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Signs of the Times  •  16 December 2016  •  No. 100

¶ Processional. “Veni Veni Emmanuel” ("O Come O Come Emmaneul"), L'Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg.

Above: These shape-shifting galaxies have taken on the form of a giant mask. The icy blue eyes are actually the cores of two merging galaxies, called NGC 2207 and IC 2163, and the mask is their spiral arms.
            The two met and began a sort of gravitational tango about 40 million years ago. The two galaxies are tugging at each other, stimulating new stars to form. Eventually, this cosmic ball will come to an end, when the galaxies meld into one. The dancing duo is located 140 million light-years away in the Canis Major constellation.

Invocation.We Are Waiting For You,” a new Advent song by The Many.

Call to worship. Juan Diego Flórez, “Comfort Ye My People” and “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Good news. “A group of nearly 60 employees at major tech companies have signed a pledge refusing to help build a Muslim registry. The pledge states that signatories will advocate within their companies to minimize collection and retention of data that could enable ethnic or religious targeting under the Trump administration, to fight any unethical or illegal misuse of data, and to resign from their positions rather than comply.” Natasha Tiku, Buzz Feed

[photo cap: Scientists rally Tuesday in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting Tuesday in San Francisco. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]

More signs of life: Energy Department resistance. “Donald Trump's transition team is backing away from a controversial questionnaire sent to the Department of Energy demanding names of employees who assisted in the Obama administration's climate policy efforts. The Department of Energy hit back on Tuesday with a statement saying that the memo ‘left many in our workforce unsettled’ and that it would not comply with questions asking for names of individuals.” Alexander Mallin & Katherine Faulders, ABC News

Hymn of praise. “O Light born of Light, / Jesus, redeemer of the world, / with loving-kindness deign to receive / suppliant praise and prayer. / Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh / for the sake of the lost,  / grant us to be members  / of thy blessed body.” —English translation of lyrics to “O Nata Lux” by Morten Lauridsen, performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale (Thanks Randy.)

This year marks the 51st consecutive TV showing of the “Charlies Brown Christmas” special. Writer and musician Jason Soroski reminisces about the climactic moment Linus, his ever-present security blanket in hand, delivers his soliloquy about “What Christmas Is All About.” reciting part of Luke’s birth narrative, starting at 2:8. Just as Linus repeats the angels’ salutation to the shepherds, including “fear not” (King James Version, 1:50 video), Linus drops his security blanket—something he’d done before. —read Soroski’s commentary, “Special Moment From Charlie Brown Christmas” (Thanks Anne)

“Told you so” moment. “Earlier this month, an oil pipeline spewed tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the water just around 150 miles from the site of the months-long protest against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. CNBC reports that more than 176,000 gallons of oil spilled out of the Belle Fourche Pipeline and into the Ash Coulee Creek near the city of Belfield.” Katherine Krueger, Fusion

Confession. “One might wish or hope that religion and religions would help turn away haters and counter hate, but just the opposite is visible. ‘Hate’ and group animosities show up on the first pages of the Hebrew Scriptures/Bible, as they do in most holy books of faith communities. Almost all of these texts also propose, envision, or command the pursuit of ways for love and understanding to counter hate—and for, say, ‘acceptance’ to win over ‘discrimination.’ But 2016 was not the year to see much of that, despite some good efforts by Pope Francis and many less well-known charismatic, courageous, and tireless leaders and ordinary folk in their faith communities.” Martin E. Marty, “Sightings”

Cold war heating up. Russia will expand nuclear missile patrols near its borders with Europe as it develops its military to respond to increasing ‘threats’ in 2017, senior commanders have announced. . . . Gen. Gerasimov said the government views ‘expanded presence of Nato’s forces near the Russian border’ as a challenge to Russian security.” —Lizzie Dearden, The Independent

In-kind threat. “As President Barack Obama vows that the US will take ‘action’ in response to the allegations that Russia interfered with the November election, the U.S. army has started to bring tanks back to a Cold War site in the Netherlands as a show of its ‘commitment to deterrence in Europe. . . .’ ‘Three years ago, the last American tank left Europe; we all wanted Russia to be our partner,’ said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, head of U.S. Army Europe. "My country is bringing tanks back," and ‘[w]e are signaling our commitment and demonstrating the ability to prepare,’ he said.” Andrea Germanos, commondreams

¶ “One hundred U.S. CEOs have company retirement funds collectively worth $4.7 billion, a total equal to the retirement savings of the 41% of U.S. families with the smallest reserves for their golden years, according to a new report. . . . The nest eggs of those chief executives are large enough to generate an average $253,088 in monthly retirement payments for the rest of their lives, the report said.” —Kevin McCoy, USA Today

¶ “President-elect Donald Trump's 17 ultra-rich cabinet-level picks thus far have a combined wealth that surpasses that of the 43 million least wealthy American households combined.” Deidre Fulton, commondreams

Words of assurance. “Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast; / God’s mercy shall deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. / This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, / Till the spear and rod can be quelled by God who is turning the world around.” —Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo, “Canticle of the Turning

Professing our faith. "Most churches are either silent about social justice or have replaced the Gospel with the basic tenets of a progressive platform,” wrote the poet Alysia Harris. “But the election of Trump shows that we need to reimagine how we go about seeking justice, and I believe the Gospel presents an approach that will be highly effective under a Trump presidency. The truth is: Our liberation cannot and never will be delivered by the hand of the state.—Emma Green, "Trump Is Bringing Progressive Protestants Back to Church" (Thanks Leah.)

