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Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Accursed Melody - the Movie

It's Christmas.  I'm on vacation with my family so, of course, we are watching zombie movies.  (Isn't that what every family does during holiday get-togethers?)  We've even managed to coerce my mom into watching several episodes of The Walking Dead with us.  She's admitted that the show is deeply compelling and well acted, but she wishes that "they'd not show so much gory stuff."  I think she's missed the point...

But we're not just zombie movie watchers.  We're also zombie movie makers.

Last summer, during my annual stint at music camp, I made a zombie movie with  my brother and the staff and campers. We managed to film and edit the entire movie in just under a week.  And everyone had a lot of fun.  Some of the leaders were a bit nervous when they heard rumors of a zombie movie; they were apprehensive about it being a horror movie, but when the movie was screened on the final day of camp, every one was pleased. (At least, no one came to yell at me afterwards.)

My brother and I entered the film into a couple of film contests and festivals, but it was rejected (awww...). That was kinda' sad, but instead of being depressed about our rejection we are - finally - making it available for you to watch and enjoy - perhaps you'd like to watch and enjoy it during your next family holiday vacation.





We made extensive use of The Freesound Project - both in the music and sound effects - for this film:

Magnificat (Mary's Song)

Magnificat (Mary's Song) by thatjeffcarter was here

This little song is based on Mary's song in the Gospel of Luke.


My soul glorifies the Lord and I rejoice,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.


He has been mindful of his humble servant,

now generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
holy, holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.


He has performed mighty deeds with his arm,

he has scattered those who are proud.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
he has filled the hungry with good things.

He has sent the rich away empty,
but he has been merciful to us.


My brother, Brad, helped me to record it this afternoon.
If you like it, feel free to download it and to share it with others.

A Christmas Blessing


May God grant you a merry Christmas and a happy holiday – a happy holy day.
May you be filled with the warmth of his presence,
    but may you also be just cold enough to welcome the warmth of a close friend.
May you love as much as you are loved.
May your laughter be filled with glee, with a child’s delight in the unexpected and marvelous.
May you know the awe and wonder of mysterious silences.
May you sing joyful and triumphant hymns of praise.
May God fill you with good things so that you will not be sent away empty.
May he lift you up.

May God grant you a merry Christmas, filled with love and joy and peace
    (these are so much nicer than turtledoves and partridges in pear trees…).
May you know the unknowable God just as he knows you.
May you know the light and life he brings.
May the light of life dawn in your hearts.

May God grant you a merry Christmas filled with joy.
May the rooms of your heart be open for him so that you can sing with all of heaven and nature,
    repeating the endless wonder of his joy.
May you be filled with gladness.
May you hear the good news that is for all men and all women everywhere,
    that a savior, our savior, has been born.

May God grant you a merry Christmas filled with gifts and treasures.
May you have enough to meet your needs, and maybe just a little bit more so that you
    can share something with others around you.
May you be surrounded by friends and family. 
May your loved ones be safe and protected from all kinds of  harm.
May God give you peace in your family and love in your home. 
May your table be a place of comfort and not merely indulgence.
May your bed be a place of rest and not just slumber. 

May God grant you a merry Christmas, a mighty Christmas, a happy Christmas.
May the Christ Child be born in your heart.  May the Prince of Peace rule over your life.
May you know the wonders of his kingdom – the kingdom of heaven within your heart.
May God give you peace.  May God give you a peace that is more
    than merely the absence of conflict,
    but a peace that passes all human understanding.
May God be with you and in you.
May God bless you today.


I recorded this for KJLY radio in Blue Earth, Minnesota.  It should be broadcast this morning at about 8:40 AM. I thought I'd post it here for those who are not within the listening area of that station.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dominion

One of the card games that my family has  been playing this week during our vacation is the game Dominion -
We've had a lot of fun with it.  This song is a small soundtrack for our play.

Dominion by thatjeffcarter was here

I have, once again, utilized a number of sounds from The Freesound Project:


Jesus and the Holy Innocents


Today is marked in the Church calendar as the day to remember the “Holy Innocents.”  Matthew’s gospel tells us that King Herod was so disturbed and frightened by word of the birth of “the king of the Jews” – a potential rival for the throne that he occupied – that he ordered his soldiers to kill all the boys 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. 

St. Augustine called these slaughtered children “the first buds of the church killed by the first frost of persecution,” and said that they died not only for Christ, but in his stead.”

This is a story that haunts me.  Every time I read it, am struck by its cruelty and horror.  Though it is recorded in just a few brief words in Matthew’s infancy narrative, its impact is staggering. 

One tradition, from Greece, asserts that 14,000 boys were murdered in this campaign against the newborn king of the Jews. Other traditions say 64,000 children were slaughtered, and some Medieval writers claimed as many as 144,000 died. This is, of course, extravagant and unreasonably outrageous. Bethlehem was only a small hamlet and was of little importance. Few people would have lived there at that time, perhaps only 200 or so. Modern estimates of the number of innocents killed by Herod range from 6 to 20 boys. But that does not in any way diminish the cruelty of King Herod the Great, the evil genius of the Judean nation. Even one state sponsored murder is one too many.


The Slaughter of the Innocents


When the soldiers came with sharpened swords 
obeying orders from a paranoid and murderous king 
the holy family fled across the sands to a pagan land. 
Mothers screamed into the silent starry night 
as their tiny infants bled out and died. 
Rachel weeping for her children would not be comforted. 


When heavy booted solders come again with rifles and grenades 
obeying orders as patriotic soldiers always do,
             when refugees flee across barb-wired borders
            when innocents are crushed beneath the rubble
            when mothers scream into satellite skies how will they be comforted?







O Lord, have pity on those today who live in rough and ragged places as you did; have mercy on those who, because of persecution and violence have sought refuge and shelter in a foreign land. We know that you care for them because you yourself were once one of them.  Help us to care too. Show us how we may help them. Amen.


