Sunday, January 17, 2021

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (B), January 24, 2021—1 Corinthians 7:29–31; and Jonah 3:1–5, [6–9], 10 + Mark 1:14–20

 

                                                    Duccio di Buoninsegna (d. 1319)

                        The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (1308/1311)

                                                     National Gallery of Art

 

1 Corinthians 7:29–31

 

What If?

 

What if we don't have

All the time in the world

To welcome a stranger

To touch a beggar

To say "I love you"

To act kindly 

Before kindness is given

To let loose the better angels

Of our nature?

 

Oh. 

 

We don't?

 

Scott L. Barton

 

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

 

+  +  +

 

Jonah 3:1–5, [6–9], 10 + Mark 1:14–20

 

The Shortest Sermon in the Book

 

The shortest sermon in the Book,

Five Hebrew words is all it took

To turn huge Nineveh around;

We know its size, for on the ground

A three-day's walk is sixty miles!

And thus the author makes us smile

To see what little Jonah said

To turn the whole place on its head.

 

With Jesus, "Son," "Beloved" named,

In Galilee, he then proclaimed

Good news; and with a scant nine words,

In Simon and in Andrew stirred

A calling deep—and so profound,

They left their nets without a sound;

Next, James and John could not resist

In heaven's cause then to enlist.

 

The Faithful One, who ever seeks,

Will come to those who hear, and speak.

Apparently, the sermon's length

Cannot predict the preacher's strength;

The anecdotes and wisdom deep,

From books and web that preachers reap,

Can hardly substitute for when

God would our lives begin again.

 

Scott L. Barton

 

[Note: Here are the Hebrew and Greek words in Jonah 3:4 and Mark 1:17 spoken by Jonah and Jesus:

 

עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת

 

Δεῦτε  ὀπίσω  μου,  καὶ  ποιήσω  ὑμᾶς  γενέσθαι  ἁλιεῖς  ἀνθρώπων]

 

 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

 

[When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’]

 

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

 

+++

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

 

 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

 

 

 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B), January 17, 2021—Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18; 1 Samuel 3:1–20 and John 1:43–51

My new book is out, and it's available from me, as well as from Wipf and Stock, and Amazon! With 107 poems for all the Sundays plus special days of the year, I hope this will be for you a wonderful little book to hold, pore over, and use each week for the sake of your own imagination and faith, preaching and study. What’s also wonderful are two indices: one has all the 128 biblical references, not only to the specific lectionary texts, but to all other texts referred to in the poems; and the other is of all the titles, such as “Real Fundamentalism,” “Job’s Non-Hollywood Ending,” “Does Jesus Still Thumb His Nose?” and “I Never Liked to Preach This Text.” You can order from me for a signed copy, inscribed to yourself or a giftee, for only $13.80, which includes shipping and tax. Email me at scott.l.barton[at sign]gmail.com, and we can exchange payment info with your mailing address.

 
 
 

Marc Chagall:

Le jeune Samuel, 

 

serviteur du sacrificateur 

 

Eli et couchant dans la chambre 

 

de son maître, s'entend appeler par Dieu 

 

 

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

 

Astonishing

 

Before genetics, I wonder: How did the Psalmist know

About that knitting of our DNA in utero?

Before geology, how did this ancient, faithful seer

Know we are literally dust from earth, to God endeared?

The writer says we're fearfully and wonderfully made,

The Maker's thoughts so vast there is no way they might be weighed,

And though they number more than all the grains of all the sand,

It's so astonishing I'm with this LORD, still, at the end.

 

Scott L. Barton

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, 

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, 

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, 

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts; 

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, 

when I was being made in secret, 

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. 

In your book were written 

all the days that were formed for me, 

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! 

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them—they are more than the sand; 

I come to the end—I am still with you.

 

+  +  +

 

1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

 

Means of Grace

 

There's nothing like telling the truth!

