The Spirit of the Lord :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.14
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

Isaiah 61.1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me…

Reflection: The Spirit of the Lord :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

Jesus, in his Nazareth sermon, began with an affirmation that the Spirit of God was on him. This was a radical claim. The Spirit of God had been absent from Israel for generations. Their prophets fell silent and their senses dulled to God’s voice.

It is no wonder that the religious elite sank so deeply into ritual and legalism. They had no power to do anything else. It is no wonder that Nicodemus—Israel’s teacher—is so ignorant of the Spirit when he speaks to Jesus. Who could have taught him?

We are often no less ignorant than Nicodemus and no less addicted to moralism than the Pharisees, but we do so with fewer excuses.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit of God to our lives as believers. It is also difficult to understate the time most believers spend developing and refining our connection to the Spirit. Cretan philosopher Epimenides said, and Paul the Apostle agreed, “In him we live and move and have our being,” but if we are living and moving amongst the Spirit of God we seem to often be doing so with senses dulled.

Many people desire the gifts of the Spirit, without recognizing that the Spirit is the gift.

It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus starts his earthly life in the womb of a virgin girl. It is through the Holy Spirit that he grows and learns. It is through the Holy Spirit that he resists temptation. It is through the Holy Spirit that he healed, taught, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Then he ascends to Heaven to make way for the coming of this same Spirit to his followers, saying that we will “do even greater things than these.”

The growth of Jesus in Mary’s womb symbolizes his growth and gradual manifestation in our lives. Mary lent Jesus DNA, and cells, and tissue—her body knit him together and delivered him into our world. Mary lent his Spirit flesh. Jesus gives our flesh Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, paraklētos, who made Christ’s earthly body, now makes in our individual bodies Christ’s mind and spirit. But more powerfully, we are knit together as a community, The Church. into the physical body of Christ in the world.

We, The Church, are charged as Mary was, to deliver Christ, to manifest him, to the world. The rest of Christ’s sermon at Nazareth will help us see how.

Today the church remembers with sorrow the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem. When the world finds it cannot kill Christ, it will often turn to the nearest available victims to dispense its aimless rage. As we manifest Christ to the world, we will find ourselves victimized in his place…”for your sake we are slaughtered…

The Refrain
Remember, Lord, how short life is, how frail you have made all flesh. —  Psalm 89:47

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 33 (Listen – 4:01)
Revelation 19 (Listen – 3:47)

Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.20-21
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Isaiah 9.2
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Reflection: Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

The Annunciation of the birth of the King of Kings had come quietly to Mary, a young girl in Nazareth, and when that King’s time had come, he announced his kingdom in the same synagogue he studied in as a young boy. Mary’s son chose to announce his true identity to those who knew him best. He chose to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God in a town from which true Israelites believed nothing good could come.

It should not surprise us that Jesus chose to make one of his earliest and most direct claims to being the Messiah not in a rabbinical school, not in the temple, not in a court of law, nor in the courts of political power.

Jesus consistently chose to minister in out of the way places to people life had pushed out of the way. But here in Nazareth, Jesus wasn’t burying the lead; he was burying a treasure in a field. Those who studied the prophecies knew that the Messianic ministry would dawn like a light in Galilee. Christ’s seeming retreat from more important locations, is actually a marker of his true nature as the foretold Messiah.

Christ’s gifts to us are at first concealed, like gifts under a Christmas tree. They are hidden in plain sight for us to wonder at, to shake, to puzzle over, and ultimately to open and rejoice over. But, after opening, gifts become a part of you when you accept them. Whether it is a tool that is used regularly, an item of clothing that is worn often, or a book, game, or other entertainment that engages our mind and imagination, good gifts integrate themselves into our lives and identities.

Christ’s gifts are meant to become integral to our lives and to become manifestations of himself to our family, friends, and communities. As we approach Epiphany over the next ten days, may we wear Christ’s gifts prominently, like new and well-loved items of clothing. Through the wearing, may we allow them to transform us into the manifestation of the giver.

Today the church celebrates the life of the Apostle John of whom Jesus said, “If I want him to remain alive until I come, what is that to you?” Though John lived a long life—the only Apostle not to be martyred—he did die. Yet Jesus has left “the disciple Jesus loved” here until his second Advent. He leaves us. His well loved and Holy Spirit equipped disciples, the church.

The Refrain
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. —  Psalm 118:14

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 32 (Listen – 5:58)
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany

Scripture: Isaiah 61.1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Reflection: Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

There are a good many things about the way we celebrate Christmas in Western cultures that are upside down from a historical context.

We engage in a fast-paced litany of parties, activities, feasts, and gift giving during Advent, which is traditionally a time of contemplation, of prayer, and of identifying with our brokenness and need for Christ.

