Advent through the centuries: the twenty-first century

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The twenty-first century of the Church.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Scripture:
Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.

Reading:

Brian Zahnd, speaking through a series of tweets and facebook posts. I thought this was appropriate given the digital and postmodern world that we find ourselves in.

For God so loved the world…that he did not send a text message.

God did not communicate “virtually” — by the Gnostic means of disembodied 1’s and 0’s. God came to us incarnate — in human flesh and blood. Selah.

God did not send us a digital message of 1’s and 0’s. God joined us in our sweaty, smelly, earthy humanity so we could meet face to face.

In the Incarnation the truth of God is expressed in one Word: Jesus Christ (God’s one Word made flesh).
(from Facebook)

Christ is not something that will nicely accommodate your cherished assumptions.
Christ is the most radical thing that has ever happened to this world.
To see Christ as Christ, the King of the Jews who is now King of the World—
Is to realize that Caesar is not Lord, Pharaoh is not Lord, but Jesus is Lord.

Jesus cannot be owned or incorporated or subsumed into any other nation—
Not Babylon, not Egypt, not Rome, not Russia, not England, not America.
Jesus is building his own nation (kingdom)—it’s the Kingdom of God.
Christ does not come to endorse any nation—he comes to set up his own.
But the nations of the world—all of them!—will resist this.

Because every nation insists that national sovereignty trumps everything.
As long as nations believe that their national sovereignty trumps everything—
They’ll be at war with Christ. Christ insists that his lordship trumps everything!

So to see the birth of Christ for the Epiphany it is—
Is not only to witness a Birth, it is to encounter a Death:
The death of loved and cherished lies. (Oh yes, there are lies we dearly love!)

What are these lies? I can’t tell you. You love them too much.
You have to see these lies as lies for yourself.
But I can tell you what will happen when you see the lies…

When you see the lies, you’ll no longer be at home in Babylon.
(All the nations of the world insisting on their own sovereignty add up to one big Babylon.)
To have the Epiphany of which I speak will make you an alien in your own land.

As Eliot said, you will no longer be at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
The old magi says, “I should be glad of another death.”
What about you? Are you ready for the Birth of the New?—
If it means the Death of the Old?
(from The Magi and I)

The Mary of the Magnificat was not the medieval “Madonna” but a prayerful Jewish peasant with revolutionary expectations.
(From Twitter)

Ascension, by George Grie. 2013.

Ascension, by George Grie. 2013.

Prayer:

Something a little different tonight, this Christmas Eve. I’ve posted a lot of prayers over the past three weeks or so, but I want you to realize that you are part of this grand tradition. Ignatius, Origen, Menno Simons, Thomas á Kempis – they are all humans seeking after God, trying to understand this mystery called the Incarnation of Christ, this magic called Christmas. You are part of that tradition! If you have been following along with this journey, i encourage you to add to the journey by posting your own thoughts below, and possibly your prayers as well. Here’s mine.

Lord Jesus, God incarnate, God with skin on,
Have mercy on us.
We fail each other, and we fail ourselves.
We fight, we bribe, we lie, and we steal.
We’re broken, Lord, and if left to our own devices,
We will continue to stumble and fall.
As we pause this Christmas season,
Help us to remember each other
Help us to hold each other
Help us to love each other
like you do.
Help us to have mercy on each other
To forgive as you forgive
To love as you love.
Amen.

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Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part IV: 1970-1999

Monday, December 23, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. Today will be the late 20th century, roughly 1970-1999. Tomorrow (The 24th) will be roughly 2000-2013.

Scripture:
Zephaniah 3:14-17

Shout for joy, Daughter Zion!
Shout out, Israel!
Be happy and boast with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has removed the judgment against you;
he has turned back your enemy.
Israel’s king, the Lord, is in your midst!
You no longer need to fear disaster.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Don’t be afraid, Zion!
Your hands must not be paralyzed from panic!
The Lord your God is in your midst;
he is a warrior who can deliver.
He takes great delight in you;
he renews you by his love;
he shouts for joy over you.

Reading:

Óscar Romero, two quotes, both from 1978.

