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Signs of the Times  •  30 December 2020 •  No. 210

Processional. Joseph Haydn's Keyboard Concerto No. 11 finale in D major, performed by eight-year-old Klára Gibišová. (Thanks Wade.)

“The hopes and fears of all the years / are met in Thee tonight.” —lyrics from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Invocation. Holy Light, May we remember that full moon of your Light in this night of clouds and dim seeing. Release the grip on all that squeezes the life out of us…

        •the worrisome, dangerous leaders in our country;

        •the terrorists in our own land;

        •the evidence of more pain, more grief, more loss coming this way and every way.

        Hold gently each sorrow that weighs down our hearts.

        Thank you for joys that come with loving, seeing, awakening to the goodness of this shared life together.

        At this turning of the new year may we let go of regrets, let in your grace and lean into this year choosing life, choosing community, choosing relationships of meaning, choosing caring for those who are the hurting, and mercy for those who are overwhelmed.

        Give us courage to step into 2021 ready to learn new songs for new needs and new times. May we discover more fully and deeply than ever your cherishing of each of us and everyone and this Earth home.

        Alongside the One who births in us love again we pray. Amen. —Nancy Hastings Sehested, Circle of Mercy Midweek Prayer, 12.30.20

¶ Call to worship. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” —Lao Tzu

Featured essay. “Angel wings and devil tails: Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Innocents"

The Feast of the Holy Innocents (aka Childermas or Innocents’ Day), referencing Matthew’s account of Judean King Herod’s order to kill all the male babies in and around Bethlehem to suppress a potential rival, was first established in the fifth century BCE. Some Christian communions in the West mark the day, officially, on 28 December; in the East, 29 December.

Right: Angel made by Dee Ann Dozier out of a face mask. Photo by Lynn Farmer.

However, the observance is largely forgotten in most congregations. You can understand why. Who wants to interrupt chirpy carols, the sight of ornamented trees and light-lit homes, and post-Christmas sales with the story of a massacre of babies?

Needless to say, few if any church Christmas pageants, with kids in bathrobes and assorted other makeshift costumes, include Matthew 2’s story. Christmas Eve candlelight services ignore this Nativity story.

It’s is party-pooper story. Certainly not appropriate for young children (as are many other stories in Scripture). Thankfully, few today remember that, in some Western communities prior to the 17th century, the day began with parents spanking their children to remind them of the suffering of those infants, who—gruesome as it sounds—are considered the first martyrs.

But the church ignores this Feast day both to our peril and to our proclamation. —continue reading “Angel wings and devil tails

Hymn of praise. “Rejoice! Rejoice! / Christ is born of the Virgin Mary; Rejoice! / The time of grace has come for which we have prayed / Let us devoutly sing songs of joy / God is made man, while nature wonders / The world is renewed by Christ the King / The closed gate of Ezekiel has been passed through / From where the light has risen (the East), salvation is found / Therefore, let our assembly sing praises now at this time of purification / Let it bless the Lord: greetings to our King.” —English translation of “Gaudete,” Steeleye Span

Confession. “Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” —Malcolm X

Words of assurance. “The Wicked Shall Cease Their Troubling,” Jessy Dixon, Dorothy Norwood, Edgar O’Neal (Thanks Billie.)

Short story. “Last evening, at the annual Christmas tree lighting in Brooklyn, a sculpture was unveiled honoring immigrants. “Angels Unawares” depicts a crush of refugees, with Mary, Joseph, and the baby "embedded within people from around the world, sharing the same experience about having no place at the inn,” explained Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The title comes from Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (See photo at left. Thanks Pam.)

