Friday, December 29, 2017

The Baptism of the Lord (B), January 7, 2018 - Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11

(Be sure to page down for the poem on Mark 1.)

 Genesis 1:1-5

And God Saw

When, out of chaos, God called light
And saw that it was good,
The writers of this text are clear
What must be understood
Is not that God knew all along
Just how that light would shine;
But rather, to create from scratch -
To try! - marks the divine.
This is the thing that makes God, God,
Who makes all things anew;
As New Years, like some holy writ,
In joy, makes its debut.

Scott L. Barton

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

+  +  +

Mark 1:4-11

The Turning Season

It's not a repentance sandwich!
I know; it seems to be.
Two weeks before the birth of Christ
We heard from John the B.
And now it's two weeks on, and he
Appears around the bend;
Good God! With Christmas, didn't such things
Meet their joyful end?

But Jesus, now grown up, just smiles,
And to the water walks
To show that we've abused this word
With our religious talk;
It's not that you've been bad, and must
Be good, for goodness' sake,
But, like him, can you pride and fear
And ego finally shake?

Repentance, I am glad to say,
Is never the end game,
God doesn't groove on all our sin,
Our failures or our shame.
Inside us all, our essence is
The grace by which we live,
Such grace, the Spirit still proclaims,
Such grace, this voice still gives.

Scott L. Barton
[Slightly revised from 2015. I got some good ideas and even phrases for this poem from a sermon by my good friend and one of the best preachers I know, the Rev. Sarah Buteux. You can find the sermon here:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, December 23, 2017

First Sunday after Christmas Day (B), December 31, 2017 - Luke 2:22-40

Rembrandt: Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Do you know that riotous Christmas song
About outrageous gifts from a lover?
"On the first day of Christmas my true love
Gave to me" - and then the gifts no one craves:
A partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves,
Three French hens. And on it goes to the end,
With four calling birds, and five golden rings,
Six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming,
Eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing,
Ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping,
And finally twelve drummers drumming -
Gifts by someone joyously, extravagantly in love.

Joseph and Mary brought two turtle doves
(or maybe pigeons), a token, really,
But a sign, dedicating their son to the Lord.
And then like the beginning of a raucous song,
They handed their son off to old Simeon,
And you could have knocked them over with a feather
What with all he told them about what the child meant,
Whereupon no sooner did he hand the baby back
When old Anna uttered more astonishing words.
Thus it begins, chapter after chapter
Of teaching and healing and kidding and prodding -
Until we all laugh with joy at this outrageous, outrageous gift.

Scott L. Barton

(Slightly revised from 2014 and posted here now because 1.) I really like it and 2.) The kids and grandkids are here, and I want to focus on them!)

(And for the best musical version ever of the old song, please see

When the time came for their purification according to the law of
Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as
it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be
designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice
according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of
turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was
righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the
Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s
Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when
the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was
customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said
about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This
child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of
many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe
of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for
seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of
eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with
fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began
to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for
the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child
grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was
upon him. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Nativity of the Lord (B), December 24/25, 2017 - Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Rembrandt van Rijn: The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1634) 
Middlebury College


"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 spoke with twinkling eyes,
To cast out fear,
Which turned to glee, and great surprise!
Despite the dark,
This same news called to us this night
Laughs its head off,
That Love might be our solstice light.

Scott L. Barton
(revised from 12/24-25/14)

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 17, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B), December 24, 2017 - Luke 1:46-55 and Luke 1:26-38 (see also 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation (1898), 
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Luke 1:46-55

From the KJV to "SHAZAM!"

There are two ancient words that are so very cool
In this outburst from Mary - in English, old school;
"He hath holpen his servant" still brings me great joy,
As I wonder at how, over cent'ries, this boy
To be born to this Mary has filled with such awe
All our lives, despite failures, and foibles, and flaws.

Into violence, and cruelty and anger he comes,
While his mother belts out how the Lord won't succumb
To the ways we devise to pretend we don't need
Any help he might give, with a pow'r that exceeds
All the lies and pronouncements that keep the low, small,
For the love of this child soon will reign over all.
Scott L. Barton

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.


+  +  +

Luke 1:26-38 (see also 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)


How can this be? How can this be?
There's nothing I can possibly see
To prove that to this world might come
Some hope, when we are surely undone
By all the darkness, grief and pain
Which at this time assuredly reign.

What's this you say? What's this you say?
You've something even more to convey?
O my! This news you now declare
Is that through me there will come to bear
The saving grace that people need,
A rule of love to come now, indeed?

Thus, as her forebears, Mary learned
The thing we want, for which we most yearn,
Comes not because we make it so;
Such "wisdom" we're now called to forego,
Embracing, rather, gifts, amazed,
Since obstacles leave God, still, unfazed.

