God Has Spoken to Us By a Son – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

A Christmas story – not from Dickens, but from Kierkegaard:

Once upon a time, there was a powerful and wise king who fell in love with a beautiful maiden who lived in his kingdom.  The king’s problem was this: how to tell her of his love?  He called for the best and brightest of his consultants and asked their advice.  He wanted to do this in the best and most proper way – and, of course, he hoped his love would be cherished by the maiden and returned.  But when all of his advisors had had their say, the king was left disappointed.  For every one of them had counseled him in the same way.  “Show up at the maiden’s house,” they said, “dressed in all your royal finery.  Dazzle her with the power of your presence and with your riches.  Overwhelm her with expensive gifts.  What girl could resist?  Who would reject such an opportunity, or turn away from such an honor?  Who would possibly refuse a king?  And if need be,” they added, “you can always command her to become your wife.” Continue reading

Christmas Eve Sermon – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the

brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known

the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him

perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

This great olive-wood crèche scene which trails down the center of the chapel came to us through the craftsmanship of Palestinian woodcarvers in Bethlehem.  Aside from the baby Jesus, whom we’ve all come to adore, my favorite piece is the biggest camel, with its majestic green saddle skirt, and the wise man at its side.  The Gospel tradition tells the story of wise men, living in Arabia, who brought treasure chests full of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh to present to Mary and Joseph, parents of this infant child Jesus, who was prophesied to be the Messiah.[i] There’s no record that the wise men were Jewish.  They were among the many, “outside the household of faith,” who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  They reportedly followed the sign of a star which led them to Bethlehem.   Today we would probably call these wise men “astrologers” or “shamen” or “soothsayers.”  There’s very little recorded about their encounter with the Holy Family.  We read that they shared in the homage and joy of all those around that original crèche.  However there’s no record that they “changed religions” upon meeting Jesus.  (Maybe so; maybe not.  We know even among our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers that Jesus is revered, and so, perhaps this was the case for these “wise men.”  We don’t know.)  We do know that King Herod was quite threatened by the birth of this so-called infant king, a potential rival.  And Herod wanted a full report from the wise men after they had visited the newborn child.  Herod was up to no good, a realization the wise men woke up to in a dream.  The Gospel record reports that they avoided Herod by changing their course of travel, and “went to their home country by another way.” Continue reading

Mediums – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownHabakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29

The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens.  The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.

Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned!  We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas.  Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned.  There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it. Continue reading

Scandalous Women – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Br. Eldridge PendletonMicah 5: 2-4; Psalm 80: 1-7; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-49

Consider the stars of this Sunday’s Gospel drama.  One is an adolescent girl, probably no more than thirteen or fourteen, a member of a religious culture that taught her to look for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would liberate her people.  But she never assumed she would be the instrument for his entry into the world, or that through her young body God would be formed in human flesh.  Nor did she ever imagine that she would be invited to cooperate with God in this magnificent event, or to act without knowing the consequences of her cooperation.  To do so meant breaking all the rules of the Jewish religious code, of bringing scandal on her family, and putting her life on the line because she lived in a society that stoned to death unwed mothers.  Consider her cousin Elizabeth, a childless woman long past her childbearing years, an object of pity and scorn in her community where sons were one’s “eternal life.”  And yet in old age and against biological possibility, God answered her prayer for a son and she gave birth to the last of the biblical prophets.  Not just a son, that would have been marvelous in itself, but someone set apart by God to play a leading role in the salvation drama, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Continue reading

Waiting in Advent – Br. Curtis Almquist

The name for this season in the Church year, “Advent,” derives from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival: the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, whom we as Christians know as Jesus.  Meanwhile, as we anticipate this arrival, we wait.  If we were to open the Gospel accounts according to Matthew and Luke, we discover a great many people waiting for the Messiah, the Christ.  Mary is waiting.  Jo­seph is waiting.  Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Symeon and Anna are wait­ing.  Most everyone, it seems, is waiting.  They’re waiting for an arrival.  There are also shepherds who are waiting. There are some sages from the east – wisemen – who are waiting.  The threatened govern­ment of Herod the Tetrarch is waiting, rather anxiously.  The only persons who are not waiting are in Bethlehem, the keepers of an inn.  And there’s no room in the inn.  They’re all full up.  It is nigh unto impossible to wait if you are full up, because waiting takes space; to be able to wait requires an emptiness.  And that’s a problem.  I think it’s problematic for many of us who live in North America. Continue reading

