The Cross as Christ’s Crane

 

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, lived during the first years of the movement that would become Christianity.  Born about 35 AD, he was taken to Rome under military escort and died in the arena fighting lions, in about 107.  Along the way to Rome he wrote a series of letters addressed to various churches.

In one letter he took the image of a building crane and applied it to Christ’s cross. “You are the stones of the Father’s temple, made ready for God’s building, raised aloft by the crane of Jesus Christ which is the cross, with the Holy Spirit for the rope; your faith pulls you upwards and love is the way that raises you to God.”

Then using the same image which Peter uses in his first letter when he writes of being “living stones,” he writes of those who are built into temples following Christ on the way.  “You are also all to be companions on this road, bearers of God, temples of the Spirit, carriers of Christ, brining with you holy gifts, you are adorned by the commandments of Jesus Christ.”

Of course, Jesus’ commandments are that we love one another.  The greatest Christmas attire that we can wear is the love of Christ and the greatest gift we are able to give is the word of that love demonstrated on the crane of the cross that everyone be lifted up and built into his temple.

 

 

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Advent Rejocing

 

Advent, is a season of preparation and therefore we restrain from singing the hymn of praise.

Back in the sixth century it was considered Advent was considered a minor Lent and extended back to about November 10 to match the 40 days of lent.  The Sunday lessons concentrated on the return of Christ.  “Stay Awake” was the watch word.  “You know neither the time nor the hour.” The color purple reflected its association with Lent.

Later Advent was shortened to four weeks.  More recently, the Advent color was changed to blue, representing hope and anticipation.

All that brings us down to the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of the pink candle, the candle of joy.  Zephaniah writes, “Sing aloud, o daughter of Zion… Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” In the epistle from Philippians, Paul urges, “rejoice always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  “The Lord is at hand. And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Though John the Baptizer has some questions about Jesus, Jesus says to tell him that people have plenty of reason rejoice.  “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”

Therefore, as we read in Zephaniah, “Fear not…let not your hands grow weak.  The Lord is in your midst, a mighty one to save, he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love…

Thus even as we rejoice in the Lord, the Lord is rejoicing over us.

Vipers Bearing Fruit

 

“You brood of Vipers!” John the Baptist warns.  We are used to John applying that appalling appellations to the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism.  Yeah, stick it to them, John.  That’s the way it reads in Matthew’s Gospel. Those hypocrites, those whitewashed tombs, those blind guides straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. Those shouters of “Crucify him, crucify him.”  Yeah John give it to those poisonous snakes and give it to them good.

However, before we get too worked up, this is what we read in Luke last Sunday.  “He said to the CROWDS that came out to be baptized by him.”  Me, a venomous snake?  Now you’re getting personal, John.  What have I ever done to you?  Do I present myself as better than I am on the inside?  Do I major in unimportant things and overlook major issues?  Was I there when they asked for Barabbas?  Was I in the crowd that shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him?” I don’t like to admit it, but I was there.

John has a simple suggestion.  “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”   “What sort of fruit is Advent fruit?”  John says, if you see someone who needs clothing or food, give them some.  If you have a job, give an honest day’s work.  Don’t over charge for your services.  If you are a person in authority don’t makes, don’t lord your power over other people.  Finally, be content.

WE also heard St. Paul saying, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  God is working good in us and for us continually.  Filled with Christi’s righteousness we are certain to be filled with fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.

As we read in Psalm 66:  “Come and see what God has done.”  In the context of John’s sermon we are called to live in such a way that we are able to invite people to say of us, “Come and see what God has done, he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of men.

Our Feet will not slip

 

I often read psalm 121 at funerals.  The psalm calls us to lift our eyes up from the casket in front of us because the Lord is ever alert.  “The Lord is your keeper.”  He will “keep your going out and coming in from this time and forevermore.”

However, one phrase would give me moment of pause. “He will not let your foot stumble.”  I am tempted to say, “Look, the Lord has allowed this person to stumble so badly that he is unable to get up.  What do we say about the promised help from the Lord?  The Lord made heaven and earth, but He can’t keep your loved one from stumbling into death?”

Psalm 66:1-12 was assigned for last Sunday.  The psalmist calls on “all the earth…shout for joy to God.”  In the Exodus God, “turned the sea into dry land.”   At the Jordan river, “They passed through the river on foot.”  The psalmist acknowledges, “He preserves us in life; he keeps our feet from stumbling.”

That doesn’t mean we won’t tested in our life.  “You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water…yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”

Psalm 66 is similar to Isaiah 43.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…”

Whether we see the hindrances in life as engendered by God or as the result of living in this world, God is with us.  Psalm 66 ends with, “Blessed is God who has not withdrawn from me his love and care.”

We turn to God in trust.  The psalmist writes that even if he had cherished evil thoughts, God would not have listened to such foolishness.  Instead, God listens to his plea for mercy.

What great blessing we have in Christ who gives us an abundance of life that in his return not even the coffin can hold us down.

Fear Not

 

Larry, noticed something new the last time he watched the Peanuts Christmas show. When Linus read the exclamation of the angel, “Fear not!” he dropped his blanket.

Fear is traced back to the Garden of Eden when the entire human race hid from God because as  Adam, said, “I was afraid.” “I was naked.”  Ever since that day, all the descendants of Adam and Eve have a sense of their nakedness in the presence of God.