The actual 12 days of Christmas, leading to Epiphany should be a season of celebration, feasting, parties, and joyful community—yet our modern culture turns inward, focusing on self-improvement, and moralistic New Year’s resolutions. Many churches even engage in fasts or “cleanses” during this time of year. Many believers are literally fasting when the church historically has always feasted, celebrating the abundance of Christ.

This is not all bad. Historical celebrations of the church have always been keyed to the culture. There is value in seeing a trend of culture (such as the wave of self-improvement that dominates January) and attempting to steer that cultural trend into a valuable spiritual practice, such as fasting, prayer, and reflection. But there is also value in countering the culture—of zigging when they zag.

Epiphany means manifestation and refers to Christ being “revealed” to the entire world—not just Israel. In this season we will examine the Epiphany or the “revealing” of Christ and the implications of the incarnation by studying Christ’s first expository sermon in which he revealed his identity, proclaimed his destiny, and which was also the occasion of the first attempt to violently take his life as an adult.

As Christ and Saint Stephen, whose life and martyrdom the church celebrates today, can tell you, if they try to kill you after your sermon, you probably preached the Gospel. So we will look closely at what Christ said that day in Nazareth and what it means for us.

For Christ’s declaration in Nazareth must echo through each of us. The Spirit of the Lord that was upon him, longs to manifest himself in us. The Spirit that overshadowed Mary and grew Christ within her body, longs to birth Christ to the world through our actions. May we be the Lord’s servant as she was. May we manifest Christ. May we participate in his Epiphany to our world.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that I, who have been born again and made your child by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through my Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 31 (Listen – 4:20)
Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

How Must We In All Things Give Thanks?

Scripture: James 5.11
As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Reflection: How Must We In All Things Give Thanks?
By William Cooper (fl. 1653)

St. Augustine inaugurated that ancient custom among Christians, in whose mouths you should always hear these words: Deo gratias, “Thanks be to God!” When they met and saluted one another, Deo gratias, “God be thanked.” When they heard any tidings of persecution or protection, favor or frown, gain or loss, cross or comfort — still Deo gratias.

“What,” said Augustine, “shall brothers in Christ not give God thanks when they see one another? What better thing can we speak, or think, or write, than this? God be thanked! Nothing can be more compendiously spoken, nor more gladly heard, nor more solemnly understood, nor more profitably acted, than this; God be thanked!”

Such a frame of heart had holy Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

And such a one was in the sweet singer of Israel: “I will bless the Lord at all times.” Notable is that of Chrysostom: “There is nothing, nothing we can study, more pleasing to God than to be thankful — not only in good days, but also when things fall cross. This is the best sacrifice and oblation we offer God.”

This made Jerome say, “It is peculiar to Christians to give thanks in adversity. To praise God for benefits, this [anyone] can do. To give God thanks in dangers according to the apostle’s sense, and in miseries — to always to say, ‘Blessed be God’ — this is the highest pitch of virtue. Here is your Christian; such a one takes up his cross, and follows his Savior: no loss or cross can dishearten him.”

To give God thanks for crosses and afflictions is to be numbered among those singular things which Christians are bound to excel in. We ought excel beyond [those who do not believe] in loving our enemies and blessing those that curse — which our Savior exhorts and commands.

We must thank the Lord for afflicting us, and for laying the cross upon us, because it is so far below what we deserve at his hands. To drink as He drank it we cannot — we need not. Thank God, then, that you have such a little share of it — when all was your portion by right and justice. This is worthy of our thanks.

The Call to Prayer
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand… — Psalm 95.6-7

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 18 (Listen – 2:36)
James 5 (Listen – 3:01)

Prayer of Devotion from the USA :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 1 Chronicles 17.16
“Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” — King David.

This week is Thanksgiving week in the United States. As we focus on giving thanks, we will look at ancient and modern poetry and prayers, offering praise and thankfulness to our God. — John

Reflection: Prayer of Devotion from the USA :: Worldwide Prayer

My cup overflows! My cup overflows! Lord God you have blessed me so abundantly! You have lifted me up, and loved me, and forgiven me, and blessed me so richly.

O loving Lord God, continue to bless me, that I might continue to bless others.

O compassionate Lord God, as my cup overflows with love and kindness and all kinds of riches, help me to see how I might share these blessings and your love with the rest of your children.

O Gracious Lord God, help me to see how extravagantly my cup overflows, and to see how I can direct that overflow to do your work.

Oh Mighty Lord God, give me the courage and strength to follow Christ’s example, and to share the abundance of my blessings, now and forever.

My cup overflows! Praise God! Praise the Son whose life shows us the true meaning of grace, servanthood and loving stewardship.

Psalm 23.6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. — Psalm 43.3-4

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 17 (Listen – 4:14)
James 4 (Listen – 2:25)

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