Wake Up and See – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofLuke 3:7-18

How does one prepare for the coming of the Lord? We are in the season called Advent, the season in which – as members of Christ’s body, the Church – we prayerfully and intentionally prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming.  We speak of his coming in three ways:

his coming at Christmas, when we shall recall again the way in which “the Word became flesh and lived among us”[i] nearly 2,000 years ago,

his coming in the present moment, as we seek to remain alert and attentive to the signs of God’s presence and activity in our own lived experience and in our world,

and his coming in glory at the end of the ages, when he will “judge the living and the dead” and establish a “kingdom (that) will have no end.”[ii]

Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation.  We are waiting expectantly for the Lord and preparing ourselves to meet him when he comes.  But how exactly do we prepare for the coming of the Lord? Continue reading

Chosen by God from the Foundation of the Earth – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

Those of you who have joined us at one point or another for one of our meals will know that most of the time, on most days, we listen to the reading of a book during the meal. It’s only on Sundays, Tuesdays and some feast days that we share in conversation over the meal. Right now we are reading quite an interesting, and highly amusing biography of Benjamin Franklin, entitled Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. It turns out, as we have discovered, that Franklin was quite an interesting, and highly amusing character. Earlier in the fall our book of choice was a little more esoteric as we read Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. Mother of God was a heavier read, and as we joked at the time, we now knew more about Mary than she knew about herself! One of the underlying themes of the book was that before she became known as the Mother of God, before she became known as the Queen of Heaven she was simply Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. In essence underlying all the titles and the various devotions that is who she was, and that is who she remains.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young girl of Nazareth. It is feast not spoken of in scripture but one deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church from ancient times and one which says as much about us, and our life in God as it does about Mary herself and her life in God. So while the focus today is on Mary, we see in her the source and ground of our own life of faith. In looking at Mary we gaze not outwardly, or even upwardly, but inwardly to our own adoption as children of God[1] because it is there that we find Mary’s true vocation, and ours as well, to be the adopted daughters and sons of God.

This feast reminds us that while Mary was chosen for the particular purpose of becoming the mother of God’s son, so too has God chosen “us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.”[2] The choice of Mary was not random, or happenstance. It was particular and eternal. She was chosen and appointed by God “while yet in her mother’s womb to be the Mother of our Lord”[3] In the same way, we too have been chosen by Christ, for Jesus in the Gospel of John reminds us that:

[y]ou did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you
to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last ….[4]

Like Mary we too have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last for all eternity. Think of it! You have not been chosen randomly, or by happenstance, but particularly and eternally to bear fruit for God.

Mary’s particular vocation from “before the foundation of the world” was to be the mother of Jesus and that vocation continues to unfold with the sound of fluttering wings:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a
town called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named
whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s
name was Mary.[5]

This is no ordinary encounter, but then the message was no ordinary message:

you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you
will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called
the Son of the Most High … [6]

It was a particular and eternal vocation, to be the mother of Jesus, and for a moment eternity stood still while all heaven waited for Mary’s response. We remember Mary’s response to Gabriel throughout the year in various feasts when we remember her life. Here at the monastery we remember that response throughout the day when we pray the Angelus: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it unto me according to your word.”[7] It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary had been created. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was made. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was appointed and chosen from the foundation of the world. It was that ‘yes’ for which she was prepared while still I her mother’s womb. And it was for that ‘yes’ that all heaven waited for a brief moment in time. For the rest of her life, and indeed for the rest of time, the echoes of that ‘yes’ reverberate as the air vibrated that day in Nazareth to the movement of Gabriel’s wings. It was no easy thing to live with that ‘yes’, but once given it was not taken back. It, like God’s own choice of Mary, was for all eternity.

