Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Words and the Word

A sermon for Christmas Day, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Isaiah 52:7-10 , Hebrews 1:1-12 , John 1:1-14 , and Psalm 98.

There are a number of different websites through which one can subscribe to a “word of the day.”  For example, from Merriam Webster the word of the day for today is a phrase more than a word.  Today’s word is “Lord of Misrule.” The Lord of Misrule is the master of Christmas revels in England especially in the 15th and 16th centuries.  In Scotland, the same person was called the Abbot of Unreason. Both terms originated probably in the celebration of a Feast of Fools, which usually took place on January 1.

The word we choose or the word we choose NOT to choose says a lot about us.  We can try to impress.  We can try to mislead or suggest.  We can do all sorts of things with words. 

Next Saturday the Church commemorates Thomas Becket, who died, legend says, because of a word.  Thomas was Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of King Henry II. Though tensions between Thomas and Henry had been brewing, the story is that a word (or a few words) said in frustration by the king were interpreted by the king’s men as a desire to have Thomas killed. A “word” killed Thomas Becket.

Words matter.  They can, and do hurt. A little girl thinks she is ugly, does so only because someone has called her ugly. A little boy thinks he’s dumb, not because he is, but because someone has called him dumb. Words shape us. If we were to look back over our lives, I’m sure we could recall times when a word has stuck us as a weapon almost, and it has hurt. Perhaps just as painfully, in a spirit of confession, I bet most of us could recall a time when we’ve used words as weapons and hurt others.

Words can hurt, but words just as surely can heal. A well-chosen and well-placed word can offer encouragement, hope and life.  I remember well the morning of my ordination to the priesthood.  There were seven of us to be ordained.  Our families, friends, and parishes had all gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  We were already nervous when the Canon for Liturgy asked all of us seven to meet the bishop in a side chapel.  We immediately wondered if someone’s paperwork had not come through, or if there were some scandal brewing that no one knew about.  Every conceivable problem went through our minds.  And then the bishop came into the chapel.  Taking a deep breath, he prefaced his remarks as you might imagine—commenting on the gravity of the day, the ontological change about to take place in our souls, the life for which we would be responsible for living in the future, and then he said, “So, I have something to say to you that I hope you’ll remember.  Be nice.” Just a couple of words—well- chosen words that I complete fail at remembering or living out—but words I aim for.

It is no coincidence that our Biblical account of creation happens by a word. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, God said, "Let there be light.” And there was light. God said, Let there be this, and let there be that, and after each thing was created, God spoke a single word again: “Good,” God said, “It’s all very, very good.”

The Word was busy, shaping and making and proclaiming and blessing. The Gospel of John picks up on this power of a word to create. “In the beginning was the Word,” John says, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….And the Word became flesh.”

When John speaks of the “Word,” the Greek term he uses is Logos, and Logos meant more than just a word, more even than all words put together. Way back in Greek philosophy, in the 3rd century BC, Heraclitus said that the Logos “governs all things.” And yet, the Logos is also present in the everyday. Later, the Stoics took up the idea of the Logos and used it to mean the principle that orders the universe. So when John uses Logos, or Word, he’s using a term that would have worked as a kind of hyperlink, culturally. To say that the Word was with God and the Word was God, and then to say that this Word, this ordering principle of the universe is completely summed up in Jesus of Nazareth, John was pulling together a lot of different ways of understanding the world. He was describing in his context, what it meant for God to be born in the world. John used a word to bring together different worlds.

While Jesus was born once in the event we celebrate at Christmas, he is also born again and again in our own lives and in our world wherever we make his love known. One way we can bring Christ into our world in through our words.

Just as we know words can hurt, so, through the love of Christ, our words can take on
additional power to heal, to love, and to lift up. Guided by the Holy Spirit, our words can do much more than simply offer kindness, though in our world, that is no small thing. But even more, informed and influenced by the Spirit, our words can offer life and love to those who may have forgotten how such words even sound.

As we look toward a new year, I’m hoping to watch my words very carefully. I’m going to be praying that my words might help and heal rather than criticize or tear down. I invite you also to think about your words, pray about your words, and may God guide us all to speak truth, to speak for justice and to speak in love.

May God be our my head, and in our understanding;
God be in our eyes, and in our looking;
God be in our mouth, and in our speaking;
God be in our heart, and in our thinking;
God be at our end, and at our departing.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night Fear Began to Fade

Nativity by Brian Kershisnik

A sermon for Christmas Eve 2012.  The lectionary readings are Isaiah 9:2-7 , Titus 2:11-14 , Luke 2:1-20) , and Psalm 96.

