Sunday, December 23, 2007
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!
Look in the Mirror
My sons do, straightening their hair, looking at the missing tooth that came out…
Look in the Mirror
See the person who was named in Baptism before God and the congregation
This Sunday, with all the advent candles lit, the light of God has grown brighter and we hear Jesus named by the angel to Joseph in a dream in the gospel of Matthew…
When Joseph heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do? He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly. A generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes.
I think the poet and author Rainer Rilke captured that moment:
AND the angel, taking due pains,
told the man who clenched his fists:
But can't you see in her robe's every fold
that she is cool as the Lord's morning mists?
But the other, gazing gloomily, just murmured:
What is it has wrought this change in her?
Then cried the angel to him: Carpenter,
can't you see yet that God is acting here?
Because you plane the planks, in your pride
would you really make the Lord God answerable
who unpretentiously from the same wood
makes the leaves burst forth, the young buds swell?
He understood that. And now as he raised
his frightened glance toward the angel
who was gone already . . . slowly the man
drew his heavy cap off. Then in song he praised.
It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. Again, all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
When we hear these readings we look back, we can see God's saving work in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Matthew. God has sought out men and women to be in relationship with their God, the creator, and to guide them toward salvation. In each reading God speaks of salvation through the birth of a child. For our God is the Lord of heaven and earth, of the history of nations and from the greatest in Israel to the least; for Emmanuel, God is with us.
In these last moments of Advent, we await the second coming, we long for it as we again walk our steps to that first encounter in the manger in Bethlehem. This waiting, this hope, this salvation is not something we sit passively by and wait to happen to us. It is about our actions and our relationship with the One in whose image we are made.
We can chose to ignore the God who speaks to us now; to ignore the words of the prophet, to refuse to follow where Jesus has led the way, and chose our own path thinking we know the better way. Or we can follow Joseph's example. The willingness to change our mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. It is as W. H. Auden wrote:
To choose what is difficult all one’s days
As if it were easy, that is faith. Joseph, praise.
May we have the courage of Joseph, to say yes to God, to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas with all the anticipation and hope that we have had this season of Advent. In the words of Madeline L’engle
GOD did not wait till the world was ready,
till . . . nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great…
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Friday, December 21, 2007
O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadow put to flight.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
But something just doesn’t feel right...
Read the rest of this wonderful article from Br. Cuthbert here. (a pdf file)
Br. Cuthbert is a monk at St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, MI. (Episcopal Benedictine)
O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.
O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree,
free them from Satan's tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save,
and give them victory o'er the grave.
O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.
Monday, December 17, 2007
In the medieval Sarum (Anglican) use they began on Dec. 16, adding on Dec. 23, O Virgo virginum (O Virgin of virgins). The Great O Antiphons have been adapted as a popular Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel" (Hymn 56), whose verses may be used as antiphons for the Magnificat on the appropriate days.
Today's O Antiphon (from Hymn 56):
O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Robert Louis Stevenson tells a story of growing up in Scotland in the 1850s.. His family lived on a hillside, outside of a little town. Each evening he would sit in his family’s kitchen, look down on the town and watch the lamplighter light each of the town’s street lamps. He would say, “Look, Mother, there is a man who punches holes in the darkness.”
Third Sunday – Light grows, darkness fades. Joy (stir up) Sunday – Pink Candle, it stands out
Like the words form Isaiah today: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.
-John the Baptist, last week
This week: John in prison – Jesus at work, is he the messiah?
-sends his own disciples
- Are you the one or are we to wait for another?
Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, Jesus lays out the signs of the Messiah, and that his ministry to those least in the society…
One author I read asks:
“Whom did you expect? A King who is easily observed and readily identified by his royal garb and his flock of attendants? One whose image is plastered on political posters and carried by the mass media? Those with eyes to see have missed him. But the blind receive their sight.
Whom did you expect? A Messiah borne on the shoulders of excited crowds? One whose very presence would command respect? Those with able bodies and minds go about their business. But the lame walk.
Whom did you expect? A leader who would deploy legions of angels to carry out the work of the Lord? One who would deal with the anxieties of the elite? But he reaches out to untouchables. And lepers are cleansed.
Whom did you expect? A Christ whose teachings would be so sublime and obvious that all could easily understand? Those with perfect ears do not catch the message. But the deaf hear.
Whom did you expect? A prince who would bring instant happiness? One who would not dirty his hands with the mortuary business? But the dead are raised.
Whom did you expect? A politician who would realize that the world’s power is in the hands of the wealthy? One whose attractiveness would get him invitations to all the right places? But the poor have the Good News preached to them.
Whom did you expect? A baptizer of the status quo? One whose life and message would avoid scandals? But blessed are those who take no offense at Jesus.” (from Synthesis)
Literally, Jesus says, Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me…
How do we fulfill this?
