Archive for the ‘Episcopal Church Lectionary’ Category

First Day of Epiphany: Feast of the Epiphany (January 6)   17 comments

Above:  Seventh-Century Mosaic of the Magi from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Image Source = Nina-No

The Meaning of the Epiphany

JANUARY 6, 2022


Isaiah 60:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Psalm 72:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Give the king your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness;

and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,

and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,

give deliverance to the needy,

and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,

and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,

like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish

and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

May his foes bow down before him,

and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish and the isles render him tribute,

may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him,

all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,

the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the week and the needy,

and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life;

and precious is their blood in his sight.

Ephesians 3:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him,

In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,

Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Contrary to certain traditions, the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) is the appropriate time to discuss the Magi, or the Wise Men from the Matthew gospel.  As that date approaches I ponder them.

Put nativity scenes out of your mind, for they are inaccurate.  The shepherds come from the Lukan narrative.  The Magi appear only in Matthew’s account, set in Bethlehem at a different time.  Matthew 2:11 (Jerusalem Bible) reads:  “…and going into the house they saw the child and his mother Mary, and falling on their knees they did him homage.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”  The key word is “house.”  The Magi entered a house, not a cave or a stall.

Time had passed since the birth of Jesus.

Another marker of time comes later in the Matthew telling.  After the Magi did not revisit him in his palace, Herod the Great ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, or the murder of all male children two years old or younger in and around  Bethlehem.  Herod, a Roman client king, owed his position to the Emperor of Rome.  (The Romans ruled parts of their empire directly and other regions of it via local officials.  The British followed the same mixed strategy much later.  Think about how the governed India, for example.)  Herod the Great was a mean, violent, and troubled man who ordered the deaths of family members and strangers alike, so the story has historical feasibility.  And the order to kill boys two years old or younger implies that Jesus was about two years old at the time.

So, who where these Magi?  And what did the see in the night sky?

The Magi (the Bible does not indicate how many traveled to find Jesus, only that that there were at least two of them, as “magi” is plural) were most likely member of an elite class of Zoroastrian priests from the Parthian Empire.  They were astrologers and academics who tutored the ruling classes of the empire.   (Carols and discredited traditions say they were kings, but let us file those under “artistic license.”)  Acceptance of astrology was widespread in those days.  Today we rationalistic, post-Enlightenment types label astrology a pseudo-science and rank it with palm reading and phrenology, as we should.  Yet that is beside the point.

The Magi spent much time observing the night skies closely.  Thus they noticed when something changed.  Also, they associated the planet Jupiter with royalty.  The most likely candidate for the Star of Bethlehem is the conjunction of Jupiter with another planet, the identity of which is the subject of much discussion and debate.  This astronomical event meant enough to the some of these priests that they planned a prolonged journey, probably a two-years long round trip.    They sought a king, and they found one.

So this is what troubled Herod the Great, whose claim to his throne was shaky.

The gifts are significant, too.  Gold, a precious metal, befits a king.  Frankincense  has religious meaning, as in one ‘s prayers rising to God like incense.  And Myrrh is a bitter perfume.  Messiah 101:  The Messiah must die.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”  People, many of whom might be close to you, will reject you because you follow Jesus.  You might even become a martyr.  The pathway of faith can be full of grief and difficulty.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines “epiphany” as follows:

1.  the manifestation of a divine being

2.  a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurence.

The Incarnation of God in human form fulfills the first definition.  Yet what about the second meaning?  What did the Magi understand?  I do not know the answer to that question.  Yet their visit indicates the manifestation of God incarnate to Gentiles.

God is incarnating around us today.  Do we recognize this?  Which epiphanies will we experience today and subsequent days?  And how will these epiphanies transform us?

Pax vobiscum.


Written on June 8, 2010

Twelfth Day of Christmas   12 comments

Above:  Painting of St. Philip the Apostle, by Peter Paul Rubens

The Last Day of Christmas

JANUARY 5, 2022


1 John 3:11-18 (New Jerusalem Bible):

This is the message

which you have heard from the beginning,

that we must love one another,

not to be like Cain, who was from the Evil One

and murdered his brother.