If the story of that ‘yes’ is Mary’s story, and the story we celebrate tonight, so too is it our story, and so it is our story that we celebrate tonight as well. For like Mary, we too have been chosen by God to bear the Word of God, and to give birth to Word of God in the world. We may not, like Mary, have been asked to give physical birth to God’s son, but as with Mary, we have been asked to bear and carry and give birth to the Word of God. So as with Mary, so with us, eternity stands still while all heaven waits for our answer. What will it be? Will you like Mary say ‘yes’ to God’s choice of you as friend, and disciple and lover?[8] Will you like Mary open the womb of your heart and bear, and carry and give birth to the Incarnate Word of God so that all “might live for the praise of his glory?”[9] Will you like Mary, say “yes”?

We say ‘yes’ to so many things. ‘Yes’ to another piece of dessert. ‘Yes’ to an advertisement or sales pitch. ‘Yes’ to an invitation or a request from a colleague or friend. And sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God when we hear the wings of an angel. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing that we were made for. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing for which we have been destined[10] from all eternity.

When we say ‘yes’ to God, our ‘yes’ echoes that of Mary’s and “the Word [becomes] flesh and [lives] among us”[11] here and now and we, like Mary, become God bearers and our eternal destiny is fulfilled for all time.

Tonight we celebrate, not simply God’s choice of Mary from the foundation of the world to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, but God’s eternal choice of us to be the bearers of that same Word as well. We celebrate not simply Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, but to us as well, for we too are favoured of the Lord. [12] We celebrate not simply Mary’s eternal ‘yes’ but ours as well.

So tonight as you make a womb of your heart and a manger of your hands in which to receive the Son of the Most High, listen for the sound of angel wings beating upon the wind and join your voice to the echo of Mary’s and with her say ‘yes’ to God who has chosen and appointed you from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last.

[1] Ephesians 1:5

[2] Ephesians 1:4

[3] Collect: Conception of the BVM, FAS p. 371

[4] John 15:16

[5] Luke 1:26-27

[6] Luke 1: 31-32

[7] Angelus

[8] John 15:14, 15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you…” “…I have called you friends….”

[9] Ephesians 1:12

[10] Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,….”

[11] John 1:14

[12] Luke 1:28: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Releasing Your Inner “Locusts and Wild Honey Eater” – Br. Mark Brown

Br. Mark BrownLuke 3:1-6

When we began posting sermons on our website we decided to give them titles. Today’s title has a kind of self-helpy ring to it. It’s: “Releasing Your Inner ‘Locusts and Wild Honey Eater.’”

Luke puts John the Baptist into a political context, noting who was emperor, who was governor, who the local rulers were, and—significantly—who the high priests were. The temple priests in Jerusalem were in cahoots with the secular powers, which, of course led to corruption. Later in the story we see Jesus driving money changers out of the temple to protest the corruption of the political-religious power structure.

John’s protest comes in a different form. His father, Zecharia, was a temple priest and priesthood was a hereditary privilege. John would likely have seen the corruption from inside the system. He opted out of the family business, preferring the wilderness to collusion with corrupt powers. John is the forerunner of Jesus in this political sense—Jesus did much the same thing by dissociating himself from official structures. It is outside these structures that the word of God comes to both John and Jesus. “…the word of God came to John, son of Zecharia in the wilderness.” Not in the temple, not in the halls of power, but in the wilderness. Continue reading

Jesus’ Invitation – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Matthew 9:35 – 10:1, 5-8

Where Jesus started is not where he ended up.  Jesus began his ministry teaching in synagogues and healing the poor and afflicted among his own.  And so, in this gospel passage appointed for today, he tells his disciples to “go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Also remembered in the Gospel according to Matthew is Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman who has a sick child.  She asks for his help and he refuses because she and those like her are “dogs.”  Jesus actually says “dogs,” and he’s not talking about pets; he’s talking about critters that are stray.[i] But then Jesus relents.  The Gospels show a conversion in Jesus, and where he eventually tells his disciples to “go into all the world.”  Jesus ends up spending time with reprobate people of every sort.  He enters graveyards “defiled” by mentally-ill people, i.e., demon-possessed people.  He eats with anyone who will share their food – most any kind of drink and food – and for that reason he is called a drunkard and glutton.  He didn’t just talk about forgiveness; he was forgiving… and so he had a reputation of being “a friend of sinners,” because he was always with the wrong kind of people.  Jesus goes beyond relating to the poor, needy, and outcast, he even comes to identify with them.  And so, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” “…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”[ii] Continue reading