Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do not be afraid . . .

Annunciation (detail) by Jacob Pontormo (1495-1556)
Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicita, Florence, Italy

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.  (Luke 1:26-38)

This reading from the first chapter of Luke is the appointed gospel reading for Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It is an account of the encounter between the messenger Gabriel and young Mary.

In our recent Advent retreat, Sister Thelma alluded to the tendency to depict Mary, in our day and age, as a wimp. Ever so meek, mild, and stripped of personality and power, Mary is frequently characterized as the obedient marionette of God. Just look at images of her in art. Mary the weakling.

Now, for a moment, imagine you have never heard this story before. For a moment, consider the incredible strength Mary mustered to meet this messenger's greeting with willingness and obedience.

Ponder these things in your heart.

Do not be afraid, says Gabriel.

The Annunciation by John Maler Collier, (1850-1934)

How can it be that God chooses to bring life, salvation, and hope to a landscape that is undeveloped or past its prime? Do you ever feel that it's too late, too much, or too frightening to release yourself into God's will for your life? Are you at least willing to be willing?

In these final Advent days, there is still time to prepare a room in our hearts for the life and light of the world, Jesus Christ. We too are favored in God's sight. Let it be with us accordingly.

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse, 1914

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December 21, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. 
With your abundant grace and might, 
free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, 
that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, 
for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever. Amen

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Starry Starry Night

Yesterday during our mid-week Evening Prayer we sang the hymn, Creator of the Stars at Night. It isn't quite as familiar as some others. And it never is a requested hymn -- at least in my experience. Yet it remains a treasure. It is a hymn that has been dated to the 9th century. So, for well over half of the Church's existence, this song has been sung. 

Perhaps even more profound than it's plainsong setting are the words. They have been variously translated from the original Latin and arranged accordingly, yet they get to the heart of the matter.

Take a moment to meditate on the following text of this hymn as included in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light, 
Oh Christ, Redeemer of us all, 
We pray you hear us when we call. 

When this old world drew on toward night 
You came, but not in splendor bright 
Not as a monarch but the child 
Of Mary, blameless, mother mild.

At your great name, oh Jesus, now 
All knees must bend all hearts must bow 
All things on Earth with one accord 
Like those in Heaven, shall call you Lord. 

Come in your holy might, we pray,
redeem us for eternal day;
defend us while we dwell below
from all assaults of our dread foe.

To God the Father, God the Son, 
And God the Spirit, Three in One, 
Praise, honor, might, and glory be 
From age to age eternally.


The Trinity with Chalice (1914) Eric Gill

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. If you have not yet taken the opportunity to intentionally enter into this season of preparation and spiritual house-cleaning, there is still time. John the Baptizer appears on the horizon at the beginning of the gospel of Mark. His presence is a always a reminder of repentance and being prepared. He calls out to us: 
"The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."   (Mark 1:7-8) 
Are we prepared? Are we ready to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? Are we willing to be fully immersed, covered over, and transformed by the Holy Spirit? What would such surrender and acceptance mean for you and for me? How might it empower and reconfigure our priorities and ability to live into the will of God? How might our cares, anxieties, and fears be relieved by such an encounter?

The next time we have a clear night sky at our disposal, take a walk. Or, at least go out on the porch and look up. Consider, along with the psalmist, the heavens, the work of God's fingers, the moon and the stars that have been set in their courses.  (cf. Psalm 8).

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  (Psalm 8:9)

The Ghent Altarpiece - St. John the Baptist (detail)
between 1425 and 1429
Jan van Eyck