And why did he murder his brother?

Because his actions were evil and his brother’s upright.

Do not be surprised, brothers,

if the world hates you.

We are well aware that we have passed over from death to life

because we love our brothers.

Whoever does not love, remains in death.

Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer

has eternal life remaining in him.

This is the proof of love,

that he laid down his life for us,

and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

If anyone is well-off in worldly possessions

and sees his brother in need

but closes his heart to him,

how can the love of God be remaining in him?


our love must not be just words or mere talk,

but something active and genuine.

Psalm 100 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,

serve Yahweh with gladness,

come into his presence with songs of joy!

Be sure that Yahweh is God,

he made us, we belong to him,

his people, the flock of his sheepfold.

Come within his gates giving thanks,

to his courts singing praise,

give thanks to him and bless his name!

For Yahweh is good,

his faithful love is everlasting,

his constancy from age to age.

John 1:43-51 (New Jerusalem Bible):

The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said,

Follow me.

Philip came from the same town, Bethsaida, as Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him,

We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.

Nathanael said to him,

From Nazareth?  Can anything good come from that place?

Philip replied,

Come and see.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him,

There, truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.

Nathanael asked,

How do you know me?

Jesus replied,

Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.

Nathanael answered,

Rabbi, you are the king of Israel.

Jesus replied,

You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree.  You are going to see greater things than that.

And then he added,

In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man.

The Collect:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The designated readings for the twelve days of Christmas cover much ground.  Some highlights follow:

  1. the birth of Jesus
  2. the circumcision and naming of Jesus
  3. the Massacre of the Innocents
  4. foreshadowing of the suffering and death of Jesus
  5. the ministry of St. John the Baptist
  6. the calling of the first apostles
  7. encouragement to “come and see” Jesus
  8. advice to follow Jesus

One of the basic formulas of logic is “If x, then y.”  If we accept that Jesus is God incarnate, how can we argue that we should not follow him actively?  The advice pertaining to active love in 1 John is timeless.  Yet I notice many people’s words about helping people belying their deeds when they have the opportunity to do something positive.  Yesterday, while listening to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio online, I heard someone talk about an assignment at a seminary.  Some seminarians received the assignment to go a certain place across campus to preach on the Parable of the Good Samaritan at a certain time.  The professor arranged for individuals playing homeless people to intercept the seminarians, sometimes to delay them.  Many of the seminarians brushed off the strangers.

Our love for God and each other needs to be active.  God has demonstrated this love in the form of Jesus.  If we do not understand this message, we need to pay more attention.  That seems logical to me.


Written on June 7, 2010

Eleventh Day of Christmas   8 comments

Above:  An Eastern Orthodox Icon of the Twelve Apostles

Image Source = Stamp

What Do You Want?

JANUARY 4, 2022


1 John 3:7-10 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Children, do not let anyone lead you astray.

Whoever acts uprightly is upright,

just as he is upright.

Whoever lives sinfully belongs to the devil,

since the devil has been a sinner from the beginning.

This was the purpose of the appearing of the Son of God,

to undo the work of the devil.

No one who is a child of God sins

because God’s seed remains in him.

Nor can he sin, because he is a child of God.

This is what distinguishes

the children of God from the children of the devil;

whoever does not live uprightly

and does not love his brother

is not from God.

Psalm 98:1, 7-9 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh,

for he has performed wonders,

his saving power is in his right hand and his holy arm.

Let the sea thunder, and all that it holds,

the world and all who live in it.

Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the mountains shout for joy together,

at Yahweh’s coming, for he is coming

to judge the earth;

he will judge the world with saving justice

and the nations with fairness.

John 1:35-42 (New Jerusalem Bible):

The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John said,

Look, there is the lamb of God.

And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.  Jesus turned round, saw them following and said,

What do you want?

They answered,


–which means Teacher–

where do you live?

He replied,

Come and see;

so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day.  It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, brother of Simon Peter.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him,

We have found the Messiah

–which means the Christ–and he took Simon to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said,

You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas

–which means Rock.