-if we follow him, his scandal is our own
-we can’t run away from it
On this third Sunday, I am reminded that we are to bring joy into our lives and that of others. We are the ones now helping to bring the light, punching holes into the darkness. In our own way to help: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers be healed, the deaf hear, the dead have new life, and the poor have good news brought to them
We do this, we will be blessed because we will have shown that we are not scandalized by Jesus.
Stir up your power O lord and with great might come among us. Amen.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Eyes to see
Finding Immanuel as immigrant, wanderer, child
In what form will you find the Christ child this year? The fact of the Incarnation in a weak and helpless babe says something significant about where we focus our search. I am convinced that it is part of our call to exercise a "preferential option" on behalf of the poor, weak, sick, and marginalized. The long arc of biblical thinking and theologizing has to do with seeing God's care for those who have no other helper. Indeed, Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms, to save themselves. More accurately, we understand that Jesus is that helper for all.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori,
26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Chruch
One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God 'is not ashamed to be called their God'. The writer is talking about the history of God's people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God. He declares himself to be the God of pilgrims, of people who know that their lives are incomplete and that they are still journeying towards the fullness of God's promises. Visiting refugee camps in the Middle East, as I did this October, brings home so powerfully what it is to be literally and absolutely homeless, not able to be confident in any resources, inner or outer. People in these terrible circumstances will never be complacent, they will always be looking for a future. They are in the most obvious way those whom God is not ashamed to be with, people whose God he is happy to be. He is at home with the homeless. But it is also an image of God's relationship with all those who are homeless or wandering in other ways.
What an odd expression, to say that God is not 'ashamed'! It's as though
we are being reassured that God, in spite of everything, doesn't mind
being seen in our company. Most of us know the experience of being
embarrassed by someone we are with - children are embarrassed by
parents, parents by children; I have sometimes found myself walking down
the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and
wishing I weren't there. But God is not embarrassed by human company
when that company is turning away from self-satisfaction and ready to
move on. We might think that God would be 'ashamed' of human company
that was imperfect, confused, even sinful. But God is happy to be the
God of confused and sinful people when they recognise their own
confusion and face the truth of their need. That's what the great
parables of Jesus in St Luke's Gospel are so often about, especially the
Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has
heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has
seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside
us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is
content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might
be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to
share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God,
it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed
to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly
suggests that he is most 'embarrassed' by those who think they have
arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already
attained perfection (compare St Paul's angry and scornful words in I
Corinthians 4.8 - 'Already you have become rich!'). And it is clear why
God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak
as if they didn't really need God, as if they didn't really need grace
and hope and forgiveness.
God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he
comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and
rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor - not only those who
are materially poor, but those who are without the 'riches' of
self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far
they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that
blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material
resources and those who are 'poor in spirit' because they know their
hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are
ashamed to be seen in - and then ask where God would be. If he has
embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their
needs, then we must be there with him.
May God give us every blessing and joy in the Christmas Season.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Want to help others in this world and honor a family member or friend?
Don't get them a tie or an ipod, look below!
Consider "Gifts for Life" from Episcopal Relief & Development. You can give animals, the basics of life, help with HIV/AIDS, emergency relief, gifts kids can give and seasonal gifts to make a difference in our world and in honor of a family member or friend.
Another great place to choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant is through Heifer International.
And lastly there is the Karen Emergency Relief Fund Inc., which exists for the sole purpose of helping a group of people in need -- the Karen people of Burma.
In 1999 and 2006 the United Nations mounted great efforts to stop the killing in Kosovo and East Timor. But nothing was done to end the killing, robbing and raping of the Karen people of Burma -- or to stop the oppression conducted by the illegal military dictatorship of that country.
The Karen Emergency Relief Fund, Inc. works to ease the sorrow and pain of the Karen people who are suffering the horrors of ethnic cleansing.
Find out more and how to give here.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
But of course, John is talking about our lives and that symbol of an ax before us makes us uncomfortable. John wants us to repent, to turn away from the sin that holds us back and to prepare for our Lord.
I read that when the people of Wolverhampton learned that Queen Victoria would be coming to their town in late 1866 , the town went into a flurry of activity, as “every man who could handle a pick, saw a board or drive a nail found employment”. Everything stopped to prepare for the Queen: “Galleries were put on the house-fronts, and then bedecked with flags and wreaths. As well as gas-lit illuminations, arches depicting local industries were constructed along the way, including a three-ton coal arch. If you’d been away from Wolverhampton for the week, you’d not have recognized the town on your return. Only the best will do for the Queen’s visit and that is what the town tried to do. There was much excitement and they wanted everything just right…
It is John the Baptist who heralds the news that our monarch, our Lord is coming and we, the people are called to make urgent preparations, not only in the outward display of faith and life, but in inner renewal. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near! To prepare is to repent and as the author Frederick Buechner put it, “to repent is to come to your senses. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, “I’m, sorry,” than to the future and saying, “wow!””