Scott L. Barton

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

+ + +

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Third Sunday of Advent (B), December 17, 2017 - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28

(Be sure to page down for the second poem.)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

When Faith Gets Its Good Name Back

I like the name they will be called,
These "oaks of righteousness," enthralled
By what, for them, in love, the LORD
Has done, because of suff'ring deplored;
What makes them "right" will be their joy
That mourning's ashes are destroyed,
What makes them "oaks," their sturdy will
Such love they've known will be instilled
In everyone they chance to meet.

Would not such faith today be sweet?

Scott L. Barton

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, 
because the Lord has anointed me; 
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, 
to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 
and the day of vengeance of our God; 
to comfort all who mourn; 
to provide for those who mourn in Zion— 
to give them a garland instead of ashes, 
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, 
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. 
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins, 
they shall raise up the former devastations; 
they shall repair the ruined cities, 
the devastations of many generations. 

For I the Lord love justice, 
I hate robbery and wrongdoing; 
I will faithfully give them their recompense, 
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 
Their descendants shall be known among the nations, 
and their offspring among the peoples; 
all who see them shall acknowledge 
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, 
my whole being shall exult in my God; 
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, 
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, 
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, 
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, 
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, 
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise 
to spring up before all the nations.

+ + +

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28

Vie de Jesus Mafa: John the Baptist preaching (1973)

Advent Recipe in Three Steps, 2017

Start with:
I am not the Messiah.
I am at an utter loss about racism.
I won't pretend it doesn't exist,
and don't ask me how to end it, either,
in Ferguson, or in Charlottesville,
in my own home town, and in me,
how we might straighten out the mess
that so long ago slavery began.

Add, while singing:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
O Lord, how shall I meet you?
People look east,
Prepare the way, O Zion,
The desert shall rejoice,
My soul cries out with a joyful shout,
Wild and lone the prophet's voice,
O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Don't forget:
I will neither give up, nor despair.
I will trust the one who is to come
and who always finds a way.
I will not let my spirit be quenched,
nor despise the prophets,
but give thanks in all things,
abstain from every evil,
and hold fast to what is good.

Bake to perfection. As long as it takes.

Scott L. Barton

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.


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.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Second Sunday of Advent (B), December 10, 2017 - Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

(Be sure to page down for the poem on the Markan text.)

Isaiah 40:1-11

Elsewhere in the News

All people are grass, and what good will it do
To say what is right, and the truth to pursue?
How fickle the people, so blown like the wind,
And now we're embarrassed, each day we're chagrined;
Oh, where is our strength, and oh, where is the way?
Oh, what can be said in these darkening days?

More news is at hand than what now meets the eye,
The news of a God who no money can buy,
Who'll rescue and save, 'though you can't believe how,
Whose promise is better than all earthly vows;
The LORD is still Lord, and, yes, you are the one
To tell and to show that God's loving's not done. 

Scott L. Barton

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her 
that she has served her term, 
that her penalty is paid, 
that she has received from the Lord’s hand 
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: 
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, 
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up, 
and every mountain and hill be made low; 
the uneven ground shall become level, 
and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, 
and all people shall see it together, 
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 

A voice says, “Cry out!” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
All people are grass, 
their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
The grass withers, the flower fades, 
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; 
surely the people are grass. 
The grass withers, the flower fades; 
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, 
O Zion, herald of good tidings; 
lift up your voice with strength, 
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, 
lift it up, do not fear; 
say to the cities of Judah, 
“Here is your God!” 
See, the Lord God comes with might, 
and his arm rules for him; 
his reward is with him, 
and his recompense before him. 
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; 
he will gather the lambs in his arms, 
and carry them in his bosom, 
and gently lead the mother sheep.

 + + + 

Mark 1:1-8

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665):  
St John the Baptist Baptizes the People
Musée du Louvre

We're now in Year B, and Mark's very first sentence with no verbs in it makes it a bit unclear just what "the beginning" is; but maybe it's not just the first chapter. Maybe it's even his whole book. I thought of Julie Andrews singing "Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer" in The Sound of Music, and the poem took off from there. Keep the tune in mind as you read the poem, and have fun!

The Sound of Mark

Let's start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start;
When it's Matthew it's genealogy,
When it's Mark it begins with John the B.,
John the B.,
The one Isaiah calls us to see,
John the B.,
He won't grace your Christmas tea:

In the wilderness he cried,
"God forgives I now proclaim,"
People from the countryside
And the capital all came;
They confessed and were baptized
By the wild and crazy guy,
Even so, he still surprised,
Saying one will come not I!

(So stand by!)

Thus, the good news has begun,
Mark's whole book is just the start,
For the story's hardly done,
Each of us can play a part;
Jesus is the one who came,
He's the key for your life's scale,
Make his love your constant aim,
For his grace today prevails -


Lives Christ and loves! and, yes, Christ gives!
Gives, Christ, and yes, loves, and Christ lives.

Scott L. Barton

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”