The Collect:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


What do we want from Jesus?

Do we seek validation for all our opinions or do we look for a challenge?  Do we seek a road to wealth via faith or do we look for one who reminds us of our responsibilities to the less fortunate?  Do we seek a martyr and hero or a Savior and Lord?

Jesus refuses to fit into our neat, theological boxes, which are vehicles of idolatry.  He is frequently not socially respectable, keeping company with those at the margins of society.  The maxim, “He who lies with dogs, rises with fleas” does not apply to Jesus.  Jesus is neither a mighty warrior nor a meek, mild-mannered person.  This is a figure who knows how to use a whip yet is deeply compassionate.  He challenges our preconceptions.

And that is how it should be.  Thanks be to God!


Written on June 7, 2010

Tenth Day of Christmas   10 comments

Above:  Adoration of the Shepherds, by Guido Reni, 1600s

(It is still Christmas.)

What Wondrous Love

JANUARY 3, 2022


1 John 3:1-16 (New Jerusalem Bible):

You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us

by letting us be called God’s children–

which is what we are!

The reason why the world does not acknowledge us

is that it did not acknowledge him.

My dear friends, we are already God’s children,

but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed.

We are well aware that when he appears

we shall be like him,

because we shall see him as he really is.

Whoever treasures this hope of him

purifies himself, to be as pure as he is.

Whoever sins, acts wickedly,

because all sin is wickedness.

Now that you are well aware that he has appeared in order to take sins away,

and that in him there is no sin.

No one who remains in him sins,

and whoever sins

has neither seen him nor recognized him.

Psalm 98:1, 4-6 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh,

for he has performed wonders,

his saving power is in his right hand and his holy arm.

Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,

burst into shouts of joy!

Play to Yahweh on the harp,

to the sound of instruments;

to the sound of trumpet and horn,

acclaim the presence of the King.

John 1:29-34 (New Jerusalem Bible):

The next day, he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him and said,

Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  It was of him I said, “Behind me comes one who has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.”  I did not know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming to baptize with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.

And John declared,

I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him.  I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptize with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.”  I have seen and I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.

The Collect:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


As I typed the assigned lessons from the Episcopal lectionary for Christmas, I knew that the best commentary and devotional based on them was a hymn, “What Wondrous Love.”  So I share the words of this 1835 hymn of U.S. origin with you, O reader.


Written on June 7, 2010


1.  What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul!

What wondrous love is this

that caused the  Lord of bliss

to lay aside his crown

for my soul, for my soul,

to lay aside his crown

for my soul.

2.  To God and to the Lamb,

I will sing, I will sing,

to God and to the Lamb,

I will sing.

To God and to the Lamb

who is the great I AM,

while millions join the theme,

I will sing, I will sing,

while millions join the theme

I will sing.

3.  And when from death I’m free,

I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,

and when from death I’m free,

I’ll sing on.

And when from death I’m free

I’ll sing and joyful be,

and through eternity,

I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,

and through eternity

I’ll sing on.

Ninth Day of Christmas   8 comments

Above:  River Jordan Postcard

The Humility of John the Baptist

JANUARY 2, 2022


1 John 2:22-29 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Who is the liar,

if not one who claims that Jesus is not the Christ?

This is the Antichrist,

who denies both the Father and the Son.

Whoever denies the Son cannot have the Father either;

whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father, too.

Let what you heard in the beginning remain in you;

as long as what you heard in the beginning remains in you,

you will remain in the Son

and in the Father.

And the promise he made you himself

is eternal life.

So much have I written to you

about those who are trying to lead you astray.

But as for you, the anointing you received from him

remains in you,

and you do not need anyone to teach you;

since the anointing he gave you teaches you everything,

and since it is true, not false,

remain in him just as he has taught you.

Therefore remain in him now, children,

so that when he appears we may be fearless,

and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

If you know that he is upright

you must recognize that everyone whose life is upright

is a child of his.

Psalm 98:1-4 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh,

for he has performed wonders,

his saving power is in his right hand and his holy arm.

