Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hope for the New Year

[Following is the article I wrote for January 2009 issue of the parish newsletter.]

The New Year is always a time for reflection on the year that has just past. Usually, as I look back on the previous year, I find myself overcome with emotion and sentimentality over what has occurred during the previous twelve months, thinking about the many ways I have grown and changed, the successes I have experienced, and pondering the ways that I might have done things better. But this year is a little different. I’m sure that many of you share my sentiment that you would just as soon forget that 2008 ever happened. While I may still get a little teary-eyed on New Year’s Eve, I’m sure they will be more tears of sorrow than tears of joy. After all, the news and events of the past year have been, by and large, less than cheery, to say the least.

As this new year begins, more than any other year, I find that I am looking forward more than I am looking back. With all the negative news we have witnessed, the difficulties and losses we have all experienced due to the global financial crisis, I feel a need more than ever to look forward in hope – hope that 2009 will be better than 2008, hope that things will improve. I think, now more than ever, we need hope – if for no other reason than to prevent us from spiraling into the pit of despair that hopelessness always brings.

As I think about hope, I am reminded that we are a people of hope. Our faith is built upon hope. The hope of Abraham and Sarah that God would fulfill His promise to provide offspring that would become a great nation. The hope of the Hebrews wandering in the desert that God, through Moses, would lead them to the Promised Land. The hope of the people of Israel that they would return home from exile in Babylon. The hope of a Messiah announced to Zechariah. The hope of a son who would be Emmanuel, God with us, promised to Mary. And the hope of new life promised through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For thousands of years, hope carried our Old Testament ancestors through unimaginable trials and tribulations. For the past two thousand years, hope in our Lord Jesus Christ has seen countless Christians through incredibly difficult times. Like these, our forebears, we cannot forget our past. But we don’t have to dwell in or on the past. We can, instead, look ahead, in hope, to better things to come – to the land of milk and honey that God wishes for us all, that God promises to us all. Let us pray that 2009 brings us one step closer to that promise.

I wish you all a blessed and happy New Year.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

First Sunday after Christmas – Year B (BCP)Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Sunday, December 28, 2008 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This refers to the idea that complex ideas or stories can better be conveyed through the use of a single image, that an image can convey more information or be far more influential than copious amounts of text. This phrase, or at least the general concept, has been attributed to such varied historical figures as Napoleon Bonaparte, Confucius, and the Russian author Ivan Turgenev.

Regardless of its provenance, the modern use of the phrase is attributed to Fred R. Barnard who used the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” in a 1921 article promoting the use of images in advertisements that were plastered on the sides of streetcars (Wikipedia). Ever since, Madison Avenue has used this adage as the guiding principal for its ad campaigns. In the early 20th century, it was for ads on streetcars. Today, it is ads on buses, on billboards, in magazines, and on television. The concept has become so pervasive that sometimes, all you see in an ad is an image with no words. The image is meant to evoke some kind of emotional response that will prompt the viewer to buy whatever is being sold. Such images generally play on our baser human desires, on our dreams and fantasies, to sell the product. A classic example is the image of a beautiful, bikini-clad blond lounging on the hood of a Ferrari. If you buy this car, you’re fantasies will come true; you will be sexy; you will attract sexy, beautiful blonds.

Of course, at a rational level, we know such ads are pure hype, intending to play on our emotions, to reach down into the depths of our being to dredge up or tease out our deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires. That is the power of a single image. Even when not used to try to sell us something, there are certain images that evoke strong emotional responses from us.

Who among us was not deeply moved when we first saw the images on television of smoke rising from the top of the Twin Tours on September 11, 2001? As we saw those images, repeatedly flashed on our television screens, printed on the fronts of newspapers and in news magazines, who of us did not feel deep, gut-level emotions? Fear. Anger. Sorrow. Loss. Anxiety. Even today, for many Americans, seeing pictures of that tragic day, of that fateful event, brings back all those emotions, as if it just happened yesterday. For many, those images have become stronger, more powerful, filled with more of a message than they had on that fateful day seven years ago. For many, seeing those images today not only brings back the emotions felt at the time, but also brings back memories of where they were when they first heard the news, when they first saw the images, memories of the sense of shock.

