Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tertullian on the Beauty of Christian Marriage

The Beauty of Christian Marriage

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians,
two who are one in hope, one in desire,
one in the way of life they follow, 
one in the religion they practice.

They are as brother and sister, 
both servants of the same Master.
Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit.
They are in very truth, two in one flesh;
and where there is but one flesh 
there is also but one spirit.

They pray together, 
they worship together, 
they fast together;
instructing one another, 
encouraging one another,
strengthening one another.

Side by side they face difficulties and persecution,
share their consolations.
They have no secrets from one another,
they never shun each other's company;
they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts…
Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.

Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices.
To such as these He gives His peace.
Where there are two together, 
there also He is present,
and where He is, there evil is not.

From a letter by Tertullian, an Early Church Father, to his wife, ca. 202 AD

Saturday, December 24, 2011



Bells ringing!                                 
Bells singing!                                 

In simple joy,                                
Love's own alloy,            
God's babe is born                      
this happy morn.            

Bells ringing!                                 
Bells singing!                                 

The infant's tear              
Cries God is here.            
He’s come at last,                                     
Now life will last.             

Bells ringing!                                 
                                    Bells singing!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lo! Newborn Jesus

Lo! Newborn Jesus
   Soft and small,
Wrapped in baby’s bands
By his mother’s hands,
   Lord God of all.

Lord God of Mary,
   Whom is lips caress
While he rocks to rest
On his mother’s breast
   In helplessness.

*  *  * *  *  *

Lo! Newborn Jesus
   Loving great and small.
Love’s free Sacrifice,
Opening men’s arms and eyes
   To one and all.

--Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, [London: Penguin, 2001]. P. 83, 84

How can a man comment on the Virgin Birth of Jesus?  Virginal Conception, Virgin Birth!  It takes a woman’s touch; a man by nature shies away from the soft intimacy of Christina Rossetti’s tender words. 

Joseph, the man, and all men by necessity stand on the outside looking in nervously on the birth event.  His world, and ours, is shattered by the trusting surrender of Mary to our God.  We men are bystanders, but the sword that pierces Mary’s heart will pierce ours also. 

“The busy world is hushed, the dear Christ enters in.”  The surrender of Mary calls for our own surrender, not just once, but many times.  It is the high and holy responsibility of Joseph to model and to teach the Christ child what it means to be a man in the midst of this wicked world.  In our own way, with children everywhere, we also in our small measure bear that same responsibility.  Mary cannot do that; it is neither her calling nor her gift.

Joseph, what has Mary done?  Her action will define the very calling on your life and ours.  None of us are left outside the stable door.  We kneel shoulder to shoulder with you beside the manger looking in and watching.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Birth of Jesus Christ

A Christmas Commentary

Luke 2:1-4  Some questions have been raised about the historicity of these verses.  Bear in mind that everything about Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God can be troublesome if your heart is not prepared to receive him.  While the King James Version translates the Greek word apographo (apografw) as “to be taxed”, the literal rendering is “to write off, or to register, i.e. in public records.  What the text is referring to is a census.  Acts 5:37 refers to the second census also mentioned by Josephus.  Papyri dated back to A.D. 20 have shown that there was a periodic fourteen-year census.  That would make the first census mentioned in Luke 2:1-2 around 6 B.C. which coincides with the actual birth of Christ, bearing in mind that our calendar is four to six years off.  What these two verses do is establish the birth of Christ in human history.  

Luke’s historical reference would have been quite clear to his contemporaries.  (v. 3-4) The custom was that the head of each household was to go to the town where his family register was kept.  Bethlehem was the city of the ancestors of David as David himself testifies, “And Saul said to him, "Whose son are you, young man?" And David answered, "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite” (1 Samuel 17:58). Joseph journeys from Nazareth in Galilee to the Bethlehem, the city of David.  That would focus a clear light on the ancestry of Jesus and the words of Gabriel, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32), and fulfill the prophetic word of Micah, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 ESV).

