Monday, December 27, 2010

the Life was the Light of all people

It's Evangelist John's version of the Christmas story:

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 came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.
John 1:1-3a

"Word" in this passage is "logos" in Greek. Logos can be loosely translated into English as "word". Not simply those little clumps of letters separated by spaces--the ones I'm typing and that you are reading now. And we also shouldn't think of it as we often do in a modern sense when we talk about "the word of God" and mean our favorite illustrated, hard-bound, annotated and copyrighted version of the Bible. No, this logos is a living, Divine Agent that welds together words, thought and activity.
What has come into being in him was life, the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3b-5
Logos in John begins with the same root as the second half of the compound terms we are so familiar with today. For example, the term psychology. Literally translated, psychology means "that which is known, said, thought and taught about the mind/soul continuum".
John tells us that this logos was there at "the beginning". That means, at creation. As if eternity could have a beginning. But we say and believe that the stuff that exists has a beginning.
This creative mind/soul continuum not only made all things but illuminates all things and has entered the created order of things with light. Light that is life. Life that is light.
Light by definition cannot do other than shine or it isn't light. Where light is, darkness cannot possibly be. Light is, by definition, by action, by illumination, the destroyer of darkness. Light is not absence. Light is presence. Darkness doesn't have to do anything. It can't do anything because it is the absence of everything.
Light has to be the presence of something. It has to do something. It has to shine. It has to be. It is. Therefore, what else could you call it but life?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John 1:6-8
Testify... Witness... English words with the same Greek antecedent: martyreo. Yes, one who testifies to or witnesses to is one who "martyrs" self to... In other words, one who demonstrates by their whole being what their psyche, their body/mind/soul continuum is about, what it is animated by, energized by, what it lives for. And by whom it lives.
The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. John 1:9
According to John, this logos, this light, this life, is Jesus of Nazareth, the One God present in Jesus of Nazareth. Not only God made flesh, but God permeating and imbuing everything with something that does what light does. (See above discussion of the contrast between light and darkness.)
That photograph above? We took it on a short weekend at Cannon Beach, OR. August 2008. Jean knew something was not right but did not yet know that she had a brain tumor. Kiwi fruit-sized brain tumor.
In the days and weeks after the photo was taken, we would not so much remember the photo itself but the incredible, surrounding presence of the light that afternoon. After I had taken the shot, I looked back at Jean. She was in tears. "So beautiful!" she sobbed. "It's just so beautiful!"
That's what the Evangelist John is bringing with his symphony of basic Greek words: a witness to light that is life all around us and in us and through us.
Where darkness can no longer be because the Light has shined. Here. Arrived. Shining....
Merry Christmas, and thank you, John.
May the Light be with you all!
P.S. The word photography? Yeah, Greek too. It means "writing with light". Cool, huh?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Of the Father's Love Begotten...

Of the Father's love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source the ending He
Of the things that are, that have been
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.
The lyrics are by one ancient church father named Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, dating to the fourth century. In our Lutheran hymnals, the beautiful five verses are set to stunningly simple and flowing music, a plainsong from the 13th century. It's one of the oldest liturgical pieces we have. It's by far one of the most beautiful.
It's not about the cuteness of a baby, the quietness of a night that wasn't quiet--what with displaced people scrambling for shelter before darkenss left them at the hands of robbers or raping Roman soldiers extorting protection money.
No, "Of the Father's Love Begotten" is actually one of the most beautiful Christian creeds we own--if we would choose to see it as such. It tells God's story. It's not about what we humans have projected onto a single night or a few days surrounding it that we really have no way of knowing a whole lot about. It's about what God has been doing eternally.
And, no, unlike every children's pageant and program, unlike every courthouse/church lawn nativity scene, unlike every creche on living room mantles, the shepherds, the eastern astologers and the newborn child were not all there simultaneously.
If the world had not been very imperfect, the Perfect would not have needed to enter it so intimately.
The gospel text for this Sunday, the day after Christmas, is from Matthew 2. The Holy Family is on the run, escaping to Egypt. On the run for the life of their child, on the run for their own lives if they had been caught defying Herod's order. A paranoid megalomaniac who does not hesitate to murder siblings, spouses, children will not bat an eyelash wiping out a couple of fleeing peasants who might constitute a threat to Herod's power.
Here God begins. Or continues... Here God chooses to crawl inside of human flesh that can't even walk, talk or feed itself. Here God forsakes "lording it over" and chooses to live under the world that so desperately needs hope, help, healing and a whole host of things besides redemption.
So God begins where God always does: with nothing, or next to nothing. In weakness, not strength. In vulnerability, not supremacy. In flesh, not just spirit.
In life, not in death.
In order to spend time with us for all time.
It's begotten in love. Always was. Ever shall be.
Fall on your knees. Hear the angel voices. Where you least expect to find them.
Christmas blessings!

