Inclusion at Christmas

20160707_190430Scripture Reference: Matthew 1:1-17

Good evening.  I hope your enjoying this Holiday Season.  Now that we’re in Christmastide, tonight I want to look at Jesus’s lineage.  Among the men of renown, we see five women who were his ancestresses (including his Mama).  And if you’ve read your Bible, you see the first four were quite some interesting women.  Let’s read on…

First is Tamar (ref Gen. 38).  Homegirl was Judah’s daughter-in-law, who tricked him into sleeping with her (disguised as a prostitute) and getting her pregnant…

Second, we have Rahab the prostitute who was an ex-resident of Jericho .(ref Joshua 2 and 6)  She was the one who hid the Israelite spies in her house while they spied out Jericho.  For her helping the Israelites…

The third hails from Moab: Ruth (ref. her own book).  For a quick recap, Moab was the son of Lot and one of his daughters (who got Lot drunk) according to Genesis 19:37-talk about sexual issues!  Ruth hooks up with Boaz and later literally rolls in the hay with him…

Fourth is Bathsheba-a Jew (2 Samuel 11), which Matthew referred to as “Uriah’s wife.”  Next to Mary, Bathsheba’s tale is well known.  A party to adultery with King David; and an unwitting party to her husband’s murder…

And last-but not least-we have Mary.  The first four women point to Mary. Why? Mary is party to the scandal of Jesus’s birth: either her getting pregnant by the Holy Ghost; or quite possibly by Joseph-either way happening before marriage. To be honest, my money’s on the latter thanks to earlier manuscripts. And if the latter was the deal, I can accept this since a bastard messiah is more engaging and evocative to me.

Jesus clearly had some interesting ancestresses-each who wielded some sexual power to achieve an end.  Yet, they help to make up the Christ, a man who was pals with prostitutes and adulteresses.  Jesus would welcome the most marginalized-women in some sexual situation-in his world into his circle and show forth the Kingdom/Queendom of God.  Jesus was inclusive in his makeup and in who he interacted with-even when it violated the norms of his day.

Today, we too are called to be inclusive, regardless of: race; gender; class; religion; sexuality; etc.  Like Jesus, we too must step outside our “norms”.  We too must show forth the God Realm in our words and deeds.  We must reach to the most marginalized of our world and include them; for such is the Kingdom/Queendom of God.

Inclusion at Christmas, and always.

Peace!

(Image: Newark, NJ. July 7, 2016. By Me)

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Peace…

mt-bethel-church-winterGlory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14 (King James Version)

It’s now Christmas Day in my neck of the woods, so let me wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas to you my Dear Readers.  In fact, it’s after Midnight…like that Midnight long ago…

Mary just delivered Jesus into the world.  The only witnesses were Joseph and some animals in a filthy manger in Bethlehem.  It was night as a city slept and a baby cried as his tiny lungs took in their first of many breaths.  Although it was not cold as here in New Jersey, I could imagine the evening chill in that manger.  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus…alone in the night…

Nearby, shepherds doing their nightly watch over their flocks.  Up at night to watch out for potential thieves taking advantage of the darkness or nocturnal predators that roam the countryside.  It was these shepherds that God’s angelic host visited and announced the arrival of His/Her Christ into the world.  It was this host who sang in a Divine chorus of tonight’s Scripture above: a chorus praising God’s glory, peace on Earth, and God’s goodwill to humanity.

Contrary to what some may say, God’s gift of Christ was His/Her way of bringing peace to Earth.  In fact, Isaiah speaks of the “Prince of Peace” (ref. Isaiah 9:6).  And God knows we need peace.  Places like Syria are looking for peace from the strife of war.  First Nation people are looking for the peace from corporate and political assaults on their land and people.  Communities of Color are looking for peace from racism-whether under a hood, behind a badge, or behind a website.  Children look for peace from bullying, uncaring politicized educational systems,and predatory adults.  Families look for peace from the assault of popular, yet not benevolent culture onto their homes.  Churches look for peace to worship God and fellowship in safety and peace.

We also need individual peace.  The caretaker with responsibilities on his/her plate need peace from the strife of illness.  The single person needing peace from the howling taunts of loneliness and the pangs of desperation.  The homeless person needing peace from harassment from cops and others.  The struggling parent trying to provide needing peace from the assaults of outsiders.  The soldier in Afghanistan needing peace from the war about him/her, and the war of being away from home another year.  The spiritually mindful professional needing peace from shallow-minded colleagues.  The school student needing peace from bullies, less-ambitious students, and mean teachers.

