Monday, March 19, 2018

March 19 - Joseph, Descendant of David, Husband of Mary, Father of Jesus

Listen closely because the birth of Jesus--the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah--happened just like this: His mother Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. This was in the period before they lived together as part of their betrothal. Miraculously--and scandalously--she discovered that she was pregnant. Of course, you'll remember that this was a miracle that God had accomplished to effect the incarnation of God into creation. Now, Joseph was a good man and he paid attention to the laws and traditions of his people and his family so he decided not to publicly shame her for her mysterious pregnancy. He could have made it public knowledge and cast her out and broken the bonds of their engagement in a humiliating way--in fact, this was what was expected and typical. Instead, he decided to annul the engagement quietly and in private.

The night after he had made that decision but before he had followed through with it God sent an angel in a dream to him. The angel said to him, "Joseph, descendant of David the king, do not follow through with your plan. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that she has conceived is the Son of God and she has conceived this child by God's miraculous intervention. This child will be a son that you should name Jesus--which means God is saving--because he will save people from their sins." Now, make sure you notice that all of this took place to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph woke up he did exactly as the angel had commanded him because he believed it to be true. He completed the betrothal process and took the pregnant Mary as his wife but he didn't consummate their marriage until after the birth of God into this world. They named the baby boy Jesus just as Joseph had been told.


After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream and said, "Hurry, take the boy and his mother and get out of town. Go to Egypt and remain there until I call you out of it. Herod is about to do a terrible thing and slaughter many innocent children in an attempt to kill your son." So, Joseph got up under the cover of night, woke his wife and dressed his child while his mind imagined cruelty to come. They went to Egypt and remained there until after the death of Herod. Again, notice that this was to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."


As is the way of all men given enough time, eventually Herod died. After the death of this terrible man, an angel suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he lived in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Now is the time, take your son and his mother, and return to Israel. Those who were hoping to destroy the son you are guarding and taking care of have died and it is safe again to be in the land of your fathers." So, Joseph gathered his family and prepared his son while his mind imagined redemption and salvation to come.They returned to Israel but when Joseph heard that Archelaus--Herod's son--was ruling over Judea he hesitated to return there. So, after receiving another dream confirming his hesitation he settled in Galilee. Specifically, he settled in Nazareth and another prophecy was fulfilled which read, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18 - Cyril of Jerusalem, Theologian, Bishop, Church Father

Cyril of Jerusalem was raised within the Christian community in the early fourth century. As a result he was well versed in the theological disputes of his day. At the age of twenty-two he was ordained as a deacon of the Church by Macarius of Jerusalem. This is an important event because it represents the trust that the Church was willing to place in Cyril. As a deacon he was expected to further devote himself to God in ways that would strengthen and further the Kingdom of God as it was born into the world. Under Cyril's circumstances this meant a theological battle with those members of the Church who had fallen under the heretical spell of Arianism. Perhaps with good intentions--and at times with nefarious aims--members of the Church had begun professing views that ran counter to the accepted Christian teaching. In this case, the Arians insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Rather, they suggested that Jesus had been created by God to be an emissary of God. This was an unacceptable departure from Christian teaching because it undermined what Jesus had taught and also the efficacy of the resurrection. When those professing this view were approached with their error they chose to persist in the belief even if it ran counter to the established and orthodox position. In doing so, they became heretics but they didn't necessarily lose their influence in the Church. A battle raged and Cyril was asked to become one of the champions of orthodoxy. He accepted the calling.

Eight years later he was ordained a priest by Maximus--a bishop. This ordination further entrenched him in the struggle for orthodoxy. As a priest he was called to care for the people of God and look after them. He could not simply proclaim the heretic to be wrong--he had to worry for their soul, as well. All the while, he was tasked with taking care of the flock that gathered around him in Jerusalem. After seven years of struggling under this calling he was appointed to take the place of Maximus and become the bishop in Jerusalem. With this ordination came the calling to tend also to the priests who served the Church daily. He shouldered this burden with as much grace and mercy as he could muster and spent the majority of his time trying to broker peace and reconciliation between the two factions. Meanwhile, he continued to meet the needs of the poor and even sold some of the Church's property to feed some local poor people. Seeing their chance, the Arians had him deposed from his position using their newly acquired ecclesial power to cast him out of the ministry. He refused to deny his ordination as they had requested of him and became a wandering minister.

