Archive for the ‘November 16’ Category

Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 28, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Temple at Jerusalem

Above:   The Temple at Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

Optimism and Pessimism

NOVEMBER 16, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 10:1-19

Psalm 98

Luke 17:20-37

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Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

–Psalm 98:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Psalm 98 is the most optimistic reading for this day.  In Ezekiel 10 (carried over into Chapter 11) the Presence of Yahweh departs from Jerusalem, leaving it open to invasion and destruction by foreigners.  The divine Presence remains absent until Ezekiel 43.  In Luke 17:21 the Kingdom of God is present yet persecution and generally dark, eschatological times are en route.  On the other hand, in Luke 18, Jesus encourages his followers to continue praying and never to lose heart.  There is a way through the difficult times while living or dead, and always faithful to God.

The tone of these readings, taken together, fits the time of the church year well.  In the Revised Common Lectionary and several other lectionaries the selected portions of scripture become increasingly apocalyptic during the last few weeks before Advent and into that season.  Some Confessional Lutheran bodies even go so far as to label the last four Sundays of the Season after Pentecost the End Time Season.

May we remember that out of the creative destruction in Revelation 4-20 comes a new creation in Chapters 21 and 22.  Hope in God is real and well-founded, for God will win in the end.

That is a reason for optimism.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/optimism-and-pessimism/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 28, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Parable of the Wicked Servants

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servants

Image in the Public Domain

Humility and Arrogance

NOVEMBER 15, 16, and 17, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 4:4-18 (Thursday)

Daniel 4:19-27 (Friday)

Daniel 4:28-37 (Saturday)

Psalm 16 (All Days)

1 Timothy 6:11-21 (Thursday)

Colossians 2:6-15 (Friday)

Mark 12:1-12 (Saturday)

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FYI:  Daniel 4:1-37 in Protestant Bibles equals Daniel 4:1-34 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox translations.

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Arrogance can be easy to muster and humility can be difficult to manifest.  I know this well, for

  1. I have been prone to intellectual arrogance, and
  2. humility can be painful.

To be fair, some people I have known have nurtured my intellectual arrogance via their lack of intellectual curiosity and their embrace of anti-intellectualism.  That reality, however, does nothing to negate the spiritual problem.  I am glad to report, however, that it is a subsiding problem, by grace.

The internal chronology of the Book of Daniel defies historical accuracy; I came to understand that fact years ago via close study of the text.  The Book of Daniel is folkloric and theological, not historical and theological.  The folktale for these three days concerns King Nebuchadrezzar II (a.k.a. Nebuchadnezzar II), King of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, who reigned from 605 to 562 B.C.E.  The arrogant monarch, the story tells us, fell into insanity.  Then he humbled himself before God, who restored the king’s reason.

So now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of Heaven, all of whose works are just and whose ways are right, and who is able to humble those who behave arrogantly.

–Daniel 4:34, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is folklore, not history, but the lesson regarding the folly of arrogance is true.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12) exists in the context of conflict between Jesus and Temple authorities during the days immediately prior to his death.  In Chapter 11 our Lord and Savior cleansed the Temple and, in a symbolic act, cursed a fig tree as a sign of his rejection of the Temple system.  In Chapters 11 and 12 Temple authorities attempted to entrap Jesus in his words.  He evaded the traps and ensnared his opponents instead.  In this context Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  The vineyard was Israel, the slain slaves/servants were prophets, and the beloved son was Jesus.  The tenants were the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  They sought that which belonged to God, for Christ was the heir to the vineyard.

1 Timothy 6:11-21 continues a thread from earlier in the chapter.  Greed is bad, we read:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

–6:9-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Faithful people of God, however, are to live differently, pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (verse 11).  The wealthy are to avoid haughtiness and reliance on uncertain riches, and to trust entirely in God (verse 17).  Further instructions for them include being generous and engaging in good works (verse 18).

Complete dependence upon God is a Biblical lesson from both Testaments.  It is a pillar of the Law of Moses, for example, and one finds it in 1 Timothy 6, among many other parts of the New Testament.  Colossians 2:6-15 drives the point home further, reminding us that Christ has cancelled the debt of sin.

Forgiveness as the cancellation of debt reminds me of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35).  A king forgave a large debt–10,000 talents–a servant owed to him.  Given that one talent was fifteen years’ worth of wages for a laborer, and that the debt was therefore 150,000 years’ worth of wages, the amount of the debt was hyperbolic.  The point of the hyperbole in the parable was that the debt was impossible to repay.  The king was merciful, however.  Unfortunately, the servant refused to forgive debts other people owed to him, so the king revoked the debt forgiveness and sent the servant to prison.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

–Matthew 18:35, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Just as God forgives us, we have a responsibility to forgive others.  Doing so might require us to lay aside illusions of self-importance.  That has proven true in my life.