Yahweh has made known his saving power,

revealed his saving justice for the nations to see,

mindful of his faithful love and his constancy to the House of Israel.

The whole wide world has seen

the saving power of our God.

Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,

burst into shouts of joy!

John 1:19-28 (New Jerusalem Bible):

This was the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,

Who are you?

He declared, he did not deny, but declared,

I am not the Christ.

So they asked him,

Then are you Elijah?

He replied,

I am not.

They asked him,

Are you the Prophet?

He answered,


So they said to him,

Who are you? We must take back the answer to those who sent us.  What have you to say about yourself?”

So he said,

I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

“A voice of one that cries in the desert;

Prepare a way for the Lord.

Make his paths straight!”

Now those who had been sent were Pharisees, and they put this question to him,

Why are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the Prophet?

John answered them,

I baptize with water; but standing among you–unknown to you–is the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.

This happened at Bethany, where John was baptizing.

The Collect:

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John the Baptist was a great prophet and servant of God.  Jesus, his cousin, said so.  Certainly, John’s lifestyle and fiery rhetoric attracted much attention.  I suspect that he could have given any answer to the questions in the reading from the Fourth Gospel and some people would have believed him.  John the Baptist could have built himself up, and those who listened to him would not have known that he would have been lying.

Yet John the Baptist told the truth, which was that he was the forerunner of the Messiah.  John pointed to another, Jesus.  So should we.  John lived according to humility, or knowing who he was in relation to God.  So should we.


Written on June 7, 2010

Seventh Day of Christmas   8 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Jesus is the Truth

DECEMBER 31, 2021


1 John 2:18-21 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Children, this is the final hour;

you have heard that the Antichrist is coming,

and now many Antichrists have already come;

from this we know that it is the final hour.

They have gone from among us,

but they never really belonged to us;

if they had belonged to us, they would have stayed with us.

But this was to prove

that not one of them belonged to us.

But you have been anointed by the Holy One,

and have all received knowledge.

I have written to you

not because you are ignorant of the truth,

but because you are well aware of it,

and because no lie can come from the truth.

Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh!

Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!

Sing to Yahweh, bless his name!

Proclaim his salvation day after day,

declare his glory among the nations,

his marvels to every people!

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad!

Let the sea thunder, and all it holds!

Let the countryside exult, and all that is in it,

and all the trees of the forest cry out for joy,

at Yahweh’s approach, for he is coming,

coming to judge the earth;

he will judge the world with saving justice,

and the nations with constancy.

John 1:1-18 (New Jerusalem Bible):

In the beginning was the Word:

the Word was with God

and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things came into being,

not one thing came into being except through him.

What has come into being in him was life,

life that was the light of men;

and light shines in the darkness,

and darkness could not overpower it.

A man came, sent by God.

His name was John.

He came as a witness,

to bear witness to the light,

so that everyone might believe through him.

He was not the light,

he was to bear witness to the light.

The Word was the real light

that gives light to everyone;

he was coming into the world.

He was in the world

that had come into being through him,

and the world did not recognize him.

He came into his own

and his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him

he gave power to become children of God,

to those who believed in his name

who were born not from human stock

or human desire

or human will

but from God himself.

The Word became flesh,

he lived among us,

and we saw his glory,

the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father,

full of grace and truth.

John witnesses to him.  He proclaims:

This is the one of whom I said:

He who comes after me

has passed ahead of me

because he existed before me.

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received–

one gift replacing another,

for the Law was given through Moses,

grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.

No one has seen God;

it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart,

who has made him known.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


In the middle 1990s, when preparing a homily on the line, “What is truth?” (The Gospel of John quoting Pontius Pilate), I consulted a scholarly, multi-volume Bible dictionary in the library at Valdosta State University.  The Greek word translated as “truth” indicated reliability, as distinct from accuracy, I learned.  (Indeed, a technically accurate statement can be misleading, so reliability is the greater goal.  And a myth, although not historically or scientifically accurate, can teach profound truth.  Witness the opening of Genesis, which contains great truths about human nature and divine nature, but is neither history nor science.)

