“I’m with the Society of St. John the Evangelist,” I told the clerk.
“Society of St. John…” she repeated slowly as she wrote. “Society of St. John the what?”
“Evangelist,” I repeated.
She looked puzzled. “Umm… could you spell that for me?”
‘Evangelist’ isn’t a word in everyone’s vocabulary. For those who do recognize the word, it is likely to be associated with those who publicly proclaim the gospel on street corners or on television, or those who button-hole passers-by to ask whether they have been saved. For many – Christians and non-Christians alike, ‘evangelist,’ ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’ are not words that carry a positive connotation… Continue reading
Christmas is a mystery. In some ways, it’s a familiar story about a birth under less than ideal circumstances, like so many births. But, it’s also an utterly fantastic birth. A boy- child without human father born of a virgin mother; heavenly choirs of angels sing tidings of this birth to simple shepherds; a new star appears in the heavens to mark the site of the birth and strangers travel from faraway lands to pay homage.
We talk about the Incarnation but we really don’t know what we are talking about when we do. The Word, the creative principle of the cosmos, fully becomes flesh yet continues to be fully the Divine. What does that mean? There seems little room for such an unreasonable possibility. It’s entirely unreasonable. For centuries, Christians have tried to wrap their heads around this birth. The whole premise is beyond possibility. And that’s at least part of the reason why we have these stories so beyond possibility about a birth so utterly unreasonable. Continue reading
Isaiah 52:7-10/Psalm 98/Hebrews 1:1-4/John 1:1-14
A very good morning to you all, a very good Christmas morning. We are delighted that you have joined us for this festive occasion. This happy morning we join the multitude of the heavenly host in the great proclamation: “…to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill among all people.” [Luke: 2:11, 14]
I’ve been pondering lately what I’d like to have written on my tombstone. We don’t do epitaphs on tombstones, and I don’t expect to need one any time soon, but if we did and if I did, I think I’ve settled on what I’d like to have, just three words: “He loved well.” He loved well… Continue reading
Isaiah 9:2-7 / Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-20
Christmas is here again! It’s a dark night – it’s a very dark world right now. And yet, on this night, this holy night, joy bubbles up! Joy, that God has come into our world, and given to us a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The joy that Isaiah announced to Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2) The joy that the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:10)
This joy, this good news, is proclaimed in the very midst of the darkness; “The light shines in the darkness” says St. John, “and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Continue reading
I’ve been remembering lots of Christmas tunes that come out of my childhood, popular songs you can still hear performed on YouTube and on television specials this time of year: the pop star Andy Williams’ singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…” And “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” On it goes, so many of the lyrics full of joy and celebration, of wonder and innocence. And all the color and tinsel that fill the shops, and hang on trees, and pop up on Amazon.com are intent on evoking wonderful expectations this time of year.
So it might seem ill-timed for us to remember the martyrdom of Thomas, the Apostle, in such close proximity to the joyful celebration of Christmas. But it’s no accident. It’s all about light and the absence of light. By the fourth century, the western church was celebrating Christmas at the time of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, when we long for light. By the ninth century, the western church had also fixed the date of St. Thomas’ martyrdom around the winter solstice: the date of celebration for Christmas because Christ Jesus is born as “the light of the world,” who comes to us in the darkest night; and Thomas, who was dubbed “the doubter” among the disciples, remembered on the darkest night, (1) symbolizing doubt and despair, because Thomas experiences a revelation from Jesus. The scriptures call Jesus “the bright morning star,” who “dawns upon us from on high.” (2) These tandem dates for the death of St. Thomas and the birth of Christ Jesus are all about our need for light, for hope, and for help when we are in outer or inner darkness. Continue reading
Luke 1.26–38 Advent 4
Let’s imagine for a moment, that we live in a small village some 2,000 years ago. We’ve watched as days have grown shorter, the nights longer, and the weather colder. The last autumn harvest of olives and figs has come and gone, while the wheat and barley have been planted in hopes for a plentiful, fertile spring. But, this deepening darkness surrounding us seems to feed any shadows we may have in our hearts, planting seeds of fear, hopelessness and despair. The elders, the astrologers, they hold out hope. Now, they say, is the time to look for the signs of solstice, signs of the sun returning to lengthen the days and banish the darkness; to banish our fears, and renew our hopes that the wheat and barley weren’t planted in vain. Continue reading
The significance of Christmas is not that it’s a birthday. The significance of Christmas is that God becomes flesh and blood. The significance of Christmas is that God becomes Jesus; and everything changes. Everything changes when Jesus comes, and we need to remember that.
