Texts: Baruch 5:1-9; Malachi 3:1-4; St. Luke 3:1-6
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who leads us into the coming Kingdom. Amen.
If you’ve ever been through badlands, you know what good news this. Badlands are areas where the topsoil has given way to soft layers of sedimentary rock – rock so soft that a single rainstorm can shift the landscape. Deep gullies drop down a hundred feet without warning and steep buttes and spires rise just as high. The terrain is so rugged that both the Lakota people and French-Canadian explorers dubbed them “bad land to pass over.” (I’ll spare us all the embarrassment of butchering the original Lakota and French pronunciations.)
Sunday marks the beginning of Advent’s two-week interlude of John the Baptist. I appreciate the way the lectionary cycle uses John as a pivot from the eschatological focus towards preparation for the Nativity story. After beginning the year with the end of history, we jump backward to John’s ministry preparing the way of the Lord (which, chronologically, takes place after the Nativity) before moving even further back to various events leading up to Christ’s birth:
In Year A, we read St. Matthew’s account of the angels appearing to St. Joseph
In Year B, we take a break from Sts. Mark and John to read St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation
In Year C, we attend to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth (and get an extra peek at John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb)
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ our Lord, who is coming again in glory. Amen.
Have you ever gazed up at the heavens and marveled at the lights piercing the inky black expanse?
I’m not much one for finding stellar constellations, those mythic signs traced through the stars – not for lack of trying but for lack of ability. But without fail, I can find Orion – the great hunter with his tell-tale belt and Canis Major steadfastly by his side. As a teenager in Kansas and on long, late-night rides through the Georgia countryside in college, and now, watching him rise over the trees in my neighborhood, I know that Orion’s appearance in the evening means one thing: winter is coming.
As we move into Advent, we begin at the end – with a dose of eschatology and apocalypticism. In November, the lectionary cycle ended with a distinct turn towards the end of things, and we pick up there as well, like a snake devouring its own tail.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the King, who comes riding on the clouds. Amen.
This is our King?
Arrested, standing trial, bound, headed for Golgotha?
It’s so far removed from our expectations. This does not look like the One Like a Son of Man who, in Daniel, comes with the clouds of heaven to receive dominion and glory and kingship from the Ancient One, standing before a fiery throne. Hours before his death, this does not look like one who will be served by all peoples, nations and languages, who will receive everlasting dominion and kingship that shall never be destroyed.
This is not exactly Alpha and Omega, Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come. This is not our picture of the Almighty.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is coming again in glory. Amen.
Rome. The Eternal City.
It sounds like the tagline for a fantastic tourism ad campaign. Or maybe like it was written by some 19th century Romantic, as though Percey Shelley coined the phrase in writing to Keats. Or perhaps it’s some medieval papal propaganda, as though Boniface IX granted Rome the title to spite those antipopes in Avignon?
The moniker actually dates back much, much further. The Roman poet Tibullus first called Rome Urbs Aeterna in the first century while the empire was still pretending to be a republic. The city was already seven centuries old. And this before Octavian became the Augustus and built his palatial estate on Palatine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus, before Vespasian ordered the construction of the Colosseum, and before the Arch of Titus was built, dedicated “to the divine Titus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian.” This arch celebrates the Roman military defeat of Jewish rebels, the ransacking of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.
Wandering around the city even in our current age, a student might gaze from the Colosseum past the Arch of Titus towards August’s palace and say, “Look, teacher! What large stones and what large buildings!”
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is ever reforming the Church and making all things new. Amen.
Worms, spring 1521. The Imperial Diet has brought together papal delegates and powerful bishops with prince-electors, dukes, and all manner of representatives from the across the Holy Roman Empire. Pope Leo X, a sire of Florence’s powerful banking dynasty, the Medici, and Emperor Charles V, who united Spain and the Holy Roman Empire under Hapsburg rule, are working together to crush an insurgent protest movement coming out of a college town in Saxony.
Already the year before Leo wrote Exsurge Domine:
Arise, O Lord, and judge your cause…for foxes have risen, seeking to destroy the vineyard….The wild boar from the forest strives to destroy it….
It’s flowery language for a bull, an official letter from the pope threatening excommunication unless a certain German monk should recant. In response? That monk, one Martin Luther, burned the document. Quickly thereafter, Leo issued another bull officially excommunicating Luther for rejecting papal authority.
And so it is that we find ourselves in the imperial city of Worms, Luther standing trial with two options: recant of everything and go back to peaceful obscurity in the university, or be banished from the Church and the empire. Given a day to prayerfully consider his response, Luther entered the chamber and defiantly said these famous words:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to feed the children of God. Amen.
We’ve seen something like this before.
Jesus is staying at a home in the area near Tyre when a woman comes to him, asking that Christ might cast a demon out of her daughter. There’s a familiar pattern for healing stories and exorcisms like this. There will be some little exchange, the disciples will get annoyed, onlookers will scoff at the entire situation, and Jesus will tell the woman that she has great faith and the daughter will made well. Standard enough fare for the Gospels.
We see these healing narratives over and over again. So much so that we get used to them and, to be honest, we stop paying attention until the end. Oh, hey. Jesus healed the person with…what was it this time? Another leper? Leprosy! Jesus healed the person with leprosy. Yea. Alright. They get a little boring, we lose focus, and the details often evade us as long as it’s a happy ending.
Usually, any sort of disturbing details are floating just under the surface; they demand a close reading of the text to really get at the real point of the story.