Christ became a man of his people and his time:
He lived as a Jew,
he worked as a laborer of Nazareth,
and since then he continues to become incarnate
in everyone.
If many have distanced themselves from the church,
it is precisely because the church has somewhat
estranged itself from humanity.
But a church that can feel as its own all that is human,
and wants to incarnate the pain,
the hope,
the affliction of all who suffer and feel joy,
such a church will be Christ loved and awaited,
Christ present.
And that depends on us.

A Christian community is evangelized
in order to evangelize.
A light is lit
in order to give light.
A candle is not lit to be put under a bushel,
said Christ.
It is lit and put up high
in order to give light. That is what a true community is like.
A community is a group of men and women
who have found the truth in Christ and in his gospel,
and who follow the truth
and join together to follow it more strongly.
It is not just an individual conversion,
but a community conversion.
It is a family that believes,
a group that accepts God.
In the group, each one finds that the brother or sister
is a source of strength
and that in moments of weakness they help one another
and, by loving one another and believing,
they give light and example.
The preacher no longer needs to preach,
for there are Christians who preach by their own lives.
I said once and I repeat today
that if, unhappily, some day they silence our radio
and don’t let us write our newspaper,
each of you who believe
must become a microphone,
a radio station,
a loudspeaker,
not to talk, but to call for faith.
I am not afraid that our faith may depend
only on the archbishop’s preaching;
I don’t think I’m that important.
I believe that this message,
which is only a humble echo of God’s word,
enters your hearts,
not because it is mine,
but because it comes from God.

Modern Day Jesus, by Dan Beers. 1990.

Modern Day Jesus, by Dan Beers. 1990.

Prayer:
Creation Care prayer from 1992.

All people of the earth, each and every nation
Arise and rejoice at the continued creation
Of beauty, of springtime, the yearly rebirth
Of our protector, our home, our own Mother Earth!

Who despite our apparent lack of care
Creates bountiful splendor for all to share
From mountain tops to the deepest sea
All wonderful earthly miracles bursting free!

Yet this miracle of renewal requires the helping hand
Of the people to replenish and renew the land
From the largest of cities to the most remote farms
To unite in spirit and with the strongest arms.

Become a midwife to the birth of each flower
A guardian of our resources hour by hour
We must learn to take time to appreciate
The miracles of which we did not create.

For God has given this wonderful treasure
And its preservation will be the measure
Of people who recognize and will celebrate
The birth of each season before it’s too late.

In citizenship, in willingness to toil
We must bend our backs and tend to the soil
In stewardship, arise and applaud the worth
Of the wondrous marvel of our Living Earth!

Consider creation. . . . Consider it now.

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Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part III: 1945-1970

Sunday, December 22, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the mid-20th century, roughly 1945-1970. Tomorrow (the 23rd) will be roughly 1970-1999, and The 24th will be roughly 2000-2013.

Scripture:
John 9:1-7

A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock,
a bud will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest on him—
a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom,
a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans,
a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord.
He will take delight in obeying the Lord.
He will not judge by mere appearances,
or make decisions on the basis of hearsay.
He will treat the poor fairly,
and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and order the wicked to be executed.
Justice will be like a belt around his waist,
integrity will be like a belt around his hips.
A wolf will reside with a lamb,
and a leopard will lie down with a young goat;
an ox and a young lion will graze together,
as a small child leads them along.
A cow and a bear will graze together,
their young will lie down together.
A lion, like an ox, will eat straw.
A baby will play
over the hole of a snake;
over the nest of a serpent
an infant will put his hand.
They will no longer injure or destroy
on my entire royal mountain.
For there will be universal submission to the Lord’s sovereignty,
just as the waters completely cover the sea.

Reading:

Karl Barth, in Church Dogmatics,  IV/1, 186.