Luke (v.4-7) does not tell us how Joseph and Mary traveled, but just that “they went up from Galilee.”  Tradition, imagination, and modern common sense provide the donkey as a means of transportation.  A twelfth century carol provides a voice for the donkey, 2. "I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown, "I carried His mother up hill and down; I carried her safely to Bethlehem town. "I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown” (the Latin song "Orientis Partibus" first appeared in France.  The tune came from “The Donkey’s Festival” and a chorus line was provided, “‘Hail, Sir donkey, hail’”  The reality may have been different, being poor they probably could not afford a donkey, and probably, like Jesus later during his ministry , traveled on foot carrying their household goods and Joseph’s all important carpenter tools.  Again, popular imagery suggests that Mary gave birth the evening they arrived.  Luke simply says, “while they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to give birth.” 

The text does tell us that there was no room in the inn, and that the new-born child was laid in a manger.  That simple detail tells us as least that Joseph and Mary had very recently arrived in Bethlehem.   Our imagery of a wooden manger surrounded by the humble joyful animals is provided by no less than St. Francis in the thirteenth century.  The stable was probably in a small cave behind the local inn, and the manger, like others still to be seen in archeological sights like Megiddo today, is a trough chiseled out of stone and used to feed animals.  

Verse 7, as sparse at it is, gives us some information that satisfies our curiosity and provides an important theological detail.  Luke tells us that Mary gave birth to her “firstborn son.”  The word for is “firstborn” is protokos (protokos), not “only born” (monogenh,j  ~ monogenes).  The door is left wide open for Jesus to have younger brothers and sisters.  So Mark records, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:3).  Roman Catholic translators provide the word “cousins” instead of brothers, but the word for brothers is avdelfo,j (adelphos), and the word for cousins is  avneyio,j ~ (anepsios).  Luke tells us that Jesus is the firstborn, not the only born, and there is nothing in the text to prevent Mary and Joseph from having more children. 

Mary gives birth to her firstborn son, and wraps him in swaddling cloths.  Swaddling cloths were a large square of cloth and two or more strips of cloth used as ties.  The child was laid diagonally on the cloth with one corner of the cloth under the child’s head, the other corners are folded over the feet and body of the child, and the cloth strips are used to tie things together.  Swaddling is coming back into fashion because it limits the startle reflex and makes the baby feel secure, and it prevents the child from sleeping on the stomach and reduces instances of SIDS deaths by helping the baby remain on its back.  20% of American parents place their babies on their stomach after two months of age because they appear more comfortable, but this may not be advisable (Article from Washington University School of Medicine, in Pediatrics, November, 2002).

Luke 2:7 “She bore her firstborn Son and swaddled him, and laid him in a feed trough, because there was no place for them in the inn.  The inn was often a square building with a central courtyard surround by an open gallery on four sides.  The conditions were often filthy.  The stable by contrast would have had some privacy and actually would have been more suitable for a birth.  That Jesus was laid in a manger, or food trough, was perhaps better than what may have been available in the in itself.  Inns in those days did not provide bedding or blankets, and barely provided anything else but shelter from the elements.  What the bare bones account misses is the wonder of it all.  

I am reminded of Anselm’s remarks in a Sermon at Bec: “Justice and mercy were arguing in heaven as they looked down upon the fallen world in the year 1 B.C.  Justice insisted that it should be destroyed, for how else should his position be maintained?  Mercy replied that, in that case, how could his position stand?  They were joined by the divine Logos who, embracing them, said “leave it to me and I will satisfy you both”  (Martin Thornton, English Spirituality,  (Boston: Cowley, New Edition, p. 163).  The theology of the event is not complete without reference to John 1:18, and Hebrews 1:1-4. 

Monday, December 19, 2011


Lady laud your son.
Cast down your golden crown and worship him,
born a babe in stable laid,
who walked the hills of Galilee
with fisher folk and tax collectors
made of them a warrior band,
shocked the scribe and Pharisee
not less than priest and Sadducee.
No simple man, nor plain was he.
He has the power to call forth you and me.

Lady laud your son
whose death pierced your own soul
with grief too sharp to bear
fulfilling prophet's words in temple court
so long ago.  Proud mother of a little babe
with head bowed down,
you contemplate the way
he cast down the mighty from their thrones.

