Third sign of Epiphany

On Saturday it was my privilege to officiate the marriage of two widowed friends of advanced years. It has been a whirlwind romance of deep mutual respect and much fun and laughter together, catching up friends and family alike. The ceremony and wedding feast celebrated years of life, wisdom and experience, forged on particular journeys, coming together as one.

The wedding feast at Cana comes readily to mind, where Jesus’ sign of water transformed into wine points to the presence of union at a depth that speaks of the completion and realisation of the messianic banquet. This is the third sign of Epiphany, following those of the visit of the Magi and the divine delight expressed at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.

Ponder these things to gain a grasp of the wonder begun at the celebration of incarnation, where God became as us in Christ that we may, in Christ, become as God.

Reclaiming Epiphany

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Baptism of Christ by John

Baptism of Christ by John: Artist Dave Zelenka. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Down under, we are in that part of the year “when nothing happens.” Christmas/New Year is done and decorations are being boxed and put away.  While a few are returning languidly to their daily labours and many are still enjoying the long vacation, many wait with bated breath for the contentious date of our official National Day on January 26 to pass, when, hopefully with a sigh of relief, we can all get back to whatever passes for normal living.

And we miss what promises to be the most exciting season on the Christian liturgical calendar – the season of Epiphany which runs from the 13th day of Christmas (January 6) to the eve of the first day in Lent, the 40 day period of preparation for Easter. Epiphany is about God’s glory bursting forth in radiance throughout the cosmos.  As we live the annual cycle of the Christ narrative, we internally claim the boon of living as fully divine offspring as a result of the Incarnation, and in preparation for the arduous self- reflection required of the Lenten period. It is a crucial part of the annual prayer rhythm in radiating the Christ story in engagement with and service of the world in its long arc of transformation to completion.

It begins with the story of the visit of the Magi to the Christ household in Bethlehem. The story is brilliant with meaning – universal recognition, understanding and receptivity to the Christ revealed in Jesus, awakening conflict with the status quo and the summons to “go home by another way.”

Next Sunday we will hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism. Again, hear recognition in the divine voice, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Another Epiphany marker is the first sign offered by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John, the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus transforms water into wine, signifying to all present that the long-anticipated consummation of all things has begun.

Here are three pegs on which we (who live south of the Equator) can hang our summer reflections. How does the glory and brilliance of the Christ story fill us as it fills and completes the universe? How do we give expression to an awareness that the Christ who lives in us and transforms us into his likeness evokes Divine recognition and pleasure? How will this translate in supreme service to the world we live in?

Plenty to ponder as we prepare for this year’s adventure.

8

EightOn this first day of 2019, meet today’s guest number!

I learned today that it has some significance as the Eighth Day of Christmas. It is somewhat fitting as, in Christian numerological tradition, eight is associated with new beginnings. Eight people survived the Great Flood by riding the ark to safety; this became associated with baptism and the Risen Christ who makes all things new.

For Jenny and me, we had a greater sense of the dawning New Year as we watched the rosy colours of the sun setting upon 2018 for the last time. The midnight countdown seemed like an anticlimax. Then I learned again that for all ancient peoples, not just the Hebrew people, the day always ended at sunset and the new day began with the hours of darkness. I am reminded of a growing communal hunger for a via antiqua that is more in touch with our humble, earthy beginnings and that ever underlies our layers of technology and civilisation. New beginnings are sometimes a reclaiming of ancient wisdom.

Oh, and our house number is now 8! Happy New Year!

Prophet Mary

Champaigne_visitationMary’s Magnificat, the song sung on the meeting of two expectant mothers, Elizabeth pregnant with John and Mary with Jesus – stands as one of the most powerfully prophetic utterances recorded in Christian sacred text. Mary is this Sunday’s Advent messenger, bringing us to the threshold of the event that meets all the yearning expressed in the set texts. The anticipation and sober reflection of the first three readings are eclipsed by the triumphant and exuberant outburst experienced and expressed on the occasion of this encounter of two cousins. Click on the links and follow through reflectively:

Micah 5:2-5a

 Psalm 80:1-7

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

A further chat with my Advent Messenger

Diarmuid O’Murchu invites me to pause and give attention to my feelings and responses to his orientation on what The Spirit of God may be inviting us to this Advent. I’m happy to do just that! I respond to his dot points in italics.