And who among us has not seen the picture of a loved one, even someone long departed, and not felt a great stirring of memory and emotion. Even though she died nearly 35 years ago, seeing a picture of my grandmother brings back so many memories and emotions. The deep sense of love that Nanny always conveyed to each and every one of her grandchildren. The way we always felt cared for and nurtured when we were at her house. Her gentle, humble spirit. Of walking into her house on a Sunday after church, being greeted not only by her warm embrace and gentle kiss, but also the smells of pot roast or fried chicken, the smells of some home-baked goodie for dessert. The joy of sitting down to Sunday dinner with parents and grandparents, with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I can almost taste the delicious food she lovingly prepared, particularly the home-made chocolate cream pie. All this and much more, just by looking at a picture of a woman, a woman who died when I was only 12 years old.

That is the power of an image, of a single picture – to bring up such emotion, to recall so many memories, than could not be adequately conveyed in mere words, not even in a thousand words. Yes, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words and much more.

But there is one word whose power surpasses even that of a picture. And that is the Word (with a capital “W”) of which John speaks in today’s Gospel lesson. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These words, the Word, carries so much meaning for us, it is difficult to know where to begin. So how about we start at the very beginning.

John’s words parallel and are intended to remind us of the beginning of Genesis. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). But even before the creation story, the Word always was from the beginning. The Word was before creation. “All things came into being through him,” through the Word. This was God’s first gift, the creation of all that is, of the heavens and the earth, light and darkness, water and dry land, day and night, vegetation, birds of the air, creatures of the sea, every kind of animal and creeping thing that lives on dry land, and finally, us – humankind. Through the Word, all that we have, all creation, our very lives, were lovingly made and given into our care. All of creation is but a mere part of the Word, a mere expression of the Word, not the totality of the Word. The Word is so much more. There is so much more of the Word that has yet to be revealed.

As one clergy person noted, the Word ultimately expresses “the fellowship that is God, the intimate relationships of love that are God’s heart, have always been, and always will be” (Howell, 188). The Word expresses God’s internal fellowship, the internal relationship of the Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all intertwined in infinite, limitless love. In this fellowship, the Word expresses God’s inner self, God’s loving heart. It is that loving heart that was at the root of, that gave birth to, the desire for creation. The Word, God’s loving heart, expression of God’s unbounded love, ached to share himself with something other than himself. Thus began the process of creation, born of the love that is in and is through and is the Word.

But even in the full realization that creation is an expression of God’s love, in the realization of God’s unlimited love for what has been created, there was still something missing. Even in creation, the fullness of the Word, the greatness of the love inherent in the Word was even then not yet fully expressed. How to be in relationship with creation, particularly with humanity? Such relationship requires, at least for us, the created, a tangible manifestation, a physical expression of love. And that is what John’s Prologue reveals – the means of that manifestation of God’s loving heart.

As John’s Prologue reveals through its poetic imagery, the revelation of the Word to humanity is not so much a “big bang” as it is an unfolding, just as the process of creation was a gradual unfolding. The Prologue unfolds for us yet more detail about who the Word is. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Word made flesh, God incarnate. The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In this, the Word expresses God’s desire to connect with us, humanity, with that which was loving created through the Word, we who have always been loved. This desire is made reality, made tangible for us through God’s incarnation, through God made flesh, in His Son Jesus.

What more beautiful way for God to manifest His love for us than to become one of us, to be born as a human. God incarnated, born as a child of a human mother. Even though King of Kings and Lord of Lords, born as a peasant of lowly estate, born not in a royal palace, born not even in a proper home, but born in a manger. The Word made flesh, born among the lowest of the low, so that he might fully experience the human condition in all its baseness and grittiness. To willingly take on such an existence is truly an act of love, only possible from God’s loving heart that is the Word.

