Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day (C), January 3, 2016 - John 1:1-18

Who Would Not Be Alone

"No one has ever seen God. It is God 
the only Son, who is close 
to the Father’s heart, who has made him known."

Hearing this text Christmas Eve can bring tears,
and suddenly you're amazed
at the force of words upon one who's grown.

If you forget why these carols we sing
Old John will remind you why;
Neither God nor neighbor would be alone.

Scott L. Barton

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The First Sunday after Christmas Day (C), December 27, 2015 - Luke 2:41-52

Max Liebermann:
The 12-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple (1879) 

Questions About This Odd Text

I have many questions about this odd text
Where the soon-to-be teenager's parents were vexed
By the child who went off and then worried them sick,
And they scratched their heads, saying, "What makes this boy tick?"

Oh, why did they travel e'en just for a day,
While they thought with the neighbors he'd be on their way?
And I wonder just where for three days did he stay?
Did he sleep? Did he eat? Did he ever once play?

And why such obedience back at the house?
Was he loud, in high spirits, or quiet as a mouse?
Most of all, I ask why in God's favor he grew?
And then how in God's name was this something Luke knew?

Like Mary, I treasure these things in my heart,
While the text, in another way, Mystery imparts.

Scott L. Barton

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2015 - Luke 2:1-20

My pastor, Richard Manzelmann, used
this on the "Christmas Sunday" bulletin cover
in 1974 at New Hartford, New York
Presbyterian Church. I used it on occasion
for the same purpose over the years but would
love to know its source. It seems like a
Rembrandt, but I can't confirm that.
To Make Our Love Braver

She did something different,
She treasured and pondered;
Not only amazed, but
She thought, and she wondered
Just what was their meaning -
That this diapered wee boy,
Would be to all people
The sign of a great joy?

And why even now does
He cause such a flutter
In hearts all around, while
These carols we utter?
Is this what they meant when
They said that a savior
Would come - a Messiah,
To make our love braver?

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.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (C), December 20, 2015 - Luke 1:46-55

No More "Ho-hum, the reading of Scripture"

It isn't wordy explanations that I seek,
It isn't toned-down phrases that are mild and meek;
Don't stand up front in church and then apologize,
As if you need to cut a story down to size;
This news that comes today is bigger than us both,
Nor should the fact I've heard it often, make you loathe
To call out flabbergasting news with such surprise
The people catch their breaths and find their spirits rise!

It may just be that Christmas is the only time
That you can get away with old King James, sublime
In phrases like, "hath holpen," and "doth magnify,"
As Mary to her cousin - and to us - still cries!
But mostly, don't throw out the mystery and awe
For people who today, to what you say, now draw:
Give me a preacher or a reader who proclaims
This gospel text such that I know your heart's aflame.

Scott L. Barton
(Partly inspired by the narration of the Christmas story from Isaiah, Matthew and Luke by the tenor narrator, Duane Moody, at a Holiday Pops performance in Boston. It's a basically secular event, but he read it so well, and with the orchestra and chorus in the background, there were actually tears in my eyes. He actually sounded as if he was surprised by the news! Believed it himself! And couldn't help but want others to believe it, too.)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. 
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, 
and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him 
from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, 
and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, 
in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; 
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Third Sunday of Advent (C), December 13, 2015 - Luke 3:7-18

Leonardo da Vinci: St. John the Baptist
ca. 1513-1516, The Louvre, Paris,
probably Leonardo's last painting

Good News, Despite Initial Appearances

He's not very Christmassy, this John the B.,
In calling them snakes who from judgment would flee;
Who worry that God will not be on their side,
And therefore, to save themselves, others deride;
But John simply tells them a down-to-earth creed:
Be honest, not violent, and help those in need!
That's it! But still troubled that all be made right?
Then leave it to God! Not your goodness and might
Will enkindle the reign that you think should come now,
But the One by whose powerful love will show how.

Scott L. Barton

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.