There’s a strong tendency to be sentimental at Christmas.  Trees and lights, and good-smelling things in the kitchen.  Memories fill our minds in such a way that even when they’re bittersweet, they’re still beautiful, and precious.  And so in a haze of warmth, with a whiff of incense in the air, we hear the words of an angel, “Do not be afraid.” 

They sound soft, like a prayer.  Had just one sheep made a sound, the angel’s words might have been lost to the shepherds. “Do not fear” can fall like a mist or a snow, nice, but not really accomplishing much. Such words can be like much of the spirituality of our day—harmless, but hollow and not really very helpful.

“Fear not.  Do not be afraid.” These words of the angel are not new ones, of course.  That angel, or another, has used those same words again and again, ever since God breathed life into the world.

Do not fear, God says to Moses. Do not fear, an angel says to Gideon. Do not fear, Boaz says to Ruth.  David says “do not fear.”  Isaiah says, “Do not fear.”  The angels pick up the song again in the Gospels and say to Elizabeth and Zechariah, “Do not fear.”  And famously to Mary, the angel says, “Do not fear.” 

But what do these words mean?  Do they mean anything?  Almost as soon as the birth of a savior is celebrated, King Herod issues a decree that all of the male babies in the area of Bethlehem should be killed.  Angels come and go, but warfare, disease, famine, violence and the other all-too-real aspects of life and death go on, in saecula saeculorum.

“Do not fear…..” [But] there is something for us to hear in those words, I think. The fact that “Do not fear” is repeated again and again tells us that fear is never quite dispelled. It doesn’t go away easily.  Faith doesn’t make it vanish.  Good works can’t work it away.  It’s not the stuff of disposition or personality.  Each new generation, each new person, faces fear that seems custom-tailored, personal, unique, and as though no one has ever faced it before. 

The angel is usually the messenger.  Angels are pictured to be above it all, literally and spiritually.  Artists  show them as powerful and strong.  They are majestic and look evil in the face.  Angels are fearless, or fearsome.  But at least one writer, Frederick Buchner, allows for another view, and to me it seems a more realistic view.  He writes,
Gabriel told Mary what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her.  [And then,]  “You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,” he said.  But “As he [Gabriel said those words] he only hoped [Mary] wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear… [trembling with fear] to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.” [Peculiar Treasures, p. 39]

Gabriel is like a parent who tries to comfort a child, but whose primary prayer is that the child won’t see the parent’s own fear.  Gabriel is like our president a few weeks ago, like our leaders at press conferences.  Gabriel is like us when we try to be brave, when we tell ourselves there’s nothing to fear, and yet, the world around us, and in some cases the world within us, gives us plenty of reason, in fact, to be afraid.

But faith gives us a way forward, and it is anything BUT sentimental.  Faith gives us a way to move with fear, to use fear as an energy that draws us out of isolation, out of ourselves and into the care and trust of a living and loving God.

I have a theory about fear, a “feary,” if you will.  It’s a simple observation really, but I’ve found it true in my own life.  Whenever I am afraid, if I share my fear with someone, my fear begins to diminish.  You might imagine lots of reasons why that’s not a good practice, and sometimes I’m held back by all the various considerations that rattle around in our heads: Can I risk showing my fear?  What happens if I show people that I don’t have it all together?  What right do I have to burden others with my fears?  Won’t it just raise their anxiety, as well? 

And yet—the thing of it is—what I’ve seen anyway in my own life-- is that just the opposite happens.  When I share my fear, mine and the other person’s begins to diminish.   

Though Gabriel’s wings might be shaking, they shake less after he goes to Mary. 

Mary had her own fears and she could have turned in the other direction and run.  She could have made other decisions.  But instead she takes her fear with her and goes to her cousin Elizabeth.  And there, some of the fear begins to fall away.

Joseph is told that Mary is pregnant with a child that is not his, but he takes that fear with him and goes to Mary’s side.  Fear is turned into prayer, which is turned into action, which leads them into the will and way of God.

The shepherds are terrified at their vision. But they take their fear with them and go to Bethlehem. 

That’s the invitation for us, to take our fear with us, join up with others, and take it to God, to go to Bethlehem.  There at the cradle, fear isn’t wiped away by angels’ wings, but by facing it together, we can allow fear to become prayer, that becomes action, that carries us into God’s future.

