Sunday, December 14, 2014

Waiting in Joy (Advent 3, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)


Waiting in Joy from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Psalm 126
1A song of Ascents
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1The spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the LORD GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

An old friend is coming over for dinner. Someone you haven't seen in a while, someone who means a great deal to you. Perhaps not a friend, but a favorite cousin, or a new grandchild.

The excitement builds, and you find yourself making final preparations on the afternoon they are to arrive. The guest room is all made up, and has been since Tuesday, but you go and check one more time, and smooth out the last wrinkles so that their place will be immaculate. You start straightening things up, even though the house has been cleaned top-to-bottom already,

Fresh towels in the bathroom? Check, the finest ones, they only get pulled out on special occasions like this one. Coffee made? Not quite, we'll make it fresh when they arrive. But it's perfectly measured already, and you've only got to press a button when they ask.

You've even pulled out the perfect album on the stereo, one that your guest will immediately recognize, yet won't intrude on the good conversation once they do arrive. The minutes tick past as you await their arrival, and so you run down the list for the four-hundred-and-first time: bed made, house clean, magazines stacked, yet slightly askew, fresh towels, coffee prepped, but not yet made... all that's left to do is wait.

You're almost dancing back and forth as the guest of honor pulls into the driveway. That feeling when the car stops and you try and play it cool, but really want to run out to meet them and tell them how grateful you are to have them here? That's joy.

And that's where we're headed.

All the preparations of Advent are leading us to the moment when our souls cry out with a joyful shout that the God of our heart is great! When we can sing God's praises at the miracle of the incarnation, joining the song of the shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

We are waiting in joy for the coming of the LORD. 

In an impatience born of excitement, we look to Isaiah."The spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;”

God is about to change the world, and the people who are living and suffering in the meantime deserve to know that their comforter, their redeemer is on the way. So the Prophet Isaiah is sent out with the specific mission of proclaiming the year of the LORD’s favor. ”The identity of this servant is inextricably tied up with commitment to God's will... announcing that after years of mourning the time has arrived in which God will restore the conditions of justice and peace which characterize God's reign.”

We are waiting in Joy for the coming of the LORD.

We wait because justice and peace are too foreign to us. We cannot establish them on our own behalf. In the face of our sin-skewed perspective, we hold on to what little we can grasp, and therefore we are left with a world of oppressed, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, and mourning.

Isaiah’s words are familiar to us, and tied in Christian memory to Jesus, who reads them aloud to his home congregation in the Gospel of Luke. Christ read these words to a people under the rule of the Roman empire. Isaiah spoke them to Israel in exile. We read them now in a different light, because we must admit that we are not the poor, or the oppressed. We hear Isaiah’s promise with a bit more trepidation, as we grasp at what we’ve already god, www wonder what the change will cost us.

Yet, "We know that even among the economically favored, we have broken hearts, we have dislocation, we need newness, even the kind that undoes and remakes society and us. Even if it scares us to death, we need God's justice-loving joy. So it is worth the risk, worth dying for even.” So we wait in joy for the coming of the LORD, when we will no longer worry about self-righteousness or celebrating our own accomplishments.

Instead, we will serve God, and Christ Jesus with joy as the righteousness of the Kingdom is established over all the earth. We “will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.” We will sing and shout the joy we have been given. ”The end of 'righteousness' is, that glory be given to God; and therefore he exhorts us to gratitude; for it is exceedingly [rude] to be [silent] after having received God's benefits. So we start here, in worship, but the joy we are given here is so compelling that it flings us back out into the world: a parade of grace declaring, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.” God is here among us, and has given us hope, peace, and joy, and at Christmas it is all wrapped up in the fragile body of a child.


We are waiting in Joy, for the LORD has come.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Waiting For Peace (Advent 2, Isaiah 40:1-11)


Waiting For Peace from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
1LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah

8Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness  will look down from the sky.
12The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Isaiah 40:1-11
1Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out:”In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are like grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “here is your God!” 10See, the LORD GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Grampa, my Mom’s Dad, was a musician. He had beautiful high tenor voice, and he used it to the glory of God every chance he got. Perhaps that’s why I cannot read this passage without hearing Handle’s Messiah ringing in my ears. “Comfort Ye, Comfort ye my people…” There’s a comfort in these words that, for me, is literally familiar. It’s the warmth of a crowded, messy house full of laughter and music and noise and wrapping paper that is either rent and scattered or carefully folded and saved for next year. It’s the comfort of tradition and gathered family, the assurance of that one tradition that makes Christmas feel like Christmas. It’s the release of chronic anxiety that we didn’t even know was holding us down until we felt it melt away into the overstuffed furniture of the family living room.