It is in full unity with Himself that He is also – and especially and above all – in Christ, that he becomes a creature, man, flesh, that He enters into our being in contradiction, that He takes upon Himself its consequences. If we think that this is impossible it is because our concept of God is too narrow, too arbitrary, too human – far too human. Who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed Himself and His nature, the essence of the divine. And if He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as the God who does this, it is not for us to be wiser than He and to say that it is in contradiction with the divine essence. We have to be ready to be taught by Him that we have been too small and perverted in our thinking about Him within the framework of a false idea about God. It is not for us to speak of a contradiction and rift in the being of God, but to learn to correct our notions of the being of God, to constitute them in the light of the fact that He does this. We may believe that God can and must only be absolute in contrast to all that is relative, exalted in contrast to all that is lowly, active in contrast to all suffering, inviolable in contrast to all temptation, transcendent in contrast to all immanence, and therefore divine in contrast to everything human, in short that He can and must be the “Wholly Other.” But such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan, by the fact that God does in fact be and do this in Jesus Christ. We cannot make them the standard by which to measure what God can or cannot do, or the basis of the judgement that in doing this He brings Himself into self-contradiction. By doing this God proves to us that He can do it, that to do it is within His nature. And He Himself to be more great and rich and sovereign than we had ever imagined. And our ideas of His nature must be guided by this, and not vice versa.

Nativity, by Marc Chagall. 1950.

Nativity, by Marc Chagall. 1950.

Prayer:
From Martin Luther King Jr., 1953. 

Most Gracious and all wise God, Before whose face the generations nse and fall,
Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee for all of
thy good and gracious gfts, for life and for health, for food and for raiment, for the
beauties of nature and the love of human nature. We come before thee painfully
aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded
with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand
amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie, We are forever offered the high road
and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins 0 God forgive. Break
the spell of that which blinds our minds & our hearts that we may see thee. 0
God in these turbulent day when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad
visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with renewed vigor
for a warless world, for a better distnbuhon of wealth, and for a brotherhood that
transcends race or color. In the name and spint of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part II: 1920-1945

Thursday, December 21, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the mid-20th century, roughly 1920-1945. Tomorrow (the 22nd) will be roughly 1945-1970. The 23rd will be roughly 1970-1999, and the 24th will be roughly 2000-2014.

Scripture:
Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one shouting in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be brought low,
and the crooked will be made straight,
and the rough ways will be made smooth,
and all humanity will see the salvation of God.’”

Reading:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Letter to the Finkenwalde Brothers Christmas, 1939.

No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became man. . . . Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall. Israel had no theology. She did not know God in the flesh. Without the holy night there is no theology. God revealed in the flesh, the God-man Jesus Christ, is the holy mystery which theology is appointed to guard. What a mistake to think that it is the task of theology to unravel God’s mystery, to bring it down to the flat, ordinary human wisdom of experience and reason! It is the task of theology solely to preserve God’s wonder as wonder, to understand, to defend, to glorify God’s mystery as mystery. This and nothing else was the intention of the ancient church when it fought with unflagging zeal over the mystery of the persons of the Trinity and the natures of Jesus Christ. . . .

The ancient church meditated on the question of Christ for several centuries. It imprisoned reason in obedience to Jesus Christ, and in harsh, conflicting sentences gave living witness to the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. It did not give way to the modern pretense that this mystery could only be felt or experienced, for it knew the corruption and self-deception of all human feeling and experience. Nor, of course, did it think that the mystery could be thought out logically, but by being unafraid to express the ultimate conceptual paradoxes, it bore witness to, and glorified, the mystery as a mystery against all reason. The Christology of the ancient church really arose at the cradle of Bethlehem, and the brightness of Christmas lies on its weather-beaten face. Even today, it wins the hearts of all who come to know it. So at Christmas time we should again go to school with the ancient church and seek to understand in worship what it thought and taught, to glorify and to defend belief in Christ. The hard concepts of that time are like stones from which one strikes fire.

By Warner Sallman, 1941. Distributed to American servicemen during WWII.

By Warner Sallman, 1941. Distributed to American servicemen during WWII.

Prayer:
Let Our Hearts be Stout, given by Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

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Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part I: 1900-1920

Thursday, December 20, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the early 20th century, roughly 1900-1920. Tomorrow (the 21st) will be roughly 1920-1945. The 22nd will be roughly 1945-1970, the 23rd will be roughly 1970-1999, and the 24th will be 2000-2014.

