Archive for November, 2020

Luke 2:21-24

November 30, 2020

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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 turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:21-24

Like many congregations, we worship God in a variety of ways. A normal Sunday would include three services, two in English, one of those using the organ and a more formal liturgy, another in English using a praise band and a less formal liturgy, and the third in Mandarin Chinese. Why do we do that?

In part, we do it because we can. Not every congregation has the people and the resources to do what we do. And we don’t have the people and the resources to do what other congregations do. We all do the best we can with what we have.

In part, we do it because we are free to do it. Like everybody else, our tradition has many customs and patterns of behavior but we aren’t legalistic about it.

And, in part, we do it because – even if we realize that no congregation can be all things to all people – we do want to be responsive to the variety of ways that people can sense a godly connection in their worship life. But there is a fine line in all of that.

On one side of that line is the invitation to be gracious to one another. To appreciate diversity. To be understanding that what feels like a beautiful musical expression to one person sounds like noise to someone else.

On the other side of the line is a person who sets their own taste and preferences in concrete, baptizes them with holiness, and argues that their way is the only godly way of doing things.

But don’t be fooled – lots of people still want to sit in “their” seat.

And don’t be fooled into thinking such issues around worship are a modern invention. For a long time, many Christians had to learn Latin to fully participate in worship or even to read the Bible. Lots of sparks flew when those traditions gave way.

Even in Jesus’ day, there were stark divisions in how people expressed their faith. The Sadducees required people to follow all of the laws of the Temple; others expected people to live their daily lives according to the laws of Moses as taught by local Pharisees. Jesus’ parents did what was right in both. They did what was expected of them. They played by the rules. They got off to the right start.

The problem with rules and laws, when it comes to our spirituality, is how easily we can confuse external conformity with internal transformation. We can follow all the rules and still miss the point. We can touch all the bases without being touched.

Or, we can approach worship with the expectation of being surprised by God. By hearing something that challenges us, even angers us, until we realize that that was exactly what we needed to hear and wrestle with to become the people God created us to be. Because it then follows that we would leave worship with a new willingness to do what God has created us to do.

For today, just know this, Jesus was raised by parents who valued their faith, who valued its traditions, who did what they believed right in getting Jesus off to a good start.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the communities of faith of which we are a part. None of them are perfect because none of us are perfect, but we pray for your continued guidance as we do the best we can to honor you and be used by you to shape the lives of the people you love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Luke 2:15-20

November 25, 2020

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. Luke 2:15-20

The shepherds want to see for themselves. Seeing is believing. Trust, but verify. So they head off to Bethlehem to visit the royal family. This is the real heart of the Christmas story.

The Christmas season is rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation – that God, in Jesus, revealed Godself in human flesh. That Jesus is both truly human, fully human, and true God, fully divine. This is a great mystery of the Christian faith. You can’t get there by doing the math. It doesn’t seem logical to say that 1+1+1=1. No wonder everyone in the story is amazed!

But all of that is theologizing. It can wait. Let’s not let it overwhelm the simple beauty of the story as Luke presents it. An exhausted Mary. An excited, proud, Joseph. Dirty, baffled, anxious shepherds showing up in a space reserved for animals. All gathered around a sleeping, shivering, little baby boy. Humble. Holy.

What does this mean? I think Martin Luther said it best when he noted something along the lines of “if Jesus is not God then he can’t help me; if Jesus is not human, he can’t know me.”

John’s poetry goes like this: “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.”

One of the greatest paradoxes of the age in which we now find ourselves is that there are lots of people who say they won’t believe something until they see it for themselves. They think their faith requires proof. But then they will tell you a laundry list of things they fervently believe that simply don’t add up to the facts. There is something going on in all of that that reveals something deeper going on that has to do with prior commitments.

If we are deeply committed to something, to someone, then the facts don’t seem to much matter. We will spin reality to fit our preconceived notions. This can be dangerous.