When I hear John’s words, “repent for the kingdom of God has come near,” I don’t sit fearful of what is to come, I hear an invitation to become more than who I am today. That’s Good News. That’s the wow that Buechner talks about. To look toward the future, having made changes in our lives that we believe God calls us to do. That is bearing fruit!
However, its when we feel that we have it all made, that we like everything about ourselves and our lives, that we grow forgetful about our own self-examination. We forget the need for repentance. We become like the Pharisees and Saducees who come before John the Baptist. Too assured of their righteousness because of the rituals they practiced and knowing that Abraham was their ancestor, they did not come seeking repentance, to make any changes…
No wonder John yells at them. John the Baptist makes it clear to them and to us, that our blood lines, our rituals, all of who we are will not grant us salvation. That is God’s domain. But it is up to us to bear good fruit, fruit worthy of repentance. It is to come to our senses, knowing we don’t always live like we know we should or the way we want. We want to be better, to live more like God wants us to live.
That is the preparation we do in Advent, preparing for God coming among us in the babe of Bethlehem and when he comes again in glory; the preparation to become more human, more of whom God has called us to be, which John calls us to do through repentance, is to make those changes in our lives, not looking in sorrow, but in hope for the future.
What will the tree of our lives look like?
-will we have pruned it right?
-what seeds will come from our pruning?
-will it bring life to others?
I think of a work by Maya Angelou in a 1993 book of hers. In it she writes: (Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (New York: Random House, 1993))
“There is an immutable life principle with which many people will quarrel. Although nature has proven season in and season out that if the thing that is planted bears fruit at all, it will yield more of itself, there are those who seem certain that if they plant tomato seeds, at harvestime they can reap onions.
Too many times for comfort I have expected to reap good when I know I have sown evil. My lame excuse is that I have not always known that actions can only reproduce themselves, or rather, I have not always allowed myself to be aware of that knowledge. Now, after years of observation, and enough courage to admit what I have observed, I try to plant peace if I do not want discord; to plant loyalty and honesty if I want to avoid betrayal and lies.
Of course, there is no absolute assurance that those things I plant will always fall upon arable land and will take root and grow, nor can I know if another cultivator did not leave contrary seeds before I arrived. I do know, however, that if I leave little to chance, if I am careful about the kinds of seeds I plant, about their potency and nature, I can, within reason, trust my expectations" (pp. 91-92).
I find her words helpful in our understanding of repentance. If we fail to see that what we plant, is what we sow, that our lives if barren of repentance, will sow seeds barren of repentance. Or if we dare repent, knowing Christ is coming and wanting to be prepared, then we have the opportunity to have lives bearing fruit worthy of that repentance and fruit that will give seeds that bear the hope, love and peace we seek and wish to give to others. Which may or may not grow, but is what we offer.
If we live lives that have no room for repentance, then we live lives that are not everything that they could be. I think of the saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think that is true of our lives if we do not repent, if we do not come to our senses from time to time and stop those things that give no life to us or the world about us, then our lives are not worth as much. And isn’t that what John the Baptist is getting at in today’s Gospel. Our lives could be much more…
The ax is lying at the root of our trees. Do we dare pick it up and prune ourselves and decide on a better life…or do we leave the ax, praying it will pass.
Today, hear John’s words : Repent! Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Lives worthy of what God has given to us.
For repentance helps us come to our senses, to see the future full of hope, full of life and love, full of wow because Christ is coming. Amen.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
A young monk once went to see his superior: 'Father,' he said, 'I must leave the monastery because I clearly do not have a vocation to be a monk.' When the older monk asked why, the younger monk replied: 'In spite of daily resolutions to be good-tempered, chaste and sober, I keep on sinning. So I feel I am not suited to the monastic life.' The older monk looked at him with love and said: 'Brother, the monastic life is this: I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down.' The young monk stayed and persevered. - Christopher Jamison, OSB
Could this also be true for all of us?
With that in mind, here is my retelling...
A parishioner once went to see his priest: 'Reverend,' he said, 'I must leave the parish because I am clearly not a good Christian.' When the priest asked why, the parishioner replied: 'In spite of daily resolutions to be good-tempered, chaste and sober, I keep on sinning. So I feel I can't come to Church.' The priest looked at him with love and said: 'Listen friend, our Christian life is this: I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down.' The parishioner stayed and persevered...
