Anna, of the tribe of Asher

 

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.” Luke 2: 36-38

Little is known of Anna, just as little is known of the tribe of her ancestry.  Asher was the eighth son of Jacob by Leah’s maid Zilpah.  After the exodus from Egypt, Asher as one of the tribes of Israel was given land in northwest part of Canaan, in the area around Mt. Carmel.  However, boundary descriptions in scripture makes it difficult to pin point its borders.  Moses Blessing on the tribes mentions the fertility of the Asher’s territory, “He dips his foot in oil” and “Asher’s food shall be rich and he shall yield royal dainties.”

However, the tribe the tribe seems to have been little regarded by its brother tribes, nor did it participate in the much of the history of Israel.  At least one of its cities was given to Hiram of Tyre, by Solomon, in payment for timber deliveries.

Nevertheless, with the importance of genealogies in Israel, Luke identifies her as a true Israelite.  Depending on how one reads her years of marriage and widowhood, she was at least 84 years old or possibly even 105.

She has no lines to speak, at least recorded in Luke’s account of Jesus in the temple.   But she is a prophetess, a counterpart to Zechariah.  By implication, like Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth and Simeon, the Holy Spirit rests upon her.  Thus she recognizes the baby, gives thanks to God and tells those in the temple, who, are also waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem from all its sins.

Psalm 130:5,” I wait for the Lord my soul waits and in his word hope. 7. O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.”

 

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Joseph was very Proud

 

I ran across this bit about Christmas which I ran across in something from Walter Wangerin years ago.

Jeanne May Wohl, 8 years old, wrote her convictions about how things must have been that first Christmas.  The spelling is hers.

“The cows were mooing and the sheep were making their noise and the dogs and the cats.  And Jesus didn’t pay any attention to the noise.

The angles were singing softly not scream loud like in a Apera.

Joseph was very proud.  He showed it by sitting by Mary and the baby.  He didn’t believe in Santa Claus because he didn’t have to.”

Wangerin comments, “She was very clear about the Church’s theology.”

A Story Too Big for Books

 

Christmas I, 2015, Bunker Hill

St. John, the Evangelist

There is much else that Jesus did.  If it were all to be recorded in detail, I suppose the world could not hold the books that would be written. (John 21:25)  But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:31

  1. John is right,

The story of our salvation is too big

For nook, kindle, or onyx boox.

It’s a story of him who is and was and is to come

Who became one of us.

 

Before the Word filled the expanse of space,

With Galaxies, planets, and piercing quarks,

Before the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters,

When all was darkness and void

And the light had not yet dawned.

The Father said to the Son, “When the time is right I will

Send you to put back together our broken creation.

For our crowning achievement,

The man and the woman, made to be little less than the angels,

Will bring it to wreck and ruin, for they will not listen to our word,

Instead, they will heed the word of the serpent Satan,

A liar from the beginning,

And they will eat the fatal fruit.

 

One day you will punish Satan that twisting serpent,

With your mighty and powerful sword,

Your cross shaped sword.”

 

  1. So God chose a people, from whom would come that son.

He chose them not because they were a great people,

Not even because they were great people.

 

He started with childless Abram and Sarah

Promising more descendants than

The sand and the stars.

When their offspring fell into Egyptian slavery,

God sent Moses to free his chosen, precious Israel.

God, blew back the Red Sea waters.

He shattered the enemy with his mighty arm and strong right hand

And Israel sang, “Who is like our God among the gods?

“Majestic in holiness, worthy of awe and praise, worker of wonders?”

 

  1. But Israel, struggled with God.

One day they were faithful and the next they were ungrateful,

One day they praised the Lord for all his goodness

And the next they cried,

“How long? Will you forget us forever?”

 

However it was Israel who did the forgetting.

They said, “Where is this God who

Claimed us as his own precious people?

Surely having several gods is preferred

Over this jack-of-all trades God

Who wants to do it all himself.

Look at our neighbor’s gods.

