My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. Luke 1:46-55
Luke 1:46-55 is Mary’s song, sometimes called “The Magnificat” in Christian liturgy. “Magnificat” is the first word in the Latin version. The text itself is a poetic speech that Mary made – or a song that she sang – when she went to visit Elizabeth, a member of her extended family. In her song (for we will call it that), Mary praised God for what he was doing in her life. She was miraculously pregnant, and she believed that the child she was carrying would one day deliver Israel and reign on David’s throne forever. She believed this because that’s what an angel told her.
“All generations will call me blessed,” Luke records Mary as saying. How the church should honor Mary is a matter of some dispute among Christians. We Protestants, however, are not paying attention to the scriptures if we ignore Mary and her place in the gospel story. Luke honors Mary, and seems to expect that Christians down through the ages will do the same. He portrays Mary as the model believer and ideal disciple. Her faithful obedience sets the example for all of us to follow.
Do not presume 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. Matthew 3:9
John the Baptist’s claim that God can raise up from stones children for Abraham is almost literally true. God didn’t raise up children for Abraham from inanimate stones, but he did raise them up from idolatrous Gentiles. Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus commanding his followers to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. As Matthew reminds us with the very first words of the gospel,
This is a record of the life of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
To be baptized into the name of the son is to be united to the family of Abraham.
The first reading for the second Sunday in Advent comes from Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)
Paul quotes a snippet of Isaiah 11 at the end of the second reading: Romans 15:4-13.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.” And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.” (Romans 15:5-12)
The letter to the Romans is primarily about God’s fulfillment of his promise to Abraham to incorporate the Gentiles into the story of salvation. For Paul, the incorporation of the Gentiles into the promises of God is one of the primary effects of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is the theme that ties the book together. The emboldened text above illustrates how Paul addresses the issue of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ as he brings his letter to a close. Paul’s four scriptural citations (Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10) at the end of this short passage also point in that direction. The Gentiles will rejoice in Jesus, the king born in David’s line, born from the root of Jesse,
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist speaks twice of fiery destruction. As fruitless trees and worthless chaff are both destined for the flames, so the unrepentant children of Abraham face what John calls “the coming wrath.” (Matthew 3:8) John is not saying anything new. His words follow very much in the line of prophets who went before him.
God’s promise to Abraham is not a blank check for Abraham’s descendants. As the covenant relationship between God and Abraham’s family developed throughout the ages – through Moses and the prophets – God established the expectation that his people would live holy and righteous lives. The prophets of the Lord denounced Israel’s sins and announced that he would judge the world in righteousness. Most of the prophets envisioned God’s judgment coming on the nation as a whole, often in the form of a military invasion. John the Baptist, on the other hand, emphasized God’s judgment of the individual.
Alan Jacobs reviews Francis Spufford’s book No Apologies and examines the emotional-rhetorical side of apologetics.
The most common mistake made by practitioners of that vexed activity called “Christian apologetics” is to think of the task as a dialectical rather than a rhetorical one.
But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3:7-8
For those with Wesleyan roots, John the Baptist’s admonition to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” reminds us of the General Rules for John Wesley’s United Societies.
Such a society is no other than “a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.
According to the General Rules, the fruits that evidence repentance consist of
- Doing no harm and avoiding evil of every kind
- Doing good to all and being merciful in every way.
- Attending upon all the ordinances of God.
Wesley enumerates examples of each, all of which he says, “we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts.” To those who are unwilling to live within this covenantal framework Wesley says, “We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.”
For Christians, every day is an opportunity to give thanks. The Apostle Paul says:
Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)
From the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
Thus says Mr. Scrooge after his Christmas Eve visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Similarly, the season of Advent offers us three spiritual encounters in the weeks that lead up to Christmas.
The Spirit of Advent Past
In ages past, the people of Israel looked for the full flowering of God’s reign on earth. Thus, our reading for the first Sunday in Advent comes from the prophet Isaiah reads:
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’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. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He 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. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! Isaiah 2:1-5
What a wonderful hope!
Rich Lowry writes about Sarah Hale, whom he calls the mother of Thanksgiving.
Besides plugging for Thanksgiving in her publication, Godey’s Lady’s Book, she wrote Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan about it before hitting pay dirt with Abraham Lincoln. . . .
Hale saw the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving as the twin festivals of the American people, “each connected with their history, and therefore of great importance in giving power and distinctness to their nationality,” as she put it in an 1852 editorial.
July Fourth celebrated national independence and liberty, while Thanksgiving acknowledged God “as the dispenser of blessings.” She argued that “these two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.”
Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Year, the festival of Christ the King. Here are some Christ the King posts from years gone by.
Not of this World - On John 18:33-37, with reflections on my invasion of Iraq
Witness and Worship with Christ the King - On Revelation 1:4-8
Christ the Covenant King - Christ’s kingship in the context of the biblical narrative
The Not So Ancient Festival of Christ the King - On the origins of the festival