Friday, December 21, 2012

An Invitation to a New Era

Our texts for this final Sunday in Advent are Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Luke 1:46-55, 67-79, which can be read here.

I've been dreading this day since the 9th grade.  I will never forget the day in my freshman World History Class when we watched a video about the Mayans and learned that their calendar very clearly predicted a day for the end of the world:  DECEMBER 21, 2012 flashed on the screen at the end of the video in ominous typeface.

Well, the so-called "Mayan Apocalypse" is here, and so, still, are we (though there are still 10 hours or so left in this day).  It turns out, though, that that scary video I watched in world history class, however, didn't necessarily speak truthfully about what the Mayan calendar really indicates about this particular moment in history.  Here's what I read about this day in an article on this week:

"Some believe the world is coming to an end Friday -- on 12/21/12 -- which is when an important phase on the ancient calendar of the Mayan people terminates. Mayans don't buy it. At least the ones living in the city of Merida, Mexico, don't. Neither does anyone in the Mayan village of Yaxuna. They know the calendar their ancestors left them is about to absolve a key phase -- the end of an era and the heralding of a new one -- but they don't think we're all gonna die."It's an era. We are lucky to see how it ends," said wood carver Santos Esteban in Yaxuna, a sleepy village of fewer than 700 Mayans...He feels it is a momentous occasion and is looking forward to the start of the new age. He is not afraid." (

If today is the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new one, then this week's scripture texts are actually perfect--because in beautiful lyrics, they herald the coming of a new age.  An age where oppression will cease, the proud will be knocked down and the humble lifted up; where God will raise up a savior for us and guide us in the way of peace; where God will personally be present in our midst, and God's people will fear oppression no more.

What if today did mark the beginning of a new era--an era where we begin to finally live into the words of Mary's song and of Zechariah's, of the prophet Zephaniah?  In our broken and battered world, I like the idea of today as a new beginning.  May we, like the Mayan woodcarver, not be afraid, but look forward and live into a new age.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Invitation to Joy

Our texts for this third Sunday in Advent are Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 1:57-66, 80 and 3:1-6, which can be read here.  But for this week, I am going to diverge from talking about the texts and instead address a great worship-related question that one of our kids asked during the Children's Sermon when we introduced the Advent wreath a couple of weeks ago:  "Why is one of the candles pink?"

The answer is complex and ancient, as best as I can tell.  Here's the one I found perhaps most interesting and that seems to have drawn together ideas from several places; forgive me as I quote at length, I just couldn't think of a better way to share this!  :

"In the earliest years of the church the only church season was Lent, the seven weeks prior to Easter. Lent was a season of fasting and prayer as the church commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus. The traditional color of banners in the church during this time was a deep purple, signifying royalty, repentance, and suffering. During Lent the church lit seven candles, one for each week of the solemn season. However solemn the season, the story of Lent also has a twinge of hope and joy since the death of Christ prefigured the resurrection. So, on the third Sunday of Lent, the church was encouraged not to fast, but to feast. In ancient times on this particular Sunday the Pope would honor a citizen with a pink rose, and as time passed the priests wore pink vestments on this day as a reminder of the coming joy. When the season of Advent was instituted the church viewed it as a mini-Lent, a time for reflection and repentance (thus the [primary seasonal color of] purple). In so doing, the church adopted the first four candles of Lent and changed the third candle of Advent to pink in honor of the Lenten tradition. This is why we have a pink candle in our Advent Wreaths. --from

Over the years, the four Advent candles have come to represent hope, peace, joy and love--though many think it is the love candle that is pink, it is actually the joy candle, a splash of difference and color in the midst of the season.  In recent years the Advent emphasis has moved from being a season of repentance to being more a season of hope and anticipation--hence the shift in color for the season from purple to blue that is reflected in our worship space this year.  But I am glad that we have still held onto the candle of joy--a sign that even in seasons of darkness, light is on its way; that we are always invited to lean towards God's joy, even when we may least feel its presence.  As we light the candle this week, remember the joy of Elizabeth and Zechariah at John's long-awaited birth, and then the joy of John when he saw Jesus coming out to him at the river, ready to begin his ministry of mercy and redemption for all people.  Even if this is a dark time in your life--perhaps especially if it is--what reason might you have to light a candle for joy?

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Invitation to the Visitation

Our main text for this Second Sunday in this Advent season of considering God's Surprising Invitations is Luke 1:28-45, 56, which can be read here.  The first half of this reading is incredibly familiar--the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to young Mary to tell her she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God.  The second half of the story, at least to me, is not as familiar from typical narrations of the Christmas story:  the tale of Mary's visitation to her relative Elizabeth, who the angel Gabriel helpfully mentioned was also pregnant--just 6 months farther along in the miraculous process than Mary.

Why don't we know this part of the story as well?  It is probably true that the story of two women visiting together--even if it does involve a baby leaping in recognition--is not as magical and glamorous as the story of the angel's appearance and announcement.  Yet, when I have visited art museums, I have been amazed to see how frequently this story is told on canvas even when it is more rarely told from pulpits.  It is a story that seems to have captured an undue amount of attention from painters...on, a resource I turn to for images with some frequency, the second half of this week's story--that comprised of those lesser read verses 39-45--has 262 pieces of art ancient and modern associated with it.

The vast number of ways this scene has been brought visually to life amazes me, and so I offer some of my favorites below for your consideration.  Which of these capture your attention?  How do the facial expressions and body language of the two women differ among the paintings?  When other people are included in the images, what do their expressions seem to convey?  What is the mood of these images, and which one do you most connect with?  Reflecting on art is a wonderful way of being invited into the imagine and enjoy!

An Early Eastern Christian fresco

"Visitation" by artist Jim Janknegt (contemporary)

"The Visitation" by Romare Bearden (1941)

Pontormo's "The Visitation" (16th century)

 "The Visitation" by Chinese artist He Qi (contemporary)

"TheVisitation" by Philippe de Champaigne (17th century)

Mary and Elizabeth in the 2006 film "The Nativity Story"