Fear can change us for the worse.  We see plenty of that all around us. Fear of reputation or losing an argument can keep us from talking to those who disagree with us, it can ruin relationships, and it can shut down a government. Fear of rejection can poison an emerging love.  Fear of failure can prevent risk or change or growth. 

But fear can also change us for the better, and change the whole world.  When I think of fear that motivates and wakes up and changes, I think especially these days of Malala Yousufzai.  Malala is the Pakistani teenager who won’t let fear stop her.  Since she was 11 she’s been demanding that she and other girls in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan be allowed an education.  Even when the Taliban took over the valley in 2009, she kept on blogging.  When they raided homes to confiscate books, she hid hers under her bed. She says she was scared, but she kept on blogging and kept motivating.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said, even as her fingers must have been shaking as she typed. In October of this year, the Taliban got her, and they shot her in the head.  She’s now recovering in England, there appears to be no brain damage, and she keeps on speaking out.  The Taliban’s fear-based plan is backfiring, as Malala shares her fears with others, their fear fades, and they get stronger.    

This is the point of Christmas.  Christ is born into a world of fear.  This little baby who is born in a manger is the life and light of God come into a dark world.  And yes, sometimes it seems to be growing even darker.  But Christ is born. God has become incarnate to show us that the way to love and life eternal happens not through angels, not in clouds, not even in music or prayers or  comforting words, but through the hard work of relationship, of humanity, of meeting Christ in one another and proclaiming Christ born, died, and raised again.

This Christmas and in the New Year, may God give us the faith to share our fears—with God and one another, so love might continue to be born in our world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Magnified with Mary

The Virgin and Child at All Souls

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2012. The lectionary readings are Micah 5:2-5a Psalm 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Luke 1:39-55.

Having grown up in Protestant churches in North Carolina, my first real meeting with the Blessed Virgin Mary happened in a footnote.  It was my first semester of seminary at one of the proudest and most conscientious Reformed seminaries [Princeton Theological Seminary, 1987], but we read as a survey text, a book by John Macquarrie.  There, in a footnote, was mention of a group called the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I was intrigued. I felt like I had stumbled upon a secret that had been kept from me, and so I went to the library and began to find pamphlets and newsletters from the Ecumenical Society.  Thoughts were offered by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, and the Orthodox.  This began for me what has resulted in first a journey of the head, then of the heart, and now perhaps one this is increasingly incarnate.    

When I first ran into, or rather, “read into” Mary, I did now know that while John Macquarrie started out a proper Church of Scotland theologian and minister, when he was teaching at Union Seminary in New York City, he one day visited a church in Times Square, a church named for the Virgin Mary.  That visit continued a deep conversion process that resulted in Macquarrie’s reception and ordination in the Episcopal Church.  His first Mass was celebrated in 1965 in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the church where I also said my first Mass and served before coming here. 

Some believe (and I agree with them) that the best hope forward for people of faith (those of us who are Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, but also, the surest way forward with Jews and Muslims) is for us to follow together Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Miriam, the Jewish girl, never for an instant diminishes her Jewishness.  Christians revere her for giving birth to the savior.  Muslims acclaim her as righteous and chosen, and in fact, an entire chapter of the Quran is named after her.  In addition to interfaith and ecumenical discussions of Mary, in the last few years, Pentecostals and Evangelicals have also begun to re-examine Mary. The famous experiences of Mary in the lives of ordinary people—Guadalupe, Fatima, Medjugorje—as well as the quiet, personal experiences, happen when we are vulnerable, when we are humble, when we most need God.

Mary sings from this place of humility and neediness in her song, Magnificat, the Latin shorthand for the beginning of, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” In the medieval church Mary’s Song was the highpoint of the evening office, it followed the reading of the Gospel, incense was offered and it led right into the prayers. When Thomas Cranmer simplified the monastic daily office and edited the first English Book of Common Prayer, he retained the Magnificat as a kind of highpoint at Evening Prayer. When we offer Evensong, the first canticle is Our Lady’s Song, Magnificat. When Evensong in done in grand style, it is during Magnificat that the altar is censed, and then the thurifer goes right down the middle aisle of the church, censing all of the people. The spreading of incense is a reminder that Mary’s song is also to be our song.

She begins by singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” But in fact, the Lord has magnified Mary. Through today’s scripture lessons, there runs a theme of God’s magnifying work, of the way in which God enlarges and creates great things out of things that were small.