But even more expressive of God’s loving heart is the ultimate purpose for which the Word was made flesh. The Word was made flesh not merely to share our human experience, but to provide for our salvation. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Through his life, death, and resurrection, we have received the ultimate grace expressing God’s loving heart – that we might be saved, that we might be given eternal life with God, through Christ, through the Word made flesh. Through the Word, God brought about all creation. Because of the Word made flesh, we are heirs to a new creation. Through the Word, God gave us life. Because of the Word made flesh, we are given eternal life.

The Word, who was from before creation, through whom all things were created. The Word, desiring, longing to be in relationship with us, the created children of God. The Word, made flesh, to be in relationship with us and to share our experiences of humanity. The Word, made flesh in order to be the means and instrument of our salvation. The Word, made flesh, through whom we are given eternal life. In all of this and so much more that is beyond words, the Word speaks far more than could possibly be conveyed even by a thousand pictures.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” Wikipedia. (26 December 2008).

Howell, James C. “Second Sunday After Christmas Day, John 1:(1-9)10-18, Theological Perspective.” In Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, Volume 1, Advent Through Transfiguration. Edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Home for Christmas

Christmas Day – Year B (BCP)
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Thursday, December 25, 2008 –
St. Alban’s, Westwood

I know we all have our favorite Christmas hymns and Christmas carols. And I’m sure some of those evoke a strong emotional response. For me, it is not officially Christmas until I hear “O Come All Ye Faithful” sung as the processional hymn at the Christmas Eve midnight mass. That song, particularly at that time, nearly always brings a tear or two to my eyes. Other hymns that really stir my emotions are “What Child Is This,” “O Holy Night,” and “Silent Night.” Part of it is the haunting, solemn melodies. And part of it is certainly the image that these songs conjure up – a scared young woman, far from home for the first time, nine months pregnant, forced to give birth to her child, the One who would be the savior of the world, in a strange town, under the most dismal of conditions. Put it all together and my emotions can hardly be contained.

But it’s not just the Christmas songs with proper religious themes that get me going emotionally. There is the occasional secular Christmas song, lacking any religious theme, lacking any semblance of a message about what this day and this season are truly about, that will churn my emotions. One that nearly always gets me is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Thinking about that song, I can’t help but hear in my mind Bing Crosby singing those words:

I'll be home for Christmas;
You can count on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

Now I can do without the snow part. And this song certainly doesn’t give any indication of what this most holy of days is all about. But it still rips at my emotions, and even in its lack of Christmas imagery, other than snow, mistletoe, presents, and a tree, at least for me, it carries tremendous meaning as to what this day, this season, is all about – home.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was first written and sung in 1943, in the midst of World War II. At the time of its premier, it touched the hearts and minds of soldiers away from home and of their friends and families, indeed, of all civilians, here in the States. It expressed in a simple melody the fervent wishes of so many – to be home with loved ones for this holiday. While that was not to be a reality for most, at least it could be a pleasant, nurturing dream.

Or perhaps it’s the fact that it expresses my reality. While most of my adult life I have lived within an hour or two of my family home in Riverside, and can easily get there whenever I want to or need to, the one time of the year that I truly yearn to be home in Riverside, is Christmas. I long to see all the decorations my mother has put out. I want to spend time with those I love. I can hardly wait for the wonderful Christmas feast, unlike any other family dinner of the year. I suppose “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” took on a deeper meaning for me during my three years in seminary in Chicago. During those years, going home for Christmas took on a greater significance while at the same time requiring greater effort – either three days of driving or a five hour plane flight. And invariably, from the time I left my apartment in Chicago until I arrived in Riverside, Bing Crosby serenaded me, reminding me of what I was doing, of what it meant to be going home.

For many, Christmas is a time of returning home. Or, if they are not able to go home, because of insufficient time to do so, because of insufficient money to be able to make the trip, because the home of memory, of bygone times, no longer exists, it is a time of wishing they could be home. “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”

This year, as I read and reflect on the Gospel lesson, I cannot help but hear shades of Bing Crosby creeping into the message. For in a way, this Gospel is about home, about being away from home, about coming home, about providing a home.

