Preaching: On Misquotes and Mistletoe

Curious what I’m preaching tomorrow?

Here’s Advent 2

An excerpt:

“The writer of the Gospel of Matthew loves a good quote, especially from the Hebrew scriptures. In fact by my arm-chair counting, Matthew will quote the Hebrew scriptures or use an allusion to them over 70 times in his retelling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He’s big on connecting the story of Jesus to the Hebrew scriptures, and today he attempts to quote the prophet Isaiah.

‘Attempt,’ I say, because he actually misquotes Isaiah…

Matthew has Isaiah saying, ‘A voice cries out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord!’

See, in Isaiah’s 40th chapter the prophet doesn’t write that.  Instead, the prophet writes:

‘A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!’

You might not think this matters much, and perhaps it doesn’t for the text…it fits so well, right?  Matthew wants John the Baptizer (I refuse to just give him to the Baptists) to be the voice we think of crawling out of the wilderness with his PETA-offending clothes and unusual diet telling us to prepare the way of the Lord.

And that’s all well and good, except Beloved.


Sometimes I think we’re the ones who find ourselves in the wilderness of life, no?

Sometimes I think we’re the ones who find ourselves in the wilderness of church life coming out of a pandemic and the pews are a little emptier than before.

Sometimes we’re the ones who find ourselves in the wilderness of a bed that is empty on one side where it used to be filled.

Or the wilderness of an empty-nester house.

Or the wilderness of a lifeless job, a lifeless marriage, an unwanted singleness, a confused state in between all of those things.

Or perhaps some are in the wilderness time of regret for things done and things left undone, as our Rite of Confession says.  The things that weigh on our hearts can sometimes keep us lost in the wilderness of guilt and anxiety, and John the Baptizer speaks clearly to that kind of wilderness today…

And we may think that these sorts of things are some sort of mistakes in our life, a misquote perhaps, or that something we’ve done or not done have made us a misquote in this world, where something is not quite what it should be because it all just doesn’t feel right, and we’re coming up on the holidays and, well, it just might not feel quite right this year.

We may think we’re the mistake, misquote of existence, by God.

And here is John the Baptizer, Beloved, breaking into that noise to remind us that whether we’re in the wilderness or not, it is in the wilderness where the paths of God are made.”

Yule Tidings

For the ancient Celts, December was a month where they celebrated light being born from winter’s long shadows.

They believed that, on the solstice, the sun would jump up and retreat back down for just a moment, seemingly staying in roughly the same place, signaling that it would once again keep it’s promise to bless the people with its presence the next year.

Every year they believed the sun was born again.

They’d honor this birth with days and days of celebration, usually around twelve, and they would perform ritual acts of welcome including dancing, drama, music, games of feat, and above all, lighting fires that they thought would help the newly-born, fledgling sun gain strength. The “yule log” was both for heat and for fueling the sun back into its summer glory.

Also, interesting tidbit: “yule” is probably where we get the word “jolly” from in English.

Even after Christianity had overlaid its own festival onto the celebrations of Ireland and Scotland, the pagan roots shone (and shine!) through. The Scandinavian settlements of the area had dyed the yule practices in the proverbial wool of the people.