March 19 – Today, the Church commemorates Joseph, guardian of our Lord. All that we know of Joseph we learn from the first two chapters of the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke. He is mentioned only in passing in Luke 3:23; John 1:45; John 6:42 as the supposed father of Jesus. (Mark does not mention him at all.)
Though the Bible tells us little about the husband of Jesus’ mother Mary, we know that he was a carpenter by trade. Above all, he is shown as being devoted both to God and to Mary and Jesus.
This year, given the rise in anti-immigrant attitudes in our society, I am especially drawn to the following verses in Matthew 2:
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.” [Mt. 2:13-15]
What would our response be to Joseph and his family were they to seek asylum within our borders?
In Spain, it is Father’s Day. Some have suggested that this day should be known as the Church’s Fathers’ Day as well.
O God, from the family of your servant David you raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the husband of his blessed mother. Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW)
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
[Matthew 2:16 NRSV]
Today, the Church commemorates The Holy Innocents.
As told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, these were the young children slaughtered by the insecure King Herod, after he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men, who had assured him they would tell him the whereabouts of a new king that had been born in Bethlehem. [Matt. 2:13-23]
Jesus escaped the massacre because an angel appeared to his earthly father, Joseph, in a dream, and told Joseph to take the child and the child’s mother, Mary, and flee to Egypt. They lived in Egypt until after Herod died, when the angel again appears to tell him it is safe to return.
In recent years, the United States has experienced a rise in xenophobia; the dislike and intolerance of foreigners, many of whom are fleeing here for safety from brutal wars and genocide in their countries.
Thus, the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt resonates with immigration and refugee resettlement advocates who equate the plight of the Holy Family with a that of today’s refugees and immigrants.
The last twelve months have been one seemingly interminable clash between the current administration in Washington, which opposes allowing entry to the increasing number of outsiders who appeal for asylum; and the individuals and agencies who work on behalf of the asylum seekers.
The two distinctively different viewpoints each has its staunch circle of supporters.
“As Christians, we do not fear our new neighbors who have fled for their very lives – we embrace them. As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbors – and as a result, our churches, our communities and our nation are stronger,” says Linda Hartke, President of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. LIRS is one of the agencies at the forefront of the debate.
Hartke’s sentiment that runs counter to the attitudes of not only the resident in the White House, but also to congressmen who stoke the fires of nationalism under the contrived contention of protecting our country. Congressmen such as Arkansas Republican Representative Tom Cotton:
“You’re going to encourage parents from around the world who live in poverty and oppression and war to illegally immigrate to our country with small children. What could be more dangerous and even immoral than that?”
Cotton was defending his stance on ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program initiated by Executive Order of the previous President, allowing children brought here by their parents at an early age, to remain in this country, despite entering without authorization. Many of them fled conditions of poverty and violence, mainly in the countries of Central America. For the children, this is the only country they’ve known. This is now their home.
On this Holy Innocents Day, many of us will go about our daily routines in relative safety, without fear of violence, war, hunger or oppression. We will most likely give little thought to those who find themselves in those situations.
On this Holy Innocents Day, I invite you to take a moment to ponder their plight. Pray that God will keep them out of harm’s way.
On this Holy Innocents Day, I also invite you to act. A letter, email or phone call encouraging your legislator and those in Washington who make policy, encouraging them to search their hearts and open the doors of this great nation, to welcome the stranger – without fear, but with compassion.
I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
The readings for Christ the King Sunday, or the final Sunday of the church year, are as follows:
This Thursday, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving with family and, or friends. Though it’s not a religious holiday, the Revised Common Lectionary has a set of readings for the day, which are listed below.
· Psalm 65
Just about every church around celebrates Thanksgiving with some form of service, either as a single congregation or in community with others.
Giving thanks has faith as its base.
The introductory scripture verse at the top of today’s reflection is taken from our second reading for Sunday, in which the apostle Paul expresses his gratitude for the people of God in the church at Ephesus. Paul often opened his letters with words of thanksgiving.
One of the names we call Holy Communion is the Eucharist. That word comes from the Greek eucharisto, which means “thank you.” Jesus gave thanks to God the Father at the Last Supper and we, too, give thanks every time we receive the body and blood of Jesus in the bread that is broken and wine that is poured at communion.
The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God,” has become a standard at Thanksgiving services. This hymn was written back in the 1600’s by a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany, by the name of Martin Rinkart. He was pastor throughout the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city and it became a refuge for many fugitives, which caused overcrowding. As a result, there was disease and famine as well as the regular attacks by armies. At the war’s peak Rinkart conducted up to 50 funerals per day, more than 4000 in the year 1637 alone. He even buried his own wife.
In the middle of all this strife, Rinkart wrote these words:
Now thank we all our God,
with hearts and hands and voices;
who wondrous things hath done
in whom this world rejoices.
In light of the dozens of recent natural disasters and the tragic violence this country has experienced lately, there are hundreds of thousands of stories we could mention of people in the middle of huge suffering, being grateful and thankful toward God, even when human reason can’t make sense of it.
To borrow a quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner, our faith is, “first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a difference.” [Who Needs God, p.19 & 280-1]
Giving thanks has the capacity to free us from fear, release us from anxiety, and embolden us to do more and dare more than we’d ever imagined.
As we gather at our tables for our Thanksgiving meal this Thursday, may we be truly thankful. And may we consider that giving thanks, our attitude of gratitude, just may be the most powerful emotion we have to counter all our adversity.
This week and always, I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you. [Ephesians 1:17-18]
+Bishop Abraham Allende