Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa, you've been rewritten.



 My husband took a fun song and turned it into a true song, with help from the internet, the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary, and me.

There’s no need to fear;
There’s no need to cry;
There’s no need to doubt.
I’m telling you why:
Jesus Christ is coming to town!

There’s no need to check
‘Cause you’re on his list.
It’s all been worked out;
You’ll never be missed.
Jesus Christ is coming to town!

He loves you when you’re sleeping
And when you’re awake,
And when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for Jesus’ sake!

So put on a smile;
Get rid of that frown.
Spread the Good News to those all around.
Jesus Christ is coming to town!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Incarnation and Resurrection



            Yesterday’s praise and prayer time at church was heavy on the prayer side. So many needs were expressed as the microphone traveled through the congregation. Cancer. Nursing home admission. An inoperable tumor in a five year old. Shingles. An infant with lung complications.
            People struggling with Christmas because they’re missing someone who’s passed away.
            I felt heavier and heavier as these concerns were voiced, and the very un-seasonal thought came to me:  Life is terminal. The death rate is 100%. Nobody gets out of here alive.
            Then in his sermon, the pastor reminded us of the collateral damage at the first Christmas. In his attempt to kill Jesus, Herod ordered the slaughter of Bethlehem’s sons two years old and younger. With a population of around 1000, it’s estimated that 200 boys were murdered.
            All the candy canes and twinkle lights at Wal-Mart can not compensate for the sorrow felt around the globe and in our own churches and communities.
            Even the Incarnation, the coming of God the Son in the flesh at Bethlehem, doesn’t outweigh the trouble. We need the Resurrection and Ascension to tip the scales.
            The first chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke need the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, because, as Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (17 – 19).
            If Christ has not been raised, then the holiday might just as well be about snowmen and trees and Santa Claus and excess.
            Thank God, Paul goes on to insist, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (20 – 23).
            Thank God, the Resurrection reminds me life isn’t terminal after all. The Resurrection doesn’t just tip the scales; it demolishes the scales. Because of the Resurrection, I can celebrate December’s coming holy day with all its secular and sacred trimmings, in spite of the world’s troubles and my own (hopefully) temporary frailty.
            Merry Christmas and Happy Resurrection.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dreaming with Joseph



Dreamers

That dreamer Joseph
Dreamed sheaves of grain bowing
Dreamed sun, moon, stars kneeling
Dreamed his brothers’ worship
Dreamed himself into a pit
Into slavery
Into Egypt
Into prison
Into Pharaoh’s palace.
That dreamer Joseph
Dreamed deliverance for all Egypt
And his people.

This dreamer Joseph
Dreamed an angel speaking
Dreamed Mary, his virgin bride
Dreamed Jesus, the Spirit’s son
Dreamed the child into Egypt
Into hiding
Into safety
Into Galilee
Into destiny.
This dreamer Joseph
Dreamed salvation for his people
And all the world.

 [That Joseph:  Genesis 37, 39 - 50;
This Joseph:  Matthew 1:18 - 2:23]

Saturday, December 21, 2013

More Christmas Drama



JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID
PART TWO:  THE RETURN OF THE ANGEL

Setting:  A humbly furnished room. Furnishings include a rocking cradle, bed or sleeping mat, table. Gold, frankincense and myrrh sit on table.

(MARY sits rocking the cradle. JOSEPH enters on tip toe.)