So Samuel and Nathanael learned,

They told what they heard,

The meaning, unslurred,

And another truth to them returned.

 

In Samuel's case, somehow, he knew,

From the voice that kept calling that night,

What old Eli should know—

Though the news was his woe,

And though bad news is rarely polite.

 

Nathanael had heard, nothing good

From backwater Naz'reth could come,

So he challenged Phil's cry

The Messiah was nigh—

To the latest craze he'd not succumb!

 

Thus, speaking what they thought down deep,

Despite worry what others might say,

With their clear lack of guile,

Sure the Maker then smiled,

And astonishing things then displayed.

 

Scott L. Barton

 

 

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

 

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

 

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

 

+  +  +

 

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Baptism of the Lord (B), January 10, 2021—Genesis 1:1–5 and Mark 1:4–11

He Qi: Baptism of Jesus

in The Art of He Qi


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 Year’s, 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

[For a fine sermon on some of the ideas in this poem, please see this one by the Rev. Sarah Buteux, First Churches, Northampton, Massachusetts.

http://firstchurches.org/turn-turn-turn-a-sermon-by-the-rev-sarah-buteux/]

 

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.”

 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Epiphany, January 6, 2021—Isaiah 60:1–6; Matthew 2:1–12; also Micah 5:2–5a

John of Hildesheim: The Story of the The Three Kings retold by Margaret B. Freeman

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1955, 1978

 

Off By Nine Miles

 

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 God’s 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 Walter Brueggemann’s imagining, in The Christian Century [December 19, 2001] and in Inscribing the Text [Fortress, 2004], that the wise men were 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.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Second Sunday of Christmas (B)—John 1:(1–9) 10–18

Mike Chapman: Christ Child Just Born (1999) 

St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Grace Upon Grace

 

This prologue,

this introduction,

this foreword to John’s Good News,

turns out to be, simply,

a whole long list of gifts

that one might unwrap,

one per day,

in these days of Christmas.

Pick a verse, any verse.

“. . . Word was God.”

“He was in the beginning . . .”

“All things came . . .”

“. . . the light of all people”

“. . . darkness did not overcome”

“. . . a man sent from God”

“. . . all might believe through him.”

And so on.

John’s just getting started,

warmed up for telling his story,

uncovering the jewels that

you, too, can stick in your back pocket

to pull out some day

when you need a reminder that,

even if you don’t see God today,

grace and truth are still yours

because of this Jesus, this Christ,

this astonishing news for a New Year.

 

Scott L. Barton

 


Every Grace Upon Grace

 

And the Word became flesh
And the Word lived with us,
And though John knows no crèche,
And no first Christmas fuss,
Still he tells us this news
Of this Word in the world
So we'll be disabused—
Woman, man, boy and girl—
Of the notion God lives
In a place we must find!
Au contraire! What God gives
Is the world now defined
Where we fully receive—
By the Maker's embrace—
Every love now conceived,
Every grace upon grace.


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, 2020

First Sunday after Christmas Day (B), December 27, 2020—Luke 2:22–40

 

Rembrandt: Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple (1669)

Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

 


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

(And for the best musical version ever of the old song, please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b39-JvglZic .)

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,
saying,
‘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. 

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2020—Luke 2:1–14 (15–20)

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

Middlebury College

 

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 well-being?

 

Imagine they see in the flesh,

Perhaps in angels and a crèche,

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

 

 

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

 

 

Solstice

 

"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,

—Thus cast out fear—

So they would laugh with great surprise!

Despite the dark,

This same news called to us this night

Begs to be told,

That Love might be our solstice light.

 

Scott L. Barton

 


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

 

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.

 

(The last poem was originally published by The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/9/13. All four poems are also in my newest book, Lectionary Poems, Year B: More Surprising Grace for Pulpit and Pew [Wipf and Stock, 2020], which you can get from me for a much reduced price. E-mail me at scott.l.barton("at" sign here)gmail.com.)