I recorded this for KJLY radio in Blue Earth, Minnesota.  It should be broadcast this morning at about 8:40 AM. I thought I'd post it here for those who are not within the listening area of that station.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas Mystery



There is a mystery at Christmas.  Not a who-done-it detective story wherein one can follow certain clues and evidences in order to solve a puzzle.  But there is a deep mystery, a sense of wonder at Christmas.

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
how Jesus the Savior did come for to die;
to save lowly people like you and like I,
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

There is a mystery at Christmas.  Something unknown and unknowable becomes known.  Something utterly beyond comes near.  This is the mystery of Christmas – that the God who is infinitely beyond our understanding reveals himself to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, that the God who dwells in inaccessible light stepped down into darkness so that we could begin to see.

But it’s very easy to let that sense of wonder slip away. It gets crowded out by all the other “holiday spirits.”  That quiet sense of awe and astonishment gets drowned out by noisy carols, by holiday shopping and baking and gift giving. We confuse that wonder with nostalgia.  We mistake that awe for cheer.  And in all the bustling excitement and good tidings of Christmas it’s easy to loose that sense of the numinous, that awareness that something impossible, something real, and something impossibly real has happened.

The Greek word from which we derive our English word mystery – mysterion – is not merely a puzzle to be solved but is some that is revealed for our understanding – but also something that we can never understand exhaustively.  There will always be more.  We can always go deeper into this mystery.

One of the early church fathers (Theophilus of Antioch) said that “the form of God is ineffable and indescribable, and cannot be seen with eyes of flesh.  He is in glory uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in loftiness inconceivable, in strength incomparable, in wisdom inaccessible, in love inimitable, [and] in beneficence inexpressible.”

And yet, the wonder of it all is that we have been given a glimpse of this invisible and indescribable God.  Though veiled in flesh and blood, that infant child born to Mary and Joseph in a cattle stall in the backwater village of Bethlehem was God incarnate.  They held in their arms the uncontainable and unapproachable God.  This is a mystery that we would do well to ponder.





I recorded this for KJLY radio in Blue Earth, Minnesota.  It should be broadcast this morning at about 8:40 AM. I thought I'd post it here for those who are not within the listening area of that station.

Monday, December 26, 2011

As We Are, One of Us


In the fourth century the church father Gregory of Nazianus wrote “God became human and poor for our sake, to raise up our flesh, to recover our divine image, to recreate humanity.”  Or, as another of the early church fathers put it, “he became as we are, so that we might become as he is.”  This is the mystery of Christmas: that the infinite and omnipotent creator of the universe would voluntarily put aside his divinity in order to become one of us.

In John’s gospel we are told that the Word that was with God in the beginning and is in fact God himself became flesh and lived among us.  He was, as the carol says, “Pleased as man with man to dwell.”  He made himself nothing, for our sake.

Though he was in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or exploited, but he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being mad in human likeness.  And, being found in human likeness, he humbled himself even further and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! (Philippians 2: 6- 8)

He was poor.  He was weak.  He was helpless.  And this was for our sake.

He emptied himself of everything and made himself nothing so that he could give us everything.  This is why we celebrate.  That God became as we are so that we could become as he is. This is an amazing love!

He came to restore a fallen and broken creation.  He came to restore a ruined relationship.  He came to make all things new.  When we were unable see, he came to restore our sight. When we were sick, he came to heal us.  When we were poor, he came to fill us with good things.  When we were dead, he came to raise us up and to give us life and life to the fullest.

We were unable to come to God, so God came to us as one of us.

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more to die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth,
Risen with healing in his wings,
light and life to all he brings.
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Hail the Heaven born Prince of Peace!”



I recorded this for KJLY radio in Blue Earth, Minnesota.  It should be broadcast this morning at about 8:40 AM. I thought I'd post it here for those who are not within the listening area of that station.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Walk With Me



Walk with me now through this solitary place
and show me the rose that blooms
beneath moonless skies and winter’s chill.
Teach me to sing the songs of praise
that echoed from the desert hills
when half spent was the lonely prophet’s night.
Strengthen my feeble arms,
bind up my wounded feet.
Speak courage to my fearful heart
that I might find the joy of this holy night.

  (based on Isaiah 35)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Till it Echoed in the Earth Below

Do you know the song that the angels sang
on that night in the long ago,
when the heavens above with their music rang
till it echoed in the earth below?

 - Abner P. Cobb




This atmospheric piece was made entirely from one sample from The Freesound Project
Blue Finale

If you like it, feel free to download it for your own personal or church use.  It's my gift to you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A New Year’s Song



In our homeless wanderings through the wilderness of our lives
through urine puddled tattered back alleys
sleeping in hospital examination rooms and lonely cancer wards
in cities of bullet-pocked buildings
            surrounded by landmines and blind one-legged children
through the valley of the shadow of meth
and the disintegrating bodies of addicts who can’t escape

a light has dawned
a voice has been heard
the banner has been raised
and the highways made smooth

Be free, be whole, be made well!

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned
 (Isa. 9: 2)

Monday, December 19, 2011

LOLCat Xristmaz 2

My daughter asked for a couple more, so these are for her.



























Here are the previous Xristmaz kittahs

Advent 4 – Promises, Promises




2 Samuel 7: 1 – 16
Psalm 89: 1 – 4, 19 – 26
Luke 1: 26 – 38

After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
 he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent."

 Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you."