All of this draws us back to this scene at the manger. Whatever you choose to believe about God, from a Christian perspective, it has to begin with a human birth, in a humble place, because there was no room anywhere else, witnessed by shepherds, smelling like a barn. That’s where the Christian faith begins.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, that you might know us, you came to be among us. That you might show us what God’s love truly means, you followed your path from cradle to cross. Keep our eyes firmly fixed on you, like those shepherds. And let us, like Mary, ponder all of this in our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 2:8-14

November 23, 2020

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!” Luke 2:8-14

Back when I studied the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in my seminary days, I don’t recall much being made of the parallels between the birth narratives of Jesus and the birth narratives of Caesar Augustus. Nor do I remember learning very much about the social and political environment into which Jesus (and John) were born. The information was certainly out there, but our attention was more about “looking back” to the Hebrew scriptures rather than “looking around” at the world at the time.

Obviously, things have changed over the last several decades. I welcome those changes. What some people disregard and criticize as “historical revisionism”, I welcome as deeper insights, not only to how we used to look at the world, but how much more helpful those new insights are in understanding the world around us. That happens here in the story of Jesus’ birth.

The two things most noticeable in today’s text are the shepherds and the angelic proclamations.

From a biblical point of view, we look back to David, the Shepherd King, and immediately understand how important the announcement to the shepherds was. Jesus too would be a shepherd. Jesus too would be a King. Only his flock would change.

But from the point of view of Jesus’ day, that the first announcement would be made to shepherds was scandalous. Shepherds were the lowest workers on the social totem pole. They were isolated from others. They were notorious for overgrazing on land that didn’t belong to them. They smelled like the sheep they watched over. They were as despised as tax collectors.

Yet is was to shepherds that the announcement of Jesus’ birth first came! That might not tell us much about shepherds, but it tells us a lot about Jesus.

Then we turn to the songs of the angels. The announcement to the shepherds and the song of the angelic chorus. Every phrase in those announcements were echoes of what had long been said of Caesar Augustus. Caesar’s birth was heralded by celestial portents. Caesar was the Prince of Peace, the architect of the Pax Romana. Caesar was Lord. His birth was “good news”, as was every future decree he would make.

“Nope”, says Luke. “Jesus is Lord.”

This will be a strange year in the life of the church. We won’t be able to enjoy a live Christmas pageant with all of the adorable children playing the parts of the story we are so comfortable with. Our attention is torn between pandemic and political intrigue. Maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe it will redirect us toward Jesus the Healer and Jesus the King. As it should.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you came to us humility and vulnerability. Your birth announced to the lowest of the low, that we might immediately know that your love is for all. Use us to be the peace you promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 2:1-7

November 20, 2020

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. Luke 2:1-7

How fitting is it that this text should pop up for us on a Friday morning in November? The birth of Jesus has become so wrapped up in layers of tradition that is threatens to lose the element of surprise. And surprise is central to this story and everything that happens after it.

The story turns on a governmental decree that all should return to their hometowns so a census can be taken. This too takes on some ironic connections as we read it today.

The much beleaguered 2020 census of the United States is still up in the air. It began amid controversy about “who should count” in the count. Until 2020, the answer was simple: Everybody should be counted based on their “usual residence.” That has always included citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants. But that was seriously challenged in 2020 by the sneaky insertion of a question about citizenship, knowing full well such a question would discourage some people from responding to the census at all. Why? Because there were those who didn’t want “outsiders” to be counted.

That puts a whole new spin on seeing that Jesus was put in a manger because “there was no room for them in the inn.”

The way Luke tells the story, Mary and Joseph are forced by governmental decree to travel back to Joseph’s family’s hometown. Again, this story is carefully constructed to connect Jesus to the house of David. There is conflict here between the long lost authority of David and the current iron hand of the emperor.

That too is interesting to read these days. All over the United States, anticipating the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, governmental authorities are struggling with how to respond to the rapidly increasing threat of Covid 19. Rather than being about working together to mitigate the effects of a pandemic, in some corners these struggles are being rejected as governmental overreach and the death of individual liberty.

Joseph did what the government told him to do. He freely cooperated. Nothing in the story suggests that Joseph struggled with his conscience or felt coerced into taking the trip.