We need Isaiah’s words of peace, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Even in Advent, there are plenty of reasons for worry. We have the promise of God-with-us; we are expectant. Our deliverer is on the way, but the peace and justice that accompanies our Lord is yet unborn. “Comfort, O comfort my people…”

But we do not all need comfort from the same thing. I don’t need comfort from invading armies that could at any moment burst into my home and drag my family off to who-knows where. The Judah to whom Israel preached lived in exile in Babylon, and were oppressed by their captors. Many people in the Middle East still have to fear an invading army kicking in their door, where the so-called Islamic State inflicts violence without reason. Elsewhere in the Middle East, Palestinian Christians have to get permission from another country to travel from one town to another, even if they just want to visit the town where Christ was born. But that is not the comfort I need.

I need comfort from the nagging question, “Am I walking into a trap?” Inexperienced as I am, I sometimes expect a scolding when I walk into a meeting, just because I’ve gotten a few of them over my years of ministry. Sometimes I have deserved it, and I’m sure I will deserve it again. Those are not as hard, because I can kind of see them coming. Other times, though, I’ve walked in and been blindsided by what felt to me like undeserved and un-constructive criticism. I need comfort when I’m vulnerable, because I’ve been hurt by folks who matter to me. But that’s not the comfort everybody needs.

“Comfort, O comfort my people…”

I don’t need comfort from the specter of cancer, or other terrifying diagnoses. Others whom I love, though, face that battle daily, wondering if this treatment or that one will help them, or if fighting will only lengthen their suffering. Their need for comfort is very real, but it is not the same as mine.

I need comfort from questions of trust and security. This is the first chapter in Leah’s and my marriage where we are both employed and able to live together. But my anxiety revolves around are we stable enough that we can plan for the future, is her career secure? Is mine? But that’s not the same fear as others have.

“Comfort, O comfort my people…”

I don’t need comfort from “will my parents still love me if I bring home bad grades?” For many students, the end of the fall semester is looming, and the consistent emphasis on achievement can fill youth and young adults with fear that failing, or even just not achieving quite high enough, will be grounds for rejection, either from college or, worse, from their families. I remember when I needed that comfort, and many folks still live with it, but that’s not my need at this point.

I need comfort when I struggle to be faithful to God, and to what God has called me to do. A month or so ago, I opened myself up for the youth to ask me anything, and they asked if I ever had doubts or struggle with my faith. I do, and often. I know God loves me, but I just wished I could respond to God’s love a little better. But not everybody needs to be comforted in this way.

“Comfort, O comfort my people…”

I don’t need comfort from doubting my expertise, or am I qualified enough to function. There are lots of people in this world who have been told they are worthless so often that they believe it. They’ve been told that they can’t do something, and so they don’t even try. Or on the other hand, they’ve been trusted so quickly that they can’t move for fear of breaking something, everyone will notice, and then they’ll lose it all. That’s a huge fear in our communities, and can tear a person apart. But that is not the comfort I need.

I need comfort when I wonder if I can trust my congregation with myself. I sometimes tend to hide behind my knowledge, to use an intellectual connection rather than risk an emotional one. I know I’m absolutely called to share those powerful connections with y’all, to have the faith to be vulnerable and connected, but boy is it intimidating. I need the comfort to risk myself, not everyone needs that brand of comfort though.

“Comfort, O comfort my people…”

The list could go on and on, some anxieties belong to us, some do not.  Even as we list our personal worries and fears, the prophetic voice turns us from fear to faith. These words are not about the particularity of anxieties, they’re about the universality of God’s presence. No amount of kind words can resolve these fears and anxieties. Only the assurance in God’s presence can provide the comfort we need. God is free, and freely loves us and wants to be with us. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”

In the midst of exile, surrounded by our chronic anxiety and exhausting fears, Isaiah promises us that God is returning to the people, and is returning us to justice and peace. Grace is at hand, and we need not fear, because God is with us. “God’s judgment always serves the more encompassing purpose of God’s forgiveness and redemption of the sinful community.” At Advent, we wait for God, straining against our sinful nature so that we can glimpse the promise: God’s presence brings justice and peace. 