That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says:

Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.
Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'
"Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. "'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.
He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'"
2 Samuel 7:1-16 (NIV)
This reading from 2 Samuel seems like a strange text for the fourth week of Advent. It’s not very Christmas-y is it?  None of our nativity set figures are in it. We don’t sing any carols about it. It seems a strange choice for the lectionary selections for this particular Sunday. Now, I’ve heard plenty of sermons on this week’s text from Luke concerning the annunciation to Mary and her response. It’s a Christmas favorite, after all.  It’s been pictured in art and sung in songs.  And every preacher worth his or her salt has preached from it at some point. But I don’t know that I’ve heard an Advent or Christmas sermon from this story about King David… come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on this story at all.

Yet one of my favorite biblical scholars, Walter Brueggeman, says that this passage from 2 Samuel 7 may be the most important part of the Old Testament; he says that it is “the dramatic and theological center of the entire Samuel corpus . . . one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith.”[i] And if that is the case then it would behoove me to try to understand why. So, for a moment, let’s set aside our expectations.  For a moment let’s forget all the sermons we’ve heard about the angel that came to visit that poor and humble young maid and the announcement she received.  Just for now, let us – you and I – go back, way back, to the legendary King David.

At this point in King David’s story things are going pretty well.  He’s secured his throne from both internal and external forces and he is at rest.  He has secured his kingship against the claims from King Saul’s descendents and followers and he has staved off attacks from the Philistines and, as the narrator of this story tells us, the king was settled and at rest in his palace.

Not a bad life if you can get it.  His palace was built from cedar wood.  Maybe you have a cedar chest at home.  If so, you know how nice that wood smells.  And here we find him, at rest and comfortable in that beautiful palace. But he’s slightly uncomfortable.

One of the things that King David did to secure his rule as king over Israel was bring the Ark of the Covenant from its resting place in Shiloh to the city of Jerusalem.  This is seen by some as an expression of his devotion, but others of a more cynical stripe (myself included) see it as an act of political pragmatism.  Israel, though they’d had a king for some time now, was still more of a loose collection of tribes than a united nation.  Building his palace in and bringing the ark to the city of Jerusalem created a central point in the nation for the people to focus; it brought everyone together, it centralized both the politics and the religion in one place - under King David.

But there was a bit of a PR problem.  The Ark of the Covenant which had always been housed in the tent of the tabernacle was now sitting just down the road from the king’s newly constructed opulent cedar palace.  Suddenly that tabernacle seemed shabby and threadbare by comparison.

"Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent,” King David said to his advisor, the prophet Nathan. It wouldn’t do for the people of Israel to see their king living in greater luxury than their God.  So David did what kings do: he decided to build a house – a temple – for God.

This is what kings do: they build things to impress and to awe. If we jump forward to the time of Jesus again for a moment we remember that King Herod the (not-so) Great knew that the people didn’t really trust him so he initiated numerous and massive building projects – including an extensive remodeling and expansion of the temple in Jerusalem[ii] – to try and curry their favor.

Kings build to awe and impress and to delight their subjects. They build to demonstrate their power and their wealth.  But God wasn’t impressed.  That night God spoke to the prophet Nathan and told him to ask King David this question:

‘When did I ever ask for you – or anyone – to build me a house?’

God was quite content to have the visible symbol of his presence – the Ark of the Covenant – in the tent of the tabernacle.  The tabernacle was mobile.  The tabernacle could travel.  The tabernacle – the tent of God – was among the people. 

Putting it in a permanent house within the king’s capital city was a way to control God and to control the people’s access to God. This temple wasn’t going to be an improvement. 

No. God wasn’t interested in David’s plan to build him a house.  Instead God would build a house for David - that is, God promised that a descendant of David would always be on the throne of Israel - that he would protect and bless the descendants of David as they led the nation of Israel.  But God has more in mind in this promise than simply a Davidic dynasty of kings.  And though the kingship of David and his descendants is legitimized (even blessed by God) in this chapter, our expectations are rebuffed.  Things are not going to proceed as King David expected.  He would not be allowed to build the temple.  [iii]

The years of history have been kind to King David. They glossed over the darker parts of his story - his ruthlessness and political machinations - until he became “the man after God’s own heart.”  He’s become the legendary King David, the beloved hero.  His life makes a great story, doesn’t it?  He’s a winner.  He’s the epitome of the rags-to-riches story:  Obscure farm boy grows up to be great warrior, beloved king and a national hero.  But that’s the whitewashed, sanitized, Sunday-school version.  The real story includes the fact that everyone – everyone – who ever opposed or spoke out against David ended up dead.  He was everything that we, even to this day, despise about politicians. He flattered. He bribed.  He extorted.  He cajoled.  He betrayed.  He manipulated. 

And yet he is remembered as the heroic and beloved warrior-poet-king, and he became the model of messianic expectations.  By the time of Jesus the people of Israel expected their coming messiah, the descendant of David, to be one like David.  They expected him to come in great power, with wealth, and pomp.  They expected the warrior-king who would lead an army to overthrow their Roman oppressors. 

God never wanted a permanent house for the visible symbol of his presence among the people of Israel.  The tabernacle was just right.  It was mobile. It was among the people. It was not built to awe and impress and manipulate the people by a violent warrior king.[iv]

And here we are coming back around to that familiar story of the annunciation to Mary – but we are finding our expectations rebuffed.  The promised descendant of David, the one who would fulfill God’s promise to King David, the one who would sit on an eternal throne would not be what the people expected.

He would not come to impress.  He would not come to awe. He would not come to manipulate. And he would not come with violent military power. He came as a tabernacle and not a temple.

And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (Young’s Literal Translation)

The Kingdom of God is not like the edifices erected by kings and politicians. It is not flashy and covered with gold. It is given to the humble and the poor. The Kingdom of God is not containable.  It is mobile and moving.  It moves within the people of God, for that is where God is – dwelling among his people. 

 "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”  Revelation 21:3 (NIV)

The Kingdom of God is not built in violence and bloodshed. God refuses this kind of building. His Kingdom is built by a man of peace – the Prince of Peace.  There are no swords in his kingdom.
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Luke 1:29-33 (NIV)
Amen. 

***

The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota could use your help.  If you haven't already given a contribution to the Salvation Army would you consider using this online kettle to make a donation.  We need to raise $23,000 in our kettles this year in order to continue the services we provide to those in Martin County who need assistance.  So far we've raised about 70% of that goal and we only have a week left.  Every little bit helps.  Thank you.



[i] Walter Brueggemann, I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p. 253
[ii]  But just as God wasn’t impressed with David’s plan to build a temple neither was Jesus impressed with Herod’s temple.  When his disciples expressed their awe at the splendor of the temple, Jesus brushed it aside with a prediction of its imminent destruction.
[iii] And even though Solomon was eventually allowed to build this temple – we should remember that it was built with slave labor and excessive taxation of the people.  It was a monument to the Davidic dynasty – not God. 
[iv]  We’re told in 1 Chronicles 22: 7 – 8 that David was prohibited from building the temple because he had been a man of war.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Myrrh

The Gift of Myrrh by thatjeffcarter was here




The Magi brought myrrh as a gift for the infant Jesus - a strange gift for a newborn.  Myrrh was a spice used in the preparation of corpses for burial.  They brought something associated with death to the newly-born messiah. 


Myrrh – that third gift mentioned by Matthew – is an aromatic gum, the sap of a tree that grows in Arabia and Eastern Africa. The trees are cut with a knife; the sap oozes out and hardens into “tears” that are collected.  The tears of myrrh were sometimes crushed into powder and worn by women as an aromatic sachet.  Or the myrrh powder could be mixed with wine.  Wine mixed with myrrh was used as a palliative or pain killer – and was offered to Jesus as he was dying on the cross.
Myrrh, though quite expensive (valued more than its weight in gold) was commonly used in the embalming of corpses and burned to mask the stench of death.  Myrrh is a symbol of death and dying.


But even this was appropriate.

***
I used a few sounds from The Freesound Project:
Instant 02 
Stretched Theremin 
If you like this (and I hope you do) feel free to download it and share it with others. It's my gift to you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ouuuuuch



And after eight days again his disciples were within, and E.T. was with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to E.T., Reach hither thy hand, and behold my hands; reach hither thy finger, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And E.T. answered and said unto him, Ouuuuch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Promise - the Fourth Sunday of Advent



This Sunday (December  18, 2011) will be the fourth Sunday of Advent.  The lectionary texts for this week include:

2 Samuel 7: 1 - 11, 16
Psalm 89: 1 - 4, 19 - 26
Romans 16: 25 - 27
and
Luke 1: 26 - 38

The theme seems to be the promise that a descendant of King David would continue to lead Israel.  What is an "everlasting throne"?  What does it mean that Jesus occupies this throne as a victim - as the slaughtered lamb instead of the royal lion?

As before- if you like these backgrounds I've created for our power-point slides, feel free to download them (One - Waiting , Two - Prepare, and Three - Rejoice-) for your own personal or church use.

***

The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota - like Salvation Army units everywhere - is in the middle (or just past the middle now...) of our most crucial fund-raising season.  We need to raise $23,000 dollars in order to continue serving those in need in Martin County through 2012.  So far we have raised just under 50% of our goal.  If you haven't already given at the kettles or mailed a donation, would you consider donating - right now - via this online kettle?  Your contributions are greatly appreciated.   Thank you.

(That link goes to a kettle set up for Fairmont, MN - but you can also use it to find the Salvation Army unit nearest to you.)


No More Christmas



Let’s have no more songs for
the corpulent home-invader
and no more television specials
for that holiday thief,
that holy day subverter,
            perverter.
Joy for the world isn’t found
under tinseled trees,
or wrapped in patterned paper.
It was wrapped in cloths
and laid into the poverty of
a squalid cow stall.

Let’s have no more toy driven
celebrations of a fraudulent saint,
Get thee behind me, Santa.


I wrote this a few years ago(2007).  I bring it out now and then to amuse myself and others.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Keep the Thor in Thursday



Let's keep the Thor in Thursday! Share this if you're with me! 

Christ and the Dragon



We don't have very much information about the childhood of Jesus.  Only two of the four Gospels included in the New Testament (Matthew and Luke) have anything to say about the birth and childhood of our Savior.

The rarity of information about the childhood of Jesus in the scriptures led to a hunger of early Christians for more detail about the early life of Jesus.  This hunger was filled by a number of apocryphal writings in the 2nd century and later known as the "Infancy Gospels" – none of which were accepted by the Church as Divinely inspired Scripture, but were nonetheless very popular and considered useful.  The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (allegedly written by Matthew himself) is one of these Infancy Gospels.

In this text the holy families flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13 – 18) is elaborated.  Where the Gospel of Matthew is sparse with details, the apocryphal gospel of Pseudo-Matthew fills in some of those gaps, and like the Evangelist linked the events of Christ's life with texts from the Old Testament.

And when Herod saw that he had been made sport of by the magi, his heart swelled with rage, and he sent through all the roads, wishing to seize them and put them to death.  But when he could not find them at all; he sent anew to Bethlehem and all its borders, and slew all the male children whom he found of two years old and under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the magi. 
Now the day before this was done Joseph was warned in his sleep by the angel of the Lord, who said to him, "Take Mary and the child, and go into Egypt by way of the desert. And Joseph went according to the saying of the angel.
And having come to a certain cave, and wishing to rest in it, the blessed Mary dismounted from her beast, and sat down with the child Jesus in her bosom.  And there with Joseph and three boys, and with Mary a girl, going on the journey along with them.  And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. 
Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired. Then was fulfilled that which was said by David, the prophet, saying, "Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons; ye dragons and all ye deeps."  (Psalm 148:7)  And the young child Jesus, walking before them, commanded them to hurt no man.

But Mary and Joseph were very much afraid lest the child should be hurt by the dragons. And Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid, and do not consider me to be a little child; for I am and always have been perfect; and all the beasts of the forest must needs be tame before me."           

Merry Christmas, indeed!
           
"Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons; ye dragons and all ye deeps." From the beginning of scripture the promise was made that the dragon, the serpent, the enemy of mankind would bow before the Lord Jesus, and be crushed beneath his feet.  The infant Jesus was the offspring of the woman who would break the power of sin and death and trample upon the serpent.

***

Just a reminder.  We have 12 days of bell-ringing left (including today).  The Salvation Army of Fairmont, MN needs to raise $23,000 in our kettles so that we can continue to provide assistance to those residents of Martin County who struggle to make ends meet.  Your contributions are greatly appreciated.  If you'd like to donate to the Salvation Army of  Fairmont / Martin County MN you can use this link.  (You can also use that link to find The Salvation Army unit nearest to you...)  Thank you for thinking of us during this season.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3 - Rejoice: Good News for the Poor!


I have sometimes been accused of having no holiday cheer.  People have said that I don’t know how to celebrate Christmas.  And, while it may be true that I tend toward the melancholic, I do know that we are to Rejoice during Advent - these weeks before Christmas.

I may grumble at way the holiday (that is “holy-day”) has become an orgy of consumerism and greed.  I may snarl a little bit every time someone mentions Santa Claus or Frosty or Rudolf.  I may say “merry Christmas, move along,” as my holiday greeting, but I really do – deep down in my two-sizes-too-small-heart believe in Rejoicing during this season.

The lectionary gives us two related texts for this third Sunday of Advent.  We have before us a reading from the prophet Isaiah (61: 1 – 4, 8 – 11) and from the gospel of Luke (1: 46 – 55). Both mention rejoicing.  But I am convinced that that Rejoicing has nothing to do with carols, or Christmas trees, or gifts, or any of that stuff.  (None of that is bad, of course. You can have it if you want it.)  The Joy of Advent – the Reason for the Season, if you will, is not in any of those things.


The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

"For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed."
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8 - 11 (NIV)

This is the text that Jesus adopted as his “mission statement,” and in it we find what should be reason for the season.  This is the good news that should cause us to rejoice.  Unfortunately we rarely hear this good news.  We rarely hear this gospel.

This is why we should rejoice – because God has good news for the poor.  His anointed servant will bind up the broken hearted, will proclaim freedom to the captives, and will release those imprisoned in darkness.  God’s anointed servant will announce that this is the year of God’s favor.

And this means something.  This is the announcement of the year of Jubilee. In the torah given by God to his people they were instructed to celebrate every 7th day as a Sabbath day of rest.  They were also told to celebrate every 7th year as a Sabbath year of rest for the land. And they were also to celebrate every seventh 7th year -that is, every 49th [i]as a year of Jubilee.  During this year all debts were to be cancelled.  Slaves were to be set free. Prisoners were to be released and property that had been sold was to be returned to its original owner. 

This is good news, indeed. All debts cancelled, property returned, slaves and prisoners released! Can you imagine? This would be reason to rejoice.

But we rarely hear this good news.  Instead we are told that the “year of God’s favor” means his grace, his love, and his mercy toward us.  And all of that is true.  But it isn’t the whole truth. 

The truth is that God is concerned for the poor – more concerned than many of his followers have been.[ii]  Too often the church and God’s followers have sided with the rich and the powerful.  We have marginalized the poor.  We have dismissed them.  We call them lazy.  We call them greedy.  And we establish laws and practices to make sure that the poor stay that way.

But the law given by God to his people included this “year of God’s favor” so poverty would never become a crippling condition for the people, so that the gap between the rich and powerful on top and the poor and struggling beneath would not continue to grow larger year after year.  The law of God protected the poor.

Now I will admit that this year of Jubilee would not eliminate poverty.  No.  It was not a magic cure-all.  But the year of Jubilee  made it impossible for generation after generation to be crushed under poverty. There would be a regularly scheduled redistribution of the wealth.

And this was good news for the poor.   Good news, indeed, for the poor – but can you imagine the horror of our contemporary leaders?  Redistribution of the wealth?  Cancellation of debts?  What that’s downright socialist!

And what is it that Mary, the mother of God sang after the angel announced that she would carry the messiah in her womb?

 And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)  
Did you hear that?  She was rejoicing, just like the prophet Isaiah, and for the same reason.  Mary, the mother of God rejoiced because God had good news for the poor.

Listen to her:  “He has brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble.”
Why, she’s talking about revolution and the overthrow of governments! 

Listen to her: “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
Why, she’s talking about class-envy and class warfare.  She’s talking like a Marxist![iii]

This isn’t to say that God dislikes the rich, or that the rich are evil because they are rich.  But, instead, that God has sent them away because they’ve already had enough.  They’ve had their reward already.

I struggled all week to collect and to organize my thoughts for this sermon so that I could speak without sounding angry.[iv] But I am so very tired of hearing those who would call themselves Christians deride the poor.  I am disgusted by those who talk about the ‘faith that made America strong’ but ignore the cry of the poor.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. He has good news for them, and it’s not merely a pie-in-the-sky-someday-by-and-by kind of good news.  Too often the church has sided with the rich and told the poor that they will have their reward in heaven.  But if the Kingdom of God is here (and Jesus said that it is, that it is within us!) then we have our mission statement laid out for us.

We are to announce the good news – the gospel – to the poor.  If we are to rejoice during this season… if we want to celebrate the reason for the season, then we need to announce the good news to the poor. 






[i]  Or 50th – depending on the counting and interpretation…
[ii]  I’ll be more willing to believe that this is a “Christian” nation when we start putting this into practice.
[iii]  Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Marx spoke like Mary!
[iv]  It didn’t work.  I was (am) angry.

