Advent 1: A Dark November Night

Mark 13:24-37First Sunday of Advent – For Sunday, November 30, 2014

“Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.” (Mark 13:33)

advent2-300x225Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.

The first scriptures of Advent are unsettling. I don’t like them. I’d prefer to hurry to the next week’s readings, to arrive in Bethlehem as quickly as possible. Joseph and Mary and the shepherds and the magi and the angels are familiar. They are safe. After all, I put their ceramic figurines on my mantel.

The scripture that shouts at me to Watch out! never feels safe. I dread the questions these fierce apocalyptic verses cause me to ask.

*      *      *

Will I ever be healed?

I weary of waiting to be healed. First, I’m talking about my body. Once, as a youth, I felt immortal. I did. Embarrassing confession: in my twenties and thirties, I didn’t think I’d age like others. Even after a wrenching broken leg, even after a first and second knee surgery by my late forties, I thought I’d be . . . different. I’d never be the one with the cane or walker or the one whose doctor warned you have to count calories or reduce cholesterol. I would forever disdain the elevator and bound up the steps.

But aging gets the last laugh. Judgment wears clever disguises. Continue reading →

Down By The River

Matthew 3:1-12  – The Second Sunday of Advent – for December 8, 2013

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…” (Matthew 3:1-12)

The Jordan River, just around the next bend...
The Jordan River, just around the next bend…

I came to this godforsaken place because everyone came.

Some traveled from as far away as Jerusalem. I could tell by their accents and how they acted superior to the rest of us.

I didn’t want to come.

I did want to come.

For weeks, in town, and in the countryside beyond, the gossip had all been about the wild man, about how no one had heard of him, and then it was as if he’d become more popular than praying for rain or despising the Romans.

I’d heard the snide comments.

The wild man ate insects down by the river!

“He’s got the brain of a locust,” a friend of my father muttered two days ago. “Why bother with him? Let him shout and curse. Like all the crawling creeping things, he’ll be gone by season’s end.”

But I’d seen my father’s friend sneak away to the river. Don’t actions speak louder than words?

The wild man feasted on honey down by the river!

A scrawny kid, just outside the synagogue yesterday, in a shrill voice I couldn’t ignore, claimed he’d seen the man reach into a beehive to scoop out sweet nectar. Continue reading →

I Am At My Worst When . . .

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  – 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for November 17, 2013

“Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are…” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

images-1Reading certain Biblical verses creates a lump in my throat.

Moses bedazzled by the burning bush.

David wept.

The immortal words about love Paul scribbled in First Corinthians.

Alone near the tomb, Mary confused Jesus for a gardener.

Faith burns. Kings cry. Love triumphs. Death defied.

Then there are those that cause me to gulp . . . but not in a good way.

Second Thessalonians 3:6 is a gulper.

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition they received from us.

Who were those believers living “in idleness,” that didn’t conform to the “tradition?”

As a fleeting, intriguing faith and history (and faith in history) lesson, I’m glad for those words from the second letter to the faith community in Thessalonica. Maybe Paul wrote them, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Second Thessalonians is mostly an imitation or homage to First Thessalonians (there are numerous similarities in the two missals), or maybe it can stand on its own. Regardless of who wrote it, or its unique/not unique theology, Second Thessalonians provides readers of every generation since Gutenberg’s Bible* a glimpse of a fellowship of believers experiencing turmoil.

Second Thessalonians was likely written between 70-80 A.D. There are scholars that would argue for earlier than the 70s and there could be credible reasons for dating it decades later. But no scholar—ancient or modern, liberal or conservative—doubted that Second Thessalonians addressed tension about the arrival of Jesus’ “second coming.” By the time it was written, years have come and gone since Jesus’ ministry. The promise of an impending new age was questioned as followers of Jesus died—sometimes by natural means, sometimes as martyrs—and always as a reminder of each person’s mortality.

We will all live eternally in Christ!

But what of those who have now died?

And so, in dim rooms illuminated by sputtering candles, in the bright sunshine of dusty village streets, around a glass of wine and loaf of bread at a neighbor’s home, in whispers at the edge of a crowd at the local synagogue, the early believers of Jesus—who knew people who remembered the people who once met some of Jesus’ disciples—debated the Gospel message. When will yesterday’s promises become today’s reality? Who among us is following the best, right, true path to those promises? Continue reading →