A SONG OF SAINT NICHOLAS
There was a good bishop who lived long ago
His memory is glorious, His legends are bold
We call him St Nicholas, a servant of Christ
Who loved little children and taught what was right
He is Father Christmas and Santa Claus too
He helped many people, the stories are true
At Christmas he calls to us, both young and old
To see that the story of Jesus is told
The gifts that he brings us are signs of the love
That comes down at Christmas from heaven above
We see Mother Mary, the babe in the stall,
With Joseph, the wise men and shepherds and all
O blessed St Nik'las we hail you today
The patron of many, you show us the way
To be good and generous, to help those in need
To be kind to others in both word and deed
Suggested tune: ST DENIO (Welsh)
written by JMR2000
Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from Lesser Feasts and Fasts)
Who was St. Nicholas?
The story of St. Nicholas offers a possible way of dealing with the "Santa Claus" problem, to parents who do not want to lie to their children, even in fun, but do not want to say simply: "Bah, humbug! There is no such thing as Santa. Forget about him."
Nicholas was a native of the western part of what is now Asiatic Turkey. He became Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, and there are many stories of his love for God and for his neighbor.
The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries. This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes. Nicholas walked by the man's house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window (or, when the story came to be told in colder climates, down the chimney). Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.
Because of this and similar stories, Nicholas became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving. Hence, if we give a gift to someone today without saying whom it is from, it can be called "a present from Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus)." Some parents explain this to their children and invite the child to join them in wrapping a toy (either something purchased for that purpose, at least partly with the child's allowance, or else a toy that the child has outgrown but that is still serviceable) or an outgrown but not shabby item of the child's clothing, or a package of food, and then going along to donate it to a suitable shelter that will give it to someone who will welcome it. This gift is then called "a present from Santa," so that the child understands that this is another name for an anonymous gift given to someone whom we do not know, but whom we love anyway because God does. (Presents within the family can be "From Santa" or "From Santa and...")written by James E. Kiefer
from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Most gracious Lord, by whose direction this time is appointed for renewing the memory of your infinite mercy to us in the incarnation of your Son Jesus; grant that we may live, this holy time, in the spirit of thanksgiving, and every day raise up our hearts to you in the grateful acknowledgment of what you have done for us.
Besides this, we ask your grace, O God, that we may make a due use of this holy time, for preparing our souls to receive Christ our Lord coming into the world at the approaching solemnity of Christmas.
From John Goter, 17th Century (adapted)(This is the Advent Prayer mentioned in my sermon and was read at the Christmas Tree lighting.)
-helps us wake up
-In our spiritual lives, we also need to be awakened
The Church has its own clock (the liturgical seasons)
Help us awaken our spiritual journey
Colors, music, candles, prayers – change
And our church today begins a new year: Purple (or Blue) – Advent
"the coming" – Coming of our Savior
First Advent - Birth of Jesus
Second Advent - The return of Jesus
Advent is our season that calls our spiritual lives to be awakened, to “cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light” as our collect calls us to do. What are your works of darkness? Do you know them? Do you live with them and ignore them? Or do you wrestle with them night and day, only to succumb when the hour is growing late? You know what time it is. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. And why is that? Why do we wake when the rest of the animal kingdom is bedding down for the winter? Storing up for a long winter’s nap? Why is it now that you and I are to wake from sleep?
There is something about Advent that makes us suddenly mindful. Perhaps it is the clear night skies with the gaze of the moon and stars on us. Perhaps it is the windswept clarity of early winter, when the trees are swept bare, and there is no sign of the lushness of summer to hide our works of darkness from ourselves and from one another.
St. Paul wants us to wake up, as we heard “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” In Advent, salvation is nearer to us. Nearer to us because we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child. We are preparing for the return of Christ. We are waking up. So that is why.
But how do we wake up when our bodies are telling us to hibernate with the best of them. The darkness beckons to us, lulls us into slumber, and for some of us, even depression. How do we do we fight all of that? How do we put on that armor of Light?
Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Jesus told us that he would come again, but he didn't give us a time, lay out a plan. He only told us to keep awake, be ready, he will come at an unexpected time. Like the expectation of a birth of a child, it is that waiting with anticipation not knowing the exact time…
How do we become ready?
There is a wonderful 17th Century prayer I found, the prayer says that as Christ came into the world to do good to all, that we too may thus prepare to meet him. The prayer reminds us that by doing what Jesus would want us to be doing -- loving one another, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor, we will be preparing to meet him. The prayer goes on to pray that we may be watchful at this time above all others, in avoiding every thing that can be injurious to our neighbors and in all things following the spirit of charity, being forward in bringing comfort and relief to all, as far as their circumstances shall require, and ours permit. And ends, Grant, O Lord that we may prepare to meet our redeemer.
If we are doing those things, we will be ready when he comes again in his glory and we will have put on the armor of light. In this holy time of Advent, we can renew our lives by waking up and remembering the gift that God gave to us so long ago in the birth of his son, and who invites us into a time of preparation to remember and rejoice at Christmas, and to prepare for Christ’s coming again among us. Amen.