Magnificat




“My soul does magnify the Lord,”
sang mother Mary, the communist
picture her in cast-off
military fatigues and work clothes
instead of silken sky blue robes.
God’s humble handmaid was, after all,
a peasant girl,
            not the Queen of Heaven.

Her manifesto in song: 
Scatter the proud like dust.
Topple thrones of tyrant power.
Fill the hungry with fine food
and send the rich away with empty stomachs,
            empty wallets.

This is the sort of leftist propaganda
we expect from godless socialists
and liberal secular humanists,
but from the holy mother of God?
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
            What was she thinking?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lullaby for the Holy Innocents







When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. - Matthew 2:16 (NIV)

I find myself returning again and again and again to this story. It haunts me.


If you like this little song, you may download it  - here - for your personal or church use.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Salvation Army Red Kettle - Did You Know?



If you'd like to donate to the Salvation Army you can use the latest incarnation of that Red Kettle - the red kettle of the digital age.

The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota needs to raise $23,000 in our red kettles during this season.  Your contribution will help us to reach that goal.

And on a personal level - it will help me out immensely. My friend Brian has challenged me to see which of us can raise the most in our on-line kettles.  The loser will have to participate in a polar bear plunge. Wouldn't you like to help the Salvation Army meet it's Christmas goal? Wouldn't you like to keep me out of the icy waters?  Thanks for thinking of us during this season.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Music for The Magi's Caravan

This is a song for those fabled Persian astrologers who journeyed to find the infant king.


The Magi's Caravan by thatjeffcarter was here


If you like it, feel free to download and share with a friend.

I used this cymbal roll from the Freesound Project. The rest I played on a midi keyboard and used Abelton Live8 (lite) to put it all together.

Rejoice - The Third Sunday of Advent



The texts for Sunday include a couple of my favorite passages - Mary's "magnificat" and the passage that Jesus appropriated as his "mission statement,"- and both are concerned with Rejoicing.

Though, the reason for that rejoicing is often over looked - because if we were to actually pay attention to what the prophet said or what Mary sung, we might start to think that they were... (gasp!)...socialists.

Psalm 126
Isaiah 61: 1 - 4, 8 - 11
Luke 1: 46 - 55


As before ( Advent 1, Advent 2), if you like this series of Advent power-point backgrounds, you are free to copy them for your own personal or church use.

And if you'd like to make a donation to The Salvation Army at this time, you can use this on-line red kettle.
The Salvation Army of Fairmont, Minnesota needs to raise $23,000 in our kettles this year.  This will allow us to continue serving those with great needs throughout all of next year.  (You can use this link to find the Salvation Army nearest to you, as well.)  Thank you for thinking of us at this time.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Slaughter of the Innocents




…the first buds of the church killed by the first frost of persecution;
they died not only for Christ, but in his stead.
St. Augustine

When the soldiers came with sharpened swords
obeying orders from a paranoid and murderous king
the holy family fled across the sands to a pagan land.
Mothers screamed into the silent starry night
as their tiny infants bled out and died.
Rachel weeping for her children would not be comforted.

When heavy booted solders come again with rifles and grenades
obeying orders as patriotic soldiers always do,
            when refugees flee across barb-wired borders
            when innocents are crushed beneath the rubble
            when mothers scream into satellite skies
how will they be comforted?


(I wrote this in 2007.)


Christmas at The Salvation Army

A Salvation Army Christmas service - complete with band, songsters and a sermon.  Dig those crazy bonnets and stand up tunics...




If you haven't donated at the kettles in front of the grocery stores, or sent in a donation through the mail, perhaps you'd like to use this online kettle?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

When the Dead Speak



She could hear the rumbling of the iron chariots, even at this distance, so when the potter’s long-legged son came running back to the village to report between winded breaths that the Philistine army was camped at Shunem and that they were “as numerous (gasp, gasp) as (gasp) the stars!”  she wasn’t surprised.   The boy may have been prone to the natural exaggeration of youth, but she didn’t doubt that the Philistines were numerous, indeed.  Nor did she doubt the rumblings in the ground.  She’d seen the Philistines in their chariots of iron before.  She had seen them crashing down the countryside, smashing anyone who attempted to stand against them. She knew what those bone jarring vibrations shaking the land meant: they meant death and destruction.

Years ago, the Philistines had been driven out by the army of Israel led by the then newly crowned king of Israel, King Saul.  He immediately conscripted every able bodied man with a sword – and many without swords. They fought with nothing more than the farm implements they carried from home. Untrained and unarmed they might have been but they drove the Philistines out of Israel.  In recent years, however, the Philistines had been encroaching back into their former territories in Israel and King Saul now seemed powerless to stop them. 

The men of her village seemed to think that Saul and his army were gathering near Mt. Gilboa and that a battle between the two forces was immanent.  Many of them were already leaving their fields and taking their pitchforks to join up.  “Israel for Israel,” they shouted.  They hoisted their makeshift weapons into the air and shouted again, “For Israel, King Saul and for God!”

She smiled as she worked; not because she shared their fervor for the defense of the Promised Land but because bloody battles were good for business.  Soon there would be grieving mothers who wanted to speak to their dead sons just once more and wives who wanted to hear one more “I love you,” from missing husbands.  No matter who won the battle - the Philistines with their armored chariots or Saul with his rag-tag conscripts - the families of those who died in the field of battle would come to her.  She was the witch of En-Dor and conjured the dead.

For a fee she could call forth the spirits of the deceased. She could bind them and force them to speak if they proved recalcitrant.  She could charm their secrets from them.  She knew the secrets of necromantic magic.

