Holy Homonyms

Luke 3:1-6 – The 2nd Sunday of Advent – for December 9, 2012

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…” (Luke 3:1)

I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Whew, that’s a whole lotta name-dropping in the opening of Luke’s third chapter. You’d need the lungs of Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin to speak the sentence without an extra breath or two.

But today I’m not as concerned with the names or titles, or the length or breath of a verse, as much as with holy homonyms. In this season of Advent, in the time of an impending baby, an expectant hope, a promise born in darkness, I wonder about holy ways and human longing. So let’s re-imagine Luke’s first words in that third chapter:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius . . .

In the fifteenth year of the rain of Emperor Tiberius . . .

In the fifteenth year of the rein of Emperor Tiberius . . .

Reign, Rain, Rein! Homonyms are words that sound alike, and yet mean different things. Like gate and gait. Or there’s Sana Claus, a legal clause and cat’s claws. And take an Olympic breath before you declare . . . air, are*, e’er, ere, err and heir.

There’s reign . . .

Jesus was born in the reign of Emperor Augustus. His ministry will begin during the reign of Tiberius.

One of the ways I embrace the Gospels, with their miracles, stories, encounters with the rich and poor, in talk of treasure and tales of healing, of private prayers and public actions, is as an invitation to each blessed reader and hearer of the word to choose. Who or what reigns over your life? Choose! Will it be God or mammon? Jesus or Tiberius? Faith or fear? I could add an interfaith twist by asking . . . Buddha or capitalism, Islam or commercialism? And there’s this frisky homonym:  will you be awed by other humans or merely see anyone different than you as odd? Choose! Continue reading →

On Time

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – First Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 2, 2012

“The days are surely coming…” (Jeremiah 33:14)


I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.

Do you have a minute? Want to grab an hour? How does today look?

What time is it? It’s time to go . . . now . . . soon . . . later.

What time do I start? Half past six. Zero dark thirty. When you’re ready.

Who could improve on Charles Dickens’ timeless opening line in his Tale of Two Cities?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Whoa! Dickens scribed an opening line with 120 words! No twenty-first century editor would take the time to read such a lengthy opening to a novel. After all, time is money.

Time is money, and back in the old times, the more Dickens wrote, the more quid he received.

Recently I chatted with a friend planning to retire soon. His “last day” looms. After thirty and more years of working a job he loves—and a job he did very well—it’s almost over. He approaches the end of time, if you will. How could those decades flash by so quickly? How could years of a cluttered desk and an overscheduled calendar become an empty office in a matter of days?

As a pastor, I recall leaving churches, where the bookshelves were emptied and the final sermon had been given and I relinquished the keys. I’ve left a parish six times in my mostly uneventful clergy career. Sometimes I cried; sometimes I sighed with relief.

My, my, how time flies. Continue reading →

Am I Not Entering Holy Ground?

Did my red socks display jolly Santas, lush Christmas trees or singing angels?

I don’t remember. I’ve worn and worn out many festive socks over the years.

Toes are getting a bit thin from these "veteran" socks!

Advent’s Third Word: WITNESS!

But I recall the snow, my December breath adrift like a miniature cloud, the long tramp from the driveway to their house. An hour or so outside of Madison, Wisconsin, the brittle night air contains the smell of cattle from the barn as my footsteps crunch on the icy path leading to the front door.

I also don’t remember who answered. His teenaged daughter? His wife? His brother from the next farm over?

“I’m Larry,” I say. “I had called and asked–”

“Yes, of course, come inside before you freeze. We’re glad you came.”

I entered a home I’d never been to before, and shook the hand of a stranger. In my faulty memory I can’t be sure if the friendly hand grasping mine was the daughter, wife or brother, but I certainly felt welcomed. Other family members voiced their greetings. An unseen Christmas tree cast splinters of red and green light against the wall. Evidence of baking, maybe cookies, teased my nose.

Someone offered to take my coat. Then, after a cleared throat, one of my greeters quietly asked, “Could you take your shoes off?”

They gestured toward the entryway floor. Work boots, clogs, running shoes and other footwear rested on a throw rug. I shrugged off my shoes and added them to the mix. Especially in a Midwest winter, a season of mud and snow and ice, this wasn’t unusual. Removing shoes helped in the battle for a clean house.

With my Advent/Christmas socks obvious, I padded into the living room, accompanied by members of the family. Everyone glanced at my feet, at those Santas or singing angels prancing against a bright red background. A Christmas tree anchored a corner, across from the fireplace. There was a sofa, several chairs and a hospital bed.

His wife said to me, eyes unblinking, voice strong, “This is John. He’s so looking forward to meeting you.” Continue reading →