The path of walking humbly with God and acknowledging one’s total dependence upon God leads to liberation from illusions of grandeur, independence, and self-importance.  It leads one to say, in the words of Psalm 16:1 (Book of Common Worship, 1993):

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/humility-and-arrogance/

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Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 28, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Last Judgment (Polish)

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

Run for the Hills

NOVEMBER 16, 17, and 18, 2017

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The Collect:

Righteous God, our merciful master,

you own the earth and all its people,

and you give us all that we have.

Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom,

and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 6:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 7:1-9 (Friday)

Ezekiel 7:10-19 (Saturday)

Psalm 90 (All Days)

Revelation 16:1-7 (Thursday)

Revelation 16:8-21 (Friday)

Matthew 12:43-45 (Saturday)

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Our iniquities you have set before you,

and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

When you are angry, all our days are gone;

we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

–Psalm 90:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Lutheran collect addresses “Righteous God, our merciful master,” but mercy seems in short supply in the readings for these days.  In them various populations–the idolatrous Hebrews in Ezekiel, the Romans in Revelation, and “this wicked generation” in Matthew–face or will experience the wrath of God.  As I have noted many times, deliverance of the oppressed constitutes bad news for the unrepentant oppressors, so I recognize some mercy in these lessons.  Yet the tone is overwhelmingly negative.

Joy of the day of the coming of the Lord must wait for another post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 7, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 18:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF THE SAINTS AND MARTYRS OF THE PACIFIC

THE FEAST OF ELIE NAUD, HUGUENOT WITNESS TO THE FAITH

THE FEAST OF JANE LAURIE BORTHWICK, TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, POET

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/run-for-the-hills/

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Devotion for November 14, 15, and 16 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

13231v

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part XI:  Getting On With Life

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2019

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2019

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 29:1-19 (November 14)

Jeremiah 30:1-24 (November 15)

Jeremiah 31:1-17, 23-24 (November 16)

Psalm 36 (Morning–November 14)

Psalm 130 (Morning–November 15)

Psalm 56 (Morning–November 16)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening–November 14)

Psalms 32 and 139 (Evening–November 15)

Psalms 100 and 62 (Evening–November 16)

Matthew 26:36-56 (November 14)

Matthew 26:36-56 (November 15)

Matthew 27:1-10 (November 16)

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The Lord is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

of whom then shall I be afraid?

–Psalm 27, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The Prophet Jeremiah relayed advice from God to those exiled from the Kingdom of Judah to Chaldea in 597 BCE:  Get on with life.  The wicked will perish, a faithful remnant will see divine deliverance, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem will occur.  None of the members of the original audience lived to see that day, but it did come to pass.

Jeremiah prophesied during dark days which preceded even darker ones.  “Dark days which preceded even darker ones” summarized the setting of the Matthew readings accurately.  But, after the darker days came and went wondrously and blessedly brighter ones arrived.

I know firsthand of the sting of perfidy and of the negative consequences of actions of well-intentioned yet mistaken people.  Sometimes anger is essential to surviving in the short term.  Yet anger poisons one’s soul after remaining too long.  Slipping into vengeful thoughts feels natural.

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Psalm 137:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

Yet such an attitude obstructs the path one must trod when getting on with life and remaining faithful to God therein.  Leaving one’s enemies and adversaries to God for mercy or judgment (as God decides) and getting on with the daily business of living is a great step of faithfulness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 4, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS CARACCIOLO, COFOUNDER OF THE MINOR CLERKS REGULAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/jeremiah-and-matthew-part-xi-getting-on-with-life/

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Week of Proper 27: Friday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 27: Saturday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:  Mother Teresa Plaque

Image Source = Michal Manas

Being of God

NOVEMBER 16 and 17, 2018

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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FIRST READING FOR FRIDAY

2 John 1-13 (Revised English Bible):

The Elder to the Lady chosen by God and her children whom I love in the truth, and not I alone but all who know the truth.  We love you for the sake of the truth that dwells among us and will be with us for ever.

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

I was very glad to find that some of your children are living by the truth, in accordance with the command we have received from the Father.  And now, Lady, I have a request to make of you.  Do not think I am sending a new command; I am recalling the one we have had from the beginning:  I ask that we love one another.  What love means is to live according to the commands of God.  This is the command that was given you from the beginning, to be your rule of life.

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.  Any such person is the deceiver and antichrist.  See to it that you do not lose what we have worked for, but receive your reward in full.

Anyone who does not stand by the teaching about Christ, but goes beyond it, does not possess God; he who stands by it possesses both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you who does not bring this teaching, do not admit him to your house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him becomes an accomplice in his evil deeds.

