Monday, December 26, 2016

The First Sunday after Christmas Day (A), January 1, 2017 - Isaiah 63:7-9 and Matthew 2:12-23

Dürer, Albrecht: Flight into Egypt (1494-1497)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Dresden, Germany)

Isaiah 63:7-9

Not Just in Days of Old

God knows it's not enough to talk,
So God comes by to visit,
To lift, to carry those God loves 
E'en when they fail to get it. 
The point of God has always been
That grace, you cannot lose it;
To those who fear, love sidles near,
So anxious folk might cool it.

Scott L. Barton

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, 
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, 
because of all that the Lord has done for us, 
and the great favor to the house of Israel 
that he has shown them according to his mercy, 
according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 
For he said, “Surely they are my people, 
children who will not deal falsely”; 
and he became their savior in all their distress. 
It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; 
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

+  +  +

Matthew 2:12-23

The Two Josephs 

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;
And 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.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2016 - Luke 2:1-20

Peter Busch: No Room at the Inn. Sand sculpture,
Belen de arena de Las Canteras, Plaza Saulo Toron,
Canary Islands, Spain. 

When History Repeats Itself

It was a terrifying time
Which we, by faith, now think sublime;
But then, a madman on the throne,
Drove everyone away from home,
That everyone be taxed and counted;
But this, in point of fact, amounted
To terrorism by the high,
Who gave no choice but to comply.

Think, immigrants; think, refugees;
Think how all those of low degree
In every age are made to do
The bidding of a mighty few.
Think those who fear they'll be deported,
Their work, and fam'ly life now thwarted;
Think those from bombed out cities fleeing,
What kind of news would bring wellbeing?

Imagine they see in the flesh,
Perhaps in angels and a creche,
Or maybe, solidarity
From those who bear Christ's guarantee
That he'll be with us all our days!
Then they, as well, might be amazed -
Like shepherds hearing angel choirs -
What real love from God requires.

Thus into angst and grief and fears
The God of every soul appears,
Yes, then, but also here, today,
And bids us live just as we pray.

Scott L. Barton

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
Imogene Herdman, "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" 
in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever


"It's the big night!"
Is what my father used to say,
And then in June,
It was, "Tomorrow's the big day!"
- Thus, the solstice
Always arrives for me with mirth,
Which may be what
We need to hear about this birth
Announced each year!
The angel told with twinkling eyes
- Thus, cast out fear -
So they would laugh with great surprise;
Despite the dark,
This same news called to you this night
Begs to be told,
That Love may be our solstice light.

Scott L. Barton

Rembrandt van Rijn,
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds

They Thought It Was the Feds

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
2013, also published in The Presbyterian Outlook 12/09/13

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. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (A), December 18, 2016 - Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

Nuttgens, Joseph: Immanuel -- Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive..., Church of St. Etheldreda, London

Isaiah 7:1-16

The Girl with the Virgin Brand

Who is this girl of whom Isaiah speaks,
Who, soon, would bear a child, and thus critique
The lack of faith that Ahaz came to bear
Upon the country that was in his care?
The child's name, Immanuel, would show
God's people, then (and now!) would ne'er outgrow
Their need to trust that God was in their midst.
This pedigree of faith, which wasn't missed
By Matthew or by Luke, would then describe
A mother and her child, who would inscribe
Upon the hearts of people for all time
A birth we celebrate, and call sublime.

Scott L. Barton

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Matthew 1:18-25

What's In a Name?

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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Third Sunday of Advent (A), December 11, 2016 - Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10

Gotthardt Kuehl:  Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) (1896)

After Disaster

Apparently, you can go home again.
At least, Isaiah has the nerve to think
You can return to what you knew deep down,
Although you drank disaster's bitter drink.

Perhaps it's when you rediscover how,
You were assured, as children, all was right;
Perhaps it's when old innocence you find,
And speak the truth; assume they'll see the light.

Although the pain of what was past remains,
Still, strengthen hands; make firm the feeble knees;
Proclaim to those who love, "Be strong! Fear not!"
God will restore us from such times as these.

Scott L. Barton

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, 
the desert shall rejoice and blossom; 
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, 
and rejoice with joy and singing. 
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, 
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. 
They shall see the glory of the Lord, 
the majesty of our God. 
Strengthen the weak hands, 
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 
“Be strong, do not fear! 
Here is your God. 
He will come with vengeance, 
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, 
and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 
then the lame shall leap like a deer, 
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. 
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert; 
the burning sand shall become a pool, 
and the thirsty ground springs of water; 
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, 
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; 
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing; 
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; 
they shall obtain joy and gladness, 
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
+  +  +

Matthew 11:2-11

Hieronymus Bosch: John the Baptist in the Wilderness (ca. 1489); Museum of Lazaro Galdioano, Madrid, Spain.

A Messiah Like That

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."