Thursday, December 30, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
A Christmas Thought
The Love Light in His Eyes
December 25, 2010
By Dennis S. Hankins
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
What love is bestowed upon us this Christmas morn. The purest of all love is wrapped first in swaddling cloths, and sleeps in a manger. This morning, we will try to replicate that love, and give one another gifts; gifts wrapped in the glorious colors of Christmas.
After two thousand years, it is hard to understand how it is the world may not know him. Yet it was into a cruel and dark world Jesus came on that first Christmas. In fact, a tyrant Roman King, tried to kill him at the outset. At age 33 he will be bruised for our sins and wounded for our transgressions. Yet like a sheep, he will not open his mouth; a thief will speak in his defense. A centurion will confess that he is the Son of God. And Mary and John will receive him from the cross and wrap him in a burial cloth.
The reason the world does not know us is because it did not know him. But this lack of perception does not nullify a simple yet profound truth: God's love has made us his children. What manner of love is this? It is a love that fills a dark world with imperishable light. But it is not a light of condemnation, rather the rays of this light draw us toward what is good and perfect. Some may resist its power, but in the end, God's light of love prevails. The greatest power in the world, is the love light that shines from that manger in Bethlehem.
And the same love light shines today. It shines through you and me to remind the world that there is something greater than sin; there is something more powerful than betrayal. It is even stronger than death. It is God's love light that shines today. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And the glory shone all around!
When the shepherds found him, they found him as the angel had said, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger. And looking down into that manger, their eyes looked into the face of God, and they saw the love light in his eyes. Amen.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 19, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
A Love Story
...An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
On this last Sunday of Advent, we sense that something really special is about to happen. Once again the world is reminded that things are not as they appear. For two thousand years ago, Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, visited a young maiden of Nazareth. No one would have predicted that God would soon be living in the womb of a virgin whose name is Mary.
We are not told exactly when Joseph became aware of Mary’s destiny. Luke explains that Mary was betrothed to Joseph at the time of Gabriel’s visit. It is possible if not probable that Mary told him immediately. Today’s gospel reminds us that Joseph is considering how to best protect Mary. After all, he is a just man and unwilling to put Mary to shame. Joseph knows the applicable laws regarding infidelity which could implicate Mary and condemn her to death by stoning. Not only does Joseph believe Mary’s explanation, but he deliberates in his own way how to divorce her quietly.
Christmas is a story; a true story. I want to tell you Joseph’s story; a love story.
Taking Mary by the hand, Joseph looks deep into her eyes and knows in his heart Mary’s destiny.
“Mary,” Joseph speaks in a whisper, as the late winds of March whips the dust around them. “You said Elizabeth is also with child.”
“Yes.” Mary looks down at her garment bulging in the middle as the wind blows about her. “The angel of the Lord told me that she is now six months along,” she says as she looks again into Joseph’s anxious eyes.
“Ok. This is what you must do. No one will think anything of it. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited your kin folk in the hill country of Judea. You will be safe for the moment, and I will have a few days to think about all that is about to happen,” says Joseph.
Mary is no more than a few days into her pregnancy when she visits Elizabeth. But deep within her womb God is becoming flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Mary’s face still shows the late blushes of youth, only now her eyes suggest she is pondering in her heart a deep and growing mystery.
Agreeing with Joseph and trusting his judgment, Mary immediately prepares to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Providentially, a family in Nazareth is going to Judea, too. Mary will travel with them. It will take about four days to make the journey; Mary is happy to have some time away to pray. There is much to pray about.
In the meantime, Joseph spends more time before Jehovah.
“What must I do?” Joseph prays as he begs God for wisdom. “I have lived as Mary has lived. Following you and obeying you with my whole being is all I have ever done; it is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he continues. “Please, Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear my cry.”
Joseph knows in his heart what fate awaits Mary and maybe even him. Who would believe her? Who would believe him? A million questions invade his heart. Everyone of them have the same answer: death.
“I am of the house of David, the sweet singer and King of Israel,” as he reminds Jehovah of his credentials.
It is the spiritual equivalent of, “Hey, don’t you know who I am?”
Desperation drips from every word that falls from Joseph’s lips.
“Please tell me how to embrace this mystery. Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; I flood my bed with tears.”
Joseph descends into a deep sleep. But even here, the mystery is near; God is near.
The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. God has heard Joseph’s prayers, and he sends his angel with this message: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bare a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph awakes from his sleep. The sun is peeking over the distant hills of Nazareth; the light of God’s love is already shining brightly in Joseph’s heart. The fear that once gripped him is now gone; he must tell Mary.
Quickly, Joseph packs his things including dry meat, figs, and some fruit. He leaves before the sun wakes up the rest of Nazareth. Along the way, Joseph rehearses the dream. He praises God for making real to him the mystery of salvation. “And you shall call his name Jesus,” the words of the angel echo in his heart. “He will save his people from their sins,” “Yeshua, God saves!” he says, talking to his beast of burden who seems to be listening.
