What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.
This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.
He’s not a creature like us, nor adopted by God as the Caesars claim to be. No, Christ is the eternally begotten Son, who existed before all things.
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14: St. John 1:1-18
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Incarnate Word. Amen.
From before time and space, Christ is. The Only-Begotten Son of God is the One Through Whom All Things Are Made. Christ is the Word spoken by God to create the entire cosmos. And now, in the fullness of time, this same Word has descended from the right hand of the Father to become one of us.
The entirety of the Incarnation defies our attempt to understand it – that the Jesus is fully God and fully human? That the Son and the Father are both fully and entirely God – not two gods or different aspects of one God but two persons of a Blessed Trinity? That God would step down from the heavenly throne to become one of us? That this God, having already condescended to become human, would choose to live not in a palace in the heart of a major empire but as a common laborer among a conquered people?
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:7-14 -or- Sirach 24:1-12
Canticle: Psalm 147:12-120 -or- Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
Holy Gospel: St. John 1:(1-9 optional), 10-18
Texts in Summary:
Well first, let’s get on the same page. What are we actually reading?
It’s not terribly common for there to be two Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany, and when it does happen, the various lectionaries tend to go a bit haywire. And so, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, we are reading the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel – but this was the appointed reading for Christmas Day. That is, unless your parish reads the Lukan texts on Christmas Eve and doesn’t gather for worship on the 25th. Or if you opt for the shortened Gospel text, which begins at v 10 and only overlaps with the Christmas reading for four verses before embarking into “new” territory. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer appoints a series of options for the Gospel reading, flipping the pattern of the RCL but maintaining the Old Testament and Epistle readings. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is marking Epiphany this Sunday. Alas, the Revised Common Lectionary is not so common as its framers hoped.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Amen.
We’ll sing Silent Night in a few minutes. It’s a beautiful song, but I’m not sure it’s the most historically accurate. Certainly the shepherds quaked at the sight of the heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia.” But if you’ve ever been present for a birth, you know that they are not silent or calm affairs. For that matter, they’re not the squeaky-clean events of Christmas cards and paintings. Where is the Christmas card with the Blessed Virgin Mary exhausted and sweating while Saint Joseph wipes away the vernix? Technology has come far enough that I should be able to buy a nativity set with a little speaker playing the newborn Christ’s hungry screams.
I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.
The Blessed Virgin recalls this glorious promise as she sings:
[God] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.
Canticle: The Magnificat (St. Luke 1:46-55) -or- Psalm 80:1-7
Epistle: Hebrews 10:5-10
Holy Gopsel: St. Luke 1:39-45*
*The Gospel lection is flexible as to guarantee that if the psalm is used in place of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin’s song of praise is still read.
Texts in Summary:
As we come to the end of Advent, we make a thematic shift. The lectionary had been pointing us ever forward to the eschaton – starting with apocalyptic imagery at the end of St. Luke’s Gospel and then with John the Baptist’s call to repentance and use of fiery imagery. Now, the RCL is putting everyone in their starting positions.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our coming Lord, who is cultivating us for the Kingdom. Amen.
Is there anything quite like fire? All it takes is flicking a match against a box to strike a flame. The initial light is so weak that even a child can blow out – but that same blaze can leave a burn that will “torment you throughout the night.” And that same small, delicate flame can quickly grow into a fierce and unquenchable fire threatening to destroy everything in its path.
Yesterday, I shared an old post on the debate over liturgical colors in Advent. After writing that post five years ago, I spent a few days digging through various liturgical guides to research the topic. (As is fitting of someone in their late twenties: write an article, then research it.) So today, I’m reposting the fruits of that week-long obsession compiled into a single post:
We continue our Advent readings with a second week of John the Baptist.
It’s Gaudete Sunday, one of the two Sundays when rose is the appointed liturgical color. (If you’ve ever wondered why your Advent wreath has three purple or blue candles and one pink one, it’s for this weekend. This tradition is slowly falling out of favor, though. I know of exactly one Lutheran parish that even has rose-colored vestments, and more and more parishes are dropping “the pink one” from their wreaths.) The name comes from the Latin entrance chant, which in turn is taken from this week’s Philippians reading:
One of the fastest ways to start a light-hearted argument in a Lutheran church is to bring up the blue/purple debate around Advent.
Disclaimer: Results may vary. Author is not responsible for any threats of excommunication which may be incurred. Warning: Do not attempt on ELCA Clergy Facebook page as the debate may escalate quickly. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.
Knowing that I’m treading into unduly controversial waters, let me throw a couple of cards on the table:
My background is in the United Methodist tradition. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, purple was still the preferred color for Advent. Purple for Advent brings back a lot of nostalgia. (Also, good Lord, am I old enough to have nostalgia?)
I’m convinced that the term adiaphora was coined specifically to resolve debates about liturgical colors. I can think of few things that matter less. Yes, colors have meanings attached to them, but these attachments are incredibly diverse. We’ll come back to this, but suffice it to say that the liturgical colors aren’t on the back side of the Ten Commandments. This is not a hill I’m willing to die on. In the end, if you want to send your altar guild on a shopping spree to buy a full set of blue vestments and paraments, go right ahead.
It’s adiaphor, but I’m still passionate about it.
I favor simplicity when it comes to vestments and paraments. Which is to say, vestments and paraments should be free of large, elaborate illustrations and words. (Looking at you, Gaspard.) In the same line of thought, the fewer sets needed, the better. If you can get away with using one set for two seasons, do it.
I’m not even going near the use of a rose candle and vestments for Gaudete Sunday. I don’t know why some people detest the rose candle so much, but they do. They’re wrong, but they do.