God spoke peace to our world because of His/Her love for us.  “G00d will toward men (and women)” emphasizes God’s pleasure with us.  That God ain’t mad at us like some Evangelicals claim.  God was not giving a “turn or burn” sermon that night, no.  God was pleased with humankind and wanted peace for us.  In fact, Christmas is God’s reminder that He/She desires we live in peace-more so in our strife-torn age.  God is calling us to come together and heed the words of the Christ that baby would grow up into; the Christ who preached the “acceptable year of the LORD” to us (ref. Isaiah 61:2).

Peace on Earth, good will to humankind…doesn’t sound like a shabby deal.  Let’s make it a reality this season and every season, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Peace and a Merry Christmas.

(Photo: Mt. Bethel Church in Port Murray, NJ. 2015. Image by Me)

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Risk at Advent

unsafe18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (King James Version)

 

Risk at Advent?  What can make such a holy time risky?  Let’s examine this part of the Advent story cited above without all the Christmas goo.

This was a risky time for both Mary and Joseph.  If we look at verses 18 and 19, I can bet you a 2017 Tesla 90D that all wasn’t well in Judea.  First, Mary took a big risk in telling Joseph.  You see, Joseph was a just man (or “faithful to the law” in the New International Version), which meant Joseph was a faithful follower of the law of Moses, which he had on his side.  Joseph could have brought Mary before the priests and accused her of cheating.  This would have called for Mary’s dad to repay Joseph the bride price he paid for her.  Then Joseph-and probably Mary’s embarrassed dad-could have had Mary executed despite her pregnancy.  At best, even if Joseph did put Mary away privately-as if not to make her a public spectacle-Mary would still risked embarrassment, shame, shunned by most decent men, and a life of hardship.

Joseph also took a risk as well in taking Mary as his wife-and Jesus as his (adopted) son.  As I posted last Advent, Joseph risked ridicule from other guys who looked upon him as some cuckolded sap.  Joseph also risked shame himself as he would have been criticized for taking “spoiled goods” into his home.  He also risked taking the future Jesus under his wing since he wasn’t biologically Joseph’s son.  This is why I believe the angel of the Lord had to catch Joseph while he was in dream-state to have him take Mary; to encourage him to take the risk.

Plus, Joseph risked investing in a future he might not see.  He was buying in to God’s plan for human redemption through Mary’s unborn child.  Joseph took a risk based on a vision of an angel quoting an Old Testament prophet.

Advent reminds us that we take risks in following God; and sometimes they can be big ones. Mary and Joseph risked life, convention, social acceptance, and other things dear to them staying together and seeing Mary’s pregnancy to the end.  How many of us are risking status, relationships, career to listen to God.  However, we must also remember that taking such risks do have ultimate rewards in the Kingdom of God; and these rewards outweigh the risks.

Peace.

(Image: Warehouse Door. Newark, NJ 2015.  By Me)

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Prophecy at Advent

20160924_192204The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Isaiah 40:3

 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
Luke 1:76 (Both verses King James Version)

Advent is a time of prophecy:  God is calling us to prepare for the coming of His/Her Christ.  Heaven knows we need to hear the words of God’s prophets.

I repeated Isaiah 40:3 because it’s a fitting verse.  Here Isaiah calls for us to prepare the way of the Lord; to allow God access (a highway) in the desert.  This prophecy was spoken to Israel by God at a time when Israel was exiled in Babylon (6th Century BCE).  This Scripture was symbolic of a new exodus back to Israel led by God.  Israel did eventually return home…

However let’s fast-forward to the late 1st Century BCE.  Although exile was no longer the rule of the day, Israel was now under Roman rule and smack in the middle of Rome’s vast empire.  In this scenario we see Zechariah the priest prophesying over his newborn son, John.  Zechariah spoke that John (the future Baptist) would go before the Lord to “prepare his ways.”  Smacks of Isaiah doesn’t it?  If we were to look at Luke 1, we see that hope that Zechariah had for Israel (verses 68-79).  Eventually, John would prepare the way of the Lord, but as the forerunner for Jesus Christ-God’s ultimate prophet.

