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Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 27, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Bishop John S. Macholz

INTRODUCTION
The miracle happens in the dark. A cold stable, inky night, and tired shepherds-all is jolted to a new awakening when God comes among us! We, too, are greeted with angel song as Christ makes his way among us in an old story, in miracles of bread and wine, in the wondrous fellowship of flesh-and-blood people called together to be a body for Christ.

Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

THE READING

Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth with reference to rulers of the world because his birth has significance
for the whole earth, conveying a divine offering of peace.

Luke 2. 1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,a the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,b praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

REFLECTION

“Do not be afraid.” The words of the angels are spoken not only to shepherds on this most holy of nights but to us as well, some 2000 years later. “Do not be afraid.” The words form an imperative, in effect, a demand that we not worry. “…for see-I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people.” For centuries the people had waited for the Messiah and now, in this town in the middle of nowhere, he is born. God has become incarnate. New life begins.

The message the angelic host brings is for us right now in this out of the way world. The message is one of promise and hope and a new day. Hear the message clearly and take it to heart. Even in…

…the midst of heightened terrorist alerts,
…the reality of mourning the death of a loved one,
…the sense that life is out of control,
…stress which is a constant companion,
…economic times that seem uncertain,
…futures that are unknown.

Christ comes to make his blessings known. To share life with us. To remove burdens. To remind us of God’s love. To enter into our existence. To redeem.

May this year’s celebration find you kneeling in thanksgiving, with wonder and songs of unbridled joy.

Christ is born today! Christ is born to save!
Blessed Christmas!!!

QUOTE

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the word seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
–Taylor Caldwell

Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 20, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Bishop John S. Macholz

Prayer of the Day
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Musings
Advent is a season of expectation and hope. It is also a season of impending accompaniment. By that I mean we prepare for the Christ to come and take on our flesh and blood and live among us, full of grace and truth. His promise to be with us and stand beside us is all that we need some days to make it through them.
A week ago I was home and had a free evening. A free evening, that is, until I received an email inviting me, along with other judicatory leaders, to gather for a hastily called meeting at the Islamic Center of Rochester. The request had gone out from our Muslim brothers and sisters who were deeply concerned about the political rhetoric being freely tossed about in light of the recent attacks on the Planned Parent Hood offices in San Bernardino.
As I arrived at the Center and walked toward the doors, two members of the community welcomed me, calling me brother and pointing me to the correct door to enter. Once in the building I saw a gentleman across the room who began moving toward me, his name was Muhammed Shafiq, Executive Director in Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College. I had not seen Muhammad in years but he remembered me and warmly embraced me, welcoming me profusely and thanking me for being present.
Directing me to a room where about fifteen of us finally gathered, we began in an atmosphere I can only describe as palpable with fear. My Muslim brothers were deeply concerned about what they saw, and rightly so, as a rising threat against them and their beliefs. They were so happy to have us there that they must have told us that at least a half dozen times. We talked about our solidarity with them, the fact that we would stand beside and with them and wondered about future opportunities to continue to combat the anger and outright hatred in our society.

We did not solve any big problems that evening and, in fact, little changed. What did happen, however, was that others came alongside them and assured them of companionship on this journey. About a week later, having received the letter from our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton on the issue of Muslims as our neighbors, I forwarded it on to Muhammad stating clearly that we stood together with them and would continue to accompany them on this journey.
That, it seems to me is incarnational. That is what Advent is all about. It is why we prepare our hearts for room to receive the gift and grace of this Messiah whose birth we celebrate and whose coming we await. As he comes to us he calls us to be with others in their time of need, offering help and hope and sometimes, just sometimes, a simple presence. There are moments when silence says more than any words we might offer.
In these closing days of hope and expectation, take a moment to look around, to listen in order to hear the cries of those in need, to understand more fully those who may appear to be our enemies but, in actuality, may be the friends we have yet to meet. Be Christ’s presence to and with them, no matter their faith. Simply be, sometimes, it is enough.

We are called to ponder myst’ry
And await the coming Christ,
To embody God’s compassion
for each fragile human life
God is with us in our longing
To bring healing to the earth,
While we watch with joy and wonder
For the promised Savior’s birth.
“Unexpected and Mysterious” ELW 258

Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 13, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Bishop John S. Macholz

Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
Before he begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, Luke describes the work of John the Baptist, who proclaimed the good news in startling images. Radical generosity and faithfulness in vocation are among the fruits of repentance John identifies.

{7} John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? {8} Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. {9} Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” {10} And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” {11} In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” {12} Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” {13} He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” {14} Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” {15} As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, {16} John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. {17} His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” {18} So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Musings
John the Baptist has always been something of an anathema to be, but one thing he isn’t is subtle in his use of language. There is nothing mysterious about what he is saying. Even the crowds following him clearly hear what he’s talking about as they ask what it is they can do about what he says with their lives and repentance.

In a very simplistic way John’s call is a call that invites us to change what we are doing and head in a new direction. We can repent all we want and admit our sins and shortcomings and be very, very clear regarding where we’ve missed the mark but….unless we make some changes we’ve, well, missed the mark! That’s what repentance is all about, isn’t it?

Repentance is not delegated to a specific group or collective of people, it’s for everyone. Note John’s response to the ‘what shall we do’ question. He covers, it would seem, the occupation of
all those present; the crowd, soldiers and even tax collectors! This includes you and me, it would seem, wouldn’t it?