For Mary and Joseph, this is a time for leaving home. We are told that for them, home is Nazareth. They are required, by a decree from the emperor, to travel to a different home, to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home, a home that is not at all home, at least not for them, to be registered in the census.

Despite having to be away from their home, Mary and Joseph, out of necessity, for the sake of the child that is about to be born, make a home where there is no home. We are told that while they are in Bethlehem, “the time came for [Mary] to deliver her child.” Because the town was crowded with others coming to register for the census, there was not room for them to stay in proper guest accommodations. The only place where they could find shelter was in a manger – in the smelly, dirty stable in which the animals made their home. In such a place, Mary and Joseph were forced to make the first home their newborn son would have.

In this way, Jesus is born into a new home – a home not his own, the home made for him by his parents in that manger in Bethlehem. But we are told, or rather, the shepherds are told, that this is no ordinary child. For “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This is the child that has been foretold by the prophets – the Messiah, the hope of the world, the savior of all humanity. This child, the great king who would bring salvation to all, is not born in a palace. He is not even born in a proper home. Yet, by virtue of who he is and who he is to become, has nonetheless come home to the world – to the world and to the people it would be his responsibility to save.

And by virtue of who he is, this king, this Messiah, this child called Jesus is not just born into a physical place that is a manger in Bethlehem, an outpost in Judea, a province of the Roman Empire. He is also born into a home that has no physical location. Jesus is born into the home that is provided in the hearts of those who hear the glorious announcement of the birth of their Messiah. But the shepherds who received this most spectacular of birth announcements delivered by an angel, accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly host, were not the only ones to receive the message. On this day, we, too, receive the announcement of this spectacular birth, In receiving this announcement, Jesus is not just born into a makeshift home in a manger in Bethlehem. In receiving this announcement, of hearing the words of the angel and the heavenly host, Jesus is also born into the home that we make for him in our hearts and our lives.

In this way, Jesus is born into a new home – a temporary home that is provided by his parents in that manger in Bethlehem, and a permanent home, that is provided in the hearts and lives of all those who receive him as their Savior, as their Messiah. But Jesus is not the only one who receives a new home as a result of that first Christmas. We, too, by witnessing his birth, by receiving our Lord, by embracing the tender child who is the key to salvation, not just ours but the entire world’s; we, too, come home to a new life in Jesus Christ.

For us, no matter where our physical homes may be, no matter whether we are able to actually be their at this time of year or only long to be there, to be home if only in our dreams, we can take comfort in the assurance that each and every one of us is indeed home for Christmas, here and now, in the life of the One born this day, Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Merry Christmas!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scandal of the Annunciation

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year B (BCP)
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16; Psalm 132:8-15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Sunday, December 21, 2008 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

Scandalous! Absolutely scandalous!

Today’s Gospel lesson is certainly worthy of the tabloids lining the racks at supermarket check-out lines. “Angel Appears to Young Girl, Gives Startling News.” “Virgin from Nazareth Conceives Child.” “Girl Claims God is Baby’s Father.” “Peasant Girl to Give Birth to King.” This story has it all – all of what makes a good tabloid story – other-worldly appearances, the supernatural, royalty. And while there is no specific sexual imagery, we even manage to work that one in, too. Put it all together and you have the biggest, most scandalous event of all-time – a story far surpassing anything the National Enquirer could ever hope to publish about Britney Spears, the British Royal Family, or UFOs.

Of course, we must remember that we are dealing with a different culture and different time. So what we might view as scandalous in our own day may not necessarily have been viewed as that scandalous 2,000 years ago. For those living in Greco-Roman society, steeped in a pantheon of hedonistic gods, a god choosing a human woman to bear a child would not have been unheard of, nor, in many respects, thought that unusual. Hercules was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmana. Perseus was the son of Zeus and the human woman DanaĆ«, just to name a couple of the better known progeny of gods and mortals. For the Greco-Roman society of the day, the news of God choosing a mortal woman to bear a child would not have been everyday news, but it also would not be completely unexpected. In fact, such an event would have sent a definite message about the nature of the child. Since the offspring of a god and a mortal was virtually always a significant and heroic figure, the story of Mary’s spectacular conception would have indicated that the child to be born would be a hero of the people and would likely be powerful and achieve great things.