Today, in a world full of “fake news” and sound bites so prevalent you’d distrust your own mama, we need to prepare the way of the Lord.  Advent is a time for us to listen to the words of Isaiah and Luke as they prepare us for the coming Christ.  We need that hope that we read about in our hopeless time.  As I write this, we read about the Aleppo Offensive and the Berlin terror incident.  We hear about assassinations, terrorism, gloomy economic pictures-enough to bring hopelessness-even at Advent.  That’s why we need to hear prophecy at Advent; words of hope for us in the 21st Century CE.

What is all this prophecy?  That God can bring us out of sin through His/Her Christ.  God wants us to live the Kingdom life of truth, love, peace, justice and freedom.  God is calling us out of the noise and fake news of our society, to embrace the Divine.  Thank God we have the words of His/Her prophets to read, meditate, and act on.  We’ve been in exile from our true home, God; and under the rule of sin’s illusions. Now it’s time to come home to the Kingdom of God and live the life He/She desires for us to live.

Please God, send us your prophets so we can hear You this Advent Season and always.

Peace.

(Image: World Trade Center, September 2016. By Me)

 

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Silence at Advent

Processed with VSCO with b4 preset

A Silent Moment (Image by Me)

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is old too.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I serve God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will have to be silent. You will not be able to speak until after John is born. That’s because you did not believe my words. They will come true at the time God has chosen.”
Luke 1:18-19 (New International Readers Version)

Advent calls for silence: a silence that calls for us to step back and ponder about God and His/Her gift of the Christ.  In our noisy time that calls us to believe Madison Avenue and the talking heads; God calls for us to change lanes and believe on what God has to say.  And if we’re not careful, God will make us silent so we can listen to Him/Her.

Tonight’s Scripture bears witness to this.  You know the backstory which led to the passage above.  Now we come to a mute Zechariah-he ain’t talking jack.  In fact, we see after the above passage that Zechariah had to take a crash course in sign language.  This sucks-especially since Zechariah needed his voice for his office of priest; and they didn’t have texting back then.  In fact, the next time Zechariah opens his mouth is after John is born.   When Zechariah spoke again, he gave a song of praise to shut down any Sunday morning “praise and worship” hour.

Now when you read the whole story, you’d think that’s all there was.  However, I believe there was more to it than meets the eye.  I believe during those silent months, Zechariah had time to do some thinking about his relationship with God.  You see, although Zechariah-along with wife-was righteous in God’s eyes, I think he might have became jaded with the noise of his situation: the piteous talk and the taunts of others.  Over the years, Zechariah started to listen to all the crap about him and soon believed that his and Elisabeth’s cause was hopeless.  And we know when one feels hopeless, they soon resign themselves to whatever lot they’re in.

So the silence gives Zechariah a chance to think.  It was in those months Zechariah began to see his situation and how he gave up on God.  Zechariah had a chance to do some soul searching without the luxury of talking to drown out his thoughts.  Now Zechariah had to listen to his thoughts…his heart.  Then when John was born, Zechariah realized that God is still good and does not lie.  Hence his postpartum praise service.

We’re the same way today.  We listen to the chatter of ourselves and others regarding our lives to the place we stop having hope for some dream deferred like Zechariah and Elizabeth. Or it can be some situation we’re involved in-directly or indirectly.  We listen to this “talk” to the point we begin to believe it.   Then, we believe the talk to the point we internalize it and begin to lose hope and resign ourselves to whatever is out there.  Then when God reaches out to us with good news, we brush God off as if He/She was messing with us.  Then God must “silence” our thoughts so that we can think about our relationship with Him/Her and see that God is good.

Advent is a time of silence.  We need to tune out the Holiday chatter and think about God’s still goodness to us by sending Christ into the world.  We need to stop listening to the talk of others that can cause us to lose hope.  We must realize that God is good and will still make good His/Her promises.  Then, like Zechariah, we too can have something to praise God about.

Peace.

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The Door At Advent

2013-10-12-20-32-22“I serve the Lord,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me just as you said it would.” Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:38 (New International Reader’s Version)

…Once through this door, you can never return…
The Prisoner: “A,B, and C” (1967)

I’m digressing a bit with tonight’s Advent posting to expand on a video I posted on Facebook this afternoon while I was at work.  Needless to say, I can say more now that I’m home.

At some time in your life, you’ll come to a door you’ll have to cross through.  It’s not a literal door, however it’s a door you come to sooner or later; if you haven’t already.  It’s the door to your dream-the one God placed in your heart from before you were born.  It could be leaving that soul-sucking job and becoming an entrepreneur; or going into a field that makes you come alive.  It could be the relationship you’ve been praying about, and God might be orchestrating the end of your current (dead) one.  It could be a new chapter in your life that is presented to you, and you’re ready to close the present one.

