Sunday, December 23, 2007

Light and Darkness

Contemporary Lesson
Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

Hope is born again in the faces of children.

It rides on the shoulders of our aged s they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,

Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

A Lesson from the Prophets Isaiah 9: 2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us,
an infant given to us; authority rests upon the child's shoulders;
and the baby is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Parent, Prince of Peace. The child's authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and the nation of Israel.
The child will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of our God will do this.

Advent Prayer “Canticle of Light and Darkness”

We look for light but find darkness
for brightness, but walk in gloom.
We grope in our own blindness;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight.
You are the light of the world; be light in our darkness, O Christ.
Blessed be your name, O God, for ever.
You reveal deep and mysterioius things;
You are light and the darkness.
Our time of darkness is passing away
and already your light is shining.
You are the light of the world; be light in our darkness, O Christ.

--adaptation from "Canticle of Light and Darkness" © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Glad Season

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightening sleeps quietly in the corner.

Floodwaters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 46-56

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies our God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of me a servant of the divine.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God's name. God's mercy is for those who stand in awe of the Divine
from generation to generation. God has shown bodily strength;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. And has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. God has helped the servant Israel,
in remembrance of Divine mercy, according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants for ever.’

The icon for today is the "Black Virgin of Guadeloupe" by Mary Hainline.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Come the Way of Friendship

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou (Random House, 2005)

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 35-38

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy and will be called the Child of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a child; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Advent Icon "Mary Goes to Visit Elizabeth" by Frank Wesley

"The figure of Mary is in the centre of an almost circular shape of bright, flat vermilion colour, symbolising the creation, pregnant with the creator. The peacock behind her represents the glory of Christ. Mary is clothed in the events of the future. The design on her skirt shows angels, kings and shepherds. Her apron has a phoenix design, suggesting resurrection. The thatched home tells of humble origins, the golden sky of happiness in heaven. The trees, the banana and the mango, are symbols of fruitfulness, touched in gold to indicate God's presence. Each bird bears a meaning: the crane denotes asceticism, the jacana happiness, the parakeets joy and the doves holiness. The waves in the pond are formed to suggest a multitude of fish, an early Christian sign." - From Australian EJournal of Theology

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Favored One

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou (Random House, 2005)

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?

We interrogate and worry God.

Are you there? Are you there, really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Gospel Lesson Luke 1: 26-34

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! God is with you.’But she was much perplexed by the angel's words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a child, and you will name the child Jesus. Your child will be great, and will be called the Child of the Most High, and God will give to your child the ancestral throne of David. Your child will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of that kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’

Advent Carol To A Maid Engaged to Joseph

To a maid engaged to Joseph, the angel Gabriel came.
“Fear not,” the angel told her, “I come to bring good news,
Good news I come to tell you, good news, I say, good news.

“For you are highly favored by the God the Lord of all,
Who even now is with you. You are on earth most blest,
You are most blest, most bless├Ęd, God chose you, you are blest!”

But Mary was most troubled to hear the angel’s word.
What was the angel saying? It troubled her to hear,
To hear the angel’s message, it troubled her to hear.

Advent Artwork "After Gabriel's Announcement" by Paula Rubino

Oil on canvas
40" x 43.5"

"Portrays the moment after the Annunciation, when Mary is left alone with the news she just received from the angel Gabriel. Mary is turned away from the viewer's intrusion, and she is both protected and closed in by a garden wall. This painting reflects the overwhelming feelings I had when I was expecting my son: the daunting and unique responsibility of being his mother, the immediate ferocious desire to keep him safe, and most of all, the realization that my life was irreversibly changed. The red slippers are an allusion to Dorothy's desire to be home and safe." - Rubino

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From Advent Into Christmas

This year at Cambridge Welcoming we have centered our Advent worship on the notion of God's peace. In our liturgies, prayers and meditations, we have contemplated this vision of peace known in scriptures and made incarnate in Jesus, our Christ.