JOSEPH:  (in a stage whisper) Is he asleep yet?
MARY: (leaning over cradle, also whispering) Yes, I think he’s finally asleep. (walks away from cradle) I didn’t think he’d sleep at all after all this excitement!
JOSEPH:  I don’t think I will sleep well after all this excitement. It’s not every day we entertain such important visitors.
MARY:  Wise men from the east…and Herod sends them here? How on earth does Herod know about the child?
JOSEPH:  That half-breed King Herod knows nothing! The scribes--they know. You don’t spend a lifetime copying the scriptures, copying, copying, word by word, letter by letter, counting jots and tittles, without knowing. They know the prophecies.
MARY:  Well, I just pray Herod leaves us alone.
JOSEPH:  Mary, you worry too much! What does Herod want with Bethlehem? With the accursed Roman census over, it’s just another sleepy village. Herod won’t move his plump royal posterior to bother with the likes of us.
MARY: I hope that you are right.
JOSEPH:  Of course I’m right! Everything’s going to be fine. Didn’t I find us this great little fixer-upper? And there’s room for my carpentry business in the shed. And with these generous gifts ( gestures toward gold, frankincense and myrrh) we’ll be able to get caught up on the rent, and start showing a profit. We’ll be able to give Jesus a proper upbringing…buy him new robes and sandals…
MARY:  fresh fruits and vegetables…
JOSEPH:  send him to the best schools.
MARY:  He won’t have to work as a carpenter.
JOSEPH:  Bethlehem’s not such a bad place to live. (lays his hand on Mary’s shoulder) Do you miss the family?
MARY:  A little. But when they come to Jerusalem for the Passover, they can stay with us.
(They both look around the little room)
MARY and JOSEPH:  (in unison) Where? (both laugh)
JOSEPH:  It’s good to hear you laugh. You weren’t laughing when I brought you to Bethlehem.
MARY:  I was scarcely able to talk or walk when you brought me to Bethlehem! If you hadn’t found the stable, I would have given birth on the street.
JOSEPH:  I’m sorry about the stable. You deserved better. I’m sorry about a lot of things.
MARY:  Joseph…don’t. (takes his face in her hands) Any man would have had difficulty believing his fiancĂ©e was carrying God’s child. You’re only human.
JOSEPH:  I could have trusted you. I could have trusted God. If it hadn’t been for that angel in my dream…(shakes his head)
MARY: When are you going to tell me what that angel said to you?
JOSEPH:  He said enough to get my head on straight. That’s all. (walks over to the cradle) He’s such a joy. Who knew I would enjoy being his father so much? From the moment I saw him…
MARY:  What a night that was! Who would think that out-of-towners bunking in a stable would have visitors?
JOSEPH:  God sent them. I’m sure they were more surprised to see holy angels than we were to see shepherds!
MARY:  Their visit made the night perfect. It more than made up for the stable. (yawns) Are you ready to turn in? Our sleeping son will be up hollering for his breakfast when the first rooster crows.
(Mary and Joseph lie down on the bed/mat and cover with a blanket. After a pause, Joseph begins to snore.)
(The Angel enters quietly and stands by the bed.)
ANGEL:  (softly) Joseph, son of David.
(Joseph stirs and moans.)
ANGEL:  (louder) Joseph, son of David!
(Joseph turns and groans.)
ANGEL:  (very loud) Joseph, son of David!
JOSEPH:  (Sits up) What? What? Who are you? How did you get in here?
ANGEL:  I’m ba-a-ck.
JOSEPH:  It’s you! You came back! Am I dreaming?
ANGEL:  Of course you’re dreaming.
JOSEPH: I’m so happy to see you! Everything happened just like you said it would.
ANGEL:  And what part of that surprises you? After all…I am an angel. So, how are you, Joseph, Son of David?
JOSEPH:  Great, great. Never been happier to be a son of David. Or father of the Messiah.
ANGEL:  No trouble with Roman soldiers…or hillbillies?
JOSEPH:  Sh!! (looks at Mary) She’ll hear you.
ANGEL:  She can’t hear me. I’m in your dream. So anyway, I have another message for you.
JOSEPH:  Things have been just great! We found this house. Sure it’s small, but it’s just perfect for the three of us. And there’s a shed I can use for my carpentry business.
ANGEL:  I have another message for you.
JOSEPH:  And now we don’t have to worry about money anymore. These men stopped by earlier. They said they were following a star, looking for the king of the Jews and Herod sent them here. Strange-looking guys, but nice enough. Said they were from somewhere east of here.
ANGEL:  (louder) Joseph, Son of David, I have another message for you.
JOSEPH:  Anyway, they bowed and worshiped the child. Worshiped him! Like they knew he was the son of God! And then they gave Jesus these gifts. (gestures toward table) This will pay for everything he needs for years to come!
ANGEL:  (shouting) Joseph, Son of David, I have another message for you!
JOSEPH:  Huh? Another message? Why am I not liking the sound of that?
ANGEL:  I’m sorry. Do you want me to get out of your dream?
JOSEPH:  No, no. tell me the message.
ANGEL:  (as if quoting) Take Mary and the child and get out of here.
JOSEPH:  Out of here? (angel nods) Out of this house? (angel nods) Now? (angel nods) But…but… The rent’s paid through the end of the month!
ANGEL:  Forget the rent. Get out of this house. Get out of Bethlehem. The child is not safe here…
JOSEPH:  (interupting) Herod!
ANGEL:  Yes, Herod.
JOSEPH: (sits down abruptly) Whoa!
ANGEL:  Herod plans to search for the boy to kill him. Get up and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. You’ll be safe there.
JOSEPH:  Egypt? (angel nods) Egypt? (angel nods) (Joseph stands up) But everyone there is so…Egyptian! My people don’t get along with Egyptians. A lot of bad history between us. Remember Moses?
ANGEL:  Of course I remember Moses. Do you remember Joseph, for whom you were named? He was like a father to the pharaoh, lord of his household, and ruler of Egypt. You’ll like Egypt. It’s sunny all the time. You can see the pyramids.
JOSEPH:  I don’t know…
ANGEL: Many of your countrymen have settled there, Joseph. Many sons of David. They’ll be your family.
JOSEPH:  My family. My family! I’ve got to get them out of here. Mary! Wake up!
(to angel) Wait! Will I ever see you again?
ANGEL:  Count on it. Now wake up, Joseph, Son of David. Flee to safety!
JOSEPH:  (waking up, looks dazed) Mary! Mary! Wake up! We’re going to see the pyramids!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Drama of Christmas