Scripture:
John 9:1-7

Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back seeing.

Reading:

Sergei Bulgakov, Russian Orthodox priest, from his undated work Du verbe incarne’, translated by Andrew Louth in The place of theosis in Orthodox theology

God wants to communicate to the world his divine life and himself to “dwell” in the world, to become human, in order to make of human kind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God “hidden from the beginning in God” (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16). The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallen state is not one either. God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has not given. Such is the love of God, such is Love.

Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity, in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the relation of God to the world. If it is in such a way that we are to understand the Incarnation–and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way (Jn 3:16)–there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have taken place apart from the Fall. The greater contains the lesser, the conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general. The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless humankind.

And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief words of the Nicene Creed: “for our sake and for our salvation.” This and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense of identification (as that is to say). So it is understood by those who consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely, that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity. But this can equally be understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, “and in particular,” or similar expressions), separating the general from the particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor exhausting it solely in redemption. The Word became flesh: one must understand this in all the plenitude of of its meaning, from the theological point of view and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological. The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings; so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears witness….

The Incarnation is the interior basis of creation, its final cause. God did not create the world to hold it at a distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates the Creator from the creation, but in order to surmount that distance and unite himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor even as providence, but from within: “the Word became flesh”. That is why the Incarnation is already predetermined in human kind.

Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.

Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.

Prayer:
The Litany to the Lamb of God in Time of War. Written in 1915 by, or under the auspices of, Pope Benedict XV in response to World War I.

V. The Lord give you peace;
R. Peace and good will.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst say to Thy Apostles, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of Thy Church, and vouchsafe to her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy will, Who livest and reignest, God forever and ever. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Jesus hear us.
Jesus, graciously hear us.

By the hymn of the Angels at Thy birth, Grant us peace.
By Thy salutation to the Apostles, Grant us peace.
By Thy voice to the waves of Galilee, Grant us peace.
By Thy blessing to the sinner, Grant us peace.
By Thy prayers for unity among Thy disciples, Grant us peace.
By the love that was to mark Thy followers, Grant us peace.
By the great peace offering of the Cross, Grant us peace.
By Thy parting promise, “My peace I leave you,” Grant us peace.

From the ambition of empire, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the greed for territory, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the blindness that is injustice, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the selfishness that is theft, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the liberty which is license, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the love of money which is idolatry, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hate that is murder, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hardness that will not pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the pride that will not ask pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.

By the helpless cry of orphans, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the anguished tears of widows, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the groans of the dying, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the dead in unblessed graves, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That Thou wouldst make all nations to dwell as one, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That the hearts of rulers may be as wax in Thy hands, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That having learned in affliction, we may turn to Thee, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That wars may cease from the earth, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By Thy title, “Prince of Peace,” Lord God of Armies, We beseech Thee, hear us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.

V. I am the Salvation of the people, saith the Lord;
R. In whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them.

Let Us Pray: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, teach us, who have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, the saving grace of a true humility, that we and all the peoples of this world may acknowledge and bewail that spirit of materialism and self-seeking and lust for power and vengeance which has plunged the family of nations into war, until in Thy just wrath the world suffers that punishment which, by turning from Thee, it has brought upon itself. In humility and penance, may we lessen the guilt and hasten true peace, without victory, save the victory of union with Thee. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.

Give peace, O Lord, in our days,
For there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, Our God.

V. Let there be peace in Thy strength, O Lord,
R. And plenty in Thy strong places.

Let Us Pray:  O God, from Whom proceed all holy desires, all right counsels and all just works, grant unto us Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be devoted to Thy service, and that being delivered from the fear of our enemies, we may pass our time in peace under Thy protection, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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Advent through the centuries: the nineteenth century

Thursday, December 19, 2013
The nineteenth century of the Church.

Scripture:
Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
construct in the desert a road for our God.
Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley.
The splendor of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it at the same time.
For the Lord has decreed it.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
and all their promises are like the flowers in the field.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
when the wind sent by the Lord blows on them.
Surely humanity is like grass.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”
Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.

