The Smiling Heretic's Blog

Epiphany 3 :: Navigating the Darkness

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Matthew 4.12-23

During my last visit to our family home, in 2011, I decided to keep some lights on in the den when I went to bed for the night. Now, sleeping with the lights on may seem like something only children do, but let me tell you, having the lights on is a great way to keep from stubbing your toes if you get up in the night! Especially this is so when the surroundings are unfamiliar.

Things at our home had become unfamiliar to me. In preparation for selling the house, furniture had been moved out or rearranged and boxes of mementos and items scheduled for delivery to the local thrift store were everywhere. Things weren’t cluttered, but the normal pathways around the house — long familiar to me from my years of living there — were changed. The last thing I wanted to have happen — should nature call in the middle of the night — was to bump my toe on a storage trunk or re-positioned chair in the dark. Bad things can happen when you can’t see. So the lights stayed on.

Epiphany 2 :: Where are you staying?

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John 1.29-42

A rather innocuous question, no? The two former disciples of John — now following Jesus — are simply interested in where Jesus is housed for the night. They want to go with him and learn from him, to glean all manner of knowledge — and hope? — from the Lamb of God.

When we ask that question today — Where are you staying? — most likely we just want to know the name of the hotel someone is using while on vacation or a business trip. This is just polite conversation: “Will you be staying in a hotel or with family?” But for Jesus, the question implies much more.

The Greek word meno most often gets translated as “stay” or “remain.” But there is a much deeper meaning here. “Indwelling” seems to fit most closely, but we would probably use the word “abide.” For St. John the Evangelist, this notion of “indwelling” or “abiding” was an important one. He uses a variation of it almost 70 times in his gospel and letters. Perhaps the most familiar to us is this, from John 15: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”

Epiphany 1 :: The Baptism of Christ

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Matthew 3.13-17

Do you remember your baptism? Well, probably not if you were a baby when baptized!

In many ways this is too bad. Baptism marks not just the initiation of someone into the household of faith but recognizes and celebrates one’s involvement in the plan of God for the salvation of the world. Such a momentous event is hard to forget—unless, of course, you were too young to remember.

This is why reading and hearing the stories of Jesus’ baptism is so important to us today. The act of going down into the Jordan River and being dunked in the murky waters might not have been such a powerful event for Jesus; after all, he didn’t need to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins, right? But his baptism was—and is—significant for those who witnessed it and perhaps more especially for us today. The cleansing action of baptism—water washing away the stain of sin—has long been used by many different faith traditions as a ritualized act of preparedness for the setting aside of a person for some special purpose or cause. Any great undertaking—taking on or renewing a vow, embarking on a spiritual quest of intentional prayer, or setting one’s-self apart for a particular Godly purpose—is often begun with a ritual action of some kind. Baptism fulfills such a purpose.

All is not lost :: Christmas 2

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Luke 2.41-52

You look around and she’s nowhere in sight. You turned away just for a second. She was right there pointing out her favorite cereal in the supermarket. And now? Where is she? You call out her name. Nothing. You push the cart to the end of the aisle and look right and left. Where can she be? Mild annoyance turns to panic as you race down the aisles calling for her. You turn around again. There she is!

Do you reach down and pick her up for a big hug, so glad to have found her? Or do you scold her for not staying with you? Either way, you are relieved that she is here now. Safe.

Who was lost? She didn’t seem to be that concerned. In fact she was smiling and giggling. To her it was a game — and she was far from lost. But for you? You tell her never to do that again. And she senses the nervousness in your voice. No giggling now. You promise yourself that you’ll never lose track of her again. Ever.

Beginnings :: Christmas 1

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John 1.1-18

“In the beginning…”

How might you start a great novel? “Once upon a time”? “It was a dark and stormy night”? “Call me Ishmael”?

“In the beginning” might not be the most interesting first line, but St. John’s audience surely would’ve been impressed with the way he began his gospel about Jesus. Being Jewish followers of Christ, they recognized these three words as the start of the first book of their scriptures, Genesis. In those iconic opening verses the story of creation unfolds, revealing a God of imagination, grace, and beauty. At each stage of God’s birthing of new life, it is the Divine Word — “and God said, ‘let there be…’” —  that calls into existence all that is.

And it is that same Divine Word of God that John tells us was present prior to creation. Before anything was, God is. And God’s Word brings life and light into the world. That Word is Christ.

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