In the first reading the Prophet Micah singles out Bethlehem, tiny Bethlehem. “From you shall come forth the ruler in Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.”

The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews, a kind of poetic argument about the ways in which Jesus is both high priest and perfect sacrifice, who accomplishes salvation for us in a way that nothing else can. Hebrews argues that no amount of offering from us, no amount of sacrifice or work or good deeds or perfect living will ever accomplish what was accomplished by the simplicity and purity of Christ’s faithfulness to God. God is more pleased by the simple act of faithfulness than the complicated scheme of temple sacrifices and offerings.

Throughout the scriptures there is a theme of God choosing what is small and insignificant. Israel was not the mightiest of the nations. Moses was not the most likely to lead the people of Israel out of bondage. David was not the most likely to be king. Sarah was not the most likely to be the matriarch of an entire people. Great things were not expected from Jonah the prophet, Ruth the Moabite, Ezekiel or Esther, and many others.

Mary’s song in today’s Gospel sings with eloquence the song of God’s reversals, of God’s ability to turn everything upside-down and inside-out. The lowly and ignored are seen and appreciated. The mighty are put down and the left out are lifted up. The hungry are fed and those who are full are sent away. God remembers. God shows mercy. God magnifies.

I wonder in what ways we are being called to be like Mary and to magnify the Lord even as we are aware of the way that God magnifies our efforts and prayers? What can we do to lift up the lowly, to help feed the hungry, to offer healing to those who hurt?

Shannon Kubiak is a youth leader and writer who wrote a great little book a few years ago called “God Called a Girl.”  She writes

Mary was a nobody, yet she found favor and blessing with God.  How many times do we look in the mirror and find a nobody staring back at us?  We often limit what God can do with our lives because we think our upbringing, our appearance, or our life is not a sufficient tool for the hands of God to use….[But] if Mary really was a nobody, all  it took for God to make her “somebody” was one miracle on a lonely day when she was just going about her daily business… God called a girl. And that girl changed the world.  The same God is calling again, and this time He’s calling you.” (God Called a Girl, p. 14-19, passim)

May we sing with the Blessed Virgin Mary the song of God’s reversals, of God’s surprises, and of God’s magnifying love, that we may do our part to magnify the Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The All Souls Altarpiece

The All Souls Altarpiece (2010)

At home, one of the best parts of Christmas involves unpacking ornaments and decorations and being flooded with memories and stories of other Christmases.  It’s also like that at church, as we light Advent wreath candles, sing familiar hymns, decorate, and especially as we place the All Souls Altarpiece in the Mary Chapel.   In 2010 our altarpiece was built by John Coates and painted by self-taught artist Louis von Rago, based on an outline by Ed Perlman.  It combines both traditional and contemporary elements, and is meant to be especially accessible to children. At the 4 p.m. Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve, the crèche will come to life with needlepoint figures made by parishioners, a project coordinated by Susan Morrison.

Some of the images on the altarpiece are scriptural: the angels, the sheep, the ox, and the donkey.  But other images come from tradition, such as white lilies representing the purity of the Virgin Mary.  These also foreshadow the crucifixion of Jesus, since a popular medieval white flower was from the mustard family, whose Latin name is Cruciferae. The red carnation is known in Northern Europe as Naegelblume or nailflower, because its blossom was thought to represent the serrated edges of a medieval nail.  Together, the flowers represent all creation’s joy at the birth of a savior, but also connect his birth with the death and rebirth we celebrate at Easter.  

The more contemporary symbols include shepherds wearing “technicolor dreamcoats” and multicultural angels playing instruments (including a saxophone) who sing “happy birthday” as well as “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”  The black sheep among the others represents all of God’s children who may come to Christ through unconventional paths, many of whom form the heart of All Souls parish. The manger is complete with a “barn cat,” whose sainted relative (a cat who has died and gone to heaven) can be seen watching from the top left side of the roof.         

Like the householder in the Gospel of Matthew, we seek to “bring out of our treasure what is new and what is old.”  We look and listen for God to speak out of the old, as well as the new. Glory be to God in the highest. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Preparing for a Christ Who Suffers With Us

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Zephaniah 3:14-20, Canticle 9, Philippians 4:4-7, and Luke 3:7-18.

There’s a problem with calendars.  Calendars and seasons can fool us into thinking that there is a natural course for things.  One season leads to the next, one day to the next.  Summer fades into fall, which leans into winter, which melts into spring, and so on.  In this hemisphere we expect Easter to be in the spring, and Christmas to be in winter.  But it doesn’t always happen that way, spiritually.  That’s the trouble with calendars and seasons.  They fool us into a false belief in order, control, and predictability. Until life interrupts.

