Posts Tagged 'messenger'

For Feb. 2, 2014: The Presentation in the Temple

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi means ‘my messenger’. The Lord’s messenger is coming like a blast furnace and caustic lye soap to burn and scour away the people’s impurities—verse 5 names sorcery, adultery, false witness, keeping wages low, and oppressing widows, orphans, and aliens—so that offerings in the Temple will once again please God.

The Response            Psalm 84

The striking imagery of Psalm 84 depicts the house of the Lord as a place of integrity where the one true God will be revealed in glory—and where even humble sparrows and swallows are safe and welcome.

The Epistle            Hebrews 2:14-18

Where the reading from the book of Malachi depicted God’s messenger as judge and purifier, the epistle to the Hebrews tells the story differently: Jesus comes to take on our humanity so he can pay the price of our sins, and dies so that even death can no longer separate us from God.

The Gospel            Luke 2:22-40

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph take him to the temple in Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification as the law requires. There they hear astonishing prophecies about their little boy; the first is what we have come to call the Nunc Dimittis (‘now you dismiss’) from its first two words in Latin.

 

 

Ponderables

This Sunday we celebrate the ritual presentation of forty-day-old Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. The day’s readings continue the theme of Epiphany season: Jesus revealed to the world and coming into his ministry. They contain an interesting subtheme, however, of welcome to the marginalized. The reading from Malachi, which we also heard on the second Sunday of Advent, names wickednesses that God’s messenger is coming to burn and scour away—and most of them victimize minimum-wage-earners, widows, orphans, and aliens. The psalmist sings the glories of God’s dwelling place—where even the tiniest twittery birds are safe. The parents who present Jesus are too poor to afford the lamb of Leviticus 12:3-8, so they bring just the Title-I-reduced-price-lunch equivalent in two small fowl—yet, as Simeon and Anna tell it, this kid is everyone’s best hope.

What this all means, Hebrews 2:14-18 explains. It is our God’s style to welcome the nobody and the nestling chick in God’s house before the prince and the prelate. It is our God’s style to be conceived without benefit of clergy, born away from home at bureaucracy’s behest, and exiled as an undocumented emigrant. It is our God’s style to comfort the careworn and nettle the nabobs. And it is precisely our God’s style to endure the most extreme execution the Roman Empire could engineer so that we may grasp for good that even grim death cannot keep us out of God’s good graces… if we will but listen and love God and love one another.

If Jesus walked into our church, would he find factions or a community united in love?

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For Sept. 29, 2013: the Feast of St Michael

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

For the feast of St Michael and All Angels, we take a break from jeremiads to read an account of what Jacob dreams the night he flees from his justifiably angry brother Esau. He is in unfamiliar territory where people worship other gods—but the dream is itself a messenger by which he learns that, even in this place and even given the dirty tricks he’s pulled on his brother, he and God are by no means finished with each other.

The Response            Psalm 103 or 103:19-22

“Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion; bless the Lord, O my soul.”

The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

To English speakers, using the word angel of allies of the Devil in dragon form sounds odd, but angel comes from a Greek word meaning ‘messenger’—or, perhaps more fittingly for this reading—‘emissary’. That the reading ends with the angry devil thrown down to earth is sobering for those of us still here—but the good news is that our deceitful accuser is no longer the only one representing our cases before God.

The Gospel            John 1:47-51

“‘I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 

Further thoughts

What does it take to be an angel?

Whatever it is, Jacob seems an unlikely candidate. As this Sunday’s reading opens, he is running for his life from his elder twin Esau, whom he has fleeced again, and perhaps from his father’s God as well. A halo is clearly not part of his ensemble. When it is too dark to go further, he falls asleep on pagan ground, his pillow a stone that may be from a pagan’s cairn and the “ladder” of his dream the ramp or stairway of a pagan temple. Yet God and God’s angels are there; Psalm 103’s reference to “all places of [God’s] dominion” must mean anywhere and everywhere. Jacob is awed and humbled, and opened to becoming God’s malakh himself.

For malakh, the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘angel’, is a wide-ranging title. A malakh could be anything from an errand runner to an emperor’s emissary, or leader of a synagogue or one of the seven early churches of Revelation’s opening chapters. The writer of Revelation seems to have this breadth in mind: the unnamed “loud voice” in heaven that declaims the dragon’s downfall names the accused as “our comrades”, as offhandedly as though it were obvious—and that means us. Is part of the requirement for a malakh simply to keep showing up?

Nathanael’s story in the gospel suggests that this may be so. In the gospel he appears as the polar opposite of Jacob, “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” and the fig tree under which Jesus spies him is the traditional place of a rabbi or scholar in study. Though guileless, Nathanael is not snarkless: when Philip invites him to see Jesus in the verses preceding, he responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nevertheless, Nathanael shows up—and, perhaps to his own surprise, confesses Jesus as the Messiah.

Showing up is good. Showing up with awe and readiness is even better. How do I do that, Lord?

For Dec. 9, 2012: 2 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

The book of Malachi has news for Jews in Jerusalem after the exile in the fifth century BC: the Lord’s malaki or messenger is coming—and bringing judgment that will burn or scour away impurity to make the priests (the descendants of Levi) righteous. The promise of righteousness is restated in Canticle 16, the prophecy of Zechariah about his son John the Baptist that is taken from Luke 1:68-92.

The Response            Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79)

The Epistle            Philippians 1:3-11

The first church in Europe was the church that Paul himself founded at Philippi, in northeastern Greece. The beginning of the letter to this church glows with Paul’s pride and joy in the Philippians and with their mutual love. Paul also looks forward to the Philippians’ overflowing love yielding a harvest of righteousness.

The Gospel            Luke 3:1-6

 

Further thoughts

Advent calls us to expect the unexpected, and to do something serious about it.

Because we worship the God of Abraham and of David, we look back to the covenants and the prophecies of the Old Testament. The covenants were to bind our forebears in the faith to God and to each other as God’s own people. Because things did not work out that way, the prophets called God’s people to repentance (and called, and called), foretelling shame and disaster for Israel but also promising salvation through a mighty and righteous king. The book of Malachi does this, though with a twist: the Lord is coming, and sending a messenger first, but neither the messenger nor the king may be exactly who or what was expected—and those to whom the messenger comes are on notice that they may not entirely enjoy the result, for the people who are supposedly holiest (that is, the priests) are in serious need of profound purification.

The prophecy plays out in the New Testament at least as unexpectedly. The speaker in Canticle 16 is Zechariah, priest of Israel; the child about whom he prophesies is the unlooked-for son of his old age, whom we know as John the Baptist. This son of priests grows up not to live comfortably overseeing the offerings of grain and incense and animals in the Temple and making nice with the powerful people of the day that Luke’s gospel lists. Instead, he lives rough in the wilderness until God calls him to preach repentance to all. How much more unexpected could that have been?

Whatever we are doing now to prepare our houses and workplaces for relatives’ visits, cookie exchanges, and holiday parties, the message of Advent is clear: the most important cleaning and preparation that we undertake is in our hearts, no matter the season.


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