The verbs “Comfort” are plural, The KJV’s translation, “Comfort ye,” captures the communal weight of the comforting command. “Ye’ is 16th century English for “Y’all.” The command is not just to the particular prophet. All of God’s people are charged with sharing the story of God’s continuous love, even in the midst of exile. So it’s no surprise that Isaiah continues, but in different voices:

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

One voice cries out to prepare a path in the wilderness, because God’s presence is an oncoming freight train, and we’ve got to lay the track so that the people know God is coming. Peace is on its way, and the change is not going to stop at our hearts or minds, the entire landscape will be different in the wake of God’s redeeming and righteous love. “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The difference God’s presence makes is obvious to everyone, all people, regardless of what they need comfort from, will come together to see, and be comforted by, the glory of the Lord.

Another voice speaks: “A voice says, ‘Cry out!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All people are like grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Not only is God on the way, as the first voice proclaims, but God is eternal and dependable.

While we may hear the comparison of humanity to grass as judgment and dismissive of our struggle, to those in exile, this is a word of comfort. Our oppression is human, our redemption is divine. The human hands that hold us down are like grass, and wither. God’s hand, mightily reaching out to gather us in, shall stand forever. “Though everything else fails, God’s word endures forever, and that God comes to lead them home.” The oppressed have comfort, have hope, in the promise that the current state of affairs will pass away like it were nothing. We hear the same comfort in the knowledge that so many of our anxieties are of our own invention, and in the presence of God, we are filled with the peace of God’s justice and love. While we are waiting for peace, the prophetic words give us hope in God’s presence among us.

So we are called, from the midst of our exile, to proclaim with as many voices as we can muster that the LORD is our redeemer. “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “here is your God!” See, the LORD GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

One of the folks at lunch bunch pointed out that there’s a general ease starting to take over in the consciousness of this congregation. People are more willing to accept hope, she said. While I’d love to take credit for that, I think we all recognize that the peace, the capacity to trust the hope we’ve always had, the Comfort, O Comfort my people, points to God’s presence among us. As Isaiah puts it in verse ten, “See, the LORD GOD comes with might!”

God’s might “…is not the strength of a bloody avenger, a violent brute, or a demanding judge. No, this God’s strength appears in the barely thinkable power of gentleness, in tender and caring presence, in intimacy such as a shepherd expresses when gathering the wounded, scattered flock.”


So we are gathered in, as a flock. We have different kinds of need for comfort, but the comfort is with all of us. We are waiting for peace, which accompanies God’s righteous and mighty love. That love is coming, as we take comfort in God’s presence already working among us.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Waiting By Hope (Advent 1: Isaiah 64)


Waiting By Hope from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph, A Psalm
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might, and come to save us!

3Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

4O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6You make us scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19Restore us, O LORD, God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Isaiah 64:1-9
1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-
2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
5You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of iniquity.
8Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
9Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Children have an innate, natural wonder. So much of their lives are out of their control that they have to approach the world with amazement. They recognize that things are happening all around them, but the life of a child is filled with waiting for action, instead of doing things themselves.

As they grow older, they begin to take more agency in their lives. Instead of gazing wide-eyed at the Christmas Decorations that have appeared before them, they help hang a few ornaments on the lower branches of the family tree. Woe be unto the overly-helpful parent who tries to reposition an ornament that placed in a very specific spot by a child.

As they leave childhood and stretch themselves into adolescence, the magical-ness of the holidays begins to fade as they start to take on their own obligations, and gain the mobility and independence to go out on their own, first on bicycles, then eventually with drivers licenses.

By the time we reach adulthood, if we want something done, we have the resources to make it so, either through our own effort or in hiring someone to take care of it for us. Over the course of our lives, we gradually trade amazement for independence. Most of us in this room have seen behind the curtain and know how things get done in day-to-day life. But anxiety accompanies our agency. The more we can do for ourselves, the more we have to worry about. 

Then, at the end of the year, we reach Advent. Four Sundays leading up to Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, and the promise of God-with-us. No matter how anxious we get, no matter how many decorations we put up, no matter how early the shopping begins, Christmas does not come any faster, with four Sundays of Advent firmly in front of it. 

Our worries follow us even into the church, ostensibly a sanctuary from our fears and a place where we can lay our burdens down, at least for a time. There's an old preacher joke about a minister who saw one of her church members taking notes during her sermon. As she preached, she was inspired by her member's attentiveness and got more and more animated until by the end of the service she was laying out everything she had in a faithful and powerful proclamation of the Word!

