Monthly Archives: December 2020

Real Presence in a Virtual World


Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:1-18

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you have filled all the earth with the light of your incarnate Word. By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.

This has been a good Christmas for my family. All of us have remained healthy and Covid free thus far. All of us are retired or able to work from home and so spared from the anxiety faced by so many who are either out of work or working under conditions that expose them daily to infection. Though we have remained separated from one another, we are in touch by way of Facetime, Zoom and constant texts. Still, I miss having bodily contact. Sure, I can tell stories and joke with my grandkids during video chats. But that is no substitute for their warm bodies snuggling up to me as I read to them from an old fashioned book. Or, as the poet Marion Strobel says, “singing on my beast/ warm as a colored light,/ your head is at rest.”

Christmas this year has made me painfully aware of how bodily our faith is. No one knew this as well as Martin Luther. One story has it that, when Luther sat down to debate the theology of the Lord’s Supper with fellow reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, he wrote in chalk on the table in front of him “this is my body.” So determined was Luther not to betray this central affirmation: the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper does not merely symbolize but is the Body and blood of Christ. So, too, when Saint Paul refers to the church as the “Body of Christ,” he is not speaking metaphorically. For Paul, the church, with all its faults, is the resurrected Christ in and for the world.

There is no spirit/body dualism in biblical Christianity. While we might distinguish between body and spirit or soul and body, the two can never be separated. Just as a body without a soul is only a corpse, so, too, a soul without a body is a mere phantom. We confess in our creeds, not that the soul somehow survives death, but that God raises the body, soul and whatever other part of us there might be from death. Salvation through Jesus Christ is not a purely spiritual measure designed to “save souls.” It is a life and death struggle for the whole cosmos in which Jesus invites us to participate here and now in our present bodily existence, assuring us that the outcome will be a new creation in which we will also participate bodily-whatever that might mean.

Aside from the gospel witnesses, I don’t think there is a narrative better illustrating the mystery of Incarnation than one particular incident related by author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, in his book, Night. This short book is an autobiographical account of his incarceration at the Buna concentration camp. There Wiesel relates a story about the gruesome hanging of a young boy by the SS guards. He and all the other prisoners were marched out into the commons to witness this event. As the child hung, struggling for some time in the noose, someone near Wiesel kept muttering, “Where is God?” Wiesel tells of how a voice within him answered, “Where is He? Here he is-he is hanging here on the gallows.” Wiesel, Elie, Night, (c. 1958 by Les Editions De Minuit; pub. by The Hearst Corporation, New York, NY) p. 74-76. Though not a Christian, Elie Wiesel comes much closer to understanding incarnational theology than a good many of us who are!

The Incarnation, it must be understood, was not God’s temporary foray into human affairs. The Word both became and continues to be flesh. The stench of God’s flesh rises up from the ovens of Auschwitz; it is scarred by the lash of the whip; it is starved and frozen just across our southern border; it struggles for one last breath under the knee of a cop; it fights for one more moment of life on a ventilator. When John tells us that the Word became flesh, he is telling us that the glory and grace of God cannot be seen apart from the crucified Jesus who, even when raised from the dead, still bears the scars of torture. God cannot be blasphemed by the desecration of any temple save the temple of the human body, the flesh made sacred by God’s indwelling.

It should further be understood that the Incarnation was not an unpleasant duty that the Word underwent as a result of our sinfulness. According to John’s gospel, the Word’s becoming flesh was God’s intent from the beginning. The cross was the price God paid for following through with that intent, notwithstanding our sinfulness. In Jesus, God becomes human-more human than any of us have ever been. In so doing, God exposes both God’s dogged determination to “form the mind of Christ” within the human family and the depth of human resistance to God’s merciful intent.

This second Sunday of Christmas is a good time to double down on the miracle of the Incarnation. With the manger set back up in the attic, the Christmas tree out on the curb and the toys broken, out of batteries or their novelty spent, we are no longer competing with the sentimental overtones of the holiday season. With Santa in the rear view mirror and some very dark and frightening months ahead, we could use a Christmas story that enters into our anxious and stormy lives-and stays there. That good news is Emmanuel, God with us. Not just for the holidays, but always.

Here is the poem by Marion Strobel quoted above.