While in retrospect, this is certainly true of Jesus, the fact remains that in the first century, this story would, at a certain level, still have been viewed as scandalous by believers and non-believers alike, but for different reasons.

Whether or not you believe in the virgin birth, regardless of the historical veracity of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth, today’s lesson holds some key truths about the nature of our God, as well as some insight into what motivated Jesus and helped form his teachings and actions. As one biblical scholar notes, “Luke apparently believed that if we are to properly understand Jesus and what his birth means, we must hear how it began” (Peterson, 26). If that were not so, why would Luke choose to begin the story about the leader of a new religious movement, the story of the one whom he believed to be the Messiah, with a description that would have raised more than a few eyebrows? Why not just let Jesus’ life speak for itself, as Mark did? No, there must be something to this scandalous description of Jesus’ mother and his conception that is worth pondering. It is only by looking at the scandal involved in this story that the truths about Jesus, the truths about God, are revealed. So, let’s look at the scandal from several angles, and see what this extraordinary set of circumstances says about God, about Jesus, and about our relationship with them.

One of the first things that jumps out is the fact that the story is filled with a bunch of unlikely, even insignificant particulars. God chose an insignificant girl, betrothed to an insignificant carpenter, living in an insignificant town in an insignificant province of the Roman Empire to perform one of the most significant tasks in salvation history – to bear and give birth to the Son of God. If God wanted to make a big splash, to make sure that everyone knew about the birth of His Son, why did he choose such an insignificant time, location, and cast of characters to carry out this most important of events? I am reminded of a scene in the 1970s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Near the end of the play, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas sings:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand.
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?
If you’d come today you would have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass-communication.

Judas has a point. But with all due respect to him, I think God had it planned down to a “T”. Yes, the place, the time, the principals may have been insignificant, but that was all part of the message. Ours is a God who does not rush in like a bull in a china shop or use Madison Avenue companies to create flashy press releases. Ours is a God who takes the insignificant, the seemingly lowly, and gives them the opportunity to become part of something bigger, better, and far more spectacular than they could have ever imagined. In so doing, ours is a God who sends the message that everyone, even the least of these, is important, is significant, is worthy of His attention, of his love, mercy, and grace.

I think this is, to some extent, reflected in the way Mary is viewed, particularly by Protestants. For the Roman Catholics, Mary is unlike other Christian believers. She is quite extraordinary, even unique. She is viewed as being sinless, as being both mother and perpetual virgin. For Protestants, “the extraordinary thing about Mary is precisely her ordinariness” (Rigby, 94).

Despite the fact that God chose an insignificant person from an insignificant place to perform one of the most significant tasks in salvation history, these insignificant particulars hold an inherent significance in their very particularity. As Luke tells us, God acts at a very particular time – in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy; in a particular place – a town in Galilee called Nazareth; through a particular individual – a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. This is what theologians refer to as the “scandal of particularity”. Scholar Cynthia Rigby notes that in the “scandal of particularity,” theologians “recognize that it can offend our sensibilities to ponder how the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the universe entered into the particularities of historical existence” (Rigby, 96). In other words, “How could God's revelation of his saving purpose for all humanity be restricted to one isolated event in a tiny outpost in the Roman Empire, some 2,000 years ago? Could God not just have revealed himself in a more universal way that was not tied to this particular historical event?” (Gil). The answer? No. We humans require relationship. God recognized this. The only way that God would be able to truly connect with humanity, or rather, for humanity to truly connect with God, would be through relationship. For that, God needed to be incarnate, made flesh, so that we might be able to be in relationship, face-to-face. For that, God needed to be incarnated at a particular time, to a particular place, to be in relationship with particular people.