After the service, the church member came up to shake her hand, thanked her for a lovely service, and commented that he had finished his grocery list and planned out everything he had to do for the whole week during her sermon.

If we were to take a moment and list all the worries that followed us to worship this morning…

We'd probably keep going until it was time for the evening news, and then we'd find plenty to add to the list. We live in anxious times, and our worries chase after us until we bring them to family gatherings and the joy of being together sours into conflict. With all this stuff nipping at our heels we can join in Isaiah's plea, turning our eyes heavenward and saying, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence."

Give us a sign O God, that we may know that there's more to existence than this unending parade. Break through the minutiae and show us that you are God. Then we'll know, and so will the rest of the world, what's really at stake here. You, O LORD, are our hope in fearful times.

"As when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him."

In this congregation, we share stories of how God has done mighty things in the past, and yet it's so easy to live empty lives. Everything we hear on television reaches deep into the fear centers of our brain and tells us buy this or do that or else all your worst fears will come true. We're stuck between narratives of faith and fear, between hope and despair. "Memory of God's gracious saving acts of the past remains intertwined with the hardships of day-to-day existence." We know the stories in our unique and authoritative witness were true for those who wrote them, but where is the God who intervenes in our own story? Where is our hope?

Isaiah speaks to God again: "You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of iniquity."

Often prophets speak to the people on God's behalf. In this passage, however, the prophet is pleading with God on behalf of the people, his heart full of anguish for those who have bought into the story that the dominant consciousness is telling them. “Human sin is occasioned, indeed initiated, by divine absence!…Such a claim, however, is not meant to excuse the community before God, but rather to motivate God to act in redemption.” Isaiah points to God as the one responsible for the people's sin, that God has hidden from the people and without divine favor and guidance, they have once again enslaved themselves to sin. "Hiding is a form of divine judgment that ultimately serves divine mercy, a 'No' that clears the way for a more profound ‘Yes.'" God is our hope, and though God’s intervention in this world may be hidden from our eyes, we wait by means of the hope we have in God.

A colleague of mine, a gifted preacher with a prophetic and challenging voice, shared a story with me this morning. He told me about Sol Plaatje, an early leader in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In a period where the apartheid forces were increasing control and colonization on the native South Africans, Plaatje remarked "The only thing that stands between us and despair is the thought that Heaven has not yet failed us.” Apartheid ended 78 years after Plaatje defiant lament, justice sprouted in the midst of oppression and has been growing there, slowly, ever since.

Surely South Africa needed a strong and present redeemer as much as the exiled Judeans to whom Isaiah preached. Surely we are waiting for that same redeemer before whom the mountains quake. We wait for our redeemer, knowing that the anxiety of our self absorbed “independence” will fade in the light of “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.” God is our hope, and we know that God will not abandon us, though we are sinners.

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”


Advent, a season of waiting. We put aside our self-indulgence, and wait by hope for the God who is our hope. We take on the patience of children, for we know God is about to do something amazing, and this world will never be the same after. So keep watch in the night, and remember what God is doing in our midst.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Visible and Invisible (Colossians 1 and Luke 23)


Visible and Invisible
from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Colossians 1:11-20
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Luke 23:33-43
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

---

The last sunday of the church year, the last sunday before advent, is always dedicated to proclaiming the Reign of Christ. Our resurrected Lord rules all of creation from where he is seated on the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

So I set out at the beginning of the week excited for a sermon comparing the reign of Christ to all the things that his rule would replace. It was going to be full of hope for a brighter future, when we left our unjust systems behind. I was ready for a scripture passage all about how The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is within it. It was going to be very Calvinist in its emphasis on the loving and unyielding sovereignty of God.

There was going to be a parade celebrating the reign of Christ, people were going to cast ticker-tape from the windows of buildings, marching bands would play the great hymns of the faith, and people would wave banners all proclaiming the good news of God!

Then I turned to our Gospel passage this morning.

Instead of banners we have a sign that said “This is the king of the Jews.” Instead of Marching Bands we have jeering crowds. Instead of ticker tape we watch as they cast lots for his clothing.

It looks as if the Roman Empire has found another brigand. They’re going to make a visible example of him so that others will know not to claim the title of “King.” For only Caesar is a son of gods, and only Caesar rules in this empire.

Or so it seems.

