Salome (dishing up potatoes): You’re late.
Zebedee: Well, you can thank your precious sons for that.
Salome: Where are Jimmy and Johnny? Didn’t they come home with you?
Zebedee: No, they did not come home with me. Your sister’s oldest boy – O what’s his name?
Salome: Zebedee, you know his name is Jesus. When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to our Messiah –
Zebedee: Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story way too often. Anyway, this Jesus came by the boat this afternoon.
Salome: Mary must be so glad he’s home.
Zebedee: Not a word to me, mind you. No “How are you, Uncle Zebedee?” No “Fishing good today?” Oh, no. Just called to the boyus to come with him. And they were gone like a couple of jackrabbits.
Salome: I’m sure they’ll be home soon.
Zebedee: Left the hired men and me with all the fish to sort and pack, all the nets to fold, all the -
Discussion: What did Zebedee think Jesus should have said?
Activity: Is Jesus calling you to help at coffee hour? To be a greeter? To send a get well card?
Thoughts: Can you reel off the names of the twelve disciples? They are listed four times in the New Testament, in each of the synoptic gospels and again in Acts.
Although the gospel of John never lists the disciples, John tells us how Jesus came to Philip and to Nathaniel and asked them to follow him.
Philip lived in Bethsaida in Galilee. When Jesus found Philip, he said simply, “Follow me.” Philip’s answer was not recorded, but he found his friend Nathaniel and told him he had found the promised Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Nathaniel lived in Cana in Galilee, a large and centrally located town. By contrast, Nazareth was considered a frontier town, isolated and provincial.
Nathaniel’s answer to Philip was so human – so timeless. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” he scoffed.
In his ensuing conversation with Jesus, Nathaniel was convinced that indeed, something very good could come out of Nazareth. Philip and Nathaniel (sometimes called Bartholomew) became two of Jesus’ twelve disciples. And the other ten?
Discussion: What qualities did Jesus perceive in Philip and in Nathaniel that appealed to him?
Activity: Commit the names of the twelve disciples to memory. If Jesus chose them to be his closest companions, they deserve to be remembered.
Thoughts: “Dove” rhymes with “love” and often does in bad poetry. At some (expensive) weddings, doves are released to flutter over the wedding party.
Doves coo. They do not squawk or chirp. Doves are small and white, with little nembs and dainty feet. They do not have hooked beaks and fierce talons.
Doves symbolize peace. When Noah released a dove from the ark, it returned to him with a green leaf in its beak – a welcome sign that the flood waters were receding.
Doves also symbolize sacrifice. When Joseph and mary took Jesus to the temple for his ritual circumcision, Mary presented two doves for the required sacrifice after the birth of a child.
All four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ baptism. All four tell us that after his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.
Discussion: What characteristics of doves should we emulate?
Activity: Endeavor to bring green leaves to those who wait.
Thoughts: “Have you seen Anna?”
“She never leaves the temple.”
“Always fasting and praying.”
“Poor old soul, she doesn’t’ have any family.”
“They say she can predict the future.”
“Did you hear how excited she was when that country couple came in with a baby?
“She said the baby was the Messiah!”
“Yeah, she was going on about this baby’s bringing redemption to Jerusalem.”
“Well, you know she never had any children of her own.”
“No, she didn’t. She’s probably lonely.”
“And as old as the hills.”
“Let’s check out the sale at Micha’s!”
”And then we can have lunch at Zelophehad’s new place.”:
“And then we ------“
Discussion: And then we can - go to the after-Christmas sales?
- Return that dreadful scarf from Aunt Atossa?
- Hold close the wonder of Christmas in our hearts?
Activity: Invite someone who lives alone to come over for tea and Christmas cookies.
Thoughts: Well, that night started out just the same as any other – cold, long, some of the sheep carryin’ on and not wantin’ to settle down.
‘Bout midnight we’s settin’ round the far, and things was fair quiet, when I looked up and let out a whistle – soft-like, so’s not to spook the sheep
“Lookit that thar star! Jever see one that big?”
Wasn’t only big—that was the brightest star I ever hope to see. We’s all quiet as quiet, jest lookin’ and wonderin’. Then we heard a voice comin’ from up above, and we looked up, and thar’s an angel jest a-lookin’ splendid in a long, white robe, and with wings that stuck out for miles, either side of him.
And this here angel’s tellin’ us not to be skeered- guess he could sure tell we was-that he had “glad tidings of great joy”- was the way he put it. And he’s tellin’ us the Messiah has been born-the Savior – the one we’d all waited fer and prayed fer – and he was over to Bethelem – right now – in a stable?
Seemed a poor place for the Messiah to be born. You’d think they coulda planned bettern that. Then they’s more angels jest a “fillin” the sky and they’s singin; “glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will to men.” I’m here to tell you, it was beeyoutiful. Then they’s gone.
Well, sir, after a minute or two, I jumped up. “Bethlehem aint fer away,” I told ‘em. “Less go see!”
Discussion: Why were the shepherds chosen to receive the good news from the angels?
Activity: Send your won good news and love to distant family and friends.
Thoughts: Like a flash of lightning, John the Baptist streaks through the gospels. His birth was miraculous. His message was bold. His lifestyle and his clothing were unorthodox. His audiences were large. His arrest was inevitable. His death was tragic.
We can imagine his mother Elizabeth yearned for her only child to lead a more conventional life. Probably, she wanted him to wear neat, traditional clothes, to eat well-balanced meals, to marry the nice Jewish girl next door. Elizabeth must have trembled when John denounced King Herod for taking his brother’s wife.
Centuries later, we remember John as a man sent from God, sent to bear witness of the Light to come.
Discussion: If you have no memory of your baptism, what have you been told? Who baptized you? When and where? Who was there?
Activity: Pay close attention to the next baptism you witness. Remember what the congregation promises.
“With God’s help we will so order our lives, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
Thoughts: The first paper I submitted in graduate school came back with only two marks: a big red C and one word – prolix. I was crushed by the C, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what prolix meant.
The author of the gospel of Mark could never be accused of being prolix. His sixteen chapters are terse and unornamented, and his two favorite words are “immediately” and “straightway.”
The first chapter of Mark begins with Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
This messenger, John the Baptist announces his mission; he baptizes many people; he preaches repentance. Mark tells us how John dressed and what he ate. John professes his unworthiness even to tie the shoelaces of the One who is coming, proclaiming, “I indeed have baptized you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” And all this in eight verses.
Discussion: Did Jesus need a precursor like John? Why or why not?
Activity: Try to make the path straight for someone else. Pay a compliment. Welcome a visitor to our church.
Thoughts: One of the Bible’s many gifts to us is poetry. Sometimes it stands alone, as in Psalms, and sometimes it is interwoven in a lesson. We are blessed with such a nugget in Mark 13:24-25.
“…the sun shall be darkened,
and the moon shall not give her light,
and the stars of heaven shall fall ….”
We remember the hauntingly beautiful spiritual
“My Lord, what a morning!
My Lord, what a morning!
My Lord, what a morning!
When the stars begin to fall.”
Jesus was talking to his disciples during his last week on earth before his crucifixion. He loved his disciples – the impetuous Peter, the zealous Simon, the self-effacing James, even the traitorous Judas – and he yearned for them to understand that not even he, the Son, knew when the stars would fall. Only the Father knew. Jesus wanted his disciples to be ready. He concluded his loving admonition with one word: Watch.”
Discussion: What stars do we see that are in danger of falling.
Activity: Watch for a star whose fall you may cradle.
Thoughts: Goats get rather a bad rap in this scripture. Of course, they are used here as a metaphor, but goats in real life are valuable.
Goats are rugged animals, which can find enough food to eat even in poor, dry land, where sheep might starve. Goats’ milk is nourishing and easier to digest than cows’ milk. Excellent cheeses are made from goats’ milk. Goat skins make high-grade leather, including the famous morocco leather. Both mohair and cashmere are made from goat hair.
Goats are noisier and more aggressive than sheep, less attractive and less biddable. The people listening to Jesus would have been very familiar with both goats and sheep, so they were useful symbols in Jesus’ story. A wise teacher builds on what his listeners already know.
Discussion: What qualities of goats should Christians emulate?
Activity: After Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Mary looked at children and “saw a little Christ in every face.” We must see a little Christ in the least of these.
Thoughts: In my dear but unlettered little home town, a favorite saying was “Them as has, gits.” Matthew 25:29 expresses it more formally: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given ….”
And so it often seems. The bank president’s son drives a red convertible, captains the basketball team, marries the prom queen, inherits his father’s position, and lives in a big, pillared house.
But even those who have only one talent have God’s love. And if we use that talent the best we can, God will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant ….”
Discussion: Paul admonished Timothy to “stir up the gift that is within you.” Why do we fail to stir up our gifts?
Activity: Write a note of appreciation to someone who contributed to our Sunday morning service.
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