  • Opting for holistic rather than reductionist analysis. I’ve always been a big picture man. Every detail has a wider context to which it both gives and receives. The detail is incomplete without the whole of which it is a part.
  • Suspicion of reason when used to the exclusion of intuition, imagination, emotion, feeling and spontaneous insight. I have always been located in the intelligence centre that is focused on rationality, discovering later in life the value of instinct, intuition and emotion as emanating from intelligence centres in there own right and deserving holistic integration into our “reasoning” processes. 
  • Dualisms are human constructs that have outlived their usefulness I no longer see matters as a contrast between black and white, or even shades of gray. Life is wonderfully and complicatedly technicolor.
  • Belief in the evolutionary nature of life at every level with three basic and universal movements of growth, change, and development.  My instinctive “amen” is underlined by my acute awareness of these movements within my own interior being and my life-time observation of systems within nature, human history and organisation. It counters the “deus ex machina” idea that once dominated my thinking, even if unconsciously. The Spirit is actively, intimately and progressively involved in all aspects of the cosmos.
  • There are no absolutes in an evolutionary universe – all is unfolding, emerging, becoming.  I want to put a caveat on this one. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I feel there are absolutes (eg Love) of which our perceptions are unfolding, emerging, becoming.
  • Dominance of patriarchy beginning to fragment in meaning and effectiveness. It is dying a slow death – it will not lie down. From where I sit, it will take another generation to become noticeably weaker.
  • Parameters set by past 5000 years of civilisation have been shortsighted, reductionistic, and irresponsible in their constructs of reality. Surely part of evolutionary processes. There have always been countermovements within civilisations, alternatively prized, tolerated and suppressed. Granted, there is still a long way to go before minority wisdom can be seen as a valuable offset to majority slumber.
  • Expansive awareness of vast ages of the universe needs to become the normative basis on which we engage with daily life. I wonder if this requires either further evolution of our collective human capacity or combined human will to appoint leaders whose vision can be lifted higher than the next election.
  • Belief that human wisdom is older than our cultural normative standards. Role of information explosion in the reclamation of knowledge from those who have used it for patriarchal power. The rise of the people in lateral rather than linear thinkingI would like to and need to explore this notion further.
  • Belief that spirituality predates formal religions by several thousand years. A given – Australian Aboriginal spirituality a case in point.
  • Being a life-long learner reframing wisdom and insight as new circumstances demand. Dogma in science and religion are major distractions and confusing obstacles in an evolving universeAs a questioner who regards the Apostle Thomas as my patron saint, I tend to agree. I refuse to use the sobriquet Doubting Thomas, however. His open and skeptical stance led him to be a powerfully effective Believing Thomas, spreading the way of Christ all the way to India. Separating dogma and progressive enquiry is a central task in this quest.

So there we have it – a few steps further towards a fresh encounter with the Christ incarnation that is preparing to be rebirthed in our midst.

Who’s my Advent messenger?

I am sitting in the many layered histories of Kings Park – acutely aware of millennia of cyclical indigenous story, colonial appropriation with a desire to preserve a 200 year old outlook, and contemporary efforts to conserve an enormous biodiversity of flora unique to this region. I have just read the opening chapters of Diarmuid O’Murchu’s “In the Beginning was the Spirit: Science, Religion and Indigenous Spirituality.” I have been drawn to O’Murchu’s writings before – perhaps I identify with his self-description as a “non-academic intellectual.” I suspect that for me this week he is my Advent messenger, my “John the son of Zechariah,” a post modern prophet challenging me to see again how the incarnation of Christ is born into a world of crumbling institutions (including formal religion) and lending my years to the vanguard of a renewed form of spiritual engagement. As Advent 3 approaches I look foward to contemplating his input further.

Into Advent 2 – there be Messengers

Peace does not come peacefully. Advent is full of heralds who shout loudly to waken us and point us to a cacophony of events that are reshaping the order of human affairs. Fasten your seat-belts and don your crash helmets as we enter the readings for December 9!

 Malachi 3:1-4
Today is the day of messengers. We are not sure we want to hear what they have to say – their words confront us where we would rather leave our heads in the sand. Their task is to awaken us and prepare us for cosmic changes. Change is always painful, but, in this season, the result is positive for all.

 Psalm 126

This Psalm celebrates the anticipated outcome as if it has already occurred. In fact, so certain is the confidence of the worshipper that the promise is already fulfilled even in the waiting!

Philippians 1:3-11

From prison Paul rejoices and gives thanks for the community of Christ that is visible in the reign of love among those to whom he is writing. This is the ultimate outcome of all the utterances of the Advent messengers that have led to communities under Paul’s ministry embracing the Christ who has come into their midst.

Luke 3:1-6

John the Baptist is the quintessential Advent messenger – the herald to which all the seers and sages of old pointed. His appearance is sudden, fierce and daunting. We awaken and take notice, however, for he comes preparing the way for momentous change – all for the good! Peace does not come peacefully!