Up to this point, everyone who has looked for the coming of the kingdom of God was watching for the same model of visible conquest as earthly rulers had used. But God is not the same kind of generic ruler we have come to expect. The reign of Christ is not defined by champions or armies. The reign of Christ is defined by the cross. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

I think it is certainly within God’s power to sweep any empire right off the map. But I believe God is much more interested in redemptive, creative, reign than a coercive, destructive, rule. Christ’s redemption over all creation comes through the cross so that the world might be forever changed.

Even the parts of the world that had opposed God at every turn.

The reign of Christ is not visible in armies marching forth with religious symbols painted on their shields, it’s shown when at his death, the heir to all authority on heaven and earth intercedes in prayer, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

We really don’t. We don’t know what we’re doing when we step out into this world and proclaim that the powers and principalities that we can see are not the final word, and yet work so hard to serve them. We don’t know what we’re doing when we buy into the stories that our culture tells us about what being blessed looks like. We don’t know what we’re doing when we say we believe, but live in a way that sows doubt. We don’t know what we’re doing, and so out of our own limited understanding of how the world works, we end up opposing God.

The reign of Christ claims even us. Even in our stubbornness, our limitedness, our ignorance, our sin, Christ still claims us. No matter how deeply we are stuck in our wrongness, God measures us according to Christ’s rightness. The reign of Christ doesn’t just upend our unjust systems because even those injustices we would rather stay invisible are subject to the redemptive reign of our Lord who “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

That, friends, is something worthy of gratitude on this Sunday before Thanksgiving. The reign of Christ, in his strange, cross-shaped way of showing it, extends to all of creation, even to the unworthy bits.

Lucky for us. Because I’ve never met anyone who is worthy of the gifts God gives us. And it’s easy, I think, to get caught up in obsessing over all those components in our lives that we wish we could just make invisible and never have to deal with again.

As we approach the holidays and the gathering of families, it is all to easy to see the places where we have been wounded. I know it sure is tempting to compartmentalize the parts of myself that I’m not proud of, especially in a family where there is an unspoken expectation that, let’s be honest, I don’t always meet.

I’ve felt surrounded by my families’s love my whole life, and I certainly hope to make them as proud of me as I am of them. There’s a lot to celebrate in the rich history of Tabers, Potters, Shrewsburys, Barnettes, Barnards, and Boshells. The love shared in those groups, the talents, the triumphs, the traditions, are all part of what defines my family for me. Those parts are easy to identify as belonging to, and extending from, the reign of Christ.

But there are also parts of my history that I would rather sweep under the rug, history of families broken up through divorce, or abuse, or of being ruled by addiction.

The reign of Christ extends to all of that as well. Even the parts of me that I don’t like belong to God. The reign of Christ preserves my whole self, even the parts of me that I would rather not let anybody see, and claims all of me as beloved by God, and wrapped in the righteousness of Christ until even the darkest parts of my soul are set free from the stain of sin. I am convinced, moreover, that this is also true for every person gathered in this community of faith.

All of this is possible through the reign of the Son who, at the place called The Skull, prayed for the forgiveness of those who mocked him, killed him, and dared him to try and save himself.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible”

Christ claims both joy and grief as defining characteristics of his reign. The joy comes in the hymn of praise in our Colossians text, for all people can sing praises to their God, and to Christ who reigns on high. But in claiming the greatness of the hymn, Christ also chooses to define his reign by the whimpering grief of a dying criminal, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Both the visible joy and the grief we would rather make invisible belong to the reign of Christ.

We are approaching Thanksgiving, a time when we celebrate the things we are grateful for, lifting them up and choosing them as our organizing narrative throughout the darker months of the year. As our days grow steadily darker, and less of the day is visible, we celebrate the Reign of Christ at the end of the Christian Calendar. Advent begins next week. It’s a season of waiting, of longing, of preparing. Advent is a time when we look for the invisible, preparing for the easily overlooked birth of a peasant child whom we celebrate at Christmas. The invisible God made flesh, visible at last for those who know to look. Advent is a time of waiting for the invisible to become visible. The Christian calendar begins in Advent because we need to know that we start with waiting.

This week shows us what we are waiting for. The reign of Christ, who is heir among all creation, who’s reign is defined not by a visible sign that reads “This is the King of the Jews,” but by the invisible redemption that is already begun.