This time around, the suggestion is to stay home rather than to travel. Why? To minimize the spread of the virus. To protect overburdened hospitals. To save lives.

What would Jesus do in the midst of all of this? As always, answering that question is best done by looking back at what Jesus did. So far, he welcomed the warmth of the rags in which he was wrapped and he slept comfortably in the manger. His adults might have been overwhelmed with fatigue, anxiety, and worry. But his birth brought them joy and peace. My guess is that they slept soundly too.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you were born among us and we made no room for you. We were too wrapped up in all of our adult business to see you wrapped up in rags. Our vision was too high to see such a lowly birth. Born amidst a census, you continue to bring a whole new meaning to the idea that everyone counts. For that we give you our thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:67-80

November 19, 2020

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. Luke 1:67-80

The first thing I do every morning when I first sit at my computer is check my email. Included this morning among them was a message from a conservative group that I have never heard of warning me that President-Elect Biden has a plan to destroy my retirement plan. Whoda thunk it? First thing in the morning and I’m facing elderly poverty. (The email was a bogus fundraising campaign preying on peoples’ tribalism, ignorance, and fear. DELETE and MOVE ON.)

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we wish our leaders ill before they even have a chance to lead? Aren’t we able to connect the dots to see that, if our leaders fail, we all fail? Are we, or are we not, connected to one another?

Now that Zechariah can talk again, he does. His prophecy is very familiar – thanking God for defeating their enemies, remembering that God’s oath to Abraham was to bless Israel while expecting Israel’s continued service. Then he moves to his son, called to prepare the way of the Lord, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

This all sounds good…until you consider the words, not from Zechariah looking forward but from Jesus looking backward. Then it starts to get a little fishy.

The original promise to Abraham wasn’t simply to “bless” the people of Israel, it was to bless them so that, through them, all the people in the world would be blessed. All the people in the world, by definition, includes those we would consider “enemies.”

One day Jesus will clear that one up. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

As for the “forgiveness of our sins”, Jesus said something about that as well. Pray then this way, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Zechariah got it right – By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – But the way of peace that Jesus would bring would not look at all like Zechariah expected. That peace comes to us only as it flows through us.

Jesus wouldn’t bless tribalism, he would break down the walls of division. He wouldn’t seek “peace through strength” but “peace through love.” Through inclusive, rather than exclusive, love. And for all that, he would pay a very steep price.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, may we see in our neighbor a person worthy of love and respect. May we recognize ourselves in our enemies. May we never lose hope in the promise of peace and never forget it begins with us. May the tender mercy of your love break into this world and turn us upside down. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:57-66

November 18, 2020

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”

They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.

He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.

Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66

I would love to have a name like John, or Paul, or Mark, or David. Something easy to spell. Something that clearly conforms to gender norms. But my mother fiercely said, “NO, his name will be Kerry.”

It was quite the controversy. As the first-born male, the Norwegian tradition (or so I have been told) was to take the names of my grandfather and great-grandfather. Thus it was written in the stars that my name would be Knute Lionel. (Pronounced, I kid you not, K-newt and Lee-oh-nel.)

My mother steadfastly refused. But she was willing to compromise with the initials so I became Kerry Lee. Kerry, a misspelling of Cary Grant, and Lee…I guess because it starts with an L.

As painful as it was to grow up with a girl’s name, and as much as I hate the name to this day (No, that’s Kerry with a K, not Terry, or Larry, or Berry) I guess I’m still glad my mom won.

In the Bible, the ability to name things is a sign of power. In the garden, the man was given the power to give names to all the animals. That still remains the case. With great hopes for the future, often honoring the past, parents name their children.

Elizabeth said, “NO, he is to be called John.” And thus it was so.

John means “God is gracious” or “a gift from God.” And so he was. God’s gift to Elizabeth and Zechariah and God’s gift to the world. The latest in a long line of godly heroes born to parents who long ago had lost their hope that it would ever happen for them.

It is no surprise that the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth were shouts of praise. And it is no surprise that the news of this birth was a bit scandalous and therefore worthy of passing through the hillsides like the juicy tidbit that it was.