The question is now: will you go through the door?  As the quote from The Prisoner advised, once you go through the door you can never go back.  In fact, once you go through why would you want to go back?  When you cross over, you’ll become a new person transformed by the crossing.

Don’t worry about who or what you’re leaving behind.  They were meant to be left behind.  They were there for a season; and like a season they too had to pass.  Sad to say, many won’t have the faith and courage that you have to go through.  What and where you leave behind are not as important as to where and what (and who) the door will lead you to.

When you get to the door, let me encourage you to go through it.

For if you don’t through the door, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering, “What if?”

Mary came to the door when she was selected to carry the future Jesus as her child.  Up to that point she was an ordinary Judean teenage girl betrothed to marry Joseph.  Mary’s life was circumscribed by Jewish law and custom.  However, Mary stepped through the door and allowed God to use her as part of His/Her plan for humankind.   Mary left behind “convention,” knowing that she couldn’t go back after accepting God’s plan.

Mary could have said, “No.”  Part of me believes that in that moment when Gabriel made the announcement, Mary could have refused.  Maybe Mary thought that God would have found another woman to fulfill the role.  However, Mary would have sat on the side of her bed for years to come wondering “What if?”-knowing she was to be part of God’s eternal plan and she balked.

The door is there, or will be there waiting for you and I to step through it.  If you came to the door already and didn’t step through it; you may be feeling hurt and asking the “What if’s”.  However, I believe in a God of multiple chances-regardless of others say.  The door you missed-or another-might appear in your life again or for the first time.  If you see the door, stand up, shut up, and go through it.

Even though we’re in Advent, let this post encourage you in every season and every day.  Step through the door-during this Advent season and whenever.  You might never know what you’ll find…

…but you’ll be glad you did!

Peace!

(Image: Art gallery in Newark, 2013.  By Me)

 

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Sanctuary at Advent

shelter24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months…

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth…

56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Luke 1:24; 39-40; 56 (King James Version)

Tonight’s post has been written in light of recent events.  One of which is that white supremacist Dylann Root was convicted on all counts of the murder of the nine Black parishioners of Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, SC whose place of sanctuary he violated.  Root is currently pending sentencing.  I dedicate tonight’s post to the memory of the slain.

The other: during his Presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to deport any undocumented immigrants.  However, this article from nj.com stated that Newark will stand behind its undocumented immigrant residents according to Mayor Ras Baraka.  A similar move by mayors of other American cities, including Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia, who stated that Philly will still be a “sanctuary city”.

Our heroines from tonight’s Scripture, Elisabeth and Mary each needed sanctuary.  Unlike some Christians, I don’t believe the days at Elisabeth’s were all praise and fun.  Both extraordinary pregnancies turned two ordinary women into objects of curiosity and-quite possibly-shame: Elisabeth’s age and being a priest’s wife; and Mary’s unmarried status would be cause for concern around their society. In a patriarchal world that did not value the feminine, these women needed that space all the more.  I believe Elisabeth and Mary were able to talk freely and express their true feelings.  I also believe that Elisabeth gave Mary the wisdom needed for the days ahead.  Plus, they had that privacy they wouldn’t have had if they stayed in the public eye.

Now, I’m not talking about these “safe spaces” you see cropping up in college campuses resembling overgrown nursery schools designed to mollycoddle whinny and wimpy college kids because of some supposed “threat.”  What I’m talking are about legitimate spaces where people who need space to breathe, be themselves, yes, and be safe: churches, the homeless shelter, the crisis shelter, that person’s home you feel safe in-places like that.  Even cities that uphold the dignity of the undocumented and provides sanctuary for them.

In a crowded world that embraces authoritarianism, we need sanctuaries.  We need places where we can be free to express our humanity without danger.  We need our churches to be safe-despite the Dylann Roofs of our world.   We need homeless shelters to protect the homeless from the elements and mean people.  We need crisis shelters for the battered, bruised and addicted among us.  We need cities that will say “NO!” to draconian immigration policies.  We need places of refuge, of safety, of humanity.

Advent calls us to that sanctuary that God provides.  Her sanctuary protects us from the illusions of the “world”; and allows us to be human.  During the first Advent, Elisabeth and Mary had their sanctuary.  We of today’s Advent are called to sanctuary: a place to be safe, to be whole, to be human…

Peace.

(Image: “Shelter” by Me)

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