Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bonus Poem - It's Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve

It's Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve,
The Scots' "first-footing" the belief
That if a dark-haired man's first in
The door, good luck is your motif;
So I remark now to my wife:
Once, that was easy in our house,
But now we look in vain to see
A hint of dark in either spouse!
To show the start of this New Year,
All kinds of things drop down this night -
Times Square, of course, has their big ball,
All crystal, with thousands of lights;
Atlanta has a giant peach,
And Eastport, Maine, a big sardine;
In Ocean City, Maryland,
A beach ball is the time machine;
In Mobile, Alabama falls
A half-ton moon (electric) pie!
And then, in Tempe, Arizona,
Falling from the desert sky,
A big tortilla chip descends
Into a massive salsa dip!
In Brasstown, North Car'lina, yes -
A 'possum makes that New Year's trip!
And down in Key West, Florida,
A giant ruby slipper's seen
A-coming down, in which there stands
- I kid you not - a real drag queen!
- But back in Pelham, Mass., I know
The thing this night that's up ahead
Is two old folks, without applause,
Who, early on, will fall in bed.

Scott L. Barton
(with thanks to Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" for lots of details)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2014 - Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; also Micah 5:2-5a

You have to be careful in choosing a text
When trying to figure what God will do next;
The wise men, it seems, had Isaiah in mind,
For in chapter 60, the prophet assigned
Jerusalem as the location for light
To shine, with the glory of Yahweh so bright
The wealth of the nations around it would come!
With frankincense, camels and gold they'd become
Disciples! From darkness, God's glory'd redound
To those who'd kept faith, and would now be renowned!
But wise can be wrong - they were off by nine miles!
The text that they needed was just not their style,
For Micah had said that a town, oh so small,
Would bring forth the one to be shepherd of all!
Poor Herod (the rich) also knew not this text,
And sent for the scribes of the people, perplexed
Because of the ruler his visitors sought;
Not wise, nor the powerful, ever had thought
A prophet from out in the country could know
A place such as Bethlehem ever could show
The world a new ruler who'd ever increase
The good of the world with his treasure of peace.

Scott L. Barton

(Based on the published observation of Walter Breuggemann that
imagines the wise men off by nine miles after picking the wrong text.)

Isaiah 60:1-6
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has
risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness
the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will
appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the
brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all
gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you
shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because
the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the
nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the
young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise
of the Lord.

Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of
Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall
give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought
forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of
Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the
Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall
live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and
he shall be the one of peace.

Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child
who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its
rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this,
he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together
all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them
where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of
Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem,
in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the
exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem,
saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have
found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them,
went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over
the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had
stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they
saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him
homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of
gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not
to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Bonus Poem - 'TWAS THE FRIDAY 'FORE CHRISTMAS (with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

'Twas the Friday 'fore Christmas, and all through the mall,
Every creature was hurrying while walking the halls;
The clothing was hung in the windows with care,
In hopes that the shoppers might buy each thing there;
The babies were bundled in roll-around beds,
While visions of ' Secret bras danced in my head;
Some still wore their scarves and their coats and their caps,
But most for the long night had cast off their wraps;
When Macy's I saw, with all glitter and glamour,
I knew right away I'd find what I was after;
Straight into the store, then, I rapidly dashed,
Through aisles of perfume ("Whew!" I shuttered, unsplashed);
The salesfolk all dressed up from head down to toes
Gave a luster of elegance 'round each tableau;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a short line in front of a Macy's cashier!
I stepped up my pace, walking lively and quick,
Thinking in just a moment, my presents I'd pick;
But quickly I found that my hopes were all lame,
When "maternity" was the department I named;
"Now, is it your daughter, or your next of kin
Who's pregnant?" she asked. "Yes!" I said with a grin;
"Then up to the second floor of this fine mall
Dash now! For that's not in this aisle at all!"
As shoppers that in Christmas crowds then must try
To meet just the right person from whom they might buy,
So up the escalator, determined, I flew,
To buy clothes for the daughter in four more months due!
And then, in a twinkling, I felt like a goof
For into maternity soon I did hoof;
As I drew near the racks and was looking around,
No kind, "May I help you?" would to me redound;
When finally I found someone to troubleshoot,
She looked through the clothes, much like I, a galoot;
So I left!  And on iPhone, my line of attack,
Motherhood Maternity was the store that I tracked,
But then, all the shoppers! And stores!  Oh, how scary!
Oh, where should I go? So I called with a query;
I drew up for her where I was so she'd know
Where my chin should be pointed, and I could then go
Find her store, not be stumped, and not gritting my teeth,
Thus I circled back down to the floor underneath;
I wanted some yoga pants for a round belly,
The salesgirl then laughed, said she wanted to hug me -
For not buying online, but from off of the shelf!
So I laughed when she spoke that, in spite of myself;
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
She knew the right words, and went straight to her work,
I didn't want stockings; (Oh, what a good clerk!)
Fold-over and secret-fit PANTS, are the clothes,
Not leggings, and thus, in her hands there arose
The pieces I wanted, so I gave, then, a whistle;
I paid, and then flew, like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, ere I strode out of sight—
"Merry Christmas to you - and your daughter, so bright!"