A child. A gift from God. God has been gracious.

“No, he is to be called John!”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, the naming of John calls to mind our own names, our own parents, and for those of us blessed with children, memories of how it was that we came to name our own. But today we are grateful that you know our names, that our name was grafted onto yours in our baptisms, and that you can still do great things through us. We are all your gifts to the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:46-56

November 17, 2020

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 remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56

Mary’s song has been a bedrock of the spirituality of millions of people for over 2000 years. Her words are remembered in liturgy, art, song, and personal prayer.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

These words are a comforting balm for those who regularly pray the Rosary (whether or not they care about the promised “indulgences” such prayers receive. Yes, that word is still in there.) But they are a mystery (in the basic meaning of that word) to millions of Protestants who remain both ignorant and suspicious of the role of Mary in Roman Catholic piety.

Strange, isn’t it, that such a pivotal moment in Christian history, that such a central character in the drama of the Christian story, still, to this day, causes tension and division? But that is the humanity of it all. We all live in the tension between the now and the not yet.

Mary’s prayer lives in that tension. She speaks of a radical reversal, an upside-down view of life. She speaks as if “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” has already happened. Really?

In many ways, yes, really. The world has changed remarkably in many ways over the past 200 years. There is less global poverty and hunger today. There are institutional means for helping to sustain the lives of the poor today that never existed before. There have been, and continue to be, seismic shifts in the balance of international political power.

Some of that has come about because of increased international cooperation as manufacturing and supply lines have shifted. Some of that has come about because of the implicit values of bringing help and hope to the helpless and hopeless. All of this requires intentionality. But we clearly have a long way to go, striving toward a destination we might never each, but striving still.

Or, we could just descend into the darkness of a dog eats dog world where the rich get richer, the poor better pull themselves up by the bootstraps they don’t have, as we while away the hours in our ivory towers, fawning over the rich, the famous, and the powerful, always putting ourselves first and then justifying all of this as a good thing.

The good news of the Christian faith, as Mary sings, and as the author will write throughout, is good news to the poor or it isn’t good news at all.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, Mary’s prayer humbles us and challenges us. May we exalt you and may our lives magnify you, as we, like Mary, take upon ourselves the daily tasks of living for you by loving our neighbors. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:39-45

November 16, 2020

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 1:39-45

Kelley and I moved into a “new to us” house at the end of October. It is all I can talk about when I’m with my friends. (I count those who read these devotions among my friends.) That’s what you do when you are feeling overwhelmed by good news. That is what Mary did.

Or maybe the news that Mary was carrying wasn’t such great news to her. Her life had been overwhelmed by events beyond her control. She was laid open to public ridicule and judgment. Nazareth wasn’t a big city and you know how gossip makes life worth living in small towns.

Maybe Mary is just joining all the other women through history who had to “go away for awhile” to save her family from shame.

Elizabeth greets Mary with joy. That is what friends do. They support each other. The joyful acceptance and understanding of friends is a great antidote for shame. The old adage applies: When we share our joys, they are doubled, and when we share our pain, it is halved.

Even as we read these stories looking for biblical links and foundational social/theological principles, we ought not lose sight of the humanity of the experience that Elizabeth and Mary are sharing. Elizabeth declares that it is Mary’s faith that marks her blessed. Here, as always, it is about faith in the midst of the turmoil and turbulence of life.

The humanity of this story is also about two very different pregnancies. One, unexpected and ill-prepared for. The other, extremely high risk. Yet both are welcomed. One, with the trepidation around the birth of every first child. The other, with the mix of fear and excitement which greets every pregnancy for a woman who long ago had given up hope that it would ever happen for her.

Two women greeting each other at the tipping point of world history.

It was just a year ago this week that someone went to a market in Wuhan, China, and became the first person to contract a new coronavirus. A single anonymous person becomes another tipping point in world history.