I have much to write to you, but I do not care to put it down on paper.  Rather, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.  The children of your Sister, chosen by God, send your greetings.

FIRST READING FOR SATURDAY

3 John 1-14 (Revised English Bible):

The Elder to dear Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

Dear friend, above all, I pray that things may go well with you, and that you may enjoy good health; I know it is well with your soul.  I was very glad when some fellow-Christians arrived and told me of your faithfulness to the truth; indeed you live by the truth.  Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are living by the truth.

Dear friend, you show a fine loyalty in what you do for our fellow-Christians, though they are strangers to you.  They have testified to your kindness before the congregation here.  Please help them on their journey in a manner worthy of the God we serve.  It was for love of Christ’s name that they went out; and they would accept nothing from unbelievers.  Therefore we ought to support such people, an so play our part in spreading the truth.

I wrote to the congregation, but Diotrephes, who enjoys taking the lead, will have nothing to do with us.  So when I come, I will draw attention to the things he is doing; he lays nonsensical and spiteful charges  to receive follow-Christians himself, and interferes with those who would receive them, and tries to expel them from the congregation.

Dear friend, follow good examples, not bad ones.  The well-doer is a child of God; the evildoer has never seen God.

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone, and even by the truth itself.  I add my testimony, and you know that my testimony is true.

I had much to write to you, but I do not care to set it down with pen and ink.  I hope to see you very soon, when we will talk face to face.  Peace be with you.  Your friends here send you greetings.  Greet each of our friends by name.

RESPONSE FOR FRIDAY

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3 Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4 You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

RESPONSE FOR SATURDAY

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

COMPOSITE GOSPEL READING

Luke 17:26-18:18 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus said to his disciples,]

As it was in the days of Noah, will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  They ate and drank and married, until the day that Noah went into the ark and the flood came and made an end of them all.  So too in the days of Lot, they ate and drank, they bought and sold, they planted and built; but on the day that Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained from the sky and made an end of them all.  it will be like that on  the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

On that day if anyone is on the roof while his belongings are in the house, he must not go down to fetch them; and if anyone is in the field, he must not turn back.  Remember Lot’s wife.  Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life will gain it.

I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed:  one will be taken, the other left.  There will be two women grinding corn:  one will be taken, the other left.

When they heard this they asked,

Where, Lord?

He said,

Where the carcass is, there will the vultures gather.

Jesus told them a parable to show that they should keep on praying and never lose heart.

In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God or respect for man, and in the same city there was a widow who kept coming before him to demand justice against her opponent.  For a time he refused; but in the end he said to himself, “Although I have no fear of God or respect for man, yet this widow is so great a nuisance that I will give her justice before she wears me out with her persistence.”  The Lord said, “You hear what the unjust judge says.  Then will not God give justice to his chosen, to whom he listens day and night?  I tell you, he will give them justice soon enough.  But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

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The Collect:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 27:  Friday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/week-of-proper-27-friday-year-1/

Week of Proper 27:  Saturday, Year 1:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/week-of-proper-27-saturday-year-1/

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The authorship of 2 John and 3 John is a matter of scholarly debate; did John the Evangelist compose them?  The answer is irrelevant for my purposes, but the epistles are, by the way, indisputably products of the Johannine tradition.

The brief epistles, taken together, address to related problems:  heretical, wandering preachers and power-hungry local elders.  Wandering preachers were commonplace, and some, such as Demetrius (in 3 John 12) were orthodox.  Yet many others were not.  These were the “deceivers” who “have gone out into the world” and did not “acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 7).  As for power-hungry local elders, Diotrephes, who did not welcome and who interfered with Demetrius, was especially troublesome.  Diotrephes exhibited an especially malicious streak.

I ask that we love one another.  What loves means is to live according to the commands of God.  This is the command that was given you from the beginning, to be your rule of life.–2 John 5b-6, Revised English Bible

Yes, one can commit good deeds for bad reasons, and one can be a moral Atheist.  One can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned without acknowledging God or commit all of the above good deeds while acknowledging God.  It is also true that history and current events contain instances of people who have slaughtered others in the name of God.  To do the right thing for the right reason is essential, and to add the dimension of faith to this equation brings credit to religion and hopefully to God.  I contend that, if one is really of God, one will act out of love, not hatred.  All who do otherwise yet claim to be otherwise are imposters, some of whom lie even to themselves.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/being-of-god/

Week of Proper 27: Saturday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  Constellation Perseus (February 1, 2011)

Image Source = Jet Propulsion Laboratory

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear….”

NOVEMBER 16, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16; 19:6-9 (Revised English Bible):

(Context = The Exodus from Egypt, beginning with the last plague)

All things were lying in peace and silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, when your all-powerful word leapt from your royal throne in heaven like a relentless warrior, bearing the sharp sword of your inflexible decree; with his head touching the heavens and his feet on earth he stood and spread death everywhere.