Scott L. Barton

Monday, December 23, 2013

First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 29, 2013 - Matthew 2:13-23

It seems to me I've heard this song before;
Remember Joseph, by his dad, adored?
Who, off to Egypt went one day, enslaved,
As good as dead, his brothers so depraved
They'd even murder just to guarantee
He'd bloom no more upon the fam'ly tree?
But then, in dreams, we see that God persists
In showing that he all the while insists
That even though a tyrant's on the throne,
Those loved by God will never stand alone;
Again weeps Rachel - God abandons not -
And this new dreaming Joseph finds a spot
To raise the child born with no silver spoon!
- All to the end that we might be attuned
To hear the old familiar score, known well,
God's yearning, searching love for all, retell.

Scott L. Barton

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nativity of the Lord, December 24/25, 2013 - Luke 2:1-20

Perhaps they thought it was the Feds who'd come for them!
Somehow, the N.S.A. had tracked, and would condemn
Those dirty shepherds, since they had not registered,
And since, without green cards, Augustus' wrath incurred!
But soon they found the searchlight not to be the law,
Which, with relief, provoked a different kind of awe;
That is, more powerful than all the "powers that be,"
Was then announced - as now - the holy mystery:
Quite openly, the one who saves comes not by strength
Of arm, but will not fail to go to any length
For love!  Thus wrapped, so even shepherds might embrace
This child, we, too, now hold our breath, to see such grace.

Scott L. Barton

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2013 - Matthew 1:18-25

What's in a name? Look at them here!
Jesus - the Messiah - Mary -
Joseph - Holy Spirit - the Lord -
David - Emmanuel - Jesus -
And the main character gets three!
This introduction, this prologue,
This tale to whet the appetite,
Foreshadows many other names:
Door - good shepherd - way - truth - life - bread -
Lamb of God - Rabbi - Son of God -
King of Israel - Saviour - Lord;
Perhaps the baby reminds us
That he by any other name
Would smell as sweet.

Scott L. Barton

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2013 - Matthew 11:2-11

To a contractor I have said,
"Are you the one who is to come,
Or shall we wait for another?"
Now let's say I ask it this week,
Since now my particular need
Is getting a load of firewood;
But what if the answer I hear is,
"I am heating peoples' houses
For their entire lives, not just
One load at a time.  Pretty cool!"
Would I risk it?  Would I believe?
Or would my faith be just in what
I can see - my wood, the stove's flame?
The Preposterous One does more
Than you or I can imagine:
People see the light! Get moving!!
They're no longer outcast!!! They hear!!!!
Their spirits are no longer dead!!!!!
(Can you tell Matthew's shouting now?)

A Messiah like that may be
A better bargain than you thought.

Scott L. Barton

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bonus Poem - On the Sale at Auction of One of the 11 Remaining Copies of the Bay Psalm Book, by the Old South Church, Boston, for $14.2 million, on November 26, 2013

The Puritans could not conceive
The price just paid for holy leaves
That one of them, while standing, held
To sing of grace, which had compelled
A song! In English metre they,
In Colony there by the Bay
Encouraged faith in God who gave,
By singing Psalms, from birth to grave;
God was their help in ages past,
And now, one book has just amassed
A record sum, which has been paid
For ministries to grow, and aid
The telling, by the Old South Church,
The truth that wheresoe'er you search,
The God to whom they sang cannot
Be pinned down, nor can grace be bought;
And if the Old South's forebears could
Return, I trust that each one would
Agree that there's no price which buys
The Shepherd, who all needs supplies.

Scott L. Barton

Bonus Poem on a Beloved Pastor's Leaving

I wrote this for Sarah Buteux, the pastor of the church I've been attending who is being called by God to a new ministry, a new way of being and doing church, something both exciting and a bit scary. If you've ever had a pastor you love leave for another ministry, or if you, yourself, have left and had deeply mixed feelings about leaving behind the people you loved, this poem could be for you, too.

I always have known how courageous you are;
When preaching and leading, you shine like the star
Which stopped o'er the house where the baby was born,
Attracting from east and west, wise and forlorn,
The people who glimpsed such unfath'mable love!
Thus, pointing the way that the heavens above,
Incarnate become in this day and this age,
You show us that faith is not just on a page,
But speaks to the hearts of the people of God;
(And hearing the truth, it might then make us odd!)
It's funny how Jesus, who taught, fed and healed,
Just couldn't stay put; and in leaving, revealed,
That people all over the map need to hear
The news that, by God! - and in God! - they are dear!
So also, I say, if some days you're perplexed,
You're never forsaken no matter what's next;
I'll always give thanks you're a woman so brave,
Who makes the world smile when she shows how Christ saves.

Scott L. Barton

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013 - Matthew 3:1-12

He's not very Christmassy,
This John the B.,
To people presuming that
They're guaranteed
To have the good life because
Priv'leged they are;
But when the one born, who was
Brought gifts of myrrh,
Reveals a new twist on what
John thought would come,
The world can now know that all
Judging succumbs
To he who now chooses to
Make from the grain
The bread of his life so we'll
All know love's reign.

Scott L. Barton

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”