We are all connected.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we expect your movement in our lives to be grand and glorious, like thunder and a mighty wind, but you still speak most often in whispers. Elizabeth and Mary were seemingly inconsequential in their worlds yet you have raised them up as vessels of faith and love. From the very first, your love comes to us only to flow through us. Even in hidden and forgotten corners of life. May this be the good news we share. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

November 12, 2020

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. Luke 1:26-38

Like millions of other Americans, Kelley and I are devoted fans of “This Is Us.” We always tape it on Tuesday so we can watch it on Wednesday and fast forward through all the commercials. We love the humanity of the show but we are also, like everybody else, hooked by the little “hooks” that come with every episode. Little teasers about what we might expect in future episodes. The show both looks backward, and leans forward, just like the birth stories of Jesus and John.

Pastor Don Carlson recently shared with me an extended quote from a book called “When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation” by Paula Fredriksen. I offer it today because this way of understanding the birth stories in Matthew and Luke always sits in the back of my mind as I read them. Hopefully, they will now sit in yours as well:

These two quite different yet similar birth narratives [the nativity/birth stories in Matthew and Luke] also give us the measure of these evangelists’ literary freedom. This is an extremely important point to bear in mind. It holds true for all our narrative New Testament texts, both for all four of our gospels and certainly for Acts.

These writers were not doing history, certainly not as our modern discipline, born in the Renaissance, is conceived. They were not consulting archives that preserved historical records of Jesus’ birth. None existed. They were not critically assessing various materials and interviewing different people in search of a plausible reconstruction of what might have happened.

Quite the opposite: These authors were unconstrained by any historical knowledge. They were therefore free to allow the scriptures to generate the biographical “data” on Jesus that they needed. Their purpose in writing was not to preserve “memories” or to relate a plausible history: It was to persuade their hearers about the messianic identity of their protagonist. The gospels first of all are proclamations, not histories.

The evangelists’ only constraint was biblical tradition itself: David the king had come from Bethlehem. Therefore, somehow, Jesus had to come from Bethlehem, too. And so, they each wrote up a story, deferring to select biblical passages that conformed Jesus’ past to their own current convictions about him.

So it is that Gabriel visits another woman with news of another impending, important, birth. Mary’s response becomes the quintessential definition of discipleship: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you do surprising things through surprising people. Sometimes our willingness joins your purposes. Give us the openness to being used by you following the example of Mary. Pushing through her fears, pushing through her questions, surrendering to your will, let this be us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 1:21-25

November 11, 2020

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:21-25

Last night we had our monthly Church Council meeting at church. We have been an “internet only” congregation since the beginning of the national lockdown back in March. Meanwhile, the virus has raged away. We spent the first hour in conversation about when and how we might begin public worship again. A long explanation has been prepared for the congregation to inform them how the Church Council is thinking about things like metrics for re-opening and what people can expect when we finally do.

This has been a hard time for everybody.

Cut through all the “stuff” that goes into congregation’s worship life and it always comes down to relationships with God and others. There is something comforting, encouraging, and challenging about gathering in the same space. Seeing familiar faces. Excitement to see new faces. Conversation before and after. Checking in with one another as we all pass through the struggles and joys of life.

Into all of this comes the liturgy. The same words heard over and over. The rituals and movement. Voices, musical instruments, water, bread, and wine. Worship faithfully for long enough, surrender to it, give yourself to it, and it becomes who you are. The rhythms of a life following Jesus.

Then – BANG – it is suddenly over.

The people gathered at the temple that day where doing “what they had always done before.” But something went wrong. Zechariah was delayed. Then he came back to the crowd, speechless. Charades didn’t help. Zechariah was embarrassed. The crowd was disappointed. They all went back home.

What the crowd didn’t know was that God was up to something big. God was moving and big changes were just around the corner.

Someday we will gather again for worship in the sanctuary. Someday the virus will be a bad memory but not as immediately fearful. We’re not there yet.

Zechariah’s “someday” was a shared experience with Elizabeth. She was doing the heavy lifting. His job was to be supportive. Both of them were hanging on to hope.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes we are overwhelmed by the words flying through the air. Sometimes life leaves us speechless. Zechariah and Elizabeth lived through those long months of isolation and preparation, we too are living through a long period of disconnection. Help us make the best of it, never losing hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.