Riding the RCL into Advent

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Christmas lights are going up around the street, but it’s not Christmas yet. Our Christmas tree will go up on Christmas Eve and stay for the 12 days of the Nativity commemorations. Next Sunday readings begin the four week season of Advent that precedes Christmas. Like the season of Lent, it is a purple season of preparation that involves fasting!  To observe Advent in the way it is intended is therefore quite counter cultural. Following the texts of the four anticipatory Sundays of Advent can therefore help us, even if it is for a brief pause of reflection.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Advent is the season where we meet the prophets pointing forward with hope to the culmination of the big picture. They do so from their own context, but with wider ramifications. They are very much “today.” Jeremiah surveys a bleak political scene and points to the rise of days when the balance of justice and peace will be restored. 
And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 25:1-10

Psalms are both personal and communal declarations we make towards the Holy One, whose inexpressible name is often rendered through print in uppercase letters as “LORD”, the English translation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton “YHWH,” the sound of breath, or the action of being.  We are always addressing the Mystery, the Ineffable, in Whom we live and move and have our being. To be able to express contrition and hope with such trust and intimacy is a gift that Advent brings us.
 
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Advent preparation involves us as people who are already living the Easter reality. That which we anticipate has already come to pass. This is why Paul exudes such confidence in the joy and love in which the Thessalonian church is called to live. It is possible to simultaneously appropriate and anticipate the realm of Shalom – the Holy One’s perfect reign.

Luke 21:25-36

What a scary passage to begin the year of Luke! But we are in Advent, the season of prophets, who tell it like it is. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the road of service that lies ahead. It’s not going to be an easy stroll – all sorts of obstacles await and events will mount a daunting and discouraging scale. Hope in the vision of what they have witnessed and the reality of the struggle in which they have participated and the union with Christ that is their continuing experience is what will sustain them, even when the world is falling apart.

Beginnings, Endings, Completion

“When did God begin?” was the tongue in cheek question blurted out as a challenge to the RE teacher. The boy wore an analog timepiece. The teacher said, “Show me your watch.” The boy put forth his wrist. “Trace the circumference with your finger. It’s a perfect circle. Show me where the circle begins and where it ends.”
An inspired answer! Someone reminded me this week of a sermon I delivered more than 30 years ago in which chronos time (measured in linear terms like the hands of the watch) is surrounded by kairos time (significant events where awareness of the eternal encompassing the temporal, like a circle without beginning or end, breaks in).

Next Sunday’s readings bring us full circle on the lectionary year, using the language of sovereignty (The Festival of Christ the King) to celebrate this all-encompassing mystery of completion in endings and beginnings.

2 Samuel 23:1-7 

Hence, the dying words of King David point to confidence in a continuity for his realm that rests in the ways of the Holy.

 Psalm 93

This same confidence is echoed in the psalm celebrating the sovereignty of YHWH

Revelation 1:4b-8

The vision of the Sovereign Christ, the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, begins a dream-like journey of Completion (or Fulfilment) for all things narrated by John on the island of Patmos where he is exiled.

John 18:33-37

Pilate stands as an agent of temporal empire in all its expressions (even today’s!) non-plussed, incomprehensive, yet strangely drawn to tho the figure that stands before him, speaking the language of kairos of which he alone is Sovereign.

This Sunday also marks the change from a year dominated by the necessary pathway of trial and suffering that is part of the disciple’s journey portrayed in Mark’s Gospel. The cycle now takes us to Luke’s Gospel, which during the coming year, will have us exploring the pathway of mature and committed service for the sake of others – a focus on community building that includes but goes beyond the walls of the church to serve the world. The anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas will provide the portal through to that path!

Our anxious times

businessman office mobile phone finance

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Next week’s texts are suitably apocalyptic as we approach the climax of the church year. They coincide with a week following the centenary commemorations of the end of the Great War “to end all wars.” Yet there is a global unease as the world retreats into defensive poses in the wake of natural calamity, shifting balances in world power and economic and political angst. An apt metaphor for “Apocalypse” is “drawing back the curtain to see things as they really are.”  Our texts hint at this.

1 Samuel 1:4-20 

We visit the anguish of Hannah, grieving and taunted for her barrenness in a society that measured its wealth and prosperity in creating descendants to ensure tribal viability. It is the soil for the beginning of the story of the birth of Samuel, Israel’s kingmaker and the unfolding narrative of human salvation. Even in the midst of hopeless despair, destiny is awoken.

Psalm 16

This could well be Hannah’s prayer. The Psalms provide instances that allow the fullness of expression of human anguish to train through to expressions of trusting hope that speak of guarantee and not merely wishful thinking.

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds …” This is the “therefore” of the thorough discussion and comparison of Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice with the perpetual sacrificial rites of the old priestly system. There is a particular way to live even in the midst of what some have called the age of spiritual melancholia – the way of agape love spelled out in mutual acts of care and encouragement.

Mark 13:1-8

The little apocalypse – Jesus urges the disciples to keep their focus on the reality of the way of the kingdom against the distractions of the times.