As was often the case at the time, Cyril did not stop ministering to the people of God simply because he had been defrocked and deposed. Instead, he continued to minister and eventually was reinstated when the orthodox faction regained control of the necessary power positions. Shortly thereafter he was again deposed by the Arians. After yet another little while he was again reinstated.Whether he was officially labeled a minister or not he continued to seek peace and reconciliation while comforting and teaching the people entrusted to his care.Though he had been resistant to compromise he was eventually worn down and agreed upon theological terminology and language (homooussios) that he had originally rejected for the sake of peace and healing. Cyril died on March 18, 386, having spent his life and his time holding a hemorrhaging Church together through love, peace, and the sacramental mysteries he bore with him wherever he went.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17 - Patrick of Ireland, Slave, Bishop, Missionary

Patrick's father was a leader in his community and was named Calpornius. He was a deacon in the congregation they attended in Wales. Calpornius' father--Patrick's grandfather--was named Potitus and he was a priest in the area where they grew up. He offered the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. Patrick had roots within the Church and found himself drawn to the ministry that his father and grandfather had likewise felt themselves called to. He was receiving an education that would likely end up with him becoming yet another member of his family in service to the Church when one day he was kidnapped by Celtic bandits and slavers on the Western coast of Wales. They forced him into chains and carried him back aboard their ship so that they might force young Patrick--only sixteen years old--to work for the highest bidder. In this case, he was bought by a man who made him a shepherd by trade. Patrick ended up on some lonely hillside--a stranger in a strange land--watching over sheep that were not his own.

For his six years as a slave to Celtic leaders he was mostly in isolation on some verdant Irish hillside. Since he was alone as he worked he began praying to himself. He began with the prayers he had learned as a child and these expanded into his own spontaneous prayers. He sang songs and hymns to sustain himself as he spent many lonely night with only sheep and goats for company. Finally, he began to hear God speak of liberation and escape. He heard a voice saying he would soon be free. A few days later a voice told him his ship was waiting for him and so he fled from his master that very day. He traveled for some time and through harsh conditions until he arrived at a port in eastern Ireland (200 miles from the place of his captivity). He boarded the ship and finally returned to his home in Wales. They greeted him with joy and gladness and toasted his return but after the parties had faded Patrick came to the stunning realization that he had missed six years of his life. All of his peers were well into their professions and careers and he had fallen woefully far behind in his education. His dreams of becoming a minister like all of the others had been shattered aboard the slaver ship that had stolen him away.Patrick ended up in the home of family--a stranger in a familiar land--watching his friends go on without him.

He didn't know what to do with his life but he couldn't shake the strong calling he felt upon his life. As he was adrift in his life and uncertain how he should continue he had a vision. In the vision a man named Victoricus came striding across the Irish Sea toward Patrick. In Victoricus' hands were many scrolls. Each scrolls was a letter--written to a certain person--and he was handing them out to those God had called to serve. Patrick waited eagerly in his vision and received a scroll titled "The Voice of the Irish." In it he heard the laments of the Irish people who begged the former slave to come back and bring the Gospel that taught love for enemies and forgiveness from all sins. He must have wondered if this wasn't a mistake to be sent back to the people who had enslaved him as a missionary. Yet, as he reflected upon the vision he became more and more certain that God was calling him to be a missionary to the Irish. So, he went--one of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Roman Empire. Patrick ended up in some foreign boat on his way back to Ireland--a stranger crossing the Irish Sea--following after a calling that God had given him.

Patrick baptized thousands of people in Ireland as he brought his own particular style of preaching and teaching to them. He did not have the same education as his many peers and colleagues but he knew well the people he had been called to serve. He confronted Celtic warlords with bravery and courage knowing that they would respect him for it and want to know what faith he held that gave him such courage. He brought the faith to the Irish in a way that mediated the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to a people unfamiliar with the history and symbols of the Body of Christ. Patrick became the vehicle by which the grace of God was translated into Irish hearts. He ordained thousands and became a bishop missionary welcome in countless homes throughout the hills of Ireland. Patrick ended up in the land of his enslavement--a hero in a beloved land--watching over sheep that had become his own.

