Monthly Archives: December 2016

Who’s In Your Family Tree?

Advent 4: Who’s In Your Family Tree?

December 18, 2016

Matthew 1:1-25


There are a couple of things to notice about Jesus’ family tree…


The first thing to notice is that (like all of us),

Jesus had some embarrassing relatives!


There were some horrible kings in his family:


When he was king, Manasseh of Judah,

executed any of God’s prophets who dared disagree with him.

Those who sympathized with the prophets – those who sympathized with God then–

were in constant danger.


Manasseh was such a terrible king

That when he died he wasn’t buried with the other kings in

the city of David – Bethlehem.


Ahaz, whom we also heard about in our Isaiah reading,

was another brutal king.

He made secret alliances with Israel’s enemies

and brought back pagan idolatry and astrology.


It was said Ahaz was so wicked that he even offered to sacrifice his son.


Even the ‘good’ kings in Jesus’ background had their issues.

As we heard, Jesus was related to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah,

David and Solomon.

The Old Testament is filled with stories about

very human these ‘heroes’ of the Bible were:

At times they were arrogant, cowardly, deceptive,

jealous, vengeful, and adulterous.

Continue reading


God Interrupts


Advent 3A  – God interrupts

Isaiah 35:1-10

Some say this passage from Isaiah is out of place.

The reason?

It’s too hopeful…


This section of the book of Isaiah is about destruction…

War after war.

Conflict after conflict.


Syria attacks Judah.

Israel attacks Judah.

Assyria comes to help Judah and together

They go back and attack Syria and then Israel again.

Israel is completely destroyed.


And then without a pause,

we have a poem – this poem we just heard:


The wilderness and the dry

land shall be glad.

the desert shall rejoice and


like the crocus it shall blossom


and rejoice with joy and



Joy, rejoicing, singing.

They seem out of place.

Just as out of place today as they were then…

Today as we pray in the aftermath of violence in Cairo and Istanbul;

and loss of life in a truck explosion in Kenya

and the collapse of a church in Nigeria.


Joy, rejoicing, and singing

seem out of place.

Or maybe not.

Maybe they’re here because this is what God does…


God interrupts  – and brings a word which is out place:

Joy from destruction;

Singing in  the desert.


And we are in the midst of waiting for

the most miraculous interruption of them all…

A baby in a manger.

God as a human being.


God actually becomes a Word out of place.

God interrupts the darkest of times.


Last Sunday I went to the Metropolitan AME church in DC

for their performance of Handel’s Messiah.


There is of course a certain etiquette when you go to a concert…

One rule is that when you are listening to a piece like “The Messiah,”

where are many different movements –

arias and choruses and recitatives…

the audience doesn’t applaud until the end.


No matter how spectacular, how moving, how much you enjoy the piece,

You’re supposed to wait until the end to clap.


Something different happened on Sunday

at Handel’s Messiah at the Metropolitan AME church.


About midway through the piece,

comes the Christmas chorus,

“For Unto Us A Child is Born.”


And it was spectacular, and it was moving,

It was probably the best performance of that chorus I’ve ever heard.

But I know the rule – you don’t clap! Not yet!


But on Sunday as the conductor paused between movements,

still with his arms raised,

one little old lady, dressed in her Sunday best,

complete with a wide-brimmed black hat

just couldn’t contain herself.


Before the next downbeat,

She shouted out (with joy!): “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”

And over and over again: “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”


Since she had broken the ice,

The rest of us broke with convention too – and we all burst into applause.

I don’t think anyone regretted it.

I don’t think even the orchestra regretted it.

It was a holy moment.


God brings a Word out of place…

God interrupts with joy!

For Unto Us A Child is Born!

Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!


The last couple of days I’ve been at a conference in New York City.

I love the city this time of year

With the Christmas decorations and lights

And I walked up to Herald Square

To see how Macy’s had decorated their windows.


Well it seems that other people had the same idea –

Lots of other people,

trudging from window to window.


Outside of the store there was a Salvation Army bucket

And a couple of women ringing bells.


They weren’t just ringing though…

They had a speaker playing Christmas music with a beat

And they were dancing with their bells!


God brings a word out of place!

Dancing in the middle of a crowd trudging along..


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of hope when there is no hope

As when Isaiah speaks of flowers blooming.


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of joy when it’s breaking the rules.

As when a woman says “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”


Sometimes God interrupts with dancing when we’re trudging along

As when a couple of women ring bells to the beat.


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of peace when there is no peace.

That what Edmund Hamilton Sears discovered.


Sears wrote the lyrics for the Christmas carol

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”

It was in the mid 1800’s and Sears was a pastor in Massachusetts.

He was concerned with the social injustices in the world,

and that particular Christmas,

he was having a hard time figuring out what to preach.


What could the birth of the Christ child mean

for the “weary world” he lived in?


As he kept re-reading the Bible text about the birth of Jesus,

Something struck him in a new way that year.

It was the message of the angels who broke through the cloven skies

And appeared to some shepherds saying,

“Peace on earth and goodwill to all!”


It was a word just as out of place to those shepherds…

As it was a word out of place for Edmund Sears.


Peace was not to be found.

And yet God breaks through with a word of peace

when there is no peace.


God breaks through and interrupts life

Bringing hope, joy, dancing and yes, peace

When we don’t expect it.


I love that image by the way of the ‘cloven skies.’

It comes from the 2nd verse of the carol,

“Still through the cloven skies they come

With peaceful wings unfurled.”


I used to wonder what ‘cloven skies’ were,

But now… if I’m watching for them, I see them quite frequently.


The clouds part and it’s as if there’s a pathway in the sky

from the heavens to the earth.


That’s what happened on Christmas Eve 2000 years ago.

God broke through the cloven skies and came to earth.

God came close.


During Advent we wait for that time when God came close…

As we watch for God coming close every day.


Still through the cloven skies he comes –

God breaks through and interrupts our lives –

coming close.


God comes bringing hope when there is no hope;

Joy when there is no joy;

Dancing when we are just trudging along;

And peace when there is no peace.


God interrupts.

Wait for it…

And when it comes, break all the rules

And shout out, “Halleljuah! Thank you Jesus!”





A Shoot Will Grow


Advent 2A – Hope – A Shoot Will Grow

Isaiah 11:1-10


Isaiah promises “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse.”

But there’s a problem.

The stump is dead…

Jesse is dead.

His son King David is dead.

And now Jerusalem has been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar

And David’s descendent on the throne, King Zedekiah is dead too.

The people have been taken into exile in Babylon.


But then the prophet offers a word of hope.

“A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,” he says.


From this stump (indicate stump in worship space)…

A shoot will grow.


Isaiah promises growth in unexpected places.


The biologists here may not have been surprised,

But I was surprised to read in the Washington Post this week

that a fence has just been built in Hawaii

around Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world.[i]


The reason the fence has been built

Is to keep out cats…

who in turn have been preying on the Petrel,

an endangered seabird which nests on Mauna Loa.


To protect the petrels, the National Park Service and other organizations

spent nearly four years flying in people and materials to build the cat-proof barrier.

It’s six feet high and is thought to be the

longest cat fence in the world!


The fence isn’t what surprises me though…

It’s the birds who breed in the midst of a volcano. Continue reading