Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will reveal all things. Amen.
Our Lord descended into the waters of the Jordan where he was baptized by John, and as he came out of the water, “the heavens were torn apart.”
Saint Mark, usually so direct and terse, here is very descriptive. The heavens are not merely opened, as in Matthew or Luke’s telling, but rent asunder. In this moment, the glory of God is revealed, the barrier between the sacred and profane ruptures, the Holy Spirit descends, and the voice of the Father declares Christ’s true identity: the Son, the Beloved One, with whom his Father is well-pleased.
In his baptism at the Jordan, we see the Epiphany of our Lord, the manifestation of his glory and his divine nature as the Son of God.
And at the Font, we see a little epiphany – the line between death in the waters and new life in Christ is torn apart when our Heavenly Father claims us as adopted children, anointing us with the Holy Spirit and oil.
Oh, that all such epiphanies were so glorious. But too often, when things are torn apart, we see only the sinful and violent chaos of this world.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Word who was with God and was God in the beginning. Amen.
In the beginning, some thirteen billion years ago, the universe exploded into being from nothingness, the echo of the Big Bang still reverberating to this day. Through the æons, stars were forged in the cosmic furnaces, erupting forth as light in the darkness, burning brightly and dying in explosions, leading to the birth of new stars and planets. When life emerged on this, our home, it bore in itself the stuff of stars – as stars emerged and passed away, sewing the matter that would become this pale blue dot, so to did life rise and fall, returning dust to dust, a cycle of life and death giving way to new life. And even so, as humanity emerged, we were nurtured by this star-stuff – the air we breathe, the food we eat, the blood that pumps in our veins was forged in the same cosmic furnace as the stars. As physicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson put it, “We are in the universe, and the universe is in us.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light for revelation to the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.
Well. It happened. Christmas came and went.
After four weeks of eager expectation, of singing Advent carols and lighting Advent candles and reading Advent texts, all while the rest of the world started observing Christmas back in November, we held fast. Or at least, we tried to. (Yes, even I broke down and listened to some Christmas carols before the Feast of the Nativity.)
And sometimes, if I’m being honest, Christmas can feel like a bit of a let down. It doesn’t go quite the way you wanted. The dish you were hoping for didn’t taste quite the way you remembered. The stress keeps you from really “getting into the spirit,” as they say. Or, let’s say, hypothetically, you lived in a state with a warm climate and so, instead of a snowy Christmas, you end up with greyish brown grass, deciding if you would rather perspire a little in your sweater or be more comfortable in short sleeves.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the One who redeems the House of Jacob. Amen.
It’s a long story, with many twists and turns, and started long ago. But it went off the rails so early.
The Lord called Abraham and Sarah, and God promised to bless the world through them. But they sinned, turning instead to their own schemes, abusing Hagar and banishing her with Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son.
The Lord called to Jacob, and blessed him, but he fought with his brother, and his sons betrayed each other.
Of their descendants came twelve tribes, and the Lord called to the entire people of Israel, but they fought amongst themselves, and turned to other gods, and they split between north and south, and their kings led them astray.
And then came the cataclysm, the Assyrians, and erased Israel from the map. And then came Babylon, and destroyed the temple, and took Judah into exile.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King. His advent is close at hand. Amen.
After weeks of waiting, we’re almost there. The anticipation has been building for a while now. The tree is up – and depending on your family traditions, it has been for weeks. The plans have been made. Hopefully, there are only a few last-minute gifts or groceries to buy. All four candles are lit, and even those of us in the self-appointed “Advent Police” are getting antsy.
Can I listen to Christmas carols yet…maybe just one. And maybe I can just lift the box under the tree and try to guess what’s in it. Now hand me some egg nog.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who makes speed to save us. Amen.
It’s doom and gloom for the northern kingdom.
A quick crash course in Israelite history: the twelve tribes united under King Saul, and then there was a bit of a civil war as Saul and David fought for the throne. David became king over Judah and then over all Israel, and he was followed by his son Solomon. The united kingdom was short-lived, though, as the ten tribes in the north broke away and kingdom split between north (Israel) and south (Judah). The northern kingdom was a lot less stable than their southern neighbors: Israel had as many kings in two centuries as Judah had in three and a half. And now, tonight, it’s on the verge of collapse.
Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World. Amen.
I am, generally speaking, not scared of the dark.
But there was one time.
My high school youth group went on a retreat to the mountains of southeastern Tennessee, doing all the things you normally do on such excursions: white water rafting the Ocoee River, high and low ropes courses, rappelling down the face of a 100 foot cliff…and caving. Mind you, not a leisurely stroll through a large cave with handrails and a paved path, like at Carlsbad Caverns, but a get-on-your-hands-and-knees, wade-through-waste-high-water, crawl-through-mud, filthy sort of caving. We entered the cave in grungy clothes but otherwise clean with helmet-mounted lamps and emerged an hour later, covered head to toe in miry clay.
About midway through the excursion, God only knows how far underground, the guide instructed us to do the unthinkable: turn off our lamps. Every single one. In the span of about five seconds, some fifteen lanterns clicked off and we transitioned – dropped, more like it – from an illuminated chamber to pitch black.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the seed which brings forth new life in the desolation. Amen.
Prophets have a hard job. Think about it: Moses is sent back home to tell the Egyptian royal court – people he likely knew growing up – that the Lord was about to send plagues against them. Samuel’s first task was to tell Eli, his mentor and guardian, that the Almighty had turned his back on him and his sons. Elijah and Elisha both flee for their lives. And so it goes: Isaiah, serving in the temple, is confronted with an overwhelmingly awful (that is, awe-filled) vision of the heavenly throne.
And his first reaction? “Woe is me!” He is keenly aware that he and the entire people of Judah are unworthy and that he was gazing upon the very definition of Goodness, Power, and Might.
And then it got worse. Because then the angels said,
Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will lead us on the way of the Lord through the wilderness to the Kingdom of God. Amen.
As the house lights dimmed, the spot hit the back of the theater and my classmate belted out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” as he processed down the center dressed like John the Baptist – or rather, like John the Baptist as imagined by a Broadway producer in the late 60s. The tempo picked up and other cast members danced their way onto the stage. The Leavenworth Senior High fall musical for 2004 – a production of 1971’s Godspell – was, by most accounts a smashing success.
Grace and to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the coming King. Amen.
Tonight, in the early days of Advent, we also find ourselves in the early chapters of Isaiah. And like this season of anticipation, the prophet begins not in the past or the present but at some blessed time in the future: “In days to come…”
What follows is a vision of coming tranquility when the Lord shall reign from on high. As we’ll see in coming weeks, though, not every verse in Isaiah is quite so optimistic.