One makes the rain fall,

Another grows the grain, and ripens grapes,

Still others cause the sheep to have lambs,

And women become mothers.

Another speeds across the sky, from dawn to dusk

Lighting the day.

These gods gleam of silver and gold,

Sitting right there on their living room shelf.

And what has our God done for us?

Where is our God anyway?  We can’t see him

Who claims he alone is God.  Who claims to have

Created the sun, and sunsets, the rain and the rainbow,

And lambs and children.

Israel, like straying sheep went their own way.

 

  1. And yet, God stayed true to who he was, is and ever shall be,

The God of salvation for the whole world round.

He remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness.

He remembered his plan founded

From before the foundation of the world.

 

A virgin, would conceive and bear a son.

His name would be Immanuel, God with us.

The Spirit of the Lord would be upon him, the Spirit of

Wisdom and understanding, counsel and might.

He would delight in doing the will of the Lord.

He would be gentle, neither breaking the bruised nor

Snuffing out the flickering flame of faith.

 

  1. And so when the time was ripe,

When Augustus was Caesar and Quirinius governed Syria,

And the puppet king Herod ruled in Judea,

God tore open the heavens and broke into the history of

The descendants of Adam and Eve.

The Word which had said, “Let there be light,”

Became a light which shined in the void of human darkness.

The Word became flesh, one of us.

 

It happened this way,

A virgin in Nazareth of Galilee, Mary by name

Was overshadowed by the same Spirit that had

Hovered over the waters, when God began

To create the Creation.

He, the virgin’s son, God’s Son, is our life, for he

Had created life.  He is

The light that lightens the darkness in humanity.

He is holy, and makes us holy.

His name is

Jesus, for he saves us from our sins.

With God nothing is ever impossible.

 

  1.   And so it happened, after Joseph and Mary,

Great with child, traveled from Galilee to Bethlehem

It was a matter of taxes.

70 miles or more they walked.

In Bethlehem Mary gave birth to the creator

Of the stars in the heavens

And the microbes in the soil.

She laid our Savior, Christ the Lord, the King, in a manger,

While the heavenly host praised God

From beneath the canopy of the stars.

The angel said, “Fear not” to shepherds

Watching their flocks by night.

He announced good news of great joy for all people,

God the Most High, was born

A baby as helpless as you and me.

He was born under the law of the Lord.

And so according to his own Law

Mary and Joseph took their son, their firstborn,

Who had opened Mary’s womb.

They went up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

To present their Lord to their Lord.

 

  1. While in the temple, the Holy Spirit who had hovered

Over the waters and overshadowed Mary, rested upon

A righteous and devout man named Simeon.

He came to them and took the child in his arms.

Simeon sang: “Now I am able depart in peace,

According to your promise.

I am holding my salvation;

The One who will bring peace on earth

And peace in heaven.

I am seeing my redemption with my own eyes,

Which God has prepared right here on earth before all peoples,

A light to shine on the Gentiles

And the glory of your people, Israel.”

And Anna, a widow, joined them giving thanks to God.

And telling everyone of him who was the redemption of the world.

 

When everything had been done,

Mary and Joseph took their son home to Nazareth,

There he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom

And the favor of God was upon him.

 

  1. Now God’s beloved, precious and chosen, people of Zion

Study these great works of the Lord,

How he took on our flesh

In order to redeem us.

How he gave his body and shed his blood

That he might restore us to life.

As we enter the New Year, wear the wardrobe God

Chose for you in your baptism.  Dress in

Compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.

Be even-tempered, and content.

Forgive as the Lord forgives you.

And put on love.

Make these your everyday clothes.

And every day do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,

Giving thanks to God the Father through him.

To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wedding on St. Stephen’s Day

 

Pastors usually do not relish having a wedding the day after Christmas.  1987, 28 years ago was a year like 2015 in that Christmas was on Friday and St. Stephen’s Day fell the next day on Saturday.  A wedding on Saturday meant there was little time to recover between the Christmas services and Sunday.

