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That Old Sweet Song of Angels   Leave a comment


Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain


Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77


Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature:  a vulnerable baby was God incarnate.  This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective.  Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure.  I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;

for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

and the LORD will reward you.

–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good.  How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are.  If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant.  We also add fuel to the proverbial fire.  Is not a fire extinguisher better?

As the Master said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)

As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds:  may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis.  Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.

Merry Christmas!






Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After the Seventh Sunday After Epiphany, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   4 comments


Above:  $5000, 1934

(Images of U.S. currency are in the public domain.)

$5000 U.S. (1934) = $85,700 (2012) on the Consumer Price Index

Attitudes, Love, and Reconciliation

FEBRUARY 20, 2017

FEBRUARY 21, 2017

FEBRUARY 22, 2017


The Collect:

Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace.

Lead us to love our enemies, and transform our words and deeds

to be like his through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24


The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 25:11-22 (Monday)

Genesis 31:1-3, 17-50 (Tuesday)

Proverbs 3:27-55 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:57-64 (All Days)

Romans 12:9-21 (Monday)

Hebrews 12:14-16 (Tuesday)

Luke 18:18-30 (Wednesday)


You are my only portion, O Lord;

I have promised to keep your words.

I entreat you with all my heart,

be merciful to me according to your promise.

–Psalm 119:57-58, Common Worship (2000)


Certain themes repeat in the Bible.  Among these is the one which states that we have a mandate to seek reconciliation with each other, not vengeance against each other.  A perhaps apocryphal story comes to mind:

A congregation gathered on the day that the aged St. John the Evangelist visited it.  He entered (with assistance) and sat down at the front of the assembly.  The Apostle said, “My children, love one another.”  Then he motioned to his helpers to assist him in leaving.  Someone, disappointed with the brevity of John’s words, followed him and asked why he had said just to love one another.  The Apostle answered, “When you have done that, I will tell you more.”

Loving one another is that basic.  And often it proves difficult, for we might feel righteous while pondering how another has wronged us.  Maybe another has behaved perfidiously toward us.  But nursing a grudge hurts the person who encourages it and does no harm to its intended target.

The readings for these days range from maxims to stories about how we ought to behave toward others.  Sometimes all parties are both the wronged and the perpetrators.  (Life is frequently complicated in that way.)  The seeming outlier among these readings is Luke 18:18-30.  The wealthy man in that passage kept many of the truly timeless provisions of the Law of Moses–honoring his parents, not murdering or stealing, etc.  But his attitude toward his wealth prevented him from treating others as properly as he should have been doing all along.

His health was morally neutral; his attitude was not.  Your “wealth,” O reader, might not be funds or property, but your attitude toward it is a vital issue.  The same applies to all of us.

So may we seek peace with each other, knowing that perhaps nobody is fully innocent in a particular situation.  Thus nobody is in a good position to judge anyway.  And may we not let our attitude(s) regarding anything obstruct such reconciliation.