The Knife’s Edge of Love

Luke 2:22-40The First Sunday of Christmas – for December 28, 2014

“When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in a accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to the Jerusalem…” (Luke 2:22)

simeon-with-the-infant-jesus.jpg!Blog“Wait here for a moment,” Joseph said, “I forgot to, need to . . .”

He didn’t finish his sentence. Not to her. With a word or glance, she might stop him by shaming his anger or calming his fears.

Mary nodded, hugging Jesus closer to her chest.

Joseph rearranged the blanket around the infant’s face. His hands—with their map of scars, grit he could never wash out, and the stump where he lost his left little finger while a carpenter’s apprentice—gently stroked Jesus’ smooth cheeks. He also caressed his wife’s face. His wife and their newborn were so beautiful, each a gift that Joseph didn’t deserve. And yet here they were, together. Wasn’t he all that stood between the worst of the world and their dreams for the child? Well, maybe he and God would protect this miracle family, but the Almighty had secretive ways, and terrible silences.

Mary dutifully waited on the temple’s expansive courtyard. Around her, as with most days, construction continued on Herod’s pet projects. The temple, its glistening, sculpted stone reaching toward heaven, had been finished in less than two years a generation ago. But the open areas around the towering edifice were being expanded so merchants, beggars, and pilgrims had more room to bargain with or boast to each other. There were stairways everywhere. How could they all lead to different streets into the city? Jerusalem made Nazareth seem puny.

Joseph entered the temple, eyes again adjusting to the dim inner light, the flickering oil lamps and shards of bright sunlight. As before, the stench of sweat from weary humans, incense from mysterious rituals, and endless burnt offerings irritated his nostrils. To his left, a Levite chanted the Psalms. To his right, a barefoot, beardless man, taller and much younger than Joseph, stood alone. Two fat turtledoves dangled from his hand, the birds fluttering and fussing, unaware of their impending doom. Maybe the barefoot man-child was confused about what to do next, just like Joseph had been a short while before. At another time, Joseph might have assisted him.

But Joseph’s plans urged him forward, and his family waited where there was a constant crowd of pickpockets and whores. Continue reading →

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Advent 4 – Gabriel Shuffles In

Luke 1:26-38The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 21, 2014

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee.” (Luke 1:26)

She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. “The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, God is honoring you.”

“Mary,” in the sheltering darkness of the room, is alone but doesn’t feel lonely. She leans forward, alert.

Why does this moment feel different?

“Gabriel” slips unnoticed into the building, as hesitant as he is hopeful. With curious eyes, he scans the unfamiliar surroundings.

Is this the moment that will make a difference?

*       *       *

With apologies to It's A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire is the best movie about angels...
With apologies to It’s A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire* is the best movie about angels…

In several of the churches I served, I asked a young woman—maybe fourteen or fifteen years old—to read Luke’s familiar verses where Mary was informed about her impending pregnancy. I wanted a reminder that the first Christmas story hinged on the voiceless. In the so-called Bible times, all women were considered property; Mary’s identity would always be based on which him she married. She was merely some man’s future wife from a ho-hum village in a meaningless region that barely appeared as a dot on the sprawling map of the empire. Like a million other female nobodies, Mary lived in an era when the powerful trampled the weak, and the haughty rich acquired more treasure while the humiliated poor spiraled deeper into poverty. (Though it’s always been and still is this way.) Continue reading →

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In The Tombs

John 11:1-45  – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, April 6, 2014

“Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:39)

Jesus had left for Ephraim with his disciples.

Mary was tending to Lazarus, by his bed while he slept. (And ate and slept and ate a little more.)

Caravaggio's "The Raising of Lazarus."
Caravaggio’s “The Raising of Lazarus.”

The crowds had dispersed. So many of our neighbors, along with the curious and suspicious, had traveled from the tomb to our home. They’d asked questions, whispered and schemed. There were those that loudly boasted they’d now follow Jesus to heaven or hell or Jerusalem or wherever he led. There were those already exaggerating my brother’s rebirth, telling of Jesus’ casting magical spells or seeing bolts of lightning before the rock at the tomb was removed or hearing angelic mutterings. And there were those who silently watched, never joining in the backslapping and cheering. They skulked away after they’d witnessed Lazarus emerging from the darkness. I knew they despised my brother and resented Jesus. I knew where this last group would go. They may have been close-mouthed here in Bethany, but a few hours later—mark my words—they’d conspire with the priests in the Temple or the Roman soldiers . . . and more likely both.

There was no safe place. Not in Bethany. Not anywhere.

But there was one place where I could be alone. I needed to think. Needed to pray. Needed to ask for forgiveness.

And so I’d returned to my brother’s tomb. Now empty, the hordes gone, and with this long, disturbing, divine day coming to a close. I reassured Mary I’d return before dark. Tonight, I’d stay by Lazarus’ side and give my sister a chance to rest.

In the cool shadow of the tomb’s threshold, its wide opening like a mouth forming a shout, I recalled the last days.

I told everyone, especially when the night of the third day came, that the stench from the tomb was a dead animal. A rat. A mole. A bird dragged inside by a feral cat. The stench was not my brother Lazarus. Continue reading →

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