But in 1987, Cathy, our secretary at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Marshfield wanted to marry Steven on St. Stephen’s Day.  Well, what could Bob Reinhardt and I do but accede to her wish.  Christmas may be hectic for pastors and musicians, but it’s no less so for church secretaries.  In a large congregation they have to turn out the multitude of bulletins required by the numerous worship services.  Of course, in 1987 Cathy was preparing for a wedding.  When tension mounted in the congregation or among the staff, Bob would say, “Merry Grimace.”

Bob and I did a dialogue sermon.  I can’t remember what we said, but I think we gently reminded her and Steven of St. Stephen’s demise due to being stoned.  Thus we did get, if not a pound of flesh, at least an ounce.

It turns out it’s my most memorable St. Stephen’s Day.  As Bob said on Facebook today, “What times those were.”

It also turns out that St. Stephen’s Day is a good day for a wedding.  A line from the entrance psalm, “For you are my Rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”  Those are words which we are able to apply to any day of the year and to any occasion, even to weddings and marriage.  The verse helps keep Christmas merry, even though we may want to grimace.

What’s more, in January we can look forward to accompanying Jesus to a wedding where he saved the reception by providing the best wine.  Save January 17 on your calendar.

Christmas Day, 2015

 

I straightened out the “Jesus: The Reason for the Season” sign next to our figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.  Overhead a strange sound passed by.  Then I heard the three watchful neighborhood crows gathering around a pine tree in neighbor Kevin’s front yard.  “That was a distressed hawk or owl seeking to escape its black winged tormenters.” The crows remind me of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

We celebrate the incarnation of God and yet like the crowded inn with the “No vacancy” sign, the world goes on about its usual business.  Soon Jesus will be pursued by the “crow” Herod,

Yet the silence of the morning, no rush hour traffic on Lindberg, allowed me to clearly hear the chimes hanging on tree branches in the cemetery tinkling as they swayed in the sun warmed breeze.  On the TV choirs from Belmont University in Nashville and St. Thomas College in St. Paul filled the house with the songs of the birthday of the Savior.

But the news told of a night time double fatality on I-70 which left Christmas gifts strewn across the freeway.  Today a family mourns the death of a 3 year old shot by a 15 year old overnight guest who brought a gun with him to his sleep over.

“Fear not,” the angel told the Shepherds and yet we are daily told to “fear much” and close our doors to those who need a place of refuge.  It was heartening to read Michael Gerson’s column in which he quotes extensively from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and papers from Prison” written while in a Nazi prison.  Gerson wrote, “In the Christian view, the door was swung open by the incarnation, by a God who somehow became a defenseless child…A God who-strangely, paradoxically, mysteriously-at the end felt abandoned by God.  A God on our side.”  Gerson ends his column with a final quote from Bonhoeffer:

“God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be-in our sins, in our suffering and death.  We are no longer alone:  God is with us.  We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us.”

Gerson:  “This, despite all our fears and doubts, is Christmas:  a God secretly revealed as love.”

 

michaelgerson@washpost.com

Meditating on Christmas with Martin Luther

My Christmas reading includes Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”  Herbert Brokerings, meditations on the poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by Christina Rossetti.  But my favorite is a section from Roland Bainton’s book, “Martin Luther Christmas Book,” in which Bainton compiled Luther’s writings around Christmas.

“Let us meditate upon the nativity just as we see it happening in our own babies.  I would not have you contemplate the deity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, but rather his flesh.  Look upon the Baby Jesus.  Divinity may terrify man.  Inexpressible majesty will crush him.  That is why Christ took on our humanity, save for sin, that he should not terrify us but rather with love and favor console and confirm.

Come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid.  Trust him!  Trust him!  Here is the Child in whom  is salvation.  To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became a man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most precious mother.  Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.”

Where’s Micah?