            Joseph might be my favorite character in the nativity accounts. This is how I imagined his encounter with the angel.

JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID

(Joseph stomps onstage and slams the door. He yanks off his coat and throws it down. He will pace in an agitated manner on and off through the monologue portion.)

JOSEPH:  How could she do this to me? Pregnant! How could her parents let this happen? This is not what they promised me in the marriage contract! Who did this to my sweet Mary? If I find out it was one of those wretched Roman soldiers, I’ll hire a band of Zealot terrorists to get my revenge! It’s enough that they march down our streets with their swords and spears, and mock our laws and our God. If any of them so much as touched my Mary, I’ll become a Zealot myself.
            But why won’t she just tell me if that’s what happened? Instead she comes up with this ludicrous story about a visit from an angel. I’m supposed to believe that God made her pregnant? I might as well be a Roman myself if I’m going to believe in that kind of a god. Oh, God, what am I going to do?
            I can’t marry her now. I won’t be a father to some other man’s child. What if the baby looks Roman? I won’t be the village idiot--people mocking me and whispering behind my back. The engagement is off. That’s all there is to it.
            But she could be stoned for this. My Mary could be stoned. No, don’t be ridiculous, Joseph, no one has been stoned for adultery in years. Calm down and think! What is the worst that could happen? She’ll be an outcast. She’ll have no one to support the child. Even if she names the Roman soldier, he wouldn’t marry her. Would he? I won’t have my Mary joined to a Roman.
            No, she’s got to go away somewhere. She must have family in another place, far from here. Yes, that’s it! Didn’t she just come back from visiting a cousin somewhere in the hill country? Wait a minute. She was gone for three months…and she comes back pregnant with a story about an angel? Oh, what a fool I am! Well, she can just march right back to the hill country and find the father of her baby. Let that hillbilly support his own child. But what if he’s a married man? Oh, God, what am I going to do?
            Think, Joseph, calm down and think. Mary could pretend to be a widow. Her husband died suddenly--and quite tragically--leaving her pregnant and without two denarii to rub together. Yes, that’s it. That will work. She can live with that cousin of hers in the hill country. I’ll send her away first thing in the morning. I’ll even give her some money to get her started. Then this nightmare can end and I can get on with my life. Without my Mary.

(Joseph throws himself down on his bed. Tosses and turns a few times, then lies still.)

(Angel quietly enters the room and stands by Joseph’s bed.)

ANGEL:  (softly) Joseph, son of David.
(Joseph stirs and moans.)

ANGEL:  (louder) Joseph, son of David!
(Joseph turns and groans.)

