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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!”