Instead of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” or "Home Alone" this year, find the 1987 Danish film directed by Gabriel Axel, “Babette’s Feast.” Based on a story by Isak Dinesen, it’s not centered on the holiday, but Pope Francis recently declared it to be his favorite movie. (It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.)

Hymn of intercession. “Strong wind, strong wind / Many dead, tonight it could be you  / And we are homeless, homeless  / Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake .” —Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Homeless

When only the blues will do.Blues for Christmas,” John Lee Hooker.

Preach it. “Today's awareness: We are living in a multi-car wreck, staring at crash after crash after crash. Our job is to steer through and around the mess. This means that we really need to pay attention to what we are looking at when we drive. We have to look for the openings and stop fixation on the pile up.
       “The Trump dystopia depends upon our fixation on the reality-show style pile up so we are unable to move, resist, organize. It keeps the division and distraction at the front of our experience on purpose. Our job is to remember that we are free not to look. We are free to acknowledge the wreck without getting tangled up in it.
        “Look for the openings.
        “Make a plan.
        “Shake it off.” —Robin Lunn
        And I would add: Trust your anchor.

Can’t makes this sh*t up. “Scientists are frantically copying US climate date, fearing it might vanish under Trump.” Brady Dennis, Washington Post. (Thanks Betsy.)

¶ “Omran, Angels Are Here,” painting (at right) by ©Judith Mehr, who writes, “Well, here is my obsession I have been involved with for the past two months. I painted this new 60" x 48" painting, entitled "Omran, Angels Are Here," because I saw that picture of the little boy [five-year-old Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo, Syria] in the ambulance seat who had just been pulled out of the rubble of a bombed building in Aleppo, Syria. I really wanted to comfort that boy so I thought of Angels coming to attend to him.”

Call to the table. As Walter Rauschenbusch said of the Christians of his day who wanted nothing of a “social” gospel, “Their religion has made them respected; all men like them for their goodness. But their goodness was never so good that it waked up the devil.”

The state of our disunion. “A teacher in Wesley Chapel, Fla., told black students: ‘Don’t make me call Donald Trump to get you sent back to Africa.’” —Moriah Balingit, “Civil Rights group documents nearly 900 hate incidents since presidential election,” Washington Post

Best one-liner. “If in speaking prophetically we wake the devil, let us not be afraid; for the devil is a liar, and we serve the truth.” —Joseph Kuilema

Left: Cartoon by Norwegian cartoonist Christian Bloom.

For the beauty of the universe. Follow the 2016 “Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.”

Altar call. We long for the day when “every boot of the trampling warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:6, 7). —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Testimony in a world of terror: Standing with the Word of God, for the earth and against the world,” a litany for worship

Benediction.In the Bleak Midwinter,” Chanticleer.

Recessional. Spend the time (7:13 music video) to take in “The Bell Chant,” narrated by Thich Nath Hanh, chanted by brother Phap Niem.”

Lectionary for Sunday next. “On Friday a number of us accepted St. Matthias’ Episcopal Church’s invitation to join with them for their Christmas Eve service. We had some great music and liturgy. At one point, though, when we read in unison the Nicene Creed, I remembered my complaint about many of the faith statements of the ancient Church. Here’s a summary of the heart of that confessional statement, written in the 4th century:

        Through him [referring to Jesus] were all things were made. For us and for our salvation he (1) came down from heaven . . . (2) was born of the Virgin Mary . . . (3) was crucified under Pontius Pilate . . . (4) suffered, died, and was buried . . . (5) And on the third day he rose again.

        Do you get a sense of what that progression of ideas leaves out? The entire narrative of Jesus’ life is skipped over with a simple comma. Born. Died. Resurrected. It jumps from the cradle to the cross to the crown of glory in a breathless act of metaphysic logic. It references the incarnation—“God made flesh among us”—without much flesh!

        The God-with-us Emmanuel’s actual life is but a pause in an academic syllogism, piling up one premise on another leading to a cosmic conclusion. It neither breathes nor bleeds. No bread, no wine, no multitudes to feed. There are no confrontations with imperial agents, no stories of good Samaritans. Zacchaeus does not come down from his tree to return four-fold to all he has cheated. No hemorrhaging women are restored to community, no barren women provided a legacy. . . .

        There is, in short, very little “flesh dwelling among us” in that earliest of Christian creedal statements.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Made flesh among us,” a sermon based on John 1:1-14

Just for fun. Take a virtual ride-on-a-rail down a snowy mountain in Utah. (2:36 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Made flesh among us,” a sermon based on John 1:1-14

• “Testimony in a time of terror: Standing with the Word of God, for the earth, and against the world,” a litany for worship

• “Keeping watch,a litany for worship inspired by Luke 2: 1-20

• “Joseph,” a litany for worship

• “Joseph,” a longer poem

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