On Christmas

Often, on Christmas,
I listen to a chant
Float from a colored window
Softly sibilant.

Often, on Christmas,
I wait until a glow
From a colored pane of glass
Slides across the snow.

Yet though I hear songs,
And listen from without,
I never quite know what
Christmas is about.

In never quite know-
Till, singing on my breast
And warm as a colored light,
Your head is at rest.

Source: Poetry Vol. XXV, No. 111 (December 1924). Marion Strobel (1895-1967) was a poet, fiction, writer, critic and editor. In 1922 she married dermatologist James Herbert Mitchell and settled with him in Chicago. The couple had two daughters, including abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell. Strobel was an associate editor of Poetry from 1920 to 1925 and from 1940-1949. She published two collections of poetry in the 1920s and published five novels in the 1930s and 1940s. Strobel established the Harriet Monroe Poetry Prize in memory of the Poetry founder in 1936. You can read more about Marion Strobel at the Poetry Foundation website.

Draft of Trump Concession Statement Leaked to Press

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

It appears that, at long last, President Trump is prepared to concede the 2020 election to President Elect Joe Biden. The Ghost recently obtained what appears to be a draft of the president’s concession statement  from an employee of the Mara Lago resort where the president is currently staying. Our source, who prefers to remain anonymous, told us that the document evidently fell off the president’s golf cart. The text is as follows:

I, Donald J. Trump, hereby conceed the 2020 elexion to Joe Biden. Melania made me say it. I didn’t reely lose. It was a stupid elexion and Joe won because he cheeted. Joe and his cruked son Hunter snuck in with loser Hugo Chavez and made all the voting mashines in the swing states say Biden and not Trump. I wud still be president exept Mich McConnill and all the other republican seneters terned agest me and sed Joe was president when they shud have sed it was me. Even Mike Pence is terning agenst me. My family turned agenst me. Only Sidney Powell and Mike Flynn still luv me. Everybody else hates me. I hate them too and I wont forget how mean they were to me.

Everyone was mean to me. I win a landslide against Hilary and everybody says oh Trump cheeted with Rusha. Then they told Robert Muler to invsto investa envest luk into me. He said mean things and untrue things about me. Then I made a perfekt fone call, a butiful fone call. And even tho it was a perfekt and butiful fone call, I got impeeched for it. That was very unfair. Adam Shiff and Nansy Pilosi were mean to me, but then the senate acwited me. They said I cud still be president. They acted like they were my frends.

But they were not reely my frends. Now they are saying Joe Biden won the elexion-even tho he cheeted and even tho millions of peeple know I won. After all I did for them they are treeting me very bad. Ever sinse I was president everyone is mean to me. They call me names. They make fun of my hair and my ties. They don’t give me muny for my border wall. The supreem cort keeps on telling me I cant do anything even tho I am president and the boss of them. They dont lisen to my loyers and their butiful, perfekt lawsutes. Even tho I gave them their jobs they dont help me. They just say go away Donald. Joe Biden won.

Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden. Everything is Joe Biden. Everybody luvs Joe Biden. But did he bild a butiful border wall? Did he make a perfekt fone call? Did he yell at the sientists and make them hurry up and make a vaxine for covid 19 even tho it was a stupid hox like the rushan hox? No. He didn’t. But I did. But nobody says thank you. No nobody says you did a good job. They just keep saying oh Donald is bad, bad, bad. I do all wunderful things for America. But America says go away Donald. We want Joe Biden not you.

I am tired of being president of this stupid cuntry that is mean to me and never does what I say. I was a grate president. The gratest president sinse Aberham Linkon. Maybe even grater then him. But the press and the democrats and the liberals just make up lies and say I am bad. And the repubikans tern their bak on me and wont stik up for me when I won the elexion. America wont stik up for me. So I wont stik up for you either. I am going to florida to play golf and I dont care what happens to this stupid cuntry anymore. I wont let you have any releef from Covid or any muny to pay your soljers or any muny to run your stupid goverment. I hate all you stupid people. Poop and buggars on you.