Lady laud your son.
You have given once again
as you have given many times before.
Resurrection joy, ascension parting mingled in your breast.
The old ways of holding him can never be again.
Lady laud your son.
Cast down your golden crown and worship him
in the circle of the saints, his sisters, brothers,
all your children now, all crowned like you
God-bearer, now for ever blessed
held in warm embrace by glad hearts everywhere.
Lady laud your son.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Habitation of Dragons

There are several verses in Scripture regarding dragons that create a problem for translators. The problem is that translators are too enlightened to believe in dragons so they have to find more acceptable ways of translating the Hebrew word “tan-neen.” One of these verses is in Psalm 44:19. The Book of Common Prayer translation paraphrases the text as “Though you thrust us down into a place of misery, * and covered us over with deep darkness.” Here “tan-neen” is paraphrased as “misery.” In a similar text in Isaiah 34:13 the New King James Version translates the word as “jackals.” The King James Version translates the word “tan-neen” as follows: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.”  The message of the various Old Testament texts is that the world we live in is a “habitation of tan-neen”, or to put it quite simply, a habitation of dragons. But what does that mean?

The translators have a harder time re-interpreting the New Testament Greek word, “drakon” as anything other than “dragon.” One primary text where the word “dragon” occurs is in Revelation 12:1-12 where the devil is depicted as a fiery red dragon who is cast down from heaven to earth by Michael and his angels. The Book of Revelation goes on to add, “woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

That is indeed the problem! Humankind tends to operate on the assumption that we live out our lives in a neutral zone where most of our spiritual struggles are with ourselves or with other people. In reality the place where we live is a habitation of dragons, and in specific, one most unhappy dragon. This particular dragon has discovered to his chagrin that he is not as lofty, as beautiful or as powerful as God. Not only that, but he has discovered, to his great wrath, that his time is short. In his wrath the dragon has resolved to rob everybody of the life, joy and vitality that he has lost himself when cast from heaven by Michael and the angels of God.

What does that mean in practice to the average Christian? Some limitations of the dragon's ability needs to be acknowledged; Unlike God, he is not Omniscient, Omnipotent, or Omnipresent. In plain language, as a created being, he doesn't know everything, he isn't all-powerful, nor is he present everywhere. Unfortunately the passage in Revelation tells us that when he was cast to earth in great wrath he took his “angels” with him. The New Testament refers to these entities as “devils,” “demons,” or as “unclean spirits.” What it means is that we play out our moral and spiritual struggles on an uneven playing field where unseen malicious enemies are doing their very best to make us as unhappy as they are. The old saying, “misery loves company” is remarkably true in this regard.

That doesn't mean that the old Flip Wilson character Geraldine was correct when she said, “the devil made me do it.” It is not as simple as that. While it is clear that the Tempter successfully tempted Eve, and unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, James 1:14 testifies that “each person is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The devil and his companions don't bother wasting time tempting us where we have no vulnerability. St. Anthony, one of the founders of desert monasticism, pointed out that wherever we have a weakness, “there the devils love to leap.”

The result is that we do not have the luxury of operating without regard to the unnatural hazards of the spiritual terrain in which we live our lives. Neither, we, nor our children live in neutral world.  We actually live in the habitation of dragons.   St. Paul says, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” On the other hand living in paranoia and fear only serves the dragon and his fallen angels. James 4:7b also says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” John the Apostles adds, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). Another way of putting it is in the modern proverb, “To be forewarned is to be fore-armed.” In Texas terms, if you are walking through a field with vipers in it, wear a good pair of cowboy boots.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Do You Want For Christmas

Christmas lists pose a problem for many of us, but the problems vary according to our age. When we are very little it doesn’t matter what we get for Christmas; we are probably going to find the wrapping paper and the box much more interesting. Sooner or later we catch on to making a list for Santa Claus. The taller we grow, the longer list. There comes a time when the gifts become more expensive and the list accordingly shorter.  But for many of us there is a break point when it becomes increasingly difficult to think of anything we really want for Christmas.