The Church calendar is open to the same problems.  Here, on this day, we would like to be observing Advent, the Third Sunday being a particular day of joy in a season of increasing light, increasing hope, until everything builds to Christmas Eve, when we proclaim God is with us,  Immanuel!  Joy to the world!  

But the world interrupts.  In too many ways, today seems the last few days seem more appropriate to the occasion marked by the Fourth Day of Christmas, the remembrance of Holy Innocents. 

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, on December 28, refers to the slaughter of innocent children carried out by King Herod in his attempt to rid the world of Jesus.  But it has become a day for remembering the innocent victims of every age. The senseless violence of the past few days:  Oregon, Connecticut, Alabama, and a planned act in Oklahoma--- put us on equal ground with those in the first century, in every century, who ask “Why.”  Of course, there’s no good answer, no good honest answer.
One of the best I’ve heard recently was from a man I know who, when faced with an impossible situation, asked an older woman, “How is this in any way God’s will?”  The wise woman told her friend, “Honey, they’re a lot of wills out there in the world.  And not all of them are God’s.” 

When such things happen, I don’t go first to policy changes, or retribution, or vengeance, or justice. Other people have those jobs and they are doing them.  But my job is to go to God.  And I invite you to go with me this morning. 

Today I go to God following the thinking of a theologian named Jurgen Moltmann.  In 1943, Moltmann was in his hometown of Hamburg, as bombs fell on that city and killed 80,000 people. He lived, but wondered why others didn’t.  He writes that his deepest question was not so much “Why would God allow this?”  The question, for him was not “Why?”  Instead, the question was “Where?”  “Where is God in such suffering?”  Moltmann would go on to become one of the most significant theologians of our era, answering his own question with an understanding that God is in the midst of suffering.  Jesus, our brother, suffers with us.  It’s a little bit like when Catherine of Siena asked God, “My God and Lord, where were you when my heart was plunged into darkness and filth?”  And then, out of the silence, she heard God answer, “My daughter, did you not feel it? I was in your heart?”

And so, on this Third Sunday of Advent, we interrupt the seasonal color of blue or purple with the color of rose, the color of the heart.  It is purplish blue tinged with blood, really.  The passion breaks into our season of hope and expectation, as well, but if we allow it, the passion of Christ (his death and resurrection) will provide a deeper and truer foundation for joy that is to come. 

This is what John the Baptist is talking about in the Gospel from last week and today. He is preparing the way, and if his words seem brash or hard, it’s because he’s trying to help people see that while God brings deliverance and justice and love and acceptance, eternal and everlasting mercy and forgiveness and welcome--- God is also with us in the wilderness.  God is with us in the painful times.  God loves us with a passion that is so strong that it becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ who lives and dies and fights and loves and suffers and rises again—WITH US.

In today’s gospel, John works to clear away anything that might obstruct or dampen the way of Jesus.
Those of you who have a long religious tradition, John says, don’t be so quick to think you’ve got a straight route right into heaven.  Don’t rely on your past.  “What then should we do?” the people ask. 

But John keeps preaching.  He says that folks should share with one another.  Don’t hoard up things for yourself.  Give some to those who don’t have enough.  And even the tax collectors ask him, “What then should we do?”  John keeps preaching.  And the soldiers ask, “What should we do?”

Each time, John replies not with some impossible task.  He doesn’t demand that people be heroic in their service.  He’s not calling folks to a life of extremes or even a particularly religious life.  Instead, he says basically—do the right thing.  To the crowds, he says, “If you’ve got extra, share with someone who has none.”  To the tax collectors he says, “Be fair.  Do honest work.”  To the soldiers he says, “don’t be bullies or threaten or extort.”  In other words, “engage in the world around you.”  The way to God is into action, not away from it.  Death would have us retreat, isolate, and turn away from others.  But the life-changing way of Christ points us forward, into the messiness of life with others wherein we will surely come to know the suffering Christ, but we will also meet the risen Christ again and again and again.

John the Baptist also tells us how this is possible when he says to prepare for one who baptizes not with water only, but also “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Baptism by water is outward, it’s external.  It can make a point, it can change lives.  But John points to a deeply baptism still—a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, an internal baptism.  This second baptism sometimes comes with the first, and sometimes a few years or many years later.  The second baptism might be loud and everyone might see a difference in your life. Or it might be quiet, silent, almost unnoticeable. 