Arriving in the community of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he asks someone for directions to their home. Mary and Elizabeth are outside basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Joseph quickens his step. His heart now beats with the promise that resides in Mary’s womb.
Looking up, Mary is blinded by the sun. She recognizes the voice, but she only sees an outline of the man walking toward her.
“Mary!” They embrace. No one can imagine the gift of love they possess for each other. Their love is mutual because of the gift of love growing in Mary’s womb.
“I know,” Joseph whispers in Mary’s ear. “I had a dream. The angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream!”
Mary listens as if she already knows, but she does not interrupt.
“What did the angel say to you?” she asks, as if she doesn’t know.
Joseph wipes tears from his eyes. Elizabeth draws closer to hear. Mary’s face is now framed by the sun that is setting behind her. Joseph speaks slowly and deliberately. No longer sounding anxious or worried, he says: “The angel told me not to be afraid to be your husband. The angel said, ‘that which is conceived in you is of the Holy Spirit.’ ”
And Joseph did receive Mary and her baby into his heart and into his home, providing for them, loving them, and protecting them. But Joseph knew her not; fully satisfied to be known as the husband of Mary. With all of his heart he lived his calling as the foster father of the Son of God. Joseph and Mary raised the child that had brought them together. And together they watched him grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with man.
So you see, the real season of Christmas is near. It brings to us a story of love that began in a little village called Nazareth. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I’m glad you asked.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. It’s a love story...
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 12, 2010, Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Shades of Doubt
“Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
We are not told exactly why John is asking this question. The fame of Christ has reached John in solitary confinement. The stories of the miracles done by Jesus are told to him perhaps by a sympathetic jailor. Through the thick walls he can hear the prisoners talking about Jesus. All alone, John muses on these wonderful works of Jesus while he contemplates his own life and his impending death.
Perhaps late at night, alone in his dark cell, shades of doubt haunt him. Not outright unbelief, mind you. For a man who has slept out under the midnight sky for several years, he asks the most important question in the world: “Are you the One?” It’s the last recorded words we have of this man who is on death row.
The most exalted understanding we have of Christ comes from John the Baptist. John himself gave testimony that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is John who says, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” There are no doubts here.
John’s own conception and birth is the stuff of miracles. Zechariah was an old man and his wife, Elizabeth, was barren. There was not a chance that they could have a child. But while praying and burning incense in the Temple, Gabriel comes from God to give Zechariah the good news. He tells this faithful man that he and his wife will have a son. “Unbelievable,” says Zechariah. So Gabriel struck Zechariah with nine months of speechlessness. Not until Zechariah writes on a tablet at his son’s birth, “His name is John,” does his speech return. I’m sure that John was taught from his youth to trust God and to never doubt him.
Even when Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, John leaps in his mother’s womb. It is in this meeting we hear Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit, declare to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” I would bet the bank that Elizabeth told young John about this day. It would not surprise me in the least that she and her husband often rehearsed all of these spiritual moments with their son, John. He was taught, no doubt, from day one to have faith in all of God’s ways.
But you know, sometimes it's a little harder to believe. Shades of doubt creep across the eyes of our heart and “poof,” it all seems a little remote. God seems distant. We cease praying instead of praying without ceasing. What once brought joy now brings questions. It's in these moments we ask, "Are you really the way, the truth, and the life?"
The reading from James today reminds us of the patience and perseverance of the farmer. He waits for the precious fruit of his labor. After the rain and sunshine, and more rain, and then some more sunshine, the seed will sprout and the harvest will come. I remember when I was about fifteen, planting my first garden. Mrs. Murray was on my paper route and she was past the age of life to be out in the hot sun taking care of a garden. She offered to get the garden ready if I wanted to try my hand at it. I could go out my back door and hang a right at the alley and be at Mrs. Murray’s house in about two minutes.
The biggest thing I remember about this experience is that I was not patient. I did not have any experience at planting a garden and it showed. To make sure the seed was still under the veil of dirt covering it, I remember scraping away some dirt to see how things were doing. Some of the most patient and faith filled people I’ve ever met have been farmers. My gardening has gotten better with age. But even now, shades of doubt can creep in.
Sometimes, and it will happen, we encounter shades of doubt like John the Baptist. We will ask in those times like he did, “Tell me one more time who you are.” As John’s disciples leave with the message Jesus gave them for John, Jesus commends his friend, John. He tells the people that he is a man firm in his convictions and faith. He’s not a reed shaken by the wind. Nor did he seek comfort in fine clothes and comfortable surroundings. He lived and ate in the desert. By day he preached about the mighty one to come and how everyone should get ready to meet him. And by night he mused on the Almighty in his heart and refreshed himself in God’s love.
But once in a while we all drop our head and wonder out loud, “Is it worth it? Is Jesus for real?” With John, let’s hear again the gracious report, a report long ago foretold by Isaiah, “The lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
And then Jesus says of John, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” And of you and me, Jesus says, “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
About John, and about you and me, Jesus has no doubts.