In the time before Jesus comes (the time of expectant waiting) God is distant. God deals with his chosen people – the Israelites – by imposing rules, laws, and commandments through intermediaries, like Moses. In the time before Jesus comes, God doesn’t even show his face. Continue reading
Here is this morning’s sermon. When I looked up the readings my first thought was, “These have been used so often, every year, what can I say about any of them?” But then I immediately thought of the significance of Joseph’s acceptance of the angel’s message and his response to it. The phrase came to me, “Joseph listened and acted” and I went on from there to develop it. –
David Allen, SSJE
[Mt. 1:18-25] Joseph listened to the Angel
As we come closer to the Holy Season of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the Gospel Readings at the Eucharist help to prepare us for that event.
Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, had become aware that Mary was with child. Being a righteous man, he wanted to avoid Mary becoming a public disgrace. He was planning to dismiss her quietly. But as he slept an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream. That was no ordinary dream. Joseph realized that it was not. Continue reading
To some of us, this tongue-twisting genealogy that Matthew gives at the very outset of his gospel account may elicit a smile or the slight rolling of the eyes. But the list is not accidental. Matthew, a Jew, is trying to be convincing. His first-century hearers would be fascinated in genealogy, and Jesus’ pedigree to be the Messiah, the King, would need to trace a lineage back to King David, son of Abraham. In Matthew’s memory, there are 3 sets of 14 names in his genealogy. Fourteen is 2 times 7; 7 is the perfect number; 14 is twice as perfect as 7, and 3 is a complete number. Those looking for proof of Jesus’ lineage through numerology will be satisfied. To some people, the numbers mattered. Also, remember, Matthew writes his gospel account before there are books, and before there is widespread literacy, so having 3 sets of 14 names is a helpful mnemonic device for remembering and repeating an oral history… and Matthew’s listeners and Jewish generations to come would indeed need to hear this genealogy repeated aloud. Throughout the New Testament, we hear of Jesus’ Davidic pedigree as a litmus test for his authority as Messiah. (1) Continue reading
Matt. 21:23-37; Psalm 1
How dare you come into this sacred place? How dare you claim to heal the blind and the lame? How dare you vandalize this holy place, throwing tables onto the floor, with money flying in every direction?
How dare you – who are you anyway? You’re a nobody from Nazareth of all places. How dare you? And then the really telling question. Where does your authority come from? The chief priests and elders know where their authority was from: They had the legal qualifications to prove it. But what about Jesus? He had no documents – no legal qualifications. You’ve got no authority.
But he did. And it was recognized constantly. Earlier in Matthew, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowd was astonished by his teaching because he taught them as one having authority – and not like the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28) Continue reading
John 1:6-8, 19-28
The name for this season in the Church year, “Advent,” derives from the Latin, adventus, which means “a coming, an approach, an arrival”: the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, whom we as Christians know as Jesus. Meanwhile, 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 and Joseph are waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth, Symeon and Anna, are waiting. Shepherds who are waiting. There are some sages from the east – wisemen – who are waiting. 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’s almost impossible to wait if you are full up, because waiting takes space; to be able to wait requires an openness or emptiness. And that’s a particular challenge and problem, especially here in our own culture. Continue reading
Psalm 80:1-3; 14-18; Matthew 17:9-13
In the psalm appointed for today the psalmist prays, “Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” Psalm 80 begins and ends with that phrase: “Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” The countenance is reflected in the face of a person. It’s more than just physiology; the countenance is the window of the soul, how the essence of a person is expressed, and how the essence of a person is accessed: through their countenance. The countenance is the channel, in and out. This same phrase about the countenance shows up repeatedly in the psalms and elsewhere in the scriptures. (1) And we also see a reflection of this in this Gospel lesson we’ve just heard. Jesus is with his disciples on the mountaintop where he is visited by God’s Spirit and Jesus is becomes a changed man. How do his disciples know? The look on Jesus’ face: his countenance is absolutely transfigured with light. Continue reading
While I was still a small boy, not old enough to go to school, when my grandmother came for her annual visit my father took me to the Union Pacific Station to meet the train. When the train was announced we would go out to the platform. The huge locomotive (to my eyes), would come into the station belching smoke and steam, and stop with a great screeching of brakes and hiss of steam. It always frightened me. I was able to take heart because my father was there holding my hand. Continue reading
“Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?”
Being lost is terrible. In the wilderness, it is particularly distressing. When we are lost in the wilderness, every leaf and tree looks the same, we become increasingly bewildered, may wander in circles, and wonder whether we have passed this way before. And though few of us, perhaps, have been lost to the extent of being life-threatened; most of us, I suspect, can identify with the feeling of being uncomfortably lost. When we realize we are lost our hearts race, or sink. We feel confused, and very frustrated. Depression sets in. We get anxious; and – if we are all alone and it is getting dark – progressively, hopeