Posts Tagged 'good news'

For Dec. 25, 2014: Christmas Day (Christmas III)

The Reading                                                           Isaiah 52:7-10

Addressing ruined Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah shows us the sentinels of Zion singing the good news of the Lord returning to redeem his people—all his people, to the ends of the earth. To the ends of the earth let us also repeat the sounding joy of Christmas, and live into it.

The Response                                                         Psalm 98

Isaiah 52:7-10 celebrates the Lord’s return to Zion and the salvation of God’s people. Psalm 98 resounds in response: the Lord has done astounding things, and the Lord’s victory is so obvious to all the earth that the very rivers and hills cry out for joy.

The Epistle                                                             Hebrews 1:1-12

The letter to the Hebrews, written to the church in Jerusalem, addresses Paul’s fellow Jews. To explain exactly who and what Jesus is, Paul cites Old Testament scriptures the Jews would know well. These scriptures refer to Jesus, the Son of God and the very being of God, who will remain after heaven and earth are gone.

The Gospel                                                              John 1:1-14

The word “gospel” comes from Old English gōd spell ‘good news’. The first fourteen verses of the gospel of John indeed tell good news: beginning at verse 10, “he”—Jesus—is come to help us become children of light, of grace, of truth, of God.

 

Further thoughts

Jim Mathes, the Episcopal bishop of San Diego, reports in his blog that, though he has been a lifelong fan, he has chosen to stop watching football as a witness against the violence of our culture.[1] I think it can also be argued that football epitomizes our human insistence on sorting people tidily into categories that amount to “winners” and “losers”, “good guys” and “bad guys”, “Us” and “Them”. as either winners or losers, and we extend this even in circumstances that don’t seem much like competitions. How readily we disparage losers! How readily we perceive disrespect on the part of others and move to “get our own back”! That this is true of human nature in general is surely an important lesson of the Bible, from the murder of Abel onward. Furthermore, we easily fall into projecting onto God our own eagerness to see winners rewarded, losers punished, and disrespect prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law.

The lections for Christmas Day suggest that what we project onto God may not represent God very accurately. Psalm 98 celebrates the Lord’s victory, but without identifying a loser, and the psalmist emphasizes that the Lord judges all peoples with equity—that is, with an eye toward the special circumstances of each. Isaiah proclaims the Lord’s return, but what the Lord brings in Isaiah 52:7-10 is not retribution but redemption and comfort. More to the point, Hebrews 1:3 emphasizes that the Son, Jesus, is “the exact imprint of God’s very being”, and, if what God the Son brings us, according to John 1:1-14, is life, light, grace, and truth, it follows that God’s own self is life, light, grace, and truth—and such a God may be not nearly as ready to categorize either my enemies or me as I am myself. Such a God takes on the frail flesh of a baby. Such a God hangs on the cross with arms open to all peoples, to show us that what it takes to break the cycle of retributive violence is, when offered violence in deed or even in word, to refuse to offer violence in response.

That, it seems, is how to live into the call to join Jesus as another-child-of-God of life, light, grace, and truth, it follows that I am called to do as he did in a dark world. How astonishing, and how much the point of Christmas!

 

[1] Mathes, Jim, “Bearing Witness to Our Culture of Violence,” Where SunDays Are Better than Others, Episcopal Diocese of San Diego Web site, 18 December 2014. http://www.edsd.org/where-sundays-are-better-than-others/bearing-witness-to-our-culture-of-violence-fourth-witness/#.VJmQoAAA. Accessed 23 December 2014.

For Jan. 12, 2014: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 42:1-9

The reading from Isaiah gives us dazzling good news: the chosen of the Lord is coming, not to strut around in pomp and power but to work tirelessly to bring justice to all us people who are out in the dark, off in dungeons, shut in blindness or marooned far from God—and to make of us people who are ourselves bringers of light.

The Response            Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is a meditation on the power of God that is filled with astonishing images: the voice of God has the power to break mighty cedars, set mountains scampering like startled cattle, make sturdy oak trees squirm—and even to make us righteous.

The Second Lesson            Acts 10:34-43

Isaiah announced great good news for Israel. In the second lesson for the first Sunday in Epiphany, blunt Peter, called out of his comfort zone to visit a Roman centurion, summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus: the astounding gift of grace is for anyone—anyone—who will accept it.

The Gospel            Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus, the Son of God, begins his ministry not by announcing how badly everyone else has been doing everything but by seeking baptism from his cousin John.

 

Ponderables

The juxtaposition of images in the readings for the first Sunday of Epiphany is startling: a God with the power to set off great earthquakes and dictate terms to the mighty, yet bringing to those whom the world sees as wearing kick-me signs the gentlest of blessing; a God for whom mountains roll over like Rover and oak trees go limp on cue, yet patiently waiting again and again for Peter to blurt out the insight that Jesus and his own brain have been trying to get him to recognize; a God who sits in judgment on the entire universe, yet taking a place in line at the Jordan like everyone else for a baptism that he alone doesn’t really need…

It sounds like I’m being hard on Peter. In fact, I have great sympathy for him. Most thoughtful writers will cheerfully admit that they often don’t truly know what they think until they say or write it. I’m not in that exalted company, but certainly formatting lections and finding translations for them isn’t nearly as effective in obliging my brain to engage with the content as is the act of composing even a few sentences about at least one of them.

But what must it be like to be John? Feet firmly braced in the Jordan’s slightly slimy bottom, you’re up to the hips in water and in lost souls seeking the light; as you’ve done hundreds of times, you release your safety grip on the previous baptizee and reach for the next—only to discover that it’s Aunt Mary’s kid who also happens to be the Son of God. How are you not going to screw this up?

Well, by God’s grace and showing up: what else could do?

For April 8, 2012: Easter Day, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah the prophet foresaw the disaster that overcame the people of God when they were taken into exile in Babylon. In today’s reading he foresees them rejoicing in their redemption and return to Jerusalem through the power of God. We  Christians read into this Jesus rising to destroy death and sin, and for all peoples. Hallelujah!

 

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The Corinthians were, like humans in all times and places, a bit thick-headed. In today’s reading Paul underlines for them the main points of the gospel story: Jesus truly did die for our sins and rise again, appearing to the apostles (“Cephas” is Peter) and even to a soul as misguided as Paul had been. Hallelujah!

 

Further thoughts

As the selection today from the gospel of Mark ends, two ladies named Mary, grieving for Jesus, have just gotten news so astonishing that they can neither believe it nor share it, and they run away.

This may help explain why it is customary that one of the readings for Easter Day be Acts 10:34-43. Peter’s simple but stirring summary of the Good News fills in the rest of the story. Even better for us Gentiles, Peter insists that the resurrection is no longer merely a Jewish affair: Jesus lived and died and lives again for anyone from any background who believes in him.

Today’s other readings drive home much the same point, though in somewhat different ways. Isaiah, looking forward from the hard times around the exile in Babylon, shows us the mountaintop where the Lord will prepare the feast of feasts. For those of us who have (or could use) memberships at a gym, the allure of marrow and fat may be a little hard to understand—but what human could resist the allure of an end to grief, frustration, disgrace or fear of disgrace, and even death itself? What is more, Isaiah tells us, The Lord will feast all peoples, take death from all nations, and wipe tears from all faces—all of them.

It falls to Paul to summarize the Good News, though here he is reminding the Corinthians rather than announcing it for the first time. Paul takes the rest of the account in a different direction. We know that Jesus is risen, Paul tells us, because he appeared in the flesh to Cephas or Peter, the other apostles, and many other believers; we know that Jesus died for people’s sins, Paul tells us, because the scriptures say so; but the fact that Jesus appeared even to the likes of the church-persecuting monster Saul of Tarsus (for Paul’s phrase “untimely born” can be paraphrased as “congenitally deformed”) is how I am to know that Jesus’ death and love are enough even for my sins.

And that is astonishing good news indeed.


Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers