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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures:
First Sunday After Christmas: Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148:1-14, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
Holy Name of Jesus & other festivals: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8:1-9, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 2:15-21
New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Psalm 8:1-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, Matthew 25:31-46

This week we again are offered three sets of readings. We are still in the season of Christmas—the First Sunday after Christmas. It’s also New Year’s Day has its own set of readings. Finally, on January 1 or the first Sunday in January, Catholics celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, the feast of the Circumcision, a whole series of feasts related to Mary (now combined in what is called “The Solemnity of Mary”), and a World Day of Peace. I think it is good for Protestants to find ways to incorporate Mary into our worship more than usually happens, so I don’t want just to dismiss that as one possible focus for Sunday, January 1.

I again see the abundance of readings as offering a variety of possible directions for our thinking, enrichment, and growth. As I thought about the coming of the New Year, I was reminded of the practice of making a list of resolutions. Looking at all of this week’s readings, I found myself with more questions than “themes.” I remember someone who said it is not so much the answers that matter as we go through life. The questions we ask matter as much as the questions.

What if, instead of a list of resolutions, we adopted a question (or a short list of them) for the coming year? The Kairos-Milwaukie congregation has viewed portions of the video series, “Living the Questions.” Are there questions that might give shape to our lives in the coming year? This blog will look briefly at the readings and identify one or more questions that challenge me. I don’t know if that will work or not, but I invite you to join me—and perhaps form some questions of your own.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3—This expression of Messianic hope gives us images of the adornment worn by the hoped-for one who will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations.” (61:11) It was a hope expressed with the coming of every king, often incorporated into the coronation ceremony. In this case, we are told of “garments of salvation” and robes of “righteousness,” wedding apparel with garlands and jewels, “a crown of beauty” and “a royal diadem.” (61:10 & 62:3)

We live in a culture which often invests great hope every four years when a new President is inaugurated. We live in a culture which often judges people by the apparel they wear. Notice that while the apparel of this king is described in somewhat traditional kingly terms, the content is not in the outward adornment. This king is wearing salvation and righteousness, etc.

A question: What do we want our leaders to wear?

Numbers 6:22-27—This oft-repeated benediction depicts a “Lord” who shines the light of grace upon, looking us in the face, so to speak, and offering us peace. (vss. 25-26) Have we ever looked deep into the eyes of someone and experienced them looking back and known in that moment that we were deeply loved? If we could look God in the eye (without fear, without simply seeing the old man with a beard in the sky), what would we see, and how would that affect us? Now there’s something to ponder for the New Year.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13—The writer of Ecclesiastes brings the questions of a pessimist to the Bible. This much-loved reading about time is very fateful in its outlook. It’s appropriate as a reflection on the meaning of life on New Year’s Day, but what do those of us who are more optimistic do with it? Is it true that there is “a time for war”? (vs. 8) Certainly history is full of war, but need it be that way. Can we avoid being “victims” of time? The significance of the reading, I believe, is in verses 11 and following. We are told that everything is suitable for its time. (vs. 11—Many of us grew up with the reading which says, “Everything is beautiful in its own time.” I like the notion of seeing beauty in everything, maybe even going through the next year asking where is the beauty around me?) We are also told that, while we may sense that there is a purpose in the movement of life, we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (vs. 11) The solution is to experience life as a gift and enjoy it in each moment. (vss. 12-13)

Psalm 148:1-14—Like many Psalms, this one overflows with praise. What is amazing is the all-inclusiveness of the “praisers”—sun, moon, and stars, sea monsters, fire and hail, snow and frost, mountains and hills, trees, wild animals, birds, kings, young and old, angels. Is the song of a whale a way of praising? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible repeatedly sees all the cosmos as an expression of God’s grace. Psalms like this remind us that we are all connected in one great eco-system, or should we say “cosmo-system”? It is a hymn to be sung by environmentalists. Perhaps we can go through the next year asking where we are hearing or seeing praise in all that is around us.

Psalm 8:1-9—If Psalm 148 puts us in our proper place among all living things, this Psalm reminds us that somehow or other there is a divinity in us (what elsewhere is called “the image of God”). We have been made “a little lower than God, . . . crowned . . . with glory and honor.” (vs. 5) Whatever we read into this Psalm’s images of dominion, I do not believe our Godlikeness as a license to use abusive authority. A question for pondering: In what ways are we like God, and what are the implications?

Galatians 4:4-7—This reading also deals with God connections. It wants us to know that Jesus was “born of a woman.” (vs. 4—There’s Mary!) It talks about adopted children and heirs, the Spirit of Jesus crying in our hearts, “Abba! Father!. (vss. 5-6) The imagery is that of family, but a new kind of family. What does it mean to live with the image of God as our parent?

Philippians 2:5-11—A grand tribute to the combination of human and divine in Jesus and a call for us to have that “same mind in” us. (vs. 5) What mind did Jesus have in him? The mind/spirit guiding Jesus was the mind of God. What does it mean to have the mind of God in us? For Jesus it meant taking on the “likeness” of humanity, “being found in human form.” (vs. 7) The key is humility, emptying oneself. Where is the mind of God calling us and taking us in 2012?

Along with the humility is an exaltation in a series of verses that, on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, speak of “the name that is above every name,” a name at which “every knee should bend . . .” What would it mean to live 2012 “in Jesus’ name.”

Revelation 21:1-16—This New Year’s reading focuses upon “a new heaven and a new earth” (vs. 1), a time when “I am making all things new.” (vs. 5) With every new year one of the most important questions is, “What’s going to be new?” Can things really be made new? Certainly there is much newness needed. How do we work with God in bringing that newness into being?

Luke 2:15-40—As we remember Mary, we might focus on verse 19 in which Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” What must it have been like for Mary (or Joseph for that matter) to have been parent to a child around which there was so much hubbub—at least according to the story? Do we ever see birth with such wonder and pondering in our hearts? What kind of world and possibility are our children being born into?

The rest of the reading is about Jesus’ circumcision and prophetic announcements associated with that occasion. Again the parents “were amazed at what was being said about him.” Simeon says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (vs. 35) Like parents everywhere, Jesus’ parents worried about the future he faced, however much or little they understood about it. Sensitive people in every age worry about the future that will greet their children and grandchildren, praying that future generations will build up rather than tear down. What future are we going to be building in 2012?

Matthew 25:31-46—This New Year’s reading was also used on Thanksgiving Sunday. The parable is traditionally seen, of course, as identifying the ministry which has eternal value—feeding and taking care of such people. It is as if we are doing it to God himself.

Instead of interpreting further or identifying more questions, I'm going to conclude with a quote from Henri Nouwen. It ends with a question suggested by this parable, to be laid alongside the many questions put before us (and that you may add) as we look ahead to 2012.

From “Bread for the Journey,” a year’s worth of daily meditations by Henri Nouwen—a few sentences from the reading for Dec. 25th. “What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people—in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents . . . So whatever we do the main question is, ‘Does it lead to reconciliation among people?’”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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