As we prepare for Christmas, we will post a series of lessons and mediatations to guide you through the remaining days of Advent. The contemporary lessons come from the poem, Amazing Peace, by Maya Angelou (published by Random House in 2005).

We invite you to read the lessons, recite the poetry and prepare the way for peace to be born in your heart and life.

Contemporary Lesson Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightening rattles the eaves of our houses.

Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

A Lesson from the Prophets Isaiah 12: 2-6

A Hymn of Meditation "Joy Shall Come"

Joy shall come even to wilderness,
And the parched land shall know great gladness;
As the rose, as the rose shall deserts blossom
Deserts like a garden blossom. For Living springs
Shall give cool water, in the desert streams shall flow
For living springs shall give cool water, in the desert streams shall flow

This hymn is set to a traditional Israeli tune, written and arranged by Darryl Nixon, 1987.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-10 and Matthew 3: 1-12

Weekly Meditation:
"[One] who seeks to understand everything risks dying of anger."
- Arab proverb

Weekly Prayer:
Come Promised One!
Do not smile and say
you are already with us.
Millions do not know you
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point
of your presence
if our lives do not alter?
Change our lives, shatter
our complacency.
Make your word
flesh of our flesh,
blood of our blood
and our life's purpose.
Take away the quietness
of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace.

-Dom Helder Camara

The photo is taken from a scene from the National Center of Afro-American Artists' production of the Black Nativity in Boston.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Weekly Reflection: My Soul Proclaims: Submission and Subversion in Mary's Magnificat

Weekly Prayer:
"Eternal Source of birth and new life, help us to prepare ourselves for the coming Christ. Smooth out our roughness when it hurts ourselves or others. Lift up the hidden parts of ourselves - the talents, the visions, the tenderness - so that your love may be seen and your glory revealed among us. As this season unfolds, help us, like Mary, rejoice in your surprising love."

The prayer come from Flames of the Spirit edited by Ruth Duck (Pilgrim Press, 1985).

The image is by Yolanda Lopez, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe

God's Salvation

This week's text from Isaiah paints a picture of God's vision of peace and justice, salvation.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.”

In this vision salvation comes to all Creation...even those we demonize as dangerous, evil or bad. Here, those long associated with wickedness and evil no longer pose a threat. The sinful snakes of Eden, John's "brood of vipers," become playmates for babes, predators and prey snuggle together, and there is unimaginable peace on all God’s holy mountain.

God has already declared there will come a day when the pain-filled vipers of loneliness, isolation, discrimination, injustice, oppression, hate, greed, and inhumanity will have no bite. There will come a day when all sit together: wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, bears and cows. This is God’s understanding of salvation as a way of life that breaks down human hostilities and initiates an everlasting reign of peace. No kingly monarch need sit in judgment, for Creation itself will be at peace. There is no need to get right or get saved for a a future cosmic apocalypse of hellfire and brimstone. No, the salvation of which Isaiah foretells will usher forth a life of renewed peace. No longer will there be categories of "saved" and "unsaved," for God will redeem all of Creation.

Let’s be clear, the kin-dom is not fully here. The viper’s venom is still dangerously poisonous. The divisions and distinctions of our church and world still have the power to harm. But what if, what if we began to take seriously the invitation to seek reconciliation, to break down barriers that keep us separated, barriers of all kinds…not just the political divisions, but the social, religious, personal, and familial divisions?

What if we began to seek peace as a concrete way of being in the world even in the face of discrimination, rejection, pain and division?

What would it look like if we began by offering one another a place where salvation becomes real in concrete acts of compassion, love, tenderness, and care?

What if we began by stopping the name-calling, back-biting gossip?

What if we began to live our lives as if the kin-dom were already here?