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Hanoi With Love: a New Messiah Chorus

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

Josh Butler and a couple of other church members arrived about two hours before the 9:00 AM worship yesterday morning at Imago Dei Community. They were bearing gifts from the East.

As in, the Far East.

As in the "East" that we on the West Coast of North America have to travel west to reach.

As in Southeast Asia.

As in Hanoi, Vietnam.

As in, yes, the same Hanoi our country engaged as a blood adversary for 16 years, deployed 3.5 million Americans to serve in, shed the blood of over 58,000 of our own, over a million of theirs.

We cannot begin to tally the cost of war.

We left behind thousands of maimed, orphaned Asian children, thousands of Amerasian children conceived by the union of American GI sperm with the eggs of Asian prostitutes and abandoned "girlfriends".

Thousands of square miles of Vietnam were tainted and poisoned with Agent Orange. Over 30,000 Vietnamese have died since the end of the American War in 1975 as a result of one cause: accidental detonation of unexploded mines, bombs and other ordnance that are the inevitable byproducts, whether accidental or intentional, of war.

While we sing the "Alleluia Chorus " of Handel's Messiah in churches, civic auditoriums and via flash mobs in shopping malls, we may in the midst of our celebrations, wrapping paper and debit/credit slips forget the verses of Isaiah 9:2-5 that come immediately before the familiar verses Handel set to music:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as soldiers rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

The "gifts" Josh Butler and the others presented at Imago Dei's worship yesterday were these church bulletins printed in Hanoi. They were printed at a growing community business started by Imago in Hanoi in order to give work and dignity and worth and community to people with disabilities who are often hidden by their families who consider disabled people a shameful disgrace. Some of these workers and their families are so moved by this act of grace and kindness, this new view of life, this new beginning, that their hearts and minds are ready and eager to hear a message of steadfast love and hope.

We call it the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I call it taking the words of Isaiah 9:2-5 seriously because we have taken the words of Isaiah 9:6-7 seriously.

For once.

In Southeast Asia.

Or wherever we are.

Christ came not to sanction the economic growth of the righteous but to break the rod of the oppressor and to burn forever the boots, the armaments, the instruments and the uniforms of war. Including those that say: Made in USA.

Cleberate and get to know this Christ whose birth we proclaim. Get to know Isaiah first. Then be ready to unwrap the package of Jesus' birth by asking the question, "What does this call me to?"

The peace of Christ be with you all,


PS: The crooked cut on the bulletin? No, it wasn't done by the disabled person in Hanoi who ran the copies. Josh Butler himself took full responsibility for that.

Q: And where did the money come for this project?

A: Imago Dei's alteration of commerical Christmas known as Advent Conspiracy:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give The Mall!