When we think of the problems in our world—violence, poverty, oppression, inequality—all of them can and should be addressed through outward means—like a baptism with water, we become visible.  We write and email and organize and vote and protest and agitate.  But that’s only part of the battle, because, as that wise grandmother said, “There are a lot of wills out there, but not all are God’s.”  And that means that whether we are aware of it or not, we are engaged in a spiritual battle, as well.  And for that, we need the God of Angel Armies, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Mary and Joseph and Jesus the Christ—we need that internal, deep-down conversion to God’s love and purpose that John calls a baptism with spirit and fire.

Jurgen Moltmann makes the point that “Christ isn’t merely a person. He’s a road too.  And the person who believes in him takes the same road he took.”  “We cannot grasp Christ merely with our heads or our hearts.  We come to understand him through a total, all-embracing practice of living,” of following him.  And the Gospels tell us what that life looks like:  “Go and preach: the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Heal the sick, cleanse lepers cast out demons.” (Matthew 10)

Proclaiming God’s kingdom to the poor means giving back to them the divine dignity of which the violent have robbed them.  Healing the sick means planting the seeds of life in this world of death.  Cleansing lepers means accepting the handicapped who are pushed out of our society. Casting out devils means shaking the idols set up in our national and social life, to which so many of the weak have been sacrificed.  In other words, men and women who take Christ’s road take up the struggle of life against death.  (Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, p. 47)

Last night in the undercroft, 20 or 25 of us did just that. It was the Sunday School’s St. Nicholas party, but it was a lot more than that.  On a day filled with too much bad news, too much sensationalism, too many opinions ranging from quick fixes to despair.  We represented a mixture—racially, economically, socially, politically.  We had heterosexual parents and homosexual parents, single parents and married parents.  We had kids who are advanced for their age and kids who learn, or interact, or speak at their own pace.  And once we were together, we shared a potluck dinner.  The kids wrapped the gifts that you all have bought for the children at Transitional Housing Corporation. The children made little gift bags for our older adults who don’t get out as much.  And then St. Nicholas came.  Our usual St. Nick has the flu, so we were prepared to simply have Marcia or me read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. But someone heard, and urged her husband to step up.  We dressed up Clive Brady and he read the story beautifully. 

Our little gathering was not grand, not fancy, and not earth-moving. But it was our declaration of life.  It was our affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ who is about life and love and joy. 

Too many in our world will feel like today is a combination of Good Friday and Holy Innocents, but we can pray that over time, and with the help and love of others, they may know very deeply and closely the God who suffers with us, Christ our brother who holds us and carries us forward in love, in hope, and even in joy. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gaudete: Joy Breaks In

One of the great gifts of praying daily Morning Prayer at All Souls is watching the windows change with the light.  Tuesday through Friday, a few of us gather at 7:15 for Matins, reading the scriptures from the daily lectionary, praying the psalms appointed for the day, and asking God to be with us and to reveal himself in the world in the day ahead.  Often, the church’s stained glass windows compete for our attention.

The St. John the Evangelist window by Tiffany, between the Main Altar and the Mary Chapel, comes alive in the morning.  As the light outside moves and trees sway, the colors dance and shine with St. John’s preaching.  The large window of Jesus over the Main Altar claims special attention sometimes when the sun seems to hover directly behind, coloring us with the image of Christ and making the angels seem as if they’re moving. Other times in the year, we finish Matins and turn to leave the church and are almost knocked over by the brilliance of the Goodhue window over the baptismal font.  On such days, the light is so strong that we remember it on days that are cloudy or overcast, or even at night.   

The Third Sunday of Advent is a little like the light we experience through our windows.  Gaudete Sunday, Rose Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday—whatever name you prefer—breaks into our season like a burst of light, interrupting our listening, intruding on our waiting, and injecting a new sense of urgency.  Something is about to happen, and it is coming from God!           

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the first word of the traditional choral introit appointed for this day,
Gaudete in Domino semper, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” echoed in our Epistle Reading from Philippians 4:4-7. We are urged to rejoice because “the Lord is near.” God’s closeness means that worry, anxiety, and uncertainty are all taken into the heart of God, who “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Like the sun that moves around our building to reveal new sights and visions, God’s grace moves around us, interrupting our lives with joy, with promise, and with hope.  May we perceive the increasing light of Christ this season.


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