Martin Luther King Jr. often talked about non-violence in three parts. The non-violent way of being is not just about non-violence of the fist…though it begins there. It is also about non-violence of the tongue. Words can be just as violent as actions after all. Added to these notions of non-violence of the fist and tongue is the idea of non-violence of the heart. That is, to be fully non-violent, we must not even harbor ill thoughts towards those who mistreat and malign us and others.

When we give in to violence whether it be in our actions, words or heart, we cut ourselves off from God and turn away from God’s vision of the kin-dom. We cannot live into the vision of the peaceable kin-dom when we harbor fear, resentment, and hatred for ourselves or for others. This type of violence is what is truly incompatible with Christian teaching. If we truly yearn for salvation, the type of salvation we know through Isaiah and the prophets visions, then we must prepare the way for its coming not just in the world but in our own hearts as well.

Non violence of the fist, heart and tongue. This is the order of salvation.

In this season of advent we are called to prepare ourselves, our actions, our words, and our hearts for the coming reign of peace where we no longer fear the sting of the viper nor lash out with poisonous words or thoughts of our own. Saved. Unsaved. Neither hold meaning in God’s vision of the future for salvation will be entirely irresistible!! We can’t help but be saved!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Devotional

Weekly Reading:

James 5: 7-10

Weekly Prayer:

God of all hopefulness, help us keep alive your vision of peace and wholeness. Where hope is a small seed, teach us to have faith in its growing. Where people are finding healing and new life, teach us to recognize you at work. When you come to us in unexpected ways, may we know you, through the grace of Jesus Christ, amen.

Today's prayer comes from Flames of the Spirit: Resources For Worship, edited by Ruth C. Duck (Pilgrim Press, 1985, p. 15.)

Advent Longing

Have you ever longed for something? I mean really longed for something? You know, that deep yearning and desire for something you just could not wait to have or taste or experience or hold?

Perhaps it was the perfect Christmas toy tucked neatly beneath the tree or the delectable taste of sweet treats hot from the oven. Perhaps it was that brand new release from your favorite artist or the newest computer, gadget, phone or techno-accessory to go on sale. Do you remember the waiting of coming of age…to go to school or stay home by yourself, to drive or vote or even drink? Do you remember the not so distant longing for the end to that hectic and harried day or perhaps the dawn of a new morning, a fresh start divorced from the pain of the past? Perhaps you longed for one more day with a loved one, a familiar face in a strange place, or the passionate embrace of a partner.

Do you remember those feelings of longing and desire? Do you remember the expectation, the hope, the waiting?

Our longings are human: natural and normal desires for something more, whether it is as simple as a longing for a new possession or as complicated as a desire for another.

Our faith ancestors also had longings and desires, visions of a different life, images of an idyllic world of peace and prosperity. The reading this evening from Isaiah is one of many visions of longing recorded in Scripture. Written following the harrowing exiles of both Judah and Jerusalem, this prophetic vision articulates for the Israelite people their own deep desire for a different world, a better life, free from oppression, war and violence; a vision of a return to their homes and their families, a return to their way of life and to their God.

Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel from within their own place of waiting. Captives in Babylon, longing for the God of Sinai to tear open the heavens and come down, the people of Israel wait in the midst of a desperate and despairing world.

We too know what it is like to live in a less than perfect world and long for something better. We know what it is like to wait impatiently for the vision we proclaim in scripture and worship, don’t we?

On World AIDS Day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu described our waiting place in the world of the AIDS pandemic this way:

“We are well into the third decade of a scourge that has expanded exponentially beyond a small specific group to almost every corner of the globe. Whilst in some areas, incidence may have turned, prevalence continues to rise and will do so for a long time- more young people will be infected, more orphans will occur.

Yet, today still 70% of infected people don’t have access to life saving therapies. Many still face stigma, economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. Many still don’t have access to basic information or simple interventions that will reduce risk. This is not the time for complacency nor apathy.”