All the things we celebrate, and all the things we hide are subject to the lordship of Christ. We can hide them from each other, because some of them cause friction within the community of faith. We cannot, however, hide them from God. The parts of ourselves we would show to the whole world belong to God, the parts of our society we would make visible to all who look also belong to God. But in those moments when we are ashamed, either of part of ourselves or on behalf of our whole community, God claims those as well. God not only claims those parts, but invites them to the table, and declares that every part of us is welcome, because every part of us is redeemed, even the parts that don’t clearly show their redemption. So we come to the Lord’s table, where in visible signs we experience an invisible grace, and a wholeness we can only find in Christ who reigns.

The Reign of Christ is not about discarding the bad and uplifting the good, it’s about the reality that all of creation, both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and invisible, Whether they are thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers, all things were created through Christ and for Christ.


And Christ who reigns loves us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Daylight Delayed

Matthew 25:14-30
14For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20The the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you haves over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 

24Then the one who had received one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘you wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not cater? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Psalm 90:1-17
1A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.
2Before the mountains came into being, before you brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are God.

3You return man to dust; You decreed, “Return you mortals!”
4For in your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch in the night.
5You engulf men in sleep; at daybreak they are like grass that renews itself; 
6at daybreak it flourishes anew; by dusk it withers and dries up.
7So we are consumed by Your anger, terror-struck by Your fury.
8You have set our iniquities before you, our hidden sins in the light of Your face.

9All our days pass away under Your wrath; we spend our years like a sigh.
10The span of our life is seventy years, or, given the strength, eighty years; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness.

11Who can know Your furious anger? Your wrath matches the fear of you.
12Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart.

13Turn, O LORD! How long? Show mercy to your servants.
14Satisfy us at daybreak with your Steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days.
15Give us joy for as long as you have afflicted us, for the years we have suffered misfortune.
16Let your deeds be seen by Your servants, Your glory by their children.
17may the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us; let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
Saints and angels join in concert, singing the praises of the Lamb. The echoes of his name rebound across the seats of heaven, joining in a triumphal chorus of Hallelujah! We sinners here can only imagine the divine cacophony of joy at the opening dawn of Easter Sunday, and the glimmering beam of the Spirit as the sun crept over the horizon of a creation made new.

Yet we poor and needy sinners are stuck in the darkness, our daybreak is delayed as we wait at the closing of the church year. In the distance we can barely make out “He rules the world…”

We are like Moses at the end of his life, looking out over the promised land, but knowing he will not enter it. We may not see the restoration in our lives, but we know that our people will get there regardless. Our psalm begins, ”A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” We locate ourselves on the edge of promise, proclaiming that our redemption is won in Christ, and the promise is at hand. We make that proclamation through the same voice that asserts in Exodus 2 that “God heard the groans of the people and remembered his covenant…”

The saints and angels join in concert, and we poor and needy sinners groan, In our groaning, however, we read, remember, and rely on the promise of Psalm 90. ”O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.” Amid all the darkness, all the struggles that may try and pull us off course, promising that ”[The LORD] is the speaker's home... affirms that the speaker is not homeless. There is a center to prevent fragmentation. This is a belonging to preclude isolation.” We may not have the voices to sing, but we do have a home amid the hardships of this life that threaten to pull us apart in the night.

We start with home where we are rooted in God. The only way this poem can hold together; is to assert that WE are held together by God, who is eternal. “Before the mountains came into being, before you brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are God.” As this prayer of Moses, the man of God, moves forward, acknowledging the struggles of life and the neediness of sinners, we most hold to the starting point: "O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.” This Psalm is speaking in the midst of disorientation so that we can remember that God, and Christ, are at the center not only of our lives, but of all creation.

I think that much of sin is rooted in the idea of human mastery, whether it is the human masters of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, or the myth that we can master our own lives and do not need others to be fulfilled. "Any human attempt to be certain of God's presence and to speak of his eternal being is bound to remain always a mere stammering and necessarily leads once more to the realization of the futility and insignificance of everything that is human.” When we are faced with an eternal truth, such as “O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation,” the myth of human master falls apart in favor of the true master: God.

We, of all people, should know better. “You have set our iniquities before you, our hidden sins in the light of Your face.” We benefit from injustice from buying cheap clothes made in unsafe conditions in Bangladesh to worshipping on land that was taken from Native Americans hundreds of years ago. We may not see the injustice done, but it’s so much easier to look the other way when it makes our life easier.

