Monday, December 30, 2013

The Word Made Flesh Makes Us Divine

I saw this post on the Twitter feed of musician and priest John Michael Talbot. I felt it was worth reporting during this holy season of Christmas. There is nothing more precious and central to Christianity than our spirituality of the incarnation. He became what we are so that we can become more like he is.

This is from a treatise "On the Refutation of All Heresies", by Saint Hippolytus, priest and martyr.

The Word made flesh makes us divine

Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win men back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce him to slavery but by addressing to his free will a call to liberty.

The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was couched in such obscure language that it could be only dimly apprehended, in the last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding him to show himself openly so that the world could see him and be saved.

We know that by taking a body from the Virgin he re-fashioned our fallen nature. We know that his manhood was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, he would hardly have been a teacher who could expect to be imitated. If he were of a different substance from me, he would surely not have ordered me to do as he did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with his goodness and justice.

No. He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. Without protest he endured his passion, he submitted to death and revealed his resurrection. In all these ways he offered his own manhood as the first fruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as he did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.

When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine.

Whatever evil you may have suffered, being man, it is God that sent it to you, precisely because you are man; but equally, when you have been deified, God has promised you a share in every one of his own attributes. The saying “Know yourself” means therefore that we should recognize and acknowledge in ourselves the God who made us in his own image, for if we do this, we in turn will be recognized and acknowledged by our Maker.

So let us not be at enmity with ourselves, but change our way of life without delay. For Christ who is God, exalted above all creation, has taken away man’s sin and has re-fashioned our fallen nature. In the beginning God made man in his image and so gave proof of his love for us. If we obey his holy commands and learn to imitate his goodness, we shall be like him and he will honor us. God is not beggarly, and for the sake of his own glory he has given us a share in his divinity.

Pictured is my daughter's "Christmas pizza" depicting the nativity. It's is an incarnational expression of her faith!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day After Christmas and Blessing the Poor

"Good King Wenceslas" is a Carol based on the legend of a 10th century Duke of Bohemia, a saintly monarch who personally cared for the poor and widowed. He was martyred for his faith, and followers kept the stories of his compassion alive.

The Carol does not mention the nativity, but is associated with Christmas because the narrative occurs on the feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26. It is a call to follow in the footsteps of the saint, as did his page, in order to care for the poor.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen, so let us think of the poor and needy. As the text concludes, "ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing."

Here is the complete text of the Carol.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows strong
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Text by John Mason Neale published in 1853
Art by Carelde Winter

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Every Valley

"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain." (Isaiah 40:4, Handel's "Messiah", and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech).

May the words of the prophet resonate in our hearts and minds as we approach Christmas, the great feast of the incarnation.

Pictured is Glacier National Park in Montana.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Look for the Manger

This week, we are moving into the rhythm that we go through during the last full week before Christmas. Not only is my church preparing for next Sunday’s special services with Handel's Messiah in the morning and Sunday night’s “Live Nativity” presented for our community, and not only do we look forward to Christmas Eve services shortly after that, our hearts and hands are preparing at home. We are shopping and cooking, mailing packages and sending invitations, and attending parties.

It seems like this time of year, we are always looking for something. We look for things like the tape and the new roll of wrapping paper, the addresses we misplaced, and the cinnamon that we were sure we left on the counter.

But I invite you to take time each and every day to look for something else – something more precious and mysterious and wonderful. I invite you to look for the manger.

You may ask, “Is it lost? Why do we need to look for the manger? Did someone misplace it after the Kindergarten program on Friday?”

What I mean is this. The great miracle of the incarnation was placed in the simplest of settings. The majesty and glory of God was laid in an animal trough. The King of Kings was laid in a blanket of prickly hay.

In that spirit, I invite you to look for the simple things that hold the greatest mysteries this season. The deepest meaning of Christmas does not come in the form of the most fantastic and festive. It comes to us in the warmth of night that can only be found in the coldness of a barn, the willingness to do what you must with what you have, and the simplest of arrangements.

Look for the manger, and you will find something special this year.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela Quote

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."

This quote from Nelson Mandela inspires me in my walk with God these days. In my journey of mid-life, I am looking back at all my successes and failures over the years and realizing how much both of them make me who I am, and who I choose to be. 

The quote also reminds me of what a great man he was, and I honor his memory the day after his death.

I remember when he was set free and trying to imagine what it was like for him to be in prison for 27 years, an amount of time longer than I had been alive. And yet as he was released, he was an international hero, an icon of resistance to apartheid.

Over the years, I began admiring his essential choice to seek reconciliation rather than revenge, realizing he had gone through changes in life in his approach to what it means to offer resistance to evil. He became a champion in what it means to reconcile, an intentional effort that goes far beyond forgiveness. He was able to do what few leaders in the world have been able to do.

What a great man he was. Nelson, you continue to inspire me. May you rest in peace, as one who brought to the world a legacy of real peace. I wish we could learn more fully from you. Perhaps we will.