Necromancy was, of course, outlawed in Israel.  The Torah brought down by Moses from his mountaintop interview with Yahweh had declared that witches and sorcerers should not be suffered to live.  The Law of Moses demanded that necromancers should be put to death by stoning.  However, what the law required and what the people practiced were not always exactly in agreement.  She’d maintained the rites handed down to her by her mother and grandmother and great grandmother, despite the prohibitions of the Torah

After his anointing as king over the tribes of Israel by the prophet Samuel, Saul had attempted to bring Israel into compliance with the demands of the Torah by banishing diviners, necromancers, and witches from the land.  And he’d nearly been complete in his efforts.  But with a well placed bribe and the remembrance of conjures of the past, she’d been able to keep her place in En-Dor, though she practiced in secret these days, and always with a suspicious and watchful eye.

The people of En-Dor and its neighboring regions wanted to hear what the dead had to say despite the prohibitions of Moses and Torah.  The dead could describe future events or locate missing treasure.  The dead could give advice to the desperate or comfort the lonely. The dead knew things that the living could not know.  And the people, living people, came to her because she knew the secrets of conjuring up the sprits of the dead.  When the dead speak the living listened; though, as she warned those that came to her, what the dead had to say wasn’t always pleasant or comforting.

She knew the old magic and the old prayers; prayers that were already old when the tower of Babel was left abandoned to collapse untended in the plains of Shinar. She knew conjuring charms that were old even before the world had been wiped clean by the flood that Noah and his family alone survived.  They’d been taught to her by her mother, and her mother had been taught in turn by her mother, and so on back through the years to an obscure past when the Great Mother and her vulture winged attendants had taught them to the first priestesses of settled civilization.

Now she prepared to perform those secret and sacred rites once more.  From a shelf along one of the red-ochre stained walls she gathered a number of clay jars, and placed them on a low wooden table. Each jar was marked with a symbol painted with the same red-ochre that stained the walls.  One jar contained crystallized myrrh, the hardened sap of a tree that grew in the desert peninsula south of Kedar, another held a mixture of powdered spices: cinnamon, clove, coriander, another contained olive oil.  Everything worked better with a little olive oil.  The other jars contained ingredients that were more or less mundane but the last of the jars was unmarked.  It held ingredients without name and passed down in secret through generations of her family. 

In the center of her single room home was a fire pit; dug into the earthen floor.  She removed the iron grate that lay over the pit and arranged an armload of wood for burning. She would need the coals.  With the flames lit and devouring the wood and the rising smoke drifting upward through the hole cut in the ceiling, she replaced the iron grate and went outside.  It would be too hot inside until the sun had set.

The sun had already crossed its zenith in the sky and was descending towards the western horizon.  She had only a few hours before darkness, but that was plenty of time to complete her preparations.  She smiled again thinking of those who would come to her when the battle was over.  Philistia or Israel. It mattered little, to her, who won, except that the Philistines would be more willing to allow her practice.  Dagon, the Philistine god, wasn’t nearly as particular about such things as Yahweh, the deity worshipped by the Hebrews. Dagon laid no prescriptions against divination on his worshippers.

Looking south, toward Mount Gilboa, she considered King Saul and the army rumored to be encamped there.  ‘He’s not much of king, anymore,’ she thought.  Though he started off well enough - routing the Philistines and uniting the often quarreling tribes of Israelites into a cohesive nation - somewhere along the way things began to fall apart for the first king of Israel.  King Saul had lost the approval of the prophet Samuel, and with Samuel, the approval of Yahweh, the god for whom he spoke.   And now, talk among people throughout the country was of one David ben Jesse from the tribe of Judah who would soon replace Saul as king.   His daughter, Michel, had already been given to David in marriage, and his son Jonathan was said to love David at least as much as the women of Israel who sang David’s name in the streets as they danced with their tambourines.  “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.”

She finished gathering the necessary materials and returned to her home before nightfall. 
The glowing red coals shimmered beneath the iron grate.  All would be ready when they came.  She was prepared.

***   ***   ***

A pounding on the door woke her.  She lurched, frightened, from the pallet of straw where she slept.  The room was dark except for the still glowing coals.  Another pound on the door rattled the shelves along one wall.

“Yes. Yes.” She called out. “Allow an old woman a moment to gather herself.”

She lit an oil lamp to illuminate the room and shadows flared.  Through the ventilation opening in the ceiling she could see the crescent moon like the curved horns of some celestial bull in the sky.  It was late in the night, but still too early for any of the battlefield victims’ families to have come to her.  The battle wouldn’t be engaged for another several hours, at least.  She was wrapping a scarf around her head when the door was banged again.

“You are impatient” she said as she unfastened the bolt that held the door secured.  She opened the door.  Outside, in the dim light of the waning moon, stood a bearded man, tall and muscular.  A sword was strapped to his waist with an ornamented leather belt.  Yet, despite his size and build, he was shuffling nervously; glancing behind him, looking to see if he’d been followed or observed. She hesitated briefly before inviting him inside.  It was unlikely that this was a trap, but still, witches were sometimes burned in Israel.

She closed the door behind him and refastened the bolt.  “Visitors in the night are often unwelcome,” said the witch. “They bring trouble.”  She lit another lamp and the shadows in the room danced wickedly. The horns of a bull mounted above the door cast long curved shadows like sickles across the room.  The stranger flinched from the light as she held the lamp high to examine him. 

“I mean you no harm,” said the man.

“You may not, “she said before pausing to examine his face.   “You may not intend any harm, but I can see that death follows you, and I’d rather he not come through my door this evening.”  She paused again.  “Your face is familiar, even though you’ve tried to disguise yourself.  And your sword and belt betray your peasant outfit.  Who are you?”

The man quivered where he stood; his knees buckled.  “Please,” he said.  “I need your help. I need you to disclose the future to me.” 

She continued to stare at him. “How do you suppose I could do that?  I am just an old woman.”

