Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christ in the Rubble

Credit...Samar Hazboun for The New York Times

A LITURGY OF LAMENT

Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac
Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church Bethlehem
Saturday, December 23rd, 2023 

“ … We are tormented by the silence of the world. Leaders of the so-called “free” lined up one after the other to give the green light for this genocide against a captive population. They gave the cover. Not only did they make sure to pay the bill in advance, they veiled the truth and context, providing political cover. …

“ … If you are not appalled by what is happening; if you are not shaken to your core – there is something wrong with your humanity. If we, as Christians, are not outraged by this genocide, by the weaponizing of the Bible to justify it, there is something wrong with our Christian witness, and compromising the credibility of the Gospel! …

“ … Christmas in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is this manger. This is our message to the world today. It is a gospel message, a true and authentic Christmas message, about the God who did not stay silent, but said his word, and his Word is Jesus. Born among the occupied and marginalized. He is in solidarity with us in our pain and brokenness. 

“This manger is our message to the world today – and it is simply this: this genocide must stop NOW. Let us repeat to the world: STOP this Genocide NOW. 

“This is our call. This is our plea. This is our prayer. Hear oh God. Amen.”

PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE HOMILY HERE.



Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Icon of the Nativity of Christ belonging to Merton

By the time of his death in 1968, seven hand-painted icons had found their way to Thomas Merton’s hermitage. One of them was this icon of the Nativity of Christ.

Christ’s Nativity:

What shall we offer you, O Christ, who for our sake has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by you offers you thanks. The angels offer you a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer you a virgin mother.

— from a prayer for the Orthodox Christmas Vespers Service

Friday, December 15, 2023

3rd Sunday of Advent 2023

Photo by John P. Walsh

From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent Written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944” (adapted), Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006:

“Mankind is challenged again to stand and deliver. Only man does not merely exchange one set of chains for another – God’s calls are always creative. They increase the very reality within us that is called upon – precisely because of their realness and authenticity…Freedom is the breath of life. We sit in musty bomb cellars and cramped prisons and groan under the bursting and destructive blows of fate. We should finally stop giving everything a false glamour and unrealistic value and begin to bear it for what it is – unredeemed life. As soon as we do this, the jangling of chains and the trembling of nerves and the faintness of heart transform themselves into a small prayer – “Drop down, dew…” We should much more definitively unite our concrete destiny with those kind of connections and call upon God’s redeeming freedom. Then the narrowness widens, our lungs breathe in fresh air again, and the horizon has promises again. Existence still weeps and mourns, but already a soft, joyous melody of longing and knowledge is ringing through the mourners’ broken voices. With this knowledge and attitude humanity releases itself from the lonely relationship to things and circumstances. A person finds wholesomeness and healing – not the goal-oriented, cool distance of calculation, mechanization, and organization. It is rather that higher level of freedom, the perspective given to someone looking from the heights to what lies below. The voice of such a person is not so quickly silenced!”

“The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with conditions of our exterior life but consist of humanity’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for the person to sense, even in adverse circumstances, what life is really about…And the first answer is found in the figure of John the Baptist who personifies Advent. Humanity must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honestly before himself and others. He must come down from all the pedestals of arrogance onto which he always climbs…From the high-horses of vanity and self-deception that, for a time, let themselves be trotted out so proudly. Those horses though finally throw off their “master” in the wilderness…Two criteria identify whether we are following an authentic impulse or not…Both are found once again in John the Baptist. The first is service – human honesty requires a person to see himself as a servant and perceive his reality as mission and an assignment…The second criterion keeps us on track- annunciation, which calls us to praise of God. An extended personal effort is required to keep giving oneself the impulse to rise above, move away from self. But at the same time this is how a human being attains the necessary openness in which he or she must continue if sincerely wanting to strive toward the great realities God has prepared for him or her.” 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

2nd Sunday of Advent 2023

Photo by John P. Walsh

From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:

“So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation may be active in us and that we may be ready to call upon him and be moved by his presence. The arrogance so typical of modern men and women is deflated here. At the same time, the icy loneliness and helplessness into which we are frozen melts under the divine warmth that fills and blesses us …If we are terrified by a dawning realization of our true condition, that terror is completely calmed by the certain knowledge that God is on the way and actually approaching. Our fate, no matter how much it may be entwined with the inescapable logic of circumstance, is still nothing more than the way to God, the way God has chosen for the ultimate consummation of his purpose, for his permanent ends. Light your candles – such candles as you possess – for they are the appropriate symbol for all that must happen in Advent if we are to live.”

Monday, December 4, 2023

The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968

Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-six, on December 10, 1941, a convert of three years, a pacifist, and a very experienced young man. 
 
Merton was a man with a monastic soul who brought new levels of meaning to the oldest elements of monastic life. Merton knew what had often been forgotten in monastic history: that monasticism is not about withdrawal; monasticism is about depth.
 
Merton’s new understanding of the stuff of contemplation led him beyond the boundaries of the order and into the very center of the contemplative vocation. As wars raged and racism consumed the country and feminism began to critique the established order, Merton began to look for bridges across the human divide. He became more and more interested in the monasticism of the Eastern religions, reaching out always for the intangibles that transcend boundaries and races and denominations in favor of that one unity that sanctifies us all, humanity.
 
Contemplation, Merton knew, was the key to experiencing that unity because contemplation, whatever its denominational origin, is simply coming to view life through the heart of God. It is coming to see the world as God sees the world. As one.
 
In an age when all of religious life itself was bursting at the seams, shedding one period of history, trying to become leaven in another, Merton began to live into the new model right before our eyes. Merton knew that the role of religious life in the modern world was to develop people of substance who were immersed in questions of social significance. Merton knew that religious life was not the fine art of maintaining monastic museums. On the morning of his death, Merton delivered his last public paper, “Marxism and Monastic Perspectives,” to the Bangkok conference of Benedictines and Cistercians. The monastic, he said, “is essentially someone who takes up a critical attitude toward the world and its structures…(saying) that the claims of the world are fraudulent.”
 
Merton the man taught the world that the spiritual life is not the elimination of struggle; it is the sanctification of struggle. It is struggle transformed to wisdom.

Merton the monk taught the world that withdrawal is not of the essence of a holy life. The essence of a holy life is immersion in the spiritual and commitment to the significant.
 
Merton the contemplative taught the world that we know that we will have come to see God when we have come to see people as sacred.

         —from A Passion for Life (Orbis), by Joan Chittister 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

First Sunday of Advent 2023

Photo by John P. Walsh

“I see this year’s Advent (December 1944 in Berlin’s Tegel Prison) with an intensity and discomposure like never before….Along with these thoughts comes the memory of an angel that a good person gave me for Advent in 1942. It held a banner: ‘Rejoice, for the Lord is near.’ 

“A war bomb destroyed the angel as well as that good person although I often sense that she continues to do angel-services for me. It is the knowledge of the quiet angels of annunciation, who speak their message of blessing into the distress of our world situation and scatter their blessing’s seeds which begin to grow in the middle of the night which informs and encourages us of the truth of a situation. 

“These angels of Advent are not loud angels of public jubilation and fulfillment but, silent and unnoticed, they come into private and shabby rooms and appear before our hearts as they did long ago. Silently they bring the questions of God and proclaim to us the miracles of God, with whom nothing is impossible. 

“Advent is a time of refuge because it has received a message – and so to believe in God’s auspicious seeds that the angels offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. The next is to go through the days as announcing messengers ourselves. We wait in faith for the abundance of the coming harvest – not because we trust the earth or the stars or our own good sense and courage – but only because we have perceived God’s messages and know about His herald angels – and even have ourselves encountered one.”


From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Figures of Advent,” Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006 (adapted)

Christ in the Rubble

The Rev. Munther Isaac lighting a candle next to an improvised crèche this month in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit... Samar Hazboun...