Sarah laughed at God’s promise that that she and Abraham would have a child within a year and then denied her laughter, “Because she was afraid.” God had already begun to assure Abraham, “Fear not.” In 15:1 God says, “I am your shield.”  When Hagar and her son, Ishmael, by Abraham were banished to the desert, God tells Hagar, “”Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy…”

Eventually, Moses tells Israel, “Fear not.”  “Fear not” and “don’t be afraid” becomes a refrain throughout the Old Testament.  In Isaiah 40 and 41 we read,  “Fear not herald of good tidings; Fear not for I am with you; Fear not for I am the one who helps you; Fear not, you worm Jacob…your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”

And when God intends to take on human flesh, Zechariah is to “not be afraid,” He and Elizabeth’s prayers for a child will be answered in the birth of John (the Baptist). The angel assures Mary she need not fear, “for you have found favor with God.”  She will bear a son “and you shall call his name Jesus.”  Joseph shouldn’t fear to marry Mary.  The child in her womb “will save his people from their sins.”

Then comes that announcement to fear filled shepherds, “Fear not.”  “Unto you is born…a Savior, Christ the Lord.”

We can drop all our security blankets and stand naked before our God, from whom we will receive mercy, salvation and redemption in the forgiveness of all our sins.

Chanuka

 

Chanukah began yesterday at sunset.

I Maccabees 4:

Then Judas Maccabeus and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”  They found the sanctuary desolated, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts…and the priests chambers demolished.  Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes and fell with their faces to the ground.  And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts they had made.  On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes and cymbals.  All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise.  They ornamented the façade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers and furnished them with doors.  There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.  Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy with gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty fifth day of the month of Chislev.

From a Jewish Prayer book: Blessed is the Lord our God, ruler of the universe, for you have kept us, sustained us, and brought us to this holy season.

St. Nicolas

December 6

The fourth century Bishop of Myra died on this day about 360.  He is highly venerated in the Eastern Church as a miracle worker, as “preacher of the word of God, spokesman of the Father.”

Thomas Hopko writes, “The celebration of the feast of the nativity of Christ in the Orthodox church is patterned after the celebration of the feast of our Lord’s resurrection.  A fast of forty days precedes the feast, with special preparatory days announcing the approaching birth of the Savior.  Thus, on St. Andrew’s Day (November 30) and St. Nicolas Day (December 6) songs are sung to announce the coming birthday of the Lord.

‘Adorn yourself, O cavern.

Make yourself ready, O manger.

O shepherds and magi,

Bring your gifts and bear witness.

For the Virgin is coming bearing Christ in her womb.’”

Rend the Heavens!

 

You, o Lord, are father to us,

Our Redeemer from of old is your name.

O Lord, why do you make us err from your ways

And harden our heart, so that we fear you not…

O that you would rend the heavens and come down,

That the mountains might quake at your presence…

Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;

In our sins we have been a long time,

And shall we be saved…

Ye, O Lord, you are father to us;

We are clay, and you are our potter;

We are all the work of your hand.

Be not exceedingly angry, O Lord,

And remember not iniquity forever.

 

Gabe Huck writes,

These lines from Isaiah are altogether too much.  Any four of them would do.  Take the first four.  What a question to put to God!  We do the wandering, we do the evil-and gets the blame!  And then God gets invited to solve it all as the reading goes on to its “Rend the heavens!” lines.  Probably everyone has an occasional “Rend the heavens!” day.  Some people have “Rend the heavens!” lives.  What would that be?  Hunger? Fear? Weakness? Depression? Addiction? Discrimination? How many lives shout to God to tear up the skies and put an end to this unhappiness on the time planet Earth! What reason could anyone have to speak this way to God?

Look at a few December leaves, the old ones blowing around the ground.  Isaiah did.  What did he see?

“Yet,” he says.  Yet? Yet what?

A character in one of J.D. Salinger’s short stories says that the most important word in the Bible is “watch.”  That person would love Advent and especially the gospel: “Be on the watch!  Stay awake!  Watch with a sharp eye!  Look around you!  Be on guard!  Why would “watch” be anyone’s favorite notion?  How do we watch?  What are we watching for?  Take the question to Isaiah, take to a saint you have known…

What would help us stay awake and watch?

O Savior, rend the heavens wide;

Come down, come down with mighty stride;

Unlock the gates, the doors break down;

Unbar the way to heaven’s crown.

The Days are Coming

 

The first week in Advent are about the “comings” of the Lord.

In Jeremiah 33: 14-16 the Lord declares that the days are coming when he will cause a new king of David to spring up from the broken tree of David’s family.  He will be a new Zedekiah.  Not the weak king of Judah who did not trust the Lord.  The new branch of David’s family will do what is right, will trust the Lord to lift up God’s people rather than allow the mighty and the strong to tread them into the dirt.  He will restore true worship, rather than trusting in a multitude of gods who are able to do nothing.

Luke 19:28-40 tells us of that new Zedekiah, whom the people acclaimed as “The King who comes in the name of the Lord.  To Jesus, the new Zedekiah, they proclaim, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

The alternative gospel, Luke 21: 25-36 is similar to the OT lesson.  The promises spoken in Jeremiah are heard in the midst of impending disaster.  The Babylonian army was laying siege to Jerusalem in 588 BC.  Jeremiah was under house arrest house, when he relayed the promises of a new branch springing up from the family of David.  So in the midst of Jesus’ descriptions of disasters coming upon the whole universe he says, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great might.  Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption if drawing near.”  Jesus encourages us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will pass away.”

As we enter a new church year, those are good promises upon which to stand in the new year when once again we will retrace Jesus ministry to the cross and the resurrection and his return in the ascension.