Many adults are notoriously difficult to purchase Christmas gifts for. One of the more irritating ads banks on this underlying difficulty. Outside the home in the drive sits an expensive luxury car with a large ribbon on top of it. The neighbors sit in lawn chairs across the street to witness the coming celebration. The husband leads his blindfolded wife out to the front door of the house and removes the blindfold from her eyes as she beholds with joy the marvelous gift. In our family we have noted that if either of us were to spend that kind of money on a gift without consulting the other there would be serious consequences. Then again, our discretionary cash doesn’t register in the tens of thousands, so maybe we are just in the wrong demographic group to appreciate the ad.

The first Christmas came to a very specific demographic group. What demographic group are you in? Christmas is the story of the Incarnation; the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient God was born a babe to a Jewish craftsman named Joseph and his wife Mary. The Roman census had required that they move from their home in Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judah. It is probable that the only thing they actually owned was Joseph’s carpentry tools. The infant Christ was born in a stable. When the Wise men appear, perhaps as much as well over a year later, they bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What happened to those expensive gifts? The probability is that Joseph and Mary sold them in the market in Bethlehem and that the proceeds eventually helped fund the flight to Egypt.

We should bear in mind that there was no middle class in Judah at the time of the birth of Christ. There were the wealthy, there were the desperately poor; but the majority of people were farmers, fisherman, craftsmen, small tradesmen, and others who fit into the broader group of what we would call working class people. To put it most simply; Jesus was born into a blue-collar family. There was food on the table, but no Lexus in the driveway.

So what is the problem when somebody asks us what we want for Christmas? It often is revealed in a simple dynamic. My mouse pad on my laptop has been creating all kinds of small difficulties when I work on tasks like writing a newsletter. Someone points out that what would help is a wireless mouse. Do I put it on a Christmas gift list? No! If I need it, and at the moment the family budget will stand it, I go and buy myself a wireless mouse. What do I want for Christmas? Most of us adults are like Dumbledore the Wizard. When he looks into the mirror of Erised (“Desire” spelled backwards) his fondest hope is revealed. The one thing he says he wants is a really warm pair of socks.  The things we actually want to are so mundane it’s often hard to think of them. For us one of the great joys of Christmas is what we give rather than what we receive.

There is another side to this. For a long time I have known with my heart that Christmas isn’t about getting and giving gifts, but about having already received the One Christmas Gift that far outshines all other gifts. The gift that has thrilled my heart is the Gift of God’s love, and in that most precious gift, the gift of receiving with an open heart gift of love that comes through my family and friends. That Gift is not abstract, but concrete in the person of Jesus Christ my Savior, my Wonderful Counselor, my Mighty God, my Everlasting Father, my Prince of Peace. Jesus came to “save his people from their sins,” not just his people, but me myself as one of his people, a sinner in the midst of other sinners, no better, no worse, but loved like all the rest. What an incredible gift it is to be received by God, to be accepted, to be forgiven, to be adopted, to become part of the family God present now, and extending through the centuries. It is the gift of belonging.

What Do You Really Want For Christmas?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Days of Death and Poetry and Awe

In days of death and poetry and awe,
Not in the flesh but in the soul I saw
A scaly thing clutch at the dying as he fell
With shrieking curse, midst stench and brimstone smell.
It’s course was rudely stopped by golden wing.
The man sprang free and soaring rose on high.
The roaring demon fell earthward with a cry,
The man released from bonds began to sing.
Christ’s blood had interposed and set him free,
That gracious blood was shed for you and me.
Released from the shadowlands we will be,
To stand in the light beside the golden sea,
And walk in the flesh upon the golden shore,
And with our King rejoice for evermore.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tarry Now My Lord Awhile With Me

Tarry now my Lord awhile with me, in
The midnight hours when all is dark within
And silent spins Your wide world all around,
The ticking, chiming, clock its only sound.
There is no hiding place, dark is light to you.
No midnight fears are truly fears when you
Stretch forth your loving Spirit and enter in
Quietly cleansing, covering, healing, every sin.
From the fear of the enemy you preserve, my
Soul; in the dark You enfold and comfort me
Bringing peace, bringing calm, that I may know
That you are within, around, above, below,
Defending me as the apple of your eye.
Your freely given grace possessing me.