November 2009

Getting ready for Next Sunday of Advent.

I hope some of you celebrated the first Sunday of Advent in your worship today. I was in a service where the Lectionary readings were not read as such, however the reading and the message was from the first twenty-five verses of Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1. This actually fits in with the emphasis for Second Sunday of Advent, so I thought I would go ahead and get up the Scriptures as we look forward to next week.

Announcing the Promised Messenger

Second Sunday of Advent (Dec.6) Announcing the Messenger of the Covenant!


Malachi 3:1-4 – The Prophet’s vision

Luke 1:68-79. – The Song of Zachariah

Philippians 1:3-11. – The Desired Result

Luke 3:1-6. – John the Baptist

Where do you typically look for “way-showers?” Where do you typically find the real ones?Luke locates the ministry of John the Baptist historically within the timelines of the Roman Empire and theologically in the prophecy of Isaiah: The winding and difficult pathways between Babylon and Jerusalem were about to be turned into a straight and level highway for returning exiles so that all could witness God’s salvation. John announced this message, and more besides (which we’ll see and hear next week) in a ministry that took him up and down the Jordan River valley. In so doing, he sought out a fairly remote wilderness area inhabited by forgotten people and “little” people rather than the “bright lights” of Jerusalem, fulfilling in this way his father Zechariah’s song.

Paul gives joyous thanks for his partnership with the church in Philippi. The graciousness and power he has experienced with them gives him every confidence that God will finish God’s work in them to present them blameless on the day of the return of Christ, “having produced the harvest of righteousness” (verse 11). Paul’s “end-time” hope for them, and by extension for all Christians, is for all of them, as God’s people, to “serve God in holiness and righteousness all their days,” a living sign of the Promised One in their midst.

How is the “messianic” harvest of righteousness being cultivated, cared for, and gathered in where you are?

Zechariah’s song identifies John the Baptizer as the foretold messenger of the Lord with a substantially broader mission than fixing the ritual anomalies and the broken spirituality in the priesthood Malachi had identified. A descendent of David was coming who would re-constitute whole people and save them from their enemies so they could worship and serve God in holiness and righteousness all their days. The ministry of the way-shower would prepare the “mighty Savior’s” way by calling for repentance and announcing forgiveness of sins to all, even those in “darkness and the shadow of death.”

 A century or more after the restoration of the city and the temple in Jerusalem, the word of the Lord through the prophet declares the coming of “my messenger” (Malachi, in Hebrew) who would radically purify the temple priesthood. How and where are clergy and lay leaders being purified where you are?

(comments from The General Board of Disciplehip of the UMC)

I don’t know, but I have my doubts, especially this year.

Thanksgiving is a North American civil holiday and not an actual religious holiday per se. Thanks to the nature of our American tradition and the function of religion in that tradition, for many it is the time that all faith traditions emphasize the importance of thanksgiving to the Creator and ultimate source of all blessing in life. So in theory, Muslims in the United States could easily embrace this American tradition and the function that it plays in our National identity and culture.

Did you know that there is another celebration, very significant to Muslims world-wide, that begins the day after Thanksgiving (this year) and this is the main reason for my doubts. It is simply a matter of the “prior” engagement that Muslims no doubt will be occupied with, much like my wife is now occupied with as she prepares for a house full of relatives for Thanksgiving. The Muslim festival I’m referring to is not just one day, but four days, and is called the “Festival of Sacrifice“.

This week Mohammedans celebrate their “Festival of the Sacrifice,” their Id al-adha, with slaying of animals and donations of the flesh to the poor. In New York City the festival has an unusual significance. It is due to the fact that the city has some 18,000 Moslems—Polish Tartars, Albanians, Turks, Hindus, Arabs, Malays, Filipinos. Some 700 assembled at Brooklyn last year for the first time for prayer, prostration and sacrifice. See the link above for more information of this festival which has some similiar features so prominent in our Thanksgiving activities, though we usually don’t refer to the slaughter of so many turkeys as a religious sacrifice. One final picture from Pakistan which is so prominent in our daily news, may be worth a “thousand words”.

Alternate Christmas music series.

Here’s another of my favorite pieces associated with Christmas. It has a simple melody that tends to get into your head as it did mine when I heard it featured in the movie “Empire of the Sun“. My favorite version is from a Christmas album by the Irish Tenors. I don’t have the english words from that album which really carry the message I’m focusing on: The Cosmic event of this present age. (I’ll try to find the words- meanwhile enjoy the beautiful Welsh version by Katherine Jenkins)

Empire of The Sun version (Japanese-Umi Yukaba)

Alternative music great for Advent.