So hopefully my meaning will be clear when I state plainly that Jesus is the truth.  This is a devotion for the heart of the Season after Christmas, a time rooted in the incarnation of God in the form of Jesus, fully human and fully divine.  The teachings of Jesus are reliable and his life backs them up.  Attempts (often in the name of organized religion) to domesticate Jesus have not obscured completely his essence.  He was a challenging person.  Indeed, someone with his CV would have great difficulty become the pastor of certain congregations.  Yet he was–and is–the Master.

By human standards Jesus was a failure.  He was often at odds with the religious establishment.  The secular authorities executed him as a bandit–a threat to national security, if you will.  (The quest to maintain national security entails a variety of sins when it involves stomping on people unjustly.)  Yet Jesus was not a failure, obviously.  So what does this say about human standards of success?


Written on June 6, 2010

Sixth Day of Christmas   9 comments

Jesus Mosaic, Ravenna, Italy

Unity Through Jesus

DECEMBER 30, 2021


1 John 2:12-17 (New Jerusalem Bible):

I am writing to you, children,

because your sins have been forgiven through his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,

because you have come to know the One who has existed since the beginning.

I am writing to you, young people,

because you have overcome the Evil One.

I have written to you, children,

because you have come to know the Father.

I have written to you, parents,

because you have come to know the One who has existed since the beginning.

I have written to you, young people,

because you are strong,

and God’s word remains in you,

and you have overcome the Evil One.

Do not love the world

or what is in the world.

If anyone does love the world,

the love of the Father finds no peace in him,

because everything there is in the world–

disordered bodily desires,

disordered desires of the eyes,

pride in possession–

is not from the Father

but is from the world.

And the world, with all its disordered desires,

is passing away.

But whoever does the will of God

remains for ever.

Psalm 96:10-13 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Say among the nations,

Yahweh is king.

The world is set firm, it cannot be moved.

He will judge the nations with justice.

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad!

Let the sea thunder, and all it holds!

Let the countryside exult, and all that is in it,

and all the trees of the forest cry out for joy,

at Yahweh’s approach, for he is coming,

coming to judge the earth;

he will judge the world with saving justice,

and the nations with constancy.

Luke 2:36-40 (New Jerusalem Bible):

There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was well on in years.  Her days of girlhood over, she had been married seven years before becoming a widow.  She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God day and night with fasting and prayer.  She came up just at the moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child [Jesus] to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they [Mary and Joseph] had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


John wrote to a congregation split by theological arguments, almost certainly involving proto-Gnosticism, which is inherently not Christian.  He encouraged the faithful Church members, making the connection between their struggles and cosmic spiritual strife.

I have grown up in a series of congregations, for I am a recovering “Preacher’s Kid.”  Life has taught me that congregations attract dysfunctional personalities with egos either too small or too large.  (One needs to look out for and avoid these control freaks who weaken churches!)  And I have learned that others (the sincerely wrong) want to maintain their congregation and/or denomination as a kind of memorial society and theological/liturgical museum.  So, in the case of my adopted Episcopal Church, Prayer Book revision can lead to great strife because it involves change.  The type of change does not matter to some; the fact of change itself is enough to set them off.

Perhaps the most frequent idol is false certainty, whether to the Left or to the Right.  Jesus of Nazareth (the historical person) was profoundly disturbing–sufficiently so that he scandalized respectable religious people and attracted the unwelcome attention of the Roman imperial leadership.  As I read the Gospels, taking them seriously, I detect teachings of Jesus which unsettle me (a self-respecting liberal) and contradict what I hear from many self-professed Conservative Christians.  My spiritual discipline involves humility, especially in the face of the teachings of my Lord and Savior.  Jesus was he was and is who he is, not who I want him to have been and to be.  If I cannot deal with that, I have a grave spiritual problem.

And I admit that those who disagree with me might be correct, at least partially.  I have, in fact, changed my mind more than once.  So I have not always agreed with myself.  When I attend Church I do so in the presence of people to my Left and to my Right theologically and politically, and I know that they are good Christians, too.  We have unity through Jesus.

So, despite my willingness (even eagerness) to defend what I believe, I know the difference between a major disagreement and a minor one.  And I prefer not to argue about minor points.  I want to focus on unity through Jesus.


Written on June 6, 2010

Fifth Day of Christmas   10 comments

Above:  Johann Sebastian Bach

Foreboding Foreshadowing

DECEMBER 29, 2021


1 John 2:7-11 (New Jerusalem Bible):

My dear friends,

this is not a new commandment I am writing to you,

but an old commandment

that you have had from the beginning;

the old commandment is the message you have heard.

Yet in another way, I am writing a new commandment for you

–and this is true for you, just as much for him–

for darkness is passing away

and the true light is already shining.

Whoever claims to be in light

but hates his brother

is still in darkness.

Anyone who loves his brother remains in light

and there is in him nothing to make him fall away.

But whoever hates his brother is in darkness

and is walking about in darkness

not knowing where he is going,

because darkness has blinded him.

Psalm 96:1-9 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh!

Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!

Sing to Yahweh, bless his name!

Proclaim his salvation day after day,

declare his glory among the nations,

his marvels to every people!

Great is Yahweh, worthy of all praise,

more awesome than any of the gods.

All the gods of the nations are idols!

It was Yahweh, who made the heavens;

in his presence are splendour and majesty,

in his sanctuary power and beauty.

Give to Yahweh, families of nations,

give to Yahweh glory and power,

give to Yahweh the glory due to his name!

Bring an offering and enter his courts,

adore Yahweh in the splendour of his holiness.

Tremble before him, all the nations.

Luke 2:22-35 (New Jerusalem Bible):

And when the day came for them [Mary and Joseph] to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord–observing what is written in the Law of the Lord:

Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord

–and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.  Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon.  He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.  Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do what the Law required,he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace

as you promised;

for my eyes have seen the salvation

which you have made ready in the sight of the nations;

a light of revelation for the gentiles

and glory for your people Israel.

As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed–and a sword will pierce your soul too–so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The readings for December 25, the First Day of Christmas, were joyous.  The lectionary took a turn to include the major feasts of Saint Stephen (December 26) and St. John the Apostle (December 27) before coming to major feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28).  There the dark foreshadowing of the death of Jesus began with the deaths of innocent children whose sole offense was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Episcopal lectionary readings for December 29, the Fifth Day of Christmas, extend that foreshadowing to Jesus himself.  The elderly priest Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.  Jesus will die because of who he is.  Yet he will be innocent of any offense.  That is disturbing news indeed, especially so close to birth.

Yet there is good news:  resurrection followed death.

The authors of the canonical Gospels knew how the story ended before they began writing.  And each of them wrote with a specific thesis in mind.  Thus they selected the details which supported each thesis, thereby focusing each Gospel nicely.  This was just good composition.  So it is that early in Luke’s Gospel we read foreshadowing of the death of Jesus.

David Emory Stooksbury, a faithful Episcopalian and the State Climatologist of Georgia, grew up (United) Methodist, as I did.  He brought to my attention the fact the 1965 Methodist Hymnal provides the option of singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” to the same tune:  Easter Hymn, from Lyra Davidica (1708).  The Christmas-Easter link becomes explicit if one sings the two hymns back-to-back, as if they are one hymn.

And Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale (“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”) into his Christmas Oratorio.  The great Lutheran composer understood the link between the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus.   This is why he was born, Bach was saying.

This is why Jesus was born.  Let us remember that, then proceed to the Resurrection.


Written on June 5, 2010

Advent Devotion for December 24   16 comments

Above:  John the Baptist, by Titian, 1542

Here Ends Our Advent Journey

DECEMBER 24, 2021


2 Samuel 7:1-16 (Revised English Bible):

Once the king was established in his palace and the LORD had given him security from his enemies on all sides, he said to Nathan the prophet,

Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God is housed in a tent.

Nathan answered,

Do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

Go and say to David my servant, This is the word of the LORD:  Are you to build me a house to dwell in?  Down to this day I have never dwelt in a house since I brought Israel up from Egypt; I lived in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I journeyed with Israel, did I ever ask any of the judges whom I appointed shepherds of my people Israel why they had not built me a cedar house?

Then say this to my servant David:  This is the word of the LORD of Hosts:  I took you from the pastures and from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have destroyed all enemies in your path.  I shall bring you fame like the fame of the great ones of the earth.  I shall assign a place for my people Israel; there I shall plant them to dwell in their own land.  They will be disturbed no more; never again will the wicked oppress them as they did in the past, from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I shall give you peace from all your enemies.

The LORD has told you that he would built up your royal house.  When your life ends and you rest with your forefathers, I shall set up one of your family, one of your own children, to succeed you, and I shall establish his kingdom.  It is he who is to build a house in honour of my name; and I shall establish his royal throne for all time.  I shall be a father to him, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I shall punish him as a father might, and not spare the rod.  But my love will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from your path.  Your family and your kingdom will be established for ever in my sight; your throne will endure for all time.”

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-29 (Revised English Bible):

I shall sing always of the loving deeds of the LORD;

throughout every generation I shall proclaim your faithfulness.

I said:  Your love will stand firm for ever;

in the heavens you have established your faithfulness.

I have made a covenant with the one I have chosen,

I have sworn an oath to my servant David:

I shall establish your line for ever,

I shall make your throne endure for all generations.

A time came when you spoke in a vision,

declaring to your faithful servant:

I have granted help to a warrior;

I have exalted one chosen from the people.

I have found David my servant

and anointed him with my sacred oil.

My hand will be ready to help him,

my arm to give him strength.

No enemy will outwit him,

no wicked person will oppress him;

I shall crush his adversaries before him

and strike down those who are hostile to him.

My faithfulness and love will be with him

and through my name he will hold his head high.

I shall establish his rule over the sea,

his dominion over the rivers.

He will say tome,

You are my father,

my God, my rock where I find safety.

I shall give him the rank of the firstborn,

highest among the kings of the earth.

I shall maintain my love for him for ever

and be faithful in my covenant with him.

I shall establish his line for ever

and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Luke 1:67-79 (Revised English Bible):

And Zechariah his [John’s] father was filled with the Holy Spirit and uttered this prophecy:

Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel!

For he has turned to his people and set them free.

He has raised for us a strong deliverer

from the House of his servant David.

So he promised: age to age he proclaimed

by the lips of his holy prophets,

that he would deliver us from our enemies,

out of the hands of all who hate us;

that, calling to mind his solemn covenant,

he would deal mercifully with our fathers.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,

to rescue us from enemy hands and set us free from fear,

so that we might worship in his presence

in holiness and righteousness our whole life long.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner, to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Saint John the Baptist (or Baptizer or Immerser) was the forerunner of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, and heir to the House of David.  John identified Jesus, baptized him, and died before Jesus did.

As I have typed these texts and pondered them I have played a recording of the Christmas Oratorio of Johann Sebastian Bach.  It is a glorious work, a product of Bach’s deep Lutheran faith.  One fact about it stands out in mind:  The Christmas Oratorio contains the music to which I am used to singing the great Good Friday hymn, “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded.”  The liner notes to the two-CD set give the following English translation to the German text of the chorale:

How can I fitly greet Thee,

how rightly Thee extol?

Of Man the best Beloved,

thou treasure of my soul!

O Lord, I pray Thee carry

the torch to light my way,

that I may know thy treasure

and serve Thee day by day!

That is an appropriate attitude for any day, especially that time when Advent transitions into Christmas.  Like John, may you decrease as Jesus increases.

Merry Christmas!


Written on June 4, 2010

Advent Devotion for December 23   12 comments

Above:  Zechariah

The Importance of a Name

DECEMBER 23, 2021


Malachi 3:1-5 (Revised English Bible):

I am about to send my messenger to clear a path before me.  Suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already, says the LORD of Hosts.  Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?  He is like a refiner’s fire, like a fuller’s soap; he will take his seat, testing and purifying; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver, and so they will be fit to bring offerings to the LORD.  Thus the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as they were in former days, in days long past.  I shall appear before you in court, quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who cheat the hired labourer of his wages, who wrong the widow and the fatherless, who thrust the alien aside and do not fear me, says the LORD of Hosts.

Psalm 25:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

LORD my God, to you I lift my heart.

In you I trust: do not let me be put to shame,

do not let my enemies exult over me.

No one whose hope is in you is put to shame;

but shame comes to all who break faith without cause.

Make your paths known to me, LORD;

teach me your ways.

Lead me by your faithfulness and teach me,

for you are God my saviour;

in you I put my hope all day long.

Remember, LORD, your tender care and love unfailing,

for they are from of old.

Do not remember the sins and offences of my youth,

but remember me in your unfailing love,

in accordance with your goodness, LORD.

The LORD is good and upright;

therefore he teaches sinners the way they should go.

He guides the humble in right conduct,

and teaches them his way.

All the paths of the LORD are loving and sure

to those who keep his covenant and his solemn charge.

LORD, for the honour of your name

forgive my wickedness, great though it is.

Whoever fears the LORD

will be shown the path he should choose.

He will enjoy lasting prosperity,

and his descendants will inherit the land.

The LORD confides his purposes to those who fear him;

his covenant is for their instruction.

My eyes are ever on the LORD,

who alone can free my feet from the net.

Luke 1:57-66 (Revised English Bible):

When the time came for Elizabeth’s child to be born, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbours and relatives heard what great kindness the Lord had shown her, and they shared her delight.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up:


she said,

He is to be called John.

They said,

But there is nobody in your family who has that name.

Then inquired of his father by signs what he would like him to be called.  He asked for a writing tablet and to everybody’s astonishment wrote,

His name is John.

Immediately his lips and tongue were freed and he began to speak, praising God.  All the neighbours were overcome with awe, and throughout the uplands of Judaea the whole story became common talk.  All who heard it were deeply impressed and said, “What will this child become?”  For indeed the hand of the Lord was upon him.

The Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The countdown to Christmas Day draws very near to its end with this day in Advent.  Yet let us give each remaining day before December 25 its due.

The day had come for the circumcision and naming of the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the latter of which was still mute.  The ceremony was a community event, and custom contained a preference for naming a son after his father or grandfather, usually the grandfather.  Yet this child’s name was unique in his family tree.  The child was to be named John, or, in Hebrew, Jehohanan, which means, “God’s gracious gift.”

As British scholar G. B. Caird wrote in Saint Luke (Pelikan Books then Penguin Books, 1963, with reprints), a child’s name “was closely related to the character and nature of the bearer” and reflected his or her parents’ faith and aspirations for him or her in the Jewish culture of Judea in the late First Century B.C.E.  And while we ponder names, think about these facts:  Zechariah means “the LORD has recalled” and Elizabeth means “oath of God.”  I detect a congruency in these names coming together.

I am grateful to my parents for, among other things, giving me a name I have been able to carry well into adulthood.  That was a great kindness.  And it helps that “Kenneth” is the name of at least two saints–one of Scotland, the other of Wales.  Indeed, I have heard of some truly unfortunate names that have the effect of making it impossible for one to get a job interview, for, when pronounced, they sound like curse words.  (I am not referring to foreign names transliterated into English.)

It is common in some religious orders, when one joins, to receive a new name.  This is symbolic of becoming a new person.  And some indigenous cultures in North America change a person’s name after childhood, to reflect who this individual has become.  A name, I think, ought to be something noble, something into which to strive to grow then to continue to honor.  It is, after all, what we call ourselves and others call us.

“What is this child to become?” the neighbors asked themselves about the young John.  That child was literally “God’s gracious gift,” a statement I hope is true of all of us, for the benefit of others and the glory of God.


Written on June 4, 2010

Revised on May 19, 2011

Posted September 15, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2021-2022, December 23, Episcopal Church Lectionary

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