Friday, December 28, 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord (C), January 6, 2019 - Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Albrecht Dürer: The Adoration of the Magi
1511 woodcut, National Gallery of Art

Isaiah 60:1-6

Imagine a Time

Isaiah here imagines when
The shoe is on the other foot,
And Israel, in exile then,
One day would find acclaim - and loot!

But, though, like gold and frankincense,
The wealth would come, the nation’s light
Would be the draw for those from whence
Dark sadness was the whole world’s flight.

And so, the prophet did not yearn
So much the nation would be great,
But for the time when all would burn
With love the world would emulate.

America, of old, once thought
That we’re a city on a hill,
So, at our best, our nation sought
To be a people of good will.

Can we, whose life might others lift,
Return to how the world might see
This grand experiment a gift
For those who yearn for liberty?

And might the church, a prophet be,
Awakening each neighborhood
To our responsibility
For showing we believe God’s good?

Scott L. Barton

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.

+ + +

Matthew 2:1-12

So We Might Kneel

I picture Herod calm and cool,
Who, though afraid, was no one's fool,
And asked the wise men where was born
Messiah, now that he'd been warned.

I picture in his royal world
A Snidely Whiplash, mustache curled,
Whose soto voce, "Bwa-ha-ha"
Lurked underneath his claimed, "Hurrah!"

Once more, then, this Epiphany,
Beware the one who claims to see
The news of Christ with words so glib
He'd keep the baby in his crib -

And do him in! But picture now
Those seekers who could disavow
Belief Jerus'lem was the key
- E'en though Isaiah said 'twould be -

And went with Micah, who proclaimed
That Bethlehem would be acclaimed
The place from whom a shepherd king
To all the world good news would bring!

Another road those magi took,
(The wise men, who at first, mistook
The way of love that God revealed)
So we, like them, in awe might kneel.

Scott L. Barton

(Cf. the Isaiah text [Jerusalem] with Micah 5:2-5a [Bethlehem])
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.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The First Sunday after Christmas Day (C), December 30, 2018 -1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 and Luke 2:41-52

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 

N. C. Wyeth: Eli and the Boy Samuel
(1928. Illustration in the March 1929 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine,
Somerville Manning Gallery, 43”x33” oil, for sale)

Passing It On

They say that imitation’s
The sincerest form of flattery. 
Thus, Luke sincerely must have liked
Old Samuel’s author’s mastery,
And copied nearly word for word
How Jesus, a young shaver,
In wisdom and in stature grew
In God’s and human favor. 

He must have thought that Samuel,
Such a consummate anointer,
Devoted to old Eli,
To another was a pointer;
Another who would be a king,
But not of any nation,
Who lived so love for humankind
Might be our dedication.

Scott L. Barton

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

+ + +

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, with neighbors, they thought he was still on the 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.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2018 - Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20

Isaiah 9:2-7

The Zeal We Sing

Isaiah could have never known
How words like “wonderful,” and “counselor,”
Would wind up sung by countless choirs
Where Handel’s beauty’s n’er outgrown.

And yet, the force of octaves sung
Cannot compare to burning warriors’ boots
And garments rolled in battle’s blood,
To signal war and hate undone.

How strange this promise, and how bold!
Imagine, overpowered by some foe,
And sent away in exile, far,
Yet still, your God you can behold!

The child Isaiah had in mind
We know as Jesus, born this very night;
We sing to claim his peace is near,
Who bids his life, our lives define.

Scott L. Barton

The people who walked in darkness
          have seen a great light;
     those who lived in a land of deep darkness —
          on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
          you have increased its joy;
     they rejoice before you
          as with joy at the harvest,
          as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
          and the bar across their shoulders,
          the rod of their oppressor,
          you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
          and all the garments rolled in blood
          shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
          a son given to us;
     authority rests upon his shoulders;
          and he is named
     Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
          Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
          and there shall be endless peace
     for the throne of David and his kingdom.
          He will establish and uphold it
     with justice and with righteousness
          from this time onward and forevermore.
     The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

+  +  +

Luke 2:1-20
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 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)

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
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. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (C), December 23, 2018 - Luke 1:39-45 and Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:39-45
Henry Ossawa Tanner: The Visitation (also known as Mary Visiting Elizabeth) 
1909-10.   Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Never Barren

She went with haste, she did not tarry!
There was no time to waste! For Mary,
Whose solitude had just been broken,
Had news that could not go unspoken!

“Hello!” she cried, on first appearing,
Yet, first to speak, after her greeting,
Was old Eliz’beth who, on hearing,
Perceived her baby, inside, leaping!

You never know, with news astounding,
When someone else, also confounding
Convention that no good can happen,
Reminds you love is never barren.

Perhaps you’ll ask, “Why has this happened?
“More joy than what I might imagine?”
“For even now, to us is coming
“A child to set the whole world humming!”

Scott L. Barton

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

+ + +
Luke 1:46-55

James Tissot: The Magnificat (Le magnificat), 1886-1894
Brooklyn Museum

To the Readers of the Christmas Story:
“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!

Also, it could be 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 in 2015. It's a basically secular event, but he read it so well, that singing with the chorus behind the orchestra, there were 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.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent (C), December 16, 2018 - Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18

Philippians 4:4-7

Benjamin West: Two Angels Singing (1783)
Berger Collection, Denver

“The Lord is Near

Do you believe the Lord is near?
Or is your talk just of his birth?
Is Advent just pre-Christmas time
Rememb’ring he was born on earth?
Are you just happily recalling
His coming to a cradle, bawling?

Or - can you really sing with hope,
Rejoicing that the day soon comes
When kindness rules across the land,
And every voice of hate is dumb?
Is Advent less of decoration
And more the future of creation?

Oh, let us not just solemnly
Prepare the baby’s birth today,
But gladly sing that, since he came,
We’re not just talking child’s play,
But at the wrong can thumb our noses,
For Love all tyranny deposes!

Scott L. Barton

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

+ + +

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 all won’t 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 shows us 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.