Word. “When they come for the innocent without crossing over your body, cursed be your religion and your life.” —Daniel Berrigan

Hymn of supplication. “Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low / In darkness as black as the sea / In my heart felt alone and I cried oh Lord / Don't hide your face from me.” —Merle Haggard, “Where No One Stands Alone

Preach it. “. . .the human righteousness required by God and established in obedience–the righteousness which according to Amos 5:24 should pour down as a mighty stream–has necessarily the character of a vindication of right in favour of the threatened innocent, the oppressed poor, widows, orphans and aliens.  For this reason, in the relations and events in the life of His people, God always takes His stand unconditionally and passionately on this side and on this side alone: against the lofty and on behalf of the lowly; against those who already enjoy right and privilege and on behalf of those who are denied and deprived of it.” —Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Vol 2, the Doctrine of God)

Call to prayer. “Portal of praise: Praise as presage to Advent’s treason [On the Feast of the Holy Innocents]"

The Manger’s trailhead opens at
the portal of praise and genuflecting
thanks. Not because heaven arises to
piety’s incense. But because Advent’s
brush with mortal flesh is a perilous journey,
fraught with insurrection’s threat,
pregnancy’s scandal, birthed from
stabled bed, and Herod’s foam and fury.

The innocents take it in the chops every
time. Yet Advent threatens treason to
every Herod-hearted arrangement.
—continue reading “Portal of praise

Good Golly Miss Polly. In 1995, Dolly Parton launched a nonprofit to provide books to children in low-income households in Sevier County, Tennessee, where she grew up. Since then her “Imagination Library” project, supplying infants-to-preschoolers with age appropriate books to stimulate reading, has expanded throughout the US and four other countries. In 2018 the US Library of Congress recognized her in a ceremony celebrating her one hundred-millionth book distribution.

        In 2016 she contributed $9 million to help rebuild homes lost to a massive wildfire that swept through Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Before that, she risked the ire of the country music industry by supporting response to HIV/Aids.

        In an interview with Billboard magazine earlier this year, Parton was asked about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She responded, “Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter?"

        In November, Parton donated $1 million (and encouraged her fans to join her) to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s research which helped produce the Covie-19 vaccine, Moderna.

Can’t makes this sh*t up. With three weeks yet to go, President Trump has thus far spent more than one out of every five days of his four years in office at one of 17 golf courses. 308 days. And the Trump company is paid by the US government for the cost. That includes $500,000 for Secret Service rooms. Golf cart rental for his protective entourage: $765,000. When he used Air Force One on these junkets, the average cost per flight is estimated at $206,337 per hour. The Coast Guard’s cost for protecting the waterways at his Mar-a-Lago estate is $236,000 per day. Not to mention the $8,600 cost for Secret Service portable toilets. And there are costs considered classified by the Government Accountability Office. Of course, during his 2016 campaign he promised “I’ll be so busy I won’t have time to play golf.” Right.

Call to the table. “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” —C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

The state of our disunion. “More than a quarter of all the public health administrators in Kansas quit, retired or got fired this year, according to Vicki Collie-Akers, an associate professor of population health at the University of Kansas. Some of them got death threats. Some had to hire armed guards.” —Frank Morris, “Toxic Individualism: Pandemic Politics Driving Health Care Workers From Small Towns,” NPR

For the beauty of the earth. This drone footage by Azamat Sarsenbayev was taken on Lake Karakol in Kazakhstan, as a flock of flamingos began their migration south for the winter. (1:05 video. Thanks Loren.)

Altar call. “If I had the wings of a snow white dove / I'd preach the gospel, the gospel of love / A love so real, a love so true / I've made up my mind to give myself to you.” —Bob Dylan, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You

Benediction. Watch this video (2:30), “A Prayer for the New Year,” adapted from a poem, “Benedicere: A New Year’s Day blessing,” by Ken Sehested

Recessional. “Ode an die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”) by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed in a 2014 flash mob performance in Nürnberg, Germany by the Hans-Sachs Choir and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nürnberg. (Thanks Kevin.)

Just for fun. For satire lovers, listen to “Mother Mary Responds to ‘Mary Did You Know?’” the pop tart Christian song written by Cindy Sadler and performed by Charissa Memrick. (Thanks Loren.)

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