ANGEL:  (very loud) Joseph, son of David!

JOSEPH:  (Sits up) What? What? Who are you? How did you get in here?

ANGEL:  I’m an angel.

JOSEPH:  Yeah, you’re an angel and I’m the King of Judah. Leave me alone; I’m sleeping.

ANGEL:  I know you’re sleeping. I’m in your dream.

JOSEPH:  (Joseph gets up out of bed) Well, get out of my dream, whoever you are. Go away.

ANGEL:  Joseph, son of David, I have a message for you.

JOSEPH:  Enough already with this “son of David” thing. Where I come from sons of David are seven for a shekel. Every other man on the street can trace his lineage back to King David. Think about it. David had seven wives and nineteen sons. A thousand years later there are hundreds of us with the dubious honor of being sons of David. It’s no big deal.

ANGEL:  Where I come from, it’s a very big deal.

JOSEPH:  Where do you come from?

ANGEL:  I’m an angel sent from God with a message for you.

JOSEPH:  If I listen to your message, will you get out of my dream?

ANGEL:  I might.

JOSEPH:  Go ahead. I’m listening.

ANGEL:  It’s about time. They didn’t tell me you’d be this difficult.

JOSEPH:  Yeah, well, I had a very difficult day.

ANGEL:  Here’s the message. “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby she is carrying--”

JOSEPH:  (Interrupting) How do you know about Mary and the baby?

ANGEL:  Which part of “I’m an angel” don’t you understand? It’s my job to know things like this! Now, listen! “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby she is carrying was created by God’s Holy Spirit. When Mary’s son is born, you name him Jesus--salvation--because he will save his people from their sins.”

JOSEPH:  Whoa! (He staggers backward and sits on the bed) You’re telling me that what Mary said is true?

ANGEL:  Absolutely. She spoke face to face with the angel Gabriel--none of this dream stuff. The baby is from God. There were no Roman soldiers or hillbillies involved.

JOSEPH:  You heard that? I’m so embarrassed.

ANGEL:  Like I said, I’m an angel. (sounding excited) Do you realize what this message means?

JOSEPH:  (Stands up) Yes! I don’t have to send my Mary away. We can be married and have the life together that we planned.

ANGEL:  (sounding more excited) Yes, yes, that’s true, too. Do you realize what else it means? (Gives Joseph a few seconds, then prompts) He will save his people from their sins….

JOSEPH:  (softly) He will save his people from their sins…(louder) Only the Messiah will do that.… Are you saying Mary’s son--our son--will be the Messiah? Whoa! (Sits down abruptly)

ANGEL:  That’s exactly what I’m saying! The time is right and all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. God is ready to act--he has begun to act already. Delivering this message to you is the high point of my career!

JOSEPH:  But why me? What do I know about being a father to the Messiah--about being a father at all?

ANGEL:  Joseph, son of David, out of all the hundreds of sons of David walking the dusty streets in this forsaken, Roman-occupied kingdom, God chose you. Trust his judgment. Now, Joseph, I’m about to get out of your dream.

JOSEPH:  No, wait! Don’t go yet!.

ANGEL:  Now he tells me not to leave. My mission is accomplished. You have received the message.

JOSEPH:  Will I ever see you again?

ANGEL:  You might.

(Joseph lies down and Angel quietly leaves.  After a few seconds, Joseph begins to toss and turn and then sits up.)

JOSEPH:  What a crazy dream! I’ve got to stop eating lentils before I go to bed. I’ve never had a dream like this. So detailed. So involved. So real. (He gets off the bed and begins to walk around the room) I felt as if I could almost touch--(Stops abruptly; looks down, bends over and lifts up a handful of white feathers and lets them fall through his fingers)--his wings.
            Mary! I’ve got to see Mary! If she’ll talk to me after the things I said to her. I feel like such a Philistine! (pulls on his coat and runs offstage calling) Mary! Mary!


References:
1 Chronicles 3:1 - 9 lists David’s wives and sons.
Matthew 1:14 - 25 records Joseph’s experience with the angel.
Luke 1:26 - 38 records Mary’s visit from Gabriel, and Luke 1:39 - 56 records Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country.