The whole creation, with all its elements, was refashioned in subservience to your commands, in order that your servants might be preserved unscathed.  They gazed at the cloud that overshadowed the camp, at dry land emerging where before was only water, at an open road leading out of the Red Sea, and a grassy plain in place of stormy waves, across which the whole nation passed under the protection of your hand, after witnessing amazing portents.  They were like horses at pasture, like skipping lambs as they praised you, O Lord, by whom they were rescued.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done;

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O childrenof Jacob his chosen.

37 He led out his people with silver and gold;

in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.

38 Egypt was glad of their going,

because they were afraid of them.

39 He spread out a cloud for a covering,

and a fire to give light in the night season.

40 They asked, and quails appeared,

and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.

41 He opened the rock, and water flowed,

so the river ran in dry places.

42 For God remembered his holy word

and Abraham his servant.

43 So he led forth his people with gladness,

his chosen with shouts of joy.

44 He gave his people the lands of the nations,

and they took the fruit of others’ toil,

45 That they might keep his statutes

and observe his laws.

Hallelujah!

Luke 18:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus told them a parable to show that they should keep on praying and never lose heart.

In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God or respect for man, and in the same city there was a widow who kept coming before him to demand justice against her opponent.  For a time he refused; but in the end he said to himself, “Although I have no fear of God or respect for man, yet this widow is so great a nuisance that I will give her justice before she wears me out with her persistence.”  The Lord said, “You hear what the unjust judge says.  Then will not God give justice to his chosen, to whom he listens day and night?  I tell you, he will give them justice soon enough.  But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

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The Collect:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Tradition holds that Jesus was born at midnight, hence Christmas Eve midnight masses.  Indeed, these are lovely services, and Christmas for me lacks something crucial without having attended one.  The midnight timeframe comes from a conflation of the Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16, which speaks of the angel of death leaving to kill firstborn Egyptian sons, with the Lukan version of the birth narrative of Jesus.

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” the great Christmas carol, features the traditional timeframe in its title.  This hymn dates to 1849, when Edmund Hamilton Sears, a U.S. Unitarian pastor who believed in the deity of Jesus, wrote the words.  (He published them the following year.)  Reverend Sears, who opposed recently-completed U.S.-Mexican War, included an antiwar message in the hymn:

And man, at war with man, hears not

The tidings which they bring;

O hush the noise, ye men of strife,

And hear the angels sing!

Focusing on this Christmas carol is appropriate here, due to the timing of this devotional–one day before Proper 28 and eight days prior to the First Sunday of Advent.  And, after Advent comes Christmas, of course.

The God of the Exodus and the Incarnation is active in human history.  This is the God who cares.  Psalm 14, in most English translations, states that a fool says, “There is no God.”  Yet TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, the current translation from the Jewish Publication Society, renders that text to say that the fool states that “God does not care.”  I have concluded that caring is part of the divine character.  But, you might ask, why the difference in translations?  The rabbinical notes in The Jewish Study Bible mention that atheism was quite rare in the ancient Near East.  And a Presbyterian minister I know has mentioned to me the difficulty in translating much Hebrew.  “Translating Hebrew is a bear,” he said.

And God cares very much in the reading from Luke 18.  The judge was corrupt, rendering verdicts in response to bribes.  But the woman got her justice by merely threatening him with violence.  Jesus says, however, that we need not worry about whether God cares about us and will listen to us.  Indeed, the fact of our Lord’s existence in human form (the Incarnation) constitutes evidence of divine caring.  Maybe God says “no” or “not yet,” answers we might not like, but there is an answer.  Nevertheless, good things happen to good people.  The reality of the existence of God does not change that fact, but neither does it change the reality that God cares, that for God to exist is for God to care.

One of the major effects of prayer is to change the one who prays.  And prayer, of course, is far more than “talking to God;” it is also listening to God and acting according to divine commands.  In other words, prayer is responding positively to God.  Some years ago I heard an interview with a Roman Catholic priest on National Public Radio.  The good Father had taken Jesus at his word; the priest decided to visit a man in prison.  The priest chose to visit a death row inmate, a violent man who, in time, died by the authority of the state.  The inmate was just as violent and vile on the day he died as he was when the priest began to visit him, but the priest was a much better person for the visits.  He had followed his Lord.

Jesus breaks into our lives in ways and at times we might not expect.  We might not get a choir of angels, but, if we are sufficiently perceptive, we will hear and know the voice of God speaking.  God has not ceased to speak, and we ought to listen more often than we do.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/it-came-upon-the-midnight-clear/