This poem acknowledges reality is full of suffering. “The span of our life is seventy years, or, given the strength, eighty years; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness.” It's not the end that troubles us, it's what the end is going to be like. Are we going to decline for years in a nursing home? Are we going to go peacefully in our sleep? We have a beginning and an end, and we struggle for most of the between.We don't dwell on it because it's better to live in hope and preparation. Even in hope, the question remains: How do we keep moving forward in the face of tragedy and grief?

The Psalm does not let suffering overwrite the foundational truth of the people of God: ”O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.” We are often surrounded by darkness, sin, and death. God is our eternal refuge, but we have to acknowledge that we are refugees. This is not the way we were intended to exist in the world. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, but we live in a world that resists God reign.

One of the Lunch Bunch pointed out that we see and do evil, but we are still assured of God's love. We also know that our trouble and sorrow will come to an end. The psalm speaks of God’s wrath and anger, and how we cannot conceal our sins, but all of that is grounded in "O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.”

God's wrath is a personal, hurt, response to the brokenness of the world.a

A wise heart remains rooted in the LORD. Rooted in the word of God, the law of God, the steadfast loving-kindness of God. "O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation." A wise heart trusts God’s providential grace even in the face of sin and death.

"May the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us; let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!" We asked for God to prosper the work of our hands, to make our efforts more effective, more lasting. God chose not to act in that way. The favor of The Lord came as an infant, a blessing beyond our imagination. The powerful connection we have with God is not forged with our hands, it is forged in the love of our eternal God. Rather than giving us prosperity and effective action, God gives us himself, as ultimately revealed in Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel - God with us."The thirst for place is resolved in the gift of communion.”

With confidence in God, our refuge in every generation, the work of our hands will prosper in ways of righteousness, rather than profit.


The Gospel of John promises that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not extinguish the light. Even though daylight may be delayed, and the night extended beyond our coping ability, we know that there is still hope shining in the darkness. “O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.” We face the powers of darkness knowing that Christ has broken them, and made our peace eternal. Daylight may be delayed, but heavenly light is breaking forth, and ushers in a morning of boundless joy.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hopeful Preparation


Hopeful Preparation
from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14for since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 25:1-13
1”Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10and while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

The church calendar is starting to pick up speed as we lean forward into advent. We’re rushing headlong into a season of waiting, and along the way we pick up some kingdom parables and impressions of our eschatological destination. “The kingdom will be like this…” begins Jesus, introducing a parable that is unique to Matthew’s gospel. We’re looking expectably to the story, hoping for the clue about the kingdom of heaven which is to come.

The characters begin to emerge, as actors preparing themselves for the stage. “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise,” the foolish enter from stage left, the wise from stage right, and we know, as we watch and listen, that this distinction will matter somehow. We prepare ourselves to find grief with the foolish and to take hope with the actions of the wise.

Our whole Christian tradition is built on the intermingling of grief and hope. We rightly grieve at the foot of the cross, but the resurrection establishes a new reality in which all peoples can have hope. In the kingdom parables, Jesus gives us an impression of what that hope looks like. But for Christ, and for his church throughout the centuries, these hopeful impressions are not meaningless set pieces. The kingdom of heaven is an oncoming reality for which we must be prepared. It will jump out and surprise us when we least expect it, and its radical freedom energizes us to be the disciples Christ expects us to be.

Expecting that energizing freedom, the ten bridesmaids carry lamps, beacons of their hope. They prepare for the bridegroom and the accompanying celebration. Their lights are dim and the darkness is vast, but the are prepared and hopeful. But there’s a misstep along the way, “When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

Commentators have argued about what the oil represents for centuries. Some argue that it’s good works, other argue that it’s faith, others wisdom. I think if it were essential for us to know, Christ would have told us. The foolish bridesmaids probably trusted that there would be enough oil already in the lamp, that it wouldn’t run dry before the bridegroom arrived. After all, the wedding prepared, the director had cued the bridegroom’s entrance, everything would come together as soon as he arrived!

But the players will have to carry the show longer than they thought, as the bridegroom was delayed.

The most trivial delay can still be a magnificent bother in our Veruca-Salt, Don't-Care-How-I-Want-it-Now world. As our days grow shorter and the temperature drops at night, it often takes shower water longer and longer to heat up, because the pipes are colder. So we test the lukewarm water, and crank the "hot" up just a little bit. Then we wait a moment, and test it again. It's still pretty lukewarm, so we crank it up just a little bit more. Wait another moment, still lukewarm, so we crank it up just a little bit more. That seems like about the right temperature, and then by the time we get into the shower we get a moment of perfect temperature water on our backs before it suddenly turns to a river of lava and we try and leap out from under the showerhead before we scald ourselves to death. We flip the hot water down and the cold water up and after a moment the water is so cold that icebergs start forming around the shower drain. The the process starts all over again, all because there's a delay between when we adjust the faucet handle and when the water actually changes.