And, as he calls us to repent and turn toward those things that are holy and good and just, he suggests what this is really about is generosity with others and satisfaction with what we’ve been given. Two coats? Give one away? Collecting money? Don’t take more than is legal. Be satisfied with your wages.

In a very real sense isn’t John calling us to a simpler life that is filled with less and less in order to create more space for God within? More God, less me? More God, less worry. More God, less chance to claim that title myself?

Advent is a time for waiting, for wondering and for wandering through the wilderness. It offers times and days for us to stop and rethink our priorities, our hopes and dreams. It brings opportunities to focus on what is truly needed in our lives and world, namely the One who will come again to bring peace and hope and light.

In the meantime, we’ve got that job and it is especially crucial during these days of hateful speech, labeling of entire groups of people and rejection of all because of few. This Jesus reached out to those rejected by society and claimed them as his own. Can we do any less?

It is time to put an end to marginalizing, separating and rejecting out of hand those who are not like us. Our calling is to unite, not divide. To reach out, not to push aside. To speak with love and hope not hate. To lift up the lowly and bring light into the darkness of this world.

It is time, people of God, to get busy!

Midweek Musings for Sunday, December 6, 2015

This week’s reflection comes from
Bishop John S. Macholz

Prayer of the Day
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Luke takes care to place John in secular history. Yet John’s arrival also heralds a new age of salvation. John refers to the words of the prophets, but with vigorous immediacy; Now is the time to prepare for Christ through a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
{1} In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, {2} during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. {3} He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, {4} as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. {5} Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; {6} and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Musings
John has always been an odd ball character to me. If one reads through the first chapter of Luke and the song of Zechariah which brings it to a close, one discovers that after Zech is done singing, John disappears into the wilderness and “he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Was he alone? What was he doing? Did he have any physical contact with anyone? How many years did he spend there? All questions without answers.

But then he arrives on the scene, in the same wilderness, and begins to proclaim a baptism of repentance; a turning away from sin and turning toward God. We’ll hear more from him next week and his language will become a bit, well, abrasive and more personally focused. And therein lies my concern, he seems to be speaking directly to me. In fact, he seems to know me a bit too well! Maybe he doesn’t know my sins specifically, but it’s pretty clear that he knows I’m a sinner and in that, I am convicted.

When I was growing up, Advent was purple in color and penitential in nature. Sometime, long ago, it seems, it shifted in color and somewhat in nature but not completely; there is still that call to repentance that reminds me who I am and what I have done as John calls me back to the recognition that I am, plain and simple, a sinner in need of changing. And then I realize I cannot do that alone, by myself, left to my own devices.

Which is when the hope and promise of the season arise and arrive as I realize that I can’t do it on my own but, the Dawn from on High that breaks upon us can! John is preparing a way for the Coming One by preparing our hearts to recognize that we are desperately in need of this One promised long, long ago. And in that moment of recognition, forgiveness, mercy and hope flood into the darkness of life and bring with it the brightness of a new light and the hope we so desperately need.

John is still a bit odd in my mind but then again, it often takes ‘odd’ to get me to recognize what is right before my eyes-the need for this Savior and his love and life. Prepare the way!

Ferguson

The death of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO and subsequent protests since August have brought to the surface once again the hideous reality of racism in our country, a reality that continues to rear its ugly head seemingly at will. The decision by the Grand Jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson set off a new round of protests; some peaceful and some violent, both in Ferguson as well as across this nation. People have been pointing fingers at the system, at the Grand Jury, at the police officers who have fought back the crowds, at the justice system itself as well as at individuals. Pointing the finger is easy to do for us, it moves the blame from us to others.

Yet, as we were all told, when one points a finger at someone else, three are pointing back at us. This is not a problem for Ferguson or communities of minorities or the poor, this is our problem as a nation and as a church. Until we can name the demons we can’t begin to cast them out. Until we are able to sit down with those who are strangers and see in them not only friends but the face of Christ we will fail the process. Until we recognize the racism in our own hearts and lives and place it on the table for discussion we won’t move forward.

Christ calls us to forgiveness and hope, to be present in the broken places as he was present during his ministry among those who were broken and is present with us now in our failings and faltering lives. How do we find a way to address this brokenness in our society in a healthy, helpful and productive manner? I’m not certain, but we must find a way for until we do we will continue to experience the present reality as it plays itself out across this nation and world again and again and again.

The Church has a word of promise and hope, grounded in forgiveness, as we recognize and give voice to our sinfulness and seek grace freely offered. Is it time for us to enter into a deep conversation around this issue that calls us all to recognize our shortcomings and sins and see in others not their color or economic standing or social status? If not, when? If so, how? I don’t have the answers but we must begin asking the questions and answering them honestly and faithfully.

I invite you to join me and others in prayer in these days that we might find a way to peace and equality, living into the dream that Dr. King so longed for during his life. Pray for the people of Ferguson as well as those other places the world around where racism exists and thrives openly and freely. Pray for this church, that we might be a beacon of hope and light, grounded in the One who makes all One. Pray for peace and live into that peace.

Michael Brown Sr, the day before the Grand Jury results were released, offered these words: “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that leaves the St. Louis region better for everyone.” I would add “that leaves this country better for everyone.” May it be so among us.

Redeeming God your arms embrace all now despised for creed or race
Let peace, descending like a dove, make known on earth your healing love.

Indwelling God, your Gospel claims one fam’ly with a billion names
Let every life be touched by grace until we praise you face to face.
Creating God, Your Fingers Trace: ELW 684

John S. Macholz, Bishop

Upstate New York Synod