Reading:

Søren Kierkegaard, in Philosophical Fragments, 1844. A different type of reading today, and a bit of a longer one.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden and whose heart was unaffected by the wisdom that is so often loudly preached. (…) Let then the harp be tuned. Let the songs of the poets begin. Let everyone be festive, while love celebrates its triumph. For love is over-joyed when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes equal that which was unequal. Let the king’s love reign!

But then there arose a sadness in the king’s soul. Who would have dreamed of such a thing except a king with royal thoughts! He spoke to no one about his sadness. Had he done so, each courtier would doubtless have said, “Your Majesty, you are doing the girl a generous favor for which she could never thank you enough.” This, however, would no doubt have aroused the king’s wrath and, in turn, caused the king even more sorrow. Therefore he wrestled with the sorrow in his heart. Would the maiden really be happy? Would she be able to forget what the king wished to forget, namely, that he was the king and she a former lowly maiden? For if this happened, if the memory of her former state awoke within her, and like a favored rival, stole her thoughts away from the king, alluring her into the seclusion of a secret grief; or if this memory at times crossed her soul like death crossing over a grave – where then would the glory of their love be? She would have been happier had she remained in obscurity, loved by one of her own kind.

And even if the maiden were content to be as nothing, the king would never be satisfied, simply because he loved her so. He would much rather lose her than be her benefactor. What deep sorrow there is slumbering in this unhappy love! Who dares to rouse it?

Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved. It was God’s longing to prevent this. The unity of love will have to be brought about in some other way. If not by way of elevation, of ascent, then by a descent of the lowest kind. God must become the equal of the lowliest. But the lowliest is one who serves others. God therefore must appear in the form of a servant. But this servant’s form is not merely something he puts on, like the beggar’s cloak, which, because it is only a cloak, flutters loosely and betrays the king. No, it is his true form. For this is the unfathomable nature of boundless love, that it desires to be equal with the beloved; not in jest, but in truth. And this is the omnipotence of resolving love, deciding to be equal with the beloved.

Look, then, there he stands – God! Where? There! Don’t you see him? He is the God, and yet he has no place to lay his head, and he does not dare to turn to any person lest that person be offended at him. It is sheer love and sheer sorrow to want to express the unity of love and then to not be understood.

God suffers all things, endures all things, is tried in all things, hungers in the desert, thirsts in his agonies, is forsaken in death, and became absolutely the equal of the lowliest of human beings – look, behold the man! He yields his spirit in death, on a cross, and then leaves the earth. Oh bitter cup! More bitter than wormwood is the ignominy of death for a mortal. How must it be, then, for the immortal one! Oh bitter refreshment, more sour than vinegar – to be refreshed by the beloved’s misunderstanding! Oh consolation in affliction to suffer as one who is guilty – what must it be, then, to suffer as one who is innocent!

God is not zealous for himself but out of love wants to be equal with the most lowly of the lowly. What power! When an oak seed is planted in a clay pot, the pot breaks; when new wine is poured into old wineskins, they burst. What happens, then, when God the king plants himself in the frailty of a human being? Does he not become a new person and a new vessel! Oh, this becoming – how difficult it really is, and how like birth itself! How terrifying! It is indeed less terrifying to fall upon one’s face, while the mountains tremble at God’s voice, than to sit with him in love as his equal. And yet God’s longing is precisely to sit in this way.

Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.

Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.

Prayer:
Nineteenth century prayer from the Scottish Highlands.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the sun brightens up the sky and earth, may my soul be bright with gratitude
for all the good things in my life, may I be generous in sharing these with others.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the trees, rivers, animals and everything sing their songs of life, may my soul
sing the song of my heart, may I sing it gladly whether in joy or in sorrow,
and may it help me find humour and laughter in the day.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As the sun crosses the sky to where it will set in the west, may my soul proceed
on its journey through life, may I keep the vision of my life ever before me,
and may I have faith that my life has meaning.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As everything in nature strives to live and survive, may my soul me strong in its struggles,
may I meet adversity with courage and hope.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the earth spreads out from me to the horizon, may my soul expand to embrace it,
may I speak the truth of the land, and take responsibility for my life.