And the scandal of particularity does not end in the first century, with the Annunciation, or with Jesus’ birth, or even with his death and resurrection. The scandal of particularly continues to be a central component of our faith journeys, both individually and collectively. Even today, in the twenty-first century, we continue to meet God at very particular times, in particular places, through particular people. This alleged “scandal” continues to be the primary means of encountering God, of knowing God, of how we progress along our spiritual journeys. And while we need the particular for our own benefit, it also takes us back to the insignificant. Not only do we meet God in the particular, we also quite often, it turns out, meet God in the seemingly insignificant.

Another key aspect of this scandal has to do with the way Mary is treated throughout all of this. As we’ve noted, Greco-Roman culture would not have been surprised to hear that a deity chose a mortal woman to bear a child. After all, gods were always forcing their will upon humans for their own selfish purposes. For first century residents of the Roman Empire, a god forcing his will upon a mortal would have been assumed, even expected. But what was different about this god was that he did not force his will upon his human “victim.” For us, it is unthinkable that God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will (Culpepper, 52). For first century residents of the Roman world, the Annunciation would have been a very different kind of story. Mary was not a victim. God was not a perpetrator of violence. Mary had a choice. After being presented with God’s request, Mary has the opportunity to carefully consider the full implications of what was being asked of her, and of what it would mean to her personally and to her unborn child if she said “yes.” After all, if she were to say “yes,” she would be subjecting herself, not to mention her illegitimate, unborn child, to great ridicule and ostracism. But after weighing all that Gabriel said, all that God was asking of her, Mary boldly says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary acts freely, consistent with who she really is – the servant of the Lord. In her response, and in her actions, “Mary is an important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk to self.” In this respect, Mary not only embodies the scandal, she also embodies the obedience (Culpepper, 52). While we often talk about Mary’s obedience, we tend to overlook what Mary’s willingness to be obedient says about God. God had a great plan, but it all hinged upon the willingness of a single person, Mary, to say “yes.” Without her “yes,” the plan would have been a “no go.” God invited Mary into the process, particularly into this event which was of paramount importance to all of humanity. God needed Mary’s participation. God needed Mary’s willing participation.

This story and Mary’s willingness to be a part of God’s grand plan demonstrates that in this most significant of events, God worked in mutual cooperation, in partnership, with humanity, represented by Mary. In this, Mary acts as proxy for us all. As a servant of the Lord, Mary, and we, are not merely tools to be used by God, but rather, we are asked to willingly contribute, to be partners, to be co-creators with God.

The story of the Annunciation is full of scandal. But not the scandal you might expect based on a cursory reading. The scandal is that God uses the insignificant to produce or create the significant. The scandal is that God meets us in very particular times and places, in very particular ways. And the scandal is that God does not coerce us, but rather invites us, lovingly, gently, into His plans, into His processes, to be co-creators. From the perspective of the secular world, all of this is truly scandalous. But, as one scholar notes, perhaps “The ultimate scandal is that God would enter human life with all its depravity, violence, and corruption.” In that, “the annunciation ultimately is an announcement of hope for humankind” (Culpepper, 53).

The original meaning of the word “scandal” was “stumbling block.” For us Christians, the story of the Annunciation, the scandalous particulars embodied in it, are not stumbling blocks as much as stepping stones on our faith journey – truths revealed about our God, to be treasured and pondered, as we go about doing whatever it is that God has asked of us. What God asks of each of us may not be as spectacular as what was asked of Mary, but it is, nonetheless, just as significant, just as particular, and is done gently and lovingly, inviting us into the process of co-creation.

As we wrap-up this Advent season and prepare for the birth of the One who is our ultimate hope, who is the ultimate purpose of our lives, let us enter into the scandal and say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

Gil. “The Scandal of Particularity.” Just Wondering. (4 December 2008).

Peterson, Brian K., et al. New Proclamation: Year B, 2008-2009, Advent through Holy Week. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Rigby, Cynthia L. “Luke 1:26-38, Theological Perspective.” In Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, Volume 1, Advent Through Transfiguration. Edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

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