 

Micah is one of those Minor Prophets which leads me to ask, “Where in the world is Micah?”  I  page around until I find it between Jonah and Nahum.  I blame it on my confirmation pastor, Walter Braem, who didn’t have us memorize the books of the Bible back in 1954.  I can remember that the New York Giants won the World Series that year, and Willie Mays catch in center field off Vic Wertz drive, and the brief emergence of Dusty Rhodes.   And I remember our 4-H club, Happy Pipers, won the B league Polk County softball championship which we played on the infield of the race track during the county fair.  But remember the order of the Minor Prophets?   Not so much.

I really shouldn’t hold Pastor Braem responsible.  It isn’t as if I haven’t had sixty one years to learn them on my own.

Once I do locate Micah I find a gem in the middle of the book.  God is speaking, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for how he shall be great to the end of the earth.  And he shall be their peace.”

In a few day we will sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  My favorite lines are from stanza three,

“How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heav’n.”

 

Weight Lifting

 

When I used to work out at a gym I would do some light weightlifting, within the limits that my heart allowed.  It happened a couple times that another person working out would ask me to spot him as he did a bench press.  When I looked at the bar and saw a few weights attached to each end, I had to turn him down.  Not only would I be putting myself in jeopardy if I needed to grab the weight, but the lifter as well.  I didn’t have the might to keep the weight from falling on his chest or worst his throat.

The situation is quite different when we ask the Lord to come and keep our sins from crushing us.  Thus we pray on the fourth Sunday of Advent:

Stir up Your Power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

We will also sing:

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,

Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height

In ancient times didst give the Law

In cloud and majesty and awe

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

Who put Joseph in the back of the Stable?

Getting to the Front of the Stable

By Ann  Weems

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?

Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand,

And told him to stand in the back of the crèche

background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?

God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful

in spite of the gossip in Nazareth,

in spite of the danger from Herod.

This man, Joseph, listened to angels

and it was he who named the Child

Emmanuel.

Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway

guarding the mother and child

or greeting shepherds and kings.

When he wasn’t in the doorway,

he was probably urging Mary to get some rest,

gently covering her with his cloak,

assuring her that he would watch the Child.

Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms

and walked him in the night,

patting him lovingly

until he closed his eyes.

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God

for this man of incredible faith

into whose care God placed the Christ Child.

As a gesture of gratitude,

let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable

where he can guard and greet

and cast an occasional glance

at this Child

who brought us life.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Stumble over Jesus

Not stumbling over Jesus is easier said than done, particularly when we let Jesus be Jesus on his own terms.

John the Baptizer had come with a message of judgment and fire.  An axe would be laid to the root of those who thought they were special.  The Messiah would separate the grain from the chaff and burn it with an unquenchable fire.  It doesn’t do any good to claim you are children of Abraham and therefore have a claim to special treatment from the Messiah.  God can raise up descendants of Abraham from the stones, of which there were many.

But John ended up in prison.  He heard what Jesus was doing in his ministry.  However, there wasn’t any fire, or end time judgment.  Nothing spectacular was going on.  So John sent two of his disciples, to ask, “Are you the One or do we look for someone else.”  John had looked for one stronger than he, and Jesus wasn’t displaying a lot of strength.

Jesus seems to have invited John’s disciples to spend a little time with him.  Then he sent them back to report what they had heard and seen.  Jesus was bestowing sight on the blind, straightened out the limbs of the lame, those separated from society because of skin diseases were healed so they were no longer outcasts.  The deaf could now hear.  And the poor were finally hearing some good news, the good news of God’s kingdom.  All of these people would have been on the edges of society, but they were at the center of the kingdom of God.

So Jesus final word to be delivered to John the Baptizer, was “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Or “Happy is the person who does not find me an obstacle to faith.”

We romanticize Mary, but God getting her pregnant before a proper marriage put her reputation in danger.  What of those shepherds abiding in the fields?  They too were outcasts.  Taking care of sheep was a 24/7 job.  They didn’t get to the temple or the synagogue regularly.  They didn’t follow the dietary laws or rules on cleanliness.  Yet they were the first visitors at the manger.  And what kind of king was this son of Mary with the besmirched reputation?

Yes, blessed is one who does not stumble over Jesus.