Your president (even tho you say I am not)

Donald J. Trump      P.S. This is You:


FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck


Merry Christmas-From a Bleeding Heart Liberal to the MAGA Hat Guy Standing In line in front of the Emergency Room

Hey you in the MAGA hat. I saw you on the news the other night standing in line before the entrance to a hospital emergency room somewhere deep down in Trumpland. You had your four year-old little girl with you. She was having a lot of trouble breathing, wheezing badly. You had been waiting in that line a long time. Lot’s of space and medical attention was being taken up by Covid-19 victims. Your state was a little late with masks and social distancing. So were most other states. But what can you expect when your president insists that this pandemic will simply go away if you just ignore it? Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas and say that I hope everything worked out for you and your girl.

I mean that, though I happen to be one of those Biden voters that make you crazy. Now that might surprise you. If anyone should be a supporter of Donald Trump, it’s me. I’m an old white guy who has had a successful professional career ending in a relatively early retirement. I could do that because I had a healthy retirement savings account and a few investments that, I am happy to say, have done phenomenally under Donald Trump. I have always had great medical insurance through my own and my wife’s employers, so it matters not a fig to me whether Obamacare is gutted by the legislature, voted out of existence or struck down by the Supreme Court. Donald Trump has gotten rid of environmental, safety and regulatory rules allowing the corporate world to do pretty much whatever it wants. That, in turn, produced a strong stock market, all to my benefit. So, if I were to vote my pocketbook, I’d be wearing a MAGA hat like you.

But I voted for Joe Biden instead. Why, you ask, would I do that? Don’t I understand that he will raise my taxes? Yes, I understand that my taxes probably will go up under the incoming Democratic administration. Still, I voted Democratic. I did it because I care about you and your little girl. Guess that makes me what you would call a “bleeding heart.” Oh well. I’ve been called worse. And yes, my heart did bleed as I watched you standing in the cold, holding your daughter’s hand and looking anxiously toward the hospital entrance. I voted for Biden because he favors raising the federal minimum wage, expanding Obamacare, strengthening regulations on the banking and investment industries, making pre-K education universally available and making college accessible for the children of ordinary working people-like your daughter. Believe it or not, I want an economy that works for all of us and not just for me. My American dream is a country where nobody has to stand in line waiting for their sick child to receive emergency medical care and wondering if they will get it in time. If that means I have to pay more taxes, so be it.

I know, I know. All of this sounds like socialism to you. But let me ask you this: how many of us old guys who get Social Security on top of our more than adequate retirements are agitating to overturn that “socialist” program? Why is providing government sponsored Medicare benefits to old guys like me not socialism while providing medical benefits to your daughter is? Why is it that huge subsidies and tax breaks for the gas, oil and coal industries is not socialism, but government financing of health care for children is? Why is it socialism when our government extends your unemployment benefits a few weeks so that you can put food on your table, but “incentive” when a state gives tax free status to companies agreeing to locate their businesses within their borders? Why are there perfectly legal “tax avoidance” rules allowing billionaires, such as Donald Trump, to pay nothing in taxes that are unavailable to you? Truth is, government benefits are “socialism” and “entitlements” only when they meet the needs of people like you.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: terms like socialism and communism-they’re like the F word. They don’t really mean anything. They are political cuss words people like me use to shame you away from demanding for your little girl the same educational opportunities, access to good health care and affordable housing that my children have always enjoyed. We keep telling you that “a rising tide lifts all boats” and that if you are just patient and work hard, all those benefits we keep giving to the top 1% will come trickling down to you. We have been promising that since the 1980s. How much longer are you going to wait for it to come true? How long will it take for you to figure out that every time you give liberals the finger, you just poke yourself in the eye?

In a way, I can understand your attraction to Donald Trump. His railing against a government that doesn’t care about you and your family strikes a chord. You look around at your dying town, your empty factory buildings and struggling farms that continue to languish even as the stock market soars-and it makes you mad as hell. You have a right to be. Trouble is, you are mad at all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. Immigrants, minorities, gay and lesbian people-they didn’t take your jobs away, kill your town or shut down your local hospitals. Capitalism did that. The companies that employed your community found they could get things made cheeper overseas by people who were willing to work longer hours for less. That is what capitalism is all about-making things cheeper and more efficiently to increase profit margines. And if that means your community gets left flat in the dust, too bad. The market has spoken.

