Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Amen.
Two weeks ago, we read that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. St. Luke doesn’t tell us much else about this; unlike Sts. Matthew and John’s longer descriptions, Luke gives us a scant three sentences before the Evangelist is off describing Jesus’ human lineage. Lest we think this was merely a momentary apparition, though, Luke picks up the story again by saying that Christ leaves the Jordan and enters the wilderness (we’ll read this in about six weeks when we get to Lent). This isn’t just a quick trip out to the desert but rather a time of wrestling with temptation and Satan. And Christ does not go alone – he is, as St. Luke puts it, “full of the Spirit.” Now, today, we pick up the story: Jesus, back from the wilderness, begins his public ministry “in the power of the Spirit.”
Christ’s entire ministry is infused by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And so it is that, in the synagogue, he takes the scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
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.
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:
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 in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To what can we compare the Most Blessed Trinity?
God’s existence as three persons united into one being is perhaps the most confusing belief in the Christian faith.
How Christ can be present in heaven and here at the Altar? That’s easy enough – he’s God.
How can water do such marvelous things? It’s not water but water with the Spirit and Word of God.
Ok, we’ve the Sacraments down.
What’s the deal with the Crucifixion? Well, through his death and resurrection, Christ destroys the power of death. That makes sense. We that every year when spring brings green life out of the barren death of winter.
But the Trinity? One-in-Three and the Three-in-One? That brings with it all sorts of caveats to try to clarify it, and it just makes it more confusing.
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Crucified One. Amen.
On Sunday, the disciples marched in a parade into the city, full of hopeful expectation: the Messiah, David’s greater Son, entering into the holy city at Passover! The Kingdom was at hand! It was all so glorious!
But over the course to the week, the disciples watched their hope wither like a cursed fig tree. It all unraveled so quickly: The confrontations in the Temple. The plot to arrest Jesus. At dinner last night, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him – and then Judas just got up and left.
And then Jesus told Peter that he, the Rock, would crack under the pressure. And then comes the garden, and they can’t even stay awake.
Then comes the sham trial, and only a few of the disciples follow – and Peter, standing around the fire, denies that he even knows his Lord.
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, 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.