For nearly 20 years we have marked December 1st as World AIDS Day, remembering and mourning the loss of 25 million loved ones. We know the waiting place of AIDS well, don’t we? Our community has sat vigil while medical experts and government officials at first tried to ignore the epidemic, blaming it on a marginalized and scape-goated community. We have waited through decades of fear and uncertainty, ignorance and denial. We have waited through years of dreaded diagnoses, repeated hospitalizations, and pharmaceutical cocktails. We have waited through raw sores and racking coughs, T-cell counts and endless check-ups. We have waited as the disease ravaged the bodies and souls of our friends, standing as witnesses in the end at far too many funerals.

We have waited as the disease spread around the globe, infecting those at the margins of other worlds. We have watched drugs withheld for the wealthy, while the poor wither under the stress not just of the disease, but of overwhelming poverty, starvation, violence, and political upheaval. Today in Zimbabwe, where one out of every five adults is infected with HIV/AIDS, the greatest obstacle to care is not the availability of drugs, but the long wait for food and clean water. It is common for HIV/AIDS patients to die waiting for food than of the disease itself.

We know what it is like to live in a waiting world.

It is in the midst of these waiting worlds, that of the Israelite exiles so long ago and ours today, that these visions of a new world marked by peace become so powerful. Isaiah’s vision speaks to us all.

In days to come the mountain of the God’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it…Our God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

This vision of holistic peace comes in the midst of exile and despair to offer hope beyond destruction. It is a collective yearning grounded in God’s promise of salvation and new life. It is God’s promise of the peace that will be when God’s vision of the world is complete.

Swords and spears no longer needed are turned into plowshares and pruning hooks. The tools of destruction have become the tools of production…creation, construction, fruition. Peace for Isaiah is not just the absence of war, but the presence of wholeness, justice, mercy, compassion, love. It is a holistic peace that envelopes every aspect of our lives.

The vision speaks not just to ancient exiles or warring nations, but to us in our own waiting worlds. World AIDS Day is not just a day of mourning. It has become a day of action. In our longing for a better world, we find ourselves re-committed to the struggle, not just for a cure, but for the compassionate care for those 38 million living today with the disease. People with HIV/AIDS can live good and whole lives, marked by wholeness and peace, if we believe and act on that promise.

This vision of a better world is articulated in the themes chosen for each World AIDS Day. For the past several years the theme has been “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.” This image of promise is one with which we as Christians should resonate. For indeed as we enter the season of Advent, we enter the season of expectant waiting for the fulfillment of a cosmic promise. It is the same promise given to the Israelite people so many years ago; the promise God has given us of a world of peace and justice, a world where Love reigns and compassion and mercy know no end, a world where the message of the Good News is not just preached but lived.

This vision orients our journey of Advent, begun on World AIDS Day. As we enter Advent, we not only look to the coming of the Divine at Christmas, but we eagerly and expectantly await the fulfillment of God’s cosmic promise of peace.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Keep the Promise

Today the world gathers as a global community to remember and re-energize our efforts to end the AIDS pandemic.

For the past several years the World AIDS Campaign has mobilized its efforts with the slogan: Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise. This theme should strike a chord with those of us in the Christian church, particularly at this time of year as we celebrate the season of Advent. After all Advent is the time when we wait expectantly for the fulfillment of God's promise.

As Christians, we ought to take seriously this call to keep the promise...not just a secular promise to end the crisis by 2015, but a larger, cosmic promise we know from age to age...the promise God has given us of a world of peace and justice, a world where Love reigns and compassion and mercy know no end, a world where the message of the Good News is not just preached but lived.

“Not only is another world possible, She is on her way” - Arundhati Roy

You can join the campaign to end AIDS by becoming involved, whether globally or locally. Below are just a few links to help you on the way as you seek to keep the promise.

Aids Action Committee
Aids Alliance
Boston Living Center
Cambridge Cares About AIDS
HIV Stops With Me

United Methodist Global AIDS Fund

World AIDS Campiagn