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Advent through the centuries: the eighteenth century

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The eighteenth century of the Church

Scripture:
John 3:16-21

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Reading:

Alexander Pope, British Catholic poet, 1712. Messiah: A Sacred Eclogue.

Ye nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pindus and th’ Aonian maids,
Delight no more–O thou my voice inspire
Who touched Isaiah’s hallowed lips with fire!
Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
A Virgin shall conceive, a Virgin bear a Son!
From Jesse’s root behold a branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies:
Th’ ethereal spirit o’er its leaves shall move,
And on its top descends the mystic Dove.
Ye Heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly shower!
The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
From storm a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient frauds shall fail;
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale;
Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from Heaven descend.
Swift fly the years, and rise th’ expected morn!
Oh spring to light, auspicious Babe, be born!
See, Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring,
With all the incense of the breathing spring:
See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
See nodding forests on the mountains dance:
See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise,
And Carmel’s flowery top perfumes the skies!
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers:
Prepare the way! a God, a God appears!
A God, a God! the vocal hills reply,
The rocks proclaim th’ approaching Deity.
Lo, Earth receives him from the bending skies!
Sink down, ye mountains! and ye valleys, rise!
With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay!
Be smooth, ye rocks! ye rapid floods, give way!
The Saviour comes! by ancient bards foretold:
Hear him, ye deaf! and all ye blind, behold!
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eyeball pour the day:
‘Tis he th’ obstructed paths of sound shall clear
And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear:
The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
And leap exulting like the bounding roe.
No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear.
From every face he wipes off every tear.
In adamantine chains shall Death be bound.
And Hell’s grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound.
As the good shepherd tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture, and the purest air,
Explores the lost, the wandering sheep directs,
By day o’ersees them, and by night protects;
The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warms:
Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage,
The promised Father of the future age.
No more shall nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
Nor fields with gleaming steel be covered o’er,
The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield.
And the same hand that sowed, shall reap the field.
The swain in barren deserts with surprise
Sees lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise;
And starts, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear.
On rifted rocks, the dragon’s late abodes,
The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods.
Waste sandy valleys, once perplexed with thorn,
The spiry fir and shapely box adorn:
To leafless shrubs the flowery palms succeed,
And odorous myrtle to the noisome weed.
The lambs with wolves shall graze the verdant mead
And boys in flowery bands the tiger lead:
The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
And harmless serpents lick the pilgrim’s feet.
The smiling infant in his hand shall take
The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
Pleased, the green lustre of the scales survey,
And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise!
Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes!
See a long race thy spacious courts adorn:
See future sons and daughters yet unborn,
In crowding ranks on every side arise,
Demanding life, impatient for the skies!
See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
See thy bright altars thronged with prostrate kings,
And heaped with products of Sabean springs!
For thee Idumè’s spicy forests blow,
And seeds of gold in Ophir’s mountains glow.
See Heaven his sparkling portals wide display,
And break upon thee in a flood of day!
No more the rising Sun shall gild the morn,
Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
But lost, dissolved in thy superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
O’erflow thy courts: the Light himself shall shine
Revealed, and God’s eternal day be thine!
The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away!
But fixed his word, his saving power remains;
Thy realm for ever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns!

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 1737.

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 1737.

Prayer:

A Hymn of the Incarnation, by Charles Wesley.

GLORY be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend!
God comes down, he bows the sky,
And shows himself our friend:
God the invisible appears!
God, the blest, the great I AM,
Sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is his name.

Him the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King.
Tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring.
Emptied of his majesty,
Of his dazzling glories shorn,
Being’s source begins to be,
And God himself is born!

See the eternal Son of God
A mortal Son of man;
Dwelling in an earthly clod,
Whom heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies;
Humbled to the dust he is,
And in a manger lies.

We, the sons of men, rejoice,
The Prince of peace proclaim;
With heaven’s host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel’s name:
Knees and hearts to him we bow;
Of our flesh and of our bone,
Jesus is our brother now,
And God is all our own.

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