We've got control over our water temperature, we can fiddle with the handles all morning if we need to. Delays outside our control are more than irritating, they can be downright terrifying. "Thank you for submitting your application, we'll get back to you at some point in the next few weeks." "We have to wait for some project funding to become available before we can do that..." "We've done what we can to get them stable, we'll have to wait until morning to know more..." In times of intense stress, the delay only intensifies things. Waiting is, as they say, the hardest part. We pass the time any way we can: small talk, reading a magazine, or taking a nap "As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept."

The wise bridesmaids are not more diligent than the foolish ones. As the night marches on with no word from the bridegroom, all ten of them fall asleep. "The wise bridesmaids are distinctive not because they were ready for the groom but because they were ready for the groom’s delay." All of the bridesmaids held lamps, ready for the groom’s arrival. The foolish ones trim their lamps alongside the wise, but their hope was immediate and their preparation short-term.

A short-term action assumes that God will show up when we expect, as though we were the director, casting whatever image we fancy in God’s role and demanding cues be met are marks be hit. We know, however, that’s not the way things really are. Even though we struggle to live by it, we know God is the both the playwright and the director, and we are enacting his hope-filled story. Preparation for the delay acknowledges God's freedom, and shows faith that God will show up even if it's not on our calendar.

While it is possible, and often healthy, to schedule time for our relationship with God, we've got to recognize that God is not bound to a minute moment when we decide we are ready. God will show up and break up our carefully constructed days and nights, inviting all who are watchful to participate in the work of the kingdom. "Being watchful means being ready at all times, whether waking or sleeping.” We can be faithful, and hopeful at all times. Even dormant faith can shine in a dark enough world. God can use those dim, flickering lamps to light up the whole stage as the theater wakes up to a  magnificent final act.

Jesus finishes his parable, and the play comes to a close, and the audience is left with their impressions, wondering at the meaning behind his words as they move back out into the world. We work to understand and enact Christ’s words of hope, delay and preparation. "It cannot be that we are all supposed to bring with us the resources necessary for the celebration: while not all of them get in, all ten [bridesmaids] bring only lamps with oil in them. The text's theological claim about anticipating the bridegroom's great banquet does not negate the grace-shaped joy of a feast in which the host brings and shares all that we will actually need.” The focus of this passage is not that we should grab on to every possible provision and hoard it for ourselves. "The point is living expectantly and hopefully. Christian hope rests on trust that the God who created the world will continue to live the world with gentle providence." As church-type-people, we have the privilege and responsibility of hopeful preparation.

Each disciple may be a bridesmaid in this allegory, called to hopeful preparation for the day of the LORD. Perhaps, in this passage, the Church is not the bridesmaids. Perhaps we are the oil merchants, tasked with equipping disciples for the journey ahead, even though we do not know how long the journey will take. The Church is a place where we can fill our lamps together with the hope all will be prepared and none will be left out when the doors are shut. The foolish bridesmaids were not present to join the procession when the bridegroom arrived, and so they missed the party. Remaining unrecognized was the judgement on their foolishness. But the wise bridesmaids are under God's judgment too. They were unwilling to share either the oil or their wisdom to take an extra flask. The wedding party, therefore, was only half the size it could have been. Maybe the incompleteness is God's judgment on them for their failings too?

As the foolish bridesmaids found out, you can't fill your lamp at the last minute. As disciples, we have to grab the extra flask of lamp-oil, we have to take the risk that we will wait a while, because there is an abundance for all who are willing to keep their lamps filled. "The wise ones in the church are those who are prepared for the delay; who hold onto the faith deep into the night."


Prepare for the future, not a future where we're on our own and have to scramble to hold on to what is ours, but a future where Christ is returned, and returns us to the messianic banquet where joy and amazement will be without end. God gives us hope so that we can act, not just for our own benefit, but so that God may be glorified and we will enjoy God forever. The stage is set for the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, as we rush headlong into the season of Advent waiting. So we maintain our hopeful preparation, so that we may act in hope when the bridegroom at last arrives.