Tag Archives: Salvation

O Root of Jesse — December 19

Since the 8th century, during the last seven days of Advent, leading to the Christmas celebration, the Christian Church has been singing a set of antiphons that were written as introductory prayers for the singing of the Magnificat at Evening Prayer. They are popularly known as “The O Antiphons” and serve as the basis for the well-known hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Each day uses a name for the coming Messiah drawn from the messianic hopes of the First Testament. They proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation.

The last few years I lived in Illinois, I volunteered at the Nachusa Grasslands tallgrass prairie conservancy in Lee County, Illinois. I was part of a small crew that would walk through stands of prairie grass spotting and removing invasive plants, making room for the remarkable diversity of native prairie grasses and flowers. The steward that I worked with was an encyclopedia of mind-blowing information about the prairie plants that we were making room for. I learned that for most of the prairie plants, the root system is deep and substantial. In fact, most of the biomass of prairie plants is below the surface of the ground. The deep and substantial root system insures that the plants will have water even in the driest summers. They enrich the soil and for some plants provide the network for forming new plants. The deep and substantial root system allows the plants to survive the prairie fires that are so vital to the health of the prairie ecosystem. The root systems of grasses and plants in the silphium family go down as far as 20′-25′.

The roots of Jesus go deep. The O Antiphon for December 19 takes those roots all the way back to David, son of Jesse, shepherd boy who rose to become king. John 1 takes those roots back even further. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him and without him not one thing was made.”

The One by whom all things were made, the One who spans the long reaches of time and space, the One whose existence lies far beneath the surface of the humble birth in Bethlehem comes to us, comes now, comes to save us.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

In a Moment in Time

redwoodsIn a moment in time, early on this Christmas Eve, I crawled out of bed to greet this new day. In a moment in time, in the morning darkness of my kitchen, I ground beans, boiled water, and made a cup of coffee with an ancient Melitta pour over coffee cone. In a moment in time, I sit in a quiet room watching out the window as the sun peeks over the horizon. Moments of time stacked one upon another in a progression compose an individual life.

In a moment in time Mary and Joseph came to the difficult conclusion that there was no other place to bed down for the night. In moment in time the labor pains could no longer be ignored.  In a moment in time Mary gave birth, not in her mother’s home surrounded by matriarchs and a midwife, but in a cattle stall surrounded by beasts. In a moment in time, a moment marked not by the idyllic tranquility of O Little Town of Bethlehem, but by the terror of giving birth in such a place and the wonder of giving birth in such a place.

In a moment in time the Eternal put on the limiting cloak of chronos.  The Infinite became finite. In a moment in time God entered our world in an utterly dependent baby. In doing so, that moment in time would become the pivot point of all human history. In that moment in time, God took on all that it meant to be human, our tears, our sprains, our sniffles, our disappointments, our dashed dreams, and eventually our death.

The splinters of that crude manger would one day become the splinters of a cruel cross.  The One who entered time would endure death for our sakes. All of this in a moment in time.

God entered our times and our places and our flesh so that we could know God. In the baby of the manger and the crucified man on the cross, we discover God’s true disposition towards us, indeed towards all creation. God entered our world in a moment of time so that we could live in the confidence of divine grace and mercy.

God entered our time so that there are no moments of time in which we are abandoned to our own self destructive ways, to the evil of our lashing out at on another, to the ways of death we seem so determined to follow. We live trusting that even now, God is bringing all things to fullness in Christ.

Regardless of what any particular moments of time may bring, of this we can be sure:  they are embraced and redeemed by a loving and gracious God who at Christmas became one of us. In a moment in time.

Merry Christmas.

 

Which Jesus?

Jesusicon

As young associate pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida, I served at a large Missouri Synod church out in the western part of the city by the beaches. We used to have regular meetings of all the Lutheran clergy in the area, both Missouri and ELCA. One of the the guys who was almost always there was Priit Rebane, an older pastor who served the historic ELCA church in downtown St. Pete. I had the greatest respect for Priit.  He was soft-spoken, theologically astute, and to me, simply oozed pastoral wisdom out of very pore of his being. Priit was the kind of pastor I wanted to be some day. At one of our meetings, he told a story. (Priit, if you ever read this, I hope you’ll forgive inaccuracies; it was 25 years ago, and the particulars are a little fuzzy, but this is how I remember it.) He told about coming out of the seminary, ready for ordination.  He had learned all the theories about the virgin birth, about the resurrection and whether it happened or not, the various criticisms of scripture. By his own estimation, he was a young theological hot shot, headed out into the parish ready to unleash all his learning on some unsuspecting parish. His grandmother sat him down and told him, “Priit, just tell them about Jesus.”

At our Night Prayer service last night, we read from the Gospel of John about some Greek seekers who asked a couple of Jesus’ followers to introduce them. “We wish to see Jesus.”