One of the things that has occured to me as I get ready to celebrate the most joyous season of the Christian Year, is that there is some incredible music out there that we may not think of as “Christmas” music but in terms of the uniqueness and finality of the Incarnation is just perfect. Here’s just one example from Michael Card

“You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous Word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place in God the Father as He spoke that final Word.”   (One final Word from the album “Joy in the Journey”)

The song captures the essence of the event and is indeed most fitting for Advent. Michael is a very talented artist not only in writing verse but in the music as well . His songs are laced with Biblical themes and characters such as Mary and Joseph. His well known Immanuel is another song perfect for Advent. These songs for me capture the true spirit of the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Listen to the title song from JOY in the JOURNEY.

Planning Ahead for the Advent Season 

If you’ve paid attention to recent posts, perhaps you’ve noticed that I have been in “Advent” mode for almost a month and its just the middle of November. I can’t explain it- maybe it is due to the year we’ve witnessed since last Advent and the urgency I feel to witness to the Incarnation Event to all who will give an ear, pointing to that event as the most signifcant of all events in this present world. 


The Coming of the Promised Deliverer

Once again this year, I am going to post about the resources over at The General Board of Disciplehip of the UMC. Here is a little teaser along with the link for planning for Advent, including the Scripture texts and the themes of worship:

“Advent places us into the sweep of the Eternal One breaking into history, awakens us to the radical disjuncture between God’s dream for creation and the mess we have made of it, and challenges us to join God’s mission to make all things new.Especially after this year of so much economic upheaval, it may be the ancient call of the Advent message, rather than the ephemeral call to recreate the “perfect Christmastime,” that the church and the people around us most need to hear and heed.

“The days are surely coming,” Jeremiah reminds. “Even so, come Lord Jesus,” the church in Revelation replies. May our reply this season join that of all the saints, here and now and in the age to come.

ADVENT PLANNING 2009 – I encourage you to check out the resources and the orientation unless you already have found your own. At the beginning of the Christian year (for most) is a great time to actively participate with Christians the world over in celebrating the Gift of the Son of God, Jesus the promised Christ.

The Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholic Faith and Life.  Virgin and child What can happen when members of different Christian communities determine honestly to “engage differences between our communities, recognizing that the only unity pleasing to God, and therefore the only unity we may seek, is the unity in the truth” ?  Since their first joint statement issued in 1994, a group calling themselves simply, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” have been meeting in a serious effort to listen, question, and speak to oneanother from their divided Christian traditions. They have been able to demonstrate remarkable agreement on the Christian faith and practice that love for oneanother the Head of the Church gave them to do as the New Commandment. As we approach the Advent season, I want to post about the amazing openness and directness these unofficial representatives of the two groups  have been able to achieve in dealing with even the most difficult of themes that divide the Christian communions. The most recent statement from the ECT group deals with one of those difficult themes: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life. I want to say upfront that Evangelicals have much to benefit from this frank discussion, especially as we prepare to celebrate once again the birth of the Christ child. We can and must do a better job of giving Mary her proper place in the Biblical narrative and thus in the life of the churches. Stated here, is only the Catholic part of the conversation(and that in part). I don’t need to say anything about the Protestant position, and the points of disagreements. I am thankful for such a clear and forthright confession of the Catholic dogma on these points.

” We believe that Catholic teaching with respect to the Blessed Virgin Mary safeguards the fullness of revelation and deepens our understanding of God’s plan of salvation.”

“We here address, all too briefly, four aspects of that doctrine: the perpetual virginity of Mary, her Immaculate conception, her bodily Assumption into heaven, and her role, along with all the saints, in the communion of the Church. We do so in fidelity to ‘ the relation between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God’ (Ut Unum Sint 79).

” The Bible is the foundation of all Catholic teaching. Catholics also believe, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church all things (John 14:6), that, under the influence of the Spirit, the gospel of grace is more fully and completely understood. Thus the Catholic Church believes that in its listening to, praying with, and reflecting on the truth of Holy Scripture, the Spirit is active as a divine guide, leading to a rich and comprehensive consideration of God’s Word. The Spirit leads the Church to see the full implications of the gospel through the teaching of early Fathers, through ecumenical councils, through prayer and litergy, through the lives of saints, and through the study of theologians. All of these help the Church to see more clearly the profound meaning of Christ’s message and the extraordinary role of his mother, Mary, in the history of salvation.” ( from Do whatever he tells you, in First Things, Nov 2009, issue, p.51)

There is much, much more to this recent statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together for your careful study, complete statement at FIRST THINGS.

Don’t believe all you read in the newspaper!

I’ve commented to various people about my respect for some of the contributions of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and suggested that Christians should inform themselves by asking a simple question. “Is God trying to tell the rest of us some things by way of this faith tradition?” For one thing, how about their missionary zeal which has resulted in incredible world-wide growth. Ask Him yourself to open your eyes to some of the other fairly obvious lessons in this video.