giving birth to a child who would scatter those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations prompted her to sing a song of divine justice. This section of the Gospel is commonly called the Magnificat. This child would, because it was and is and forever will be the nature of God’s magnificence, pull “the powerful down from their thrones” while uplifting “the lowly.”

As nearly everyone with any knowledge of the Bible knows, Mary’s song echoed Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 2:1-10. The Magnificat, however and whenever and even if they were verses spoken by Mary, were not completely unique to her. And yet they were. Like a bright warning from a lighthouse cast into the seas for passing ships, Mary’s words illuminate God’s deepest desires for every generation. Like a train’s whistle piercing the night when it rumbles through the city, Mary’s words disturb those who have become complacent . . . not just long ago, but here and now.

The nature of the God of Abraham—the monotheistic, majestic God of Jews and Christians and Muslims—is forever oriented toward justice. Toward mercy. Toward protecting the poor. Toward hope. Toward sending the rich away empty-handed. Continue reading →

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John, the Baptizer

Matthew 3:1-12The Second Sunday of Advent – for December 4, 2016

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, ‘Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!’” (Matthew 3:1-2)

Though his head felt heavier than a boulder, he angled his gaze upward, to the newborn stars shimmering in the darkness . . .
Though his head felt heavier than a boulder, he angled his gaze upward, to the newborn stars shimmering in the darkness . . .

The sun slumped in the west, an orange smudge across the darkening sky. Below him, the water flowed, a soothing melody as it meandered south. Settled on the riverbank, John stretched his legs and took a deep breath. He felt grateful the day was ending.

He was exhausted.

Every morning a crowd came to the Jordan. Several of them would inevitably argue with him. Several lingered at the edge of the throng, with faces like bruised fruit, already convinced nothing could save them from more misery. Many came every day, and were baptized every day. This group troubled John, as he heard them—again and again—pleading for forgiveness. After their confessions and immersion, they scuttled back to their homes, no different than cockroaches fearing the light. They would sin again. Screwing a neighbor’s wife. Stealing a poor man’s coins. Lying or cheating and a moment later overwhelmed with regret . . . and then returning to the Jordan.

Earlier today he’d preached about chopping at the roots of the tree, destroying those who did not bear good fruit.

Maybe tomorrow he would refuse to baptize some of his repeat customers. Continue reading →

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