For those gathering in devotion this week, it’s easy to see ourselves in those wanting to get more of Jesus than a mere glimpse. In our bones, in our souls, to the depth of our being, we understand that what’s happening this week is at the center not only of the Christian faith, but of our own lives with God and of our life together as a community of faith. So, we want to see Jesus.

But what should we tell one another and the world about Jesus this week? In all the conflicting reports of who Jesus was, what he wanted, and what he was trying to accomplish, it doesn’t appear to be as easy as, “Tell them about Jesus.”  By all estimations, he was a good man, a good teacher, a miracle worker, gave his followers an example to follow. Some would argue even that he was a zealot, or a gentle man who inadvertently got caught up in the politics of the times.

In his own words, Jesus invites us to see something different. Last night we read how, as he approached his own impending death, the image he wanted people to behold was his being lifted up, his moment of glory (John 12). He invites us to view the culmination of his whole ministry, the work that he came to do. He invites us to see his enthronement as king of the universe.

Yet that glorification comes as he ascends the throne of the cross. In that cruel, paradoxical enthronement, we are invited to see that in his death life came to us, that his crucifixion removed the barrier of sin and brokenness that stood before a loving God and a fallen humanity and creation.

“And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all things to myself.”  That’s the thing. In his death, he was drawing all people, all things, into the restored unity of God’s love and grace, God’s purpose for the whole world.

I think that’s pretty important in these days when too many of us who identity ourselves with Jesus are seeking to create divides — between the good and the bad, the sinners and the righteous, those who get it and those who don’t, those who stand for biblical values and those who don’t, those who welcome and those who don’t, those who are racist and those who aren’t, those who are Christian and those who aren’t — to pause for a moment and realize that we’re getting it way wrong. His intention was not to create divides, however well-intentioned we might be. His intention was to draw us to God. All of us. Period.

Maybe that’s the Jesus that Priit’s grandmother was looking for. It’s the image that I hope gets burned into our being this week, the image that gets so seared into our minds and our hearts that it starts to issue in the way we behave. That would really be something.

“Jesus Died on the Cross to Save Me from My Sins” Is Not Enough

cross

For those of us who have been around the Christian tradition in North America for any length of time, Good Friday has always been about the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross to save us. Since I was a child, I have heard the theological soundbite, “Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.” And that is true, as far as it goes.

But a faithful reading of the New Testament witness suggests that there was something bigger going on. If Jesus’ entire ministry was about bringing in the reign of God, then what happened on the cross certainly has to be bigger than the personal forgiveness of my sins or anyone else’s. Yes, Jesus healed individuals, and proclaimed to individuals the forgiveness of their sins. I’m not trying to deny or minimize any of that. When he did that, however, those miracles and those proclamations were signs pointing to the larger work that he came to do: to bring in the reign of God. If there was something cosmic going on in Jesus’ life and ministry, then it seems reasonable to believe that something larger was also going on in his death. “For God so loved the world. . .”

For whatever reason (it probably has something to do with what I’ve been reading the past several months) those larger implications of Jesus’ death have filled my reflections, my prayers, and my writing this Holy Week. Those reflections become so hauntingly sharp and troubling as I look around at the world. For instance:

  • In the month or so since the disappearance of the Malaysian jet, the search for debris from the wreckage has brought to our collective consciousness just how filled with garbage the oceans are. Every time we have thought we have located some of the wreckage, it has turned out to be more floating garbage — the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of what has already sunk and lies at the bottom.
  • We’re witnessing a classic international power-grab in the tension between Russia and the Ukraine.
  • The capsizing of a ferry filled with high school students off the coast of Korea, the increase in kidnapping of girls from boarding schools in Nigeria, the violent last weekend in the City of Chicago, and on and on and on.
  • The civil war in Syria in which the Assad regime seems willing to pay an extraordinarily steep price to maintain their hold on power — the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the decimation of their country.
  • The gradual, and nearly complete, transition in our own country from a democracy to an oligarchy, confirmed by yet one more decision by the U. S. Supreme Court removing the limits on how much individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

For me, these are clearly signs of a broken and fallen world that is not only full of pain and struggle, but is full of evil.

If what Jesus did on the cross did anything at all, it must have something to do with God’s intentions to overcome sin and evil on a grand scale. And I can ’t believe that it’s only eschatological, that it will only come in that grand chase scene at the end of this long movie that we call time. So, what is happening? Does Jesus’ death make any difference for the sin and evil of humanity on this grand scale?

I don’t know that I have any clear answers. What I know and trust and believe — we don’t call that “clear answers,” we call that faith — is that God must have done something in the cross that still remains hidden. And that what Jesus did for me personally on the cross must have something to do with my part in that larger work that God is even now doing.
(And if you’re interested and in the area, that’s exactly what we will be reflecting on this evening at our Good Friday Liturgy of the Cross.)