Well, they've got it all figured out.
Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011. Guess we don't have to worry about 2012 anymore.
This group has it all figured out. Down to the day. But they wouldn't do the hour, I suppose, cuz that might actually be stepping into God's turf.
Have a gander:
"The Bible teaches that. . .", etc.
So it has to be true. Only people who "interpret" the Scriptures can be wrong. Those who simply read it know the full truth. So they can't be wrong.
Funny, I've never heard that line of reasoning from a native speaker of ancient Hebrew, ancient Aramaic or Koine Greek. Just so you know, the last "native speaker" of Koine Greek died at least a thousand years ago when common Greek had already transformed into something between it and modern Greek.
So if Jesus is a'comin', might as well run up the credit cards to the max. Give the Mall this Christmas. But why stop there? Go whole hog, hog wild. Since we won't even see Memorial Day 2011 according to these folks, might as well have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.
And then some... Foreclosure and garnished paychecks move so slowly you won't even be homeless yet by May 21. Go for it.
Bible teaches. . . Or not.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

R U the 1 We've Been Waiting 4?

Now when Jesus had finished instructing his disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus asnwered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Matthew 11:1-6

Advent is quite a ride. Last week we see John at the Jordan warning people that God's chosen anointed ("Messiah" in Hebrew, "Christ" in Greek) was upon them. Messiah would shake up the world, gather the grain into the bin and set the waste products (unprepared, unrepentant people???) on fire.

Messiah's winnowing fork is the equivalent of being run through a combine. Or a hay baler. Any farmer who has ever run either of these machines has at one time or another seen the unfortunate snake, rabbit or pheasant go through the machine. As a kid, I don't know how many rats and mice I saw hop into the feeder and go through the corn sheller.... Never saw any recognizable pieces come out with the corn, the husks or the cobs.

John is expecting action, unmistakable action. No person on earth can confuse fire with no fire. One burns. The other doesn't. And people know they'd better pay attention to John. He looks, dresses, eats and sounds like Elijah. And they know when Elijah shows up again it will be to inaugurate something like the Day of Yahweh. God gonna DO somethin' big!

So when John gets tossed into the slammer for having called murderous, immoral Herod on his behavior and liftestyle, he expects Jesus, the one whom he, John, had personally "anointed" with water there in the Jordan, to at last begin the campaign. "Let the conflagration begin! Nuke 'em, Big Guy!"

In a first century jail you don't get a cell with bunk, toilet and three squares. If you don't starve, it's only because your friends come to feed you--and bribe the corrupt guards every step of the way to do so. You're lucky if even crumbs get through.

But John has friends and followers. They come. John wants to know, "What's going on with Jesus? Has the revolution begun yet? Anything on fire?" They don't have anything like that to report, so John gets to the point. "Go ask Jesus himself. Are you the one, or are you going to turn out to be just like every other self-appointed false Messiah before?"

"I preached fire back there at the Jordan, Jesus. I was sure I had it right. I expected to see a clear/hold/build plan in place in the first weeks of your campaign. I expected to see a strategy to kick the Romans out of Judea by Passover and clear out of Galilee by Succoth next hear. I expected to see the heathen pagans and idolaters burning at the stake and the direct rule of Yahweh from center court of the temple. I expected fire, but so far I ain't even seein' any smoke."

"Are you the one, Jesus.....

or ain't you?????"

Jesus tells John's friends to report back what they hear and see. It's the same fulfillment of Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1 that got Jesus into such trouble in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). They were about to kill him... Yep.

What upsets us so about a Messiah of grace and mercy as opposed to a Messiah of war? Why is it that Jesus inherits the titles Messiah/Christ and, in the words of Isaiah 9:6, "Prince of Peace"? Not Prince of War, Generalissimo Jesus.

Is it true that we believe so strongly in our ability to save and perfect ourselves that we would rather die, would rather kill, would rather go to war, would rather burn up the world and all of creation rather than see someone else get a break?

As my professor of Old Testament studies said once, "Our primal fear is that someone who doesn't deserve it will beat the system and get into heaven anyway."

We ought to ponder that statement a long while, especially in Advent, especially with John's questions echoing in our ears. Especially with Jesus' answer.......

Advent blessings,