“By means of a spirit.  I know that you are the witch of En-Dor.  You can conjure the one I name to you.”

The witch woman lowered her lamp and retreated across the room.  “You must know that King Saul has outlawed divination and banished wizards from the land.  Were I to do this for you I could be killed.  Are you trying to lay a trap for my life?” she hissed.

“I swear,” said man, “I swear by Yahweh, the living God, that nothing will happen to you because of this.”  When she still hesitated, he drew a pouch from his robe and tossed it to her feet.  The coins inside clanked harshly in the silence.  Stooping down, she swept the coin purse off the ground and into a fold of her garments with a startling swiftness.

“All right visitor in the night,” she said. “Whom shall I conjure for you?”

The stranger lowered his eyes and starred at the dirt floor. When he finally whispered his answer it was with the hesitancy produced by guilt and fear.  “I need to speak with the prophet Samuel.”

The light of the smoldering coals and the flickering lamps reflected bright in wide eyes of the witch woman.  “Samuel!” she spat.  “No one would dare call for that departed prophet but King Saul.  You are the king, aren’t you?  Why does the king who drives mediums and wizards out of the land come to the witch of En-Dor in the dark of night, disguised and distressed?   What do you want?”

“Please,” said the ashen faced king.  In the reflected red light of the witch’s room he appeared skeletal and rotted.  “While he was alive, the prophet spoke for the living God, and Israel prospered. And since his death, Yahweh has been silent.  I am desperate now; desperate for his words.  I need help that only the prophet can give me, and only you can contact him.”  The king begged, “Please, conjure up the spirit of Samuel, the prophet.”

After a moment she nodded. “Do not speak,” she said to Saul.  “I will conjure up the spirit of Samuel for you, but you must remain silent.”  Saul sat cross legged on the ground and nodded.  The witch began her rite in silence.

From the jars she’d laid out earlier she drew out various measurements of the aromatic powders and mixed them together in a copper bowl.  From another clay flask she poured out a measure of oil which she used to mark her forehead and the forehead of the king.

“Keep your silence,” she warned him when he opened his mouth. Saul obeyed, but chewed the inside of his lip in frustration.

She held her right hand into the air and flashed a three fingered gesture toward the moon visible through the ventilation opening in the ceiling, then swung her arm down toward the pit and repeated the gesture.  With her left hand she drew out a pinch of the mixed powder at the four cardinal points around the pit.  A second time she made the hand gesture toward the moon and the fire pit and sprinkled the powder into the coals.  For a moment the coals flared up in blue flames. 

A third time she raised her hand toward the moon and flashed the same three fingered gesture.  Then, speaking a low deep voice, she uttered the secret words taught to her by her mother.  She carefully poured out the contents of the unmarked jar over the coals.  Immediately a stench like rotted meat and orchids filled the room as heavy smoke billowed up from the pit.   The thick smoke rolled through the room instead of floating upwards and out the opening in the ceiling.  King Saul rocked backwards, away from the pit, choking on the smoke, but the witch of En-Dor continued her incantation.

These were the words of an old and nearly forgotten language.  She knew them well.  They had been taught to her by her mother, who had learned them from her mother, but tonight they sounded wrong in her ears; they felt wrong as they flew from her lips and tongue.  She paused to breathe and re-center herself.  It was the presence of King Saul that was making her nervous; that was all.  But the words stumbled from her tongue like a crippled dog.  There was no magic in them tonight.  They were empty. Something was growing.

Suddenly the witch woman shrieked and scrambled backwards across the dirt floor.

“What is it?” Saul shouted as he jumped to his feet. “What do you see?”

“I see a spirit rising from the depths of the earth.  He comes from sheol, the realm of the dead.”  This wasn’t right. She hadn’t finished the incantation.  She hadn’t yet called for the spirit but already a spirit appeared.

“Who is it? Is it Samuel?” asked the king; fearful and impatient.

The figure of a man began to take shape in the rolling clouds of foul smelling smoke.  “He is an old man wrapped in a cloak,” said the witch.  She opened her mouth to say more, but just then a voice spoke from the cloud of smoke.

“Why have you disturbed my rest?” said the voice of Samuel, and Saul recognized his voice – that voice that had so often comforted and directed him now terrified him.  Saul flung himself to the ground.

“Samuel, I need your help. I am in danger, great danger. The Philistines have gathered to invade and God has rejected me.  He will not speak to me.  Tell me, Samuel, what should I do?”

The smoke continued to billow up from the coals in the pit.  The oil lamps scattered around the room flickered and snuffed out; their smoldering wicks added more smoke to the already oppressive cloud that filled the room.

“Ever foolish, Saul, you are seeking among the dead for the voice of the living God,” thundered the voice of the prophet from within the smoke. “If he has abandoned you, Saul, what can you do?  If Yahweh has become your enemy, what can I do for you?”

Saul lurched forward on his knees with his hands stretched out into the smoke, “Please, Samuel.  Tell me what I should do.  Advise me, as you did before.”

The spirit shape within the swirling cloud seemed to swell in size.  “There is nothing more to say than has already been said.  Because you disobeyed him, the Lord of heaven has rejected you as king of Israel.  Your kingdom will be given, instead, to David.  And, what is more, tomorrow the Lord will deliver Israel into the hands of the Philistines.  You and your sons will die in the battle.”

Saul wailed and beat his fists against his furrowed brow. “Is there nothing else?  Is there no other way?”

The figure in the cloud was already fading. “Tomorrow, you will be with me.”

The sound of a great wind filled the room and the oppressive smoke rushed out into the night sky, obscuring the moon and stars.  Saul collapsed in a heap upon the floor of the witch’s house, sobbing for all that he’d lost and all that he would lose by the time the sun had reached its next zenith over the battlefield.   The witch woman covered him with a blanket.  She could give him no comfort.  The dead had spoken.

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