The confidence you put in Donald Trump and the Republican party has been cruelly betrayed. Ask yourself, how much has Donald Trump really done for you? He promised a “wonderful health care program” to replace Obamacare. Well, he did all he could to gut Obamacare. But that “wonderful health care program?” If he had kept his promise on that score, you wouldn’t have been standing in that line. Donald Trump inherited a growing economy and promised to make it even better. And he did-for people like me. But what about you? When was the last time you saw a raise? Do you even have a job at this point? And what about your little girl? Do you think Donald Trump gives a rat’s petunia whether she ever gets the treatment she needs? Fat chance. He’s out on the golf course now, even as more Americans like you are dying each day than died on September 11, 2001. That’s how little you and your daughter mean to Donald Trump. The sad truth is that you’ve been had; hoodwinked; bamboozled; taken to the cleaners.

Donald Trump will soon be history. But you can be sure that the politics of anger, resentment and selfishness that put you in that long line of people in front of the hospital will live long after him in the new Republican party he made. I hope you can see through all of that. I hope you will come to understand that supporting the party of the 1% only keeps you at the bottom of the other 99%. I hope your love for your little girl and your desire to give her a better future prove stronger than your hatred of us “liberals,” immigrants, minorities and everyone else you blame for ruining your life. I hope you will finally figure out that I’m not your enemy and work with me for the kind of country I think we both want. Not that it should make any difference to me. I am well enough off and I will do just fine under the Republicans. But for the sake of your little girl, I am willing to be a little less well off. Donald Trump and his Republican supporters might call that socialism. But where I come from, it’s just called being a good neighbor.

Anyway, here’s wishing you a merry Christmas and a better new year. Give your little girl a hug for me.

Bleeding Heart Liberal.

A Heart Piercing Sign


Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35.

I was only nine or ten at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and only vaguely aware of what it was all about. After all, I was growing up in Bremerton, Washington. That is a long way from Selma, Alabama. Unlike those backwards southerners, we had no Jim Crow laws, no segregated schools and we got on just fine with people of color-or so we thought. Ours was a fully integrated and enlightened town without a hint of racism.

But as Martin Luther King, Jr. started to make headlines, I began to see another side of our community. There was much discussion about King among the adults in my home, church and neighborhood. “He’s got some good points, but he has to tone it down,” said some. “Discrimination down south is a terrible thing,” said others. “But King is pushing for too much change too fast. He’s only making things worse for his own people.” Our pastor expressed the view that, while segregation is clearly unjust, no Christian, much less a pastor, should be breaking the law in order address it. “One unjust act cannot justify another.” Some in our community were awakened for the first time to the depth of racial injustice in our midst and spoke out boldly in defense of Dr. King. Others spoke of him in disparaging terms it would serve no purpose to repeat. Suffice to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in our community “a sign that [was] opposed so that the inner thoughts of many [were] revealed.”

Being a “sign” is a hazardous occupation. For both Jesus and Dr. King it ended with a violent death. And there was collateral damage also. As Simeon foretold, the sword of grief did indeed pierce the heart of Mary, Mother of our Lord. So also, I am sure, it pierced the soul of Coretta Scott King. We cannot allow the terrible cost of the Incarnation to get lost in the sentimentality that so often surrounds our celebration of the Nativity. The song of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds and the worship of the magi bear witness to the marvelous sign of God’s generosity in the birth of this child, Jesus. But so also does the gut wrenching cry of Rachel weeping for her children. Matthew 2:16-18.

The naked truth is that the best God had to give, God’s very self, is destined to be rejected cruelly by each of us in our own way. If we can find the courage to enter into the divine drama of Jesus’ obedient life and faithful death, our inner thoughts will surely be revealed. If we are honest, we will find ourselves with the crowds that came to Jesus for what he could give them with no thought of following him. We will find ourselves among the disciples who are consumed with rivalry, self promotion and power, but often show little interest or understanding of the reign of God Jesus proclaims. We will find ourselves among those who feared that Jesus was a dangerous and destabilizing influence and among those who would silence him when he challenges our grip on power and privilege. A prophetic sign lances a boil, revealing sickness of which we are unaware. It is painful and unpleasant, but essential for healing.

Over this last year we have encountered many signs that have “revealed the inner thoughts of many.” They have names like George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Let me say from the outset that there is nothing good, nothing redemptive, nothing meaningful in the senseless murders of these innocents. Nevertheless, if we can view them through the prism of the sign that is Mary’s child, they can become for us signs that lay bare our wounded souls, the prejudice holding us in bondage and the grievous injuries they inflict on our neighbors. That, in itself, is not the healing and reconciliation for which God yearns. But it is a necessary first step. And, of course, we have to begin somewhere.

Here is an anonymous poem reflecting Mary’s realization of the sign that will be her son’s destiny and the “sword” that will one day pierce her through.

Jesus Comforts His Mother

A baby is borne us blis to bring;
A maidden, I hard, “Loullay,” sing:
“Dere son, now leive thy wepping,

Thy fadere is the King of Blis.”

“Nay! Dere modere, for you weppe I noght,
But for thinges that shall be wroght,
Or that I have mankind iboght.

Was ther never pain like it, iwis.”

“Pes! dere sone, say thou me not so.
Thou art my child, I have no mo.
Alas! That I shuld see this wo:

It were to me gret heivynis.”

“My hondes, modere, that ye now see,
Thay shall be nailed one a tree;
My feit, also, fastned shall be:

Full mony shall wepe that it shall see.”

“Alas! dere son, sorrow now is my happe
To see my child that soukes my pappe
So ruthfully taken out of my lappe.

It were to me gret heivynis.”

“Also, modere, ther shall a speire
My tendere hert all to-teire:
The blud shall kevere my body there.

Gret ruthe it shall be to see.”

“A! dere sone, that is a heivy cas.
When Gabrell knelled before my face
And said, ‘Heille! Lady, full of grace,’

He never told me nothing of this.

“Dere modere, pes! Nowe I you pray,
And take no sorrow for that I say,
But singe this song, ‘By, by, loullay,’

To drive away all heivynis.”

Have a Holy Disruptive Christmas!


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…” Luke 1:30.

Nothing is quite so disruptive as pregnancy. The news that you are about to be a parent alters your outlook on the future, reshapes your expectations and forces you to re-evaluate the direction of your life. The baby’s arrival wreaks havoc on life. For first time parents, gone are the days when you can decide serendipitously after arriving home from work to grab a pizza and go out to see the new movie everyone is talking about. Your social life changes. You find you can no longer keep up with your childless friends and the activities you shared with them. Those boring individuals who used to make your eyes roll with their fixation on Legos, play dates and where to get the best deal on Pampers are suddenly your new best friends. For established families, a new baby upsets the existing constellation of familial relationships, depriving older siblings of attention, changing sleeping arrangements and aggravating further sibling rivalry. And this is all under optimal conditions when a pregnancy is welcome and expected. Where, as in our gospel lesson, pregnancy is unplanned and unanticipated, its disruptive effects are multiplied exponentially.

Mary is not unaware of the disruption her pregnancy has unleashed, disruption that goes far beyond her and her family. In our psalmody from Luke’s gospel she sings:

“[God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:51-55.

At Jesus’ circumcision, the prophet Simeon tells Mary that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35. Mary is very much aware, as is the poet Yehuda Amichai, that a child-her child-is “a missile into the coming generations.” Like the poet, she “trembles” with wonder at what she has launched into the world.

It has always struck me as ironic that this story, which for Mary, for Israel and the world is so very jarring and disruptive, has managed to weave itself into a holiday so steeped in tradition and sameness. Nothing is as rock solid and resistant to change as Christmas. Every pastor knows that the annual Christmas Candle Light Service is not the place to introduce new hymns and experiment with novel liturgical forms. Every nominally Christian family has its own traditions and practices for celebrating Christmas without which “it just isn’t Christmas.”  Those traditions might be overtly religious, secular or a mix of both. But whatever they are, they constitute a set of cherished expectations we have come to take for granted. Whatever else might be changing in the world around us, Christmas is still Christmas.

Of course, I hardly need to tell you that this year of pandemic is different. It has disrupted so many aspects of our lives, not the least of which is the way we celebrate holidays like Christmas. Sesle and I were not together with our children and grandchildren for Thanksgiving and will not be together with them for Christmas either. We will not be celebrating the Eucharist on Christmas or anytime in the near future. Our town’s community Christmas tree lighting celebration will not be happening this year, nor will many other cultural and religious public events. All of our expectations have been shattered, our routines have been disrupted. We are feeling our way into an uncertain future-much as Mary must have been upon learning that, unmarried though she was, she was about to bear a child.

So perhaps this will be the most Christmas like Christmas we have ever experienced. Maybe God is brewing something holy and redemptively disruptive in the midst of all this darkness and uncertainty. Maybe we are finding ourselves in a place where we can finally hear the story of the Nativity. Perhaps we are finally positioned to encounter the terrible, fearful and wonderful miracle of the Incarnation, God’s missile of healing launched into a wounded and hurting world. That is bound to disrupt our established ways of thinking and acting. But, of course, that is the whole point.

Here is the poem by Yehuda Amichai I cited above.

A Child is Something Else Again

A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he’s full of words,
in an instant he’s humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They’ve already placed their bets on him
but he doesn’t know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They’re training him to be a polite Job,
to say “Thank you” when the Lord has given,
to say “You’re welcome” when the Lord has taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.

A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

Source: The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. (c. 2015 by Yehuda Amichai, Translated By Chana Bloch and published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). Yehuda Amichai is one of Israel’s most prominent poets. He was born in Germany in 1924 but left with his family for Palestine in 1935. He fought in the 1948 Arab/Israeli war. His poems have been translated into English, French, German and Swedish. You can read more about Amichai and his poetry on the Poetry Foundation Website.


The Advent of the Spirit upon a Dispirited Church


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” John 1:32.

Though the outpouring of God’s Spirit is always an extraordinary event, this is not the first instance of it in the Bible. The Spirit of the Lord fell mightily upon the judges of Israel giving them strength to perform superhuman feats in their battles for Israel’s liberation. e.g., Samuel at Judges 15:14-15. God’s Spirit fell upon Saul shortly after he was anointed king of Israel. I Samuel 10:6-10. In our lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet declares, “The Spirit of God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted.” Isaiah 61:1. Of course, there is the marvelous story in the second chapter of Acts about God’s outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. Acts 2:1-21. So, too, the Spirit of God descended from heaven upon Jesus, says John. But John goes on to say one thing more. “[The Spirit] remained on him.”

The Greek verb translated here as “remained” is “meno.” This verb can be translated as “live,” “dwell” or “lodge.” One who “remains” in this sense is one who does not leave the realm of the sphere in which one finds oneself. “meno.” can also mean to “continue” or “persist.” Indeed, it is used in all these senses throughout John’s gospel. The first disciples Jesus called followed him home and “stayed” with him. John 1:38-39. The Samaritans brought to Jesus by the woman he met at the well invite Jesus to “stay” with them and Jesus does just that-for two days. John 4:39-40. The bread of heaven Jesus promises to all who believe in him “endures” for eternal life. Jesus “remains” in Galilee rather than going up to Jerusalem with his brothers for the Feast of Tabernacles. John 7:1-9. Jesus tells his audience that those who “’continue’ in my word…will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32. Rather than going immediately to the bed side of Lazarus upon hearing that he was ill, Jesus “stayed” two days longer in the place where he was. John 11:1-6. Jesus tells his people that whoever believes in him does not “remain” in darkness. John 12:46. During his last hours together with his disciples, Jesus tells them that God the Father “dwells” in him (John 14:10) and that the Spirit “dwells” within them. John 14:17. Jesus admonishes his disciples to “abide” in him just as a branch clings to the vine (John 15:4) and to “abide” in his love. John 15:9. All of these verses employ that same word, “meno,” variously translated in the English text.

The import is clear. God’s Spirit remains on, continues with, abides in, dwells with and persists with Jesus. In the same way, Jesus’ disciples remain, continue, abide, dwell and persist with Jesus, just as Jesus remains, continues, abides, dwells and persists in the Father. In the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one even as he and the Father are one so that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26. The love which is the glue binding the unity of the Trinity is to be reflected in the community of faith grounded in Jesus. This is the testimony of John the Baptizer.

John’s good news comes to us during a time when most of us find it hard to keep our congregations, families and communities glued together. Pandemic has robbed us of so much that once mediated the Spirit’s binding power: the gathered community; the Sacraments; singing together; greeting one another with the peace of God; simple gestures like hand shakes, hugs and back slaps. Yes, I am thankful for the technology allowing us to be together virtually. We are better off with it than we would be without. Still, for me, it serves as much to remind me of our separation as it does to connect us.

Despite all this, John’s testimony is good news. It is good because it reminds us that our unity, like all of God’s good gifts, is a gift of grace. Once given, the Spirit cannot be taken away from us. She remains, continues, abides, dwells and persists with the church. Though physically distanced from one another, we are neither distanced from Jesus nor abandoned by the Holy Spirit. John’s testimony assures us that the Spirit travels through the prayers arising our homes, telephone calls, cards, letters, texts, emails, U tube worship services, Zoom meetings and whatever other channels she might make use of in this time of our physical separation. The Spirit is nothing if not innovative.

I am hopeful that the church will come out of this time of pandemic with an enriched sense of the ways in which the Spirit works among us. It is my prayer that we will begin to recognize how deeply we need and depend on one another. I hope that the time we spend apart will strengthen our prayer life, remind us of our frailty and deepen our compassion for our neighbors. I hope that we will emerge from this dreadful epidemic with a deeper appreciation for the people whose faithful work maintains the network of health care, food distribution, sanitation and safety that we are so prone to take for granted and undervalue in times of relative peace and prosperity. I hope that the events of the past year have opened our eyes to the vast disparity in resources between those of us who identify as white and people of color. More so, that having had our eyes open, we will be driven by God’s Spirit to pursue justice. Though much ecclesiastical activity seems to have ground to a halt, rest assured that the Spirit remains at work in Christ’s church.

Here is a poem by Emma Lazarus reflecting on the synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the oldest in the United States. It was built in 1763. At the time Lazarus wrote her poem, the building was abandoned. It has since become the home of a worshiping Jewish congregation once again. Lazarus reflects on the lively faith that sustained so many generations to which the synagogue testifies in much the same way as John the Baptizer testifies to the Spirit he witnessed remaining upon Jesus.

In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport

Here, where the noises of the busy town,
The ocean’s plunge and roar can enter not,
We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,
And muse upon the consecrated spot.

No signs of life are here: the very prayers
Inscribed around are in a language dead;
The light of the “perpetual lamp” is spent
That an undying radiance was to shed.

What prayers were in this temple offered up,
Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,
By these lone exiles of a thousand years,
From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!

How as we gaze, in this new world of light,
Upon this relic of the days of old,
The present vanishes, and tropic bloom
And Eastern towns and temples we behold.

Again we see the patriarch with his flocks,
The purple seas, the hot blue sky o’erhead,
The slaves of Egypt,—omens, mysteries,—
Dark fleeing hosts by flaming angels led.

A wondrous light upon a sky-kissed mount,
A man who reads Jehovah’s written law,
‘Midst blinding glory and effulgence rare,
Unto a people prone with reverent awe.

The pride of luxury’s barbaric pomp,
In the rich court of royal Solomon—
Alas! we wake: one scene alone remains,—
The exiles by the streams of Babylon.

Our softened voices send us back again
But mournful echoes through the empty hall:
Our footsteps have a strange unnatural sound,
And with unwonted gentleness they fall.

The weary ones, the sad, the suffering,
All found their comfort in the holy place,
And children’s gladness and men’s gratitude
‘Took voice and mingled in the chant of praise.

The funeral and the marriage, now, alas!
We know not which is sadder to recall;
For youth and happiness have followed age,
And green grass lieth gently over all.

Nathless the sacred shrine is holy yet,
With its lone floors where reverent feet once trod.
Take off your shoes as by the burning bush,
Before the mystery of death and God.

Source: Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems and Other Writings, (c. 2002 by Broadview Press) Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) is most famous for the words of her poem, The New Colossus, inscribed on the base of the Statute of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

She was one of the first successful and publicly recognized Jewish American authors. Lazarus was born in New York City to a wealthy family. She began writing and translating poetry as a teenager and was publishing translations of German poems by the 1860s. Lazarus was moved by the fierce persecution of her people in Russia, a frequent topic of her writings, as well as their struggles to assimilate into American culture. You can sample more of Emma Lazarus’ poetry and read more about her at the Poetry Foundation website.