Friday, March 16, 2018

March 16 - Sebastian Castellio, Preacher, Theologian, Champion of Religious Liberty

Sebastian Castellio received such a comprehensive education that he was fluent in French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek when he had finished. Other writers, including Voltaire, wrote and spoke about his magnificent intelligence and keenly trained mind.Though John Calvin was better known perhaps it was considered evident that Sebastian was, at the very least, his intellectual equal if not his superior. He was a faithful Roman Catholic with a vibrant faith and it was because of this faith that he had received his education in the first place--he felt called to use his intellectual gifts in the service of God through the Church. Yet, when he was only twenty-four years old he was in Lyon when the French Inquisition was punishing heretics. They tied the reformers and the heretics to posts and incinerated them for disagreeing. Sebastian was sickened by this and was aware that he could no longer deny that there was something wrong in the Church. If leaders in the Church could consciously destroy others who disagreed with them--could wield a sword made of steel instead of love--then there was something horribly wrong in the Church. Sebastian resolved to be a part of the solution and joined with the reformers.

He traveled to Strasbourg where he met John Calvin. John and his wife were so impressed with Sebastian that their relationship bloomed quickly. In 1542 Sebastian was asked to become rector at the College de Geneve and was licensed to preach the Gospel in that area.His theological work was looked upon with charity and esteem not only because of his noted intellect but also because of his friendship with John Calvin. But things began to turn sour as time went on. Perhaps Sebastian's first inkling that things weren't okay was when a great illness swept through Geneva claiming victims. Sebastian went about the work of the Church and offered pastoral care and the last rites to the sick and dying in Geneva. While he was doing this he was informed that this was unusual. When he asked why he was told that Calvin and the other ministers had labeled themselves too important to risk dying to comfort a small part of the Church. In other words, they had decided that their death was more costly than the deaths of unknown Christians. Later Sebastian went to John to received his endorsement for a translation of the New Testament into French that Sebastian had penned. John denied Sebastian's request because John's cousin had recently asked for the same thing. The pain was not in the denial or rejection but the stinging and mocking words that John offered to Sebastian.

Perhaps the last blow to John and Sebastian's relationship came when Sebastian rose to his feet in a public meeting of ministers to insist that ministers should not persecute or slander those whom they disagreed with. At the heart, Sebastian's suggestion was that lay people be considered as important as the clergy and that clergy not abuse power simply because it was within their grasp. This idea--not persecuting those whom you disagreed with--was deep seated with Sebastian and would become a point of contention with many throughout his life. When Sebastian saw John and his friends mock and deride somebody they disagreed with he could smell the smoke in Lyon all over again. For this insistence he was charged with "undermining the prestige of the clergy" and removed from his position. His license was cancelled and he was turned out of his home. He and his family were abandoned by a group of religious leaders who had given up reformation for a new power structure with themselves at the top. Sebastian and his family struggled for years until he eventually found work again as professor at the University of Basel.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, a doctor and theologian by the name of Michael Servetus was being tried for heresy and blasphemy by John Calvin's power structure. Michael had denied the trinity among other teachings and was ordered to change his mind to agree with John. John Calvin even inserted himself among the judges at work in Michael's conviction. When Michael refused to recant he was burned at the stake in Geneva. When Sebastian heard of this he began writing articles and letters to alert the general population of the blood that dripped off of John Calvin's hands--the blood of Michael Servetus. Though he never claimed Michael to be orthodox in his theology he did insist that his heresy should have been rebuffed by reason and rhetoric and not shackles and flames. Further, he disagreed with John's definition of heresy as "anybody who disagrees with me on a theological point." Rather, he insisted that there was room for liberty within the bonds of the Church--or at the very least there was room if there was any hope for reformation. Sebastian was successful in convincing some but yet more remained in support of John Calvin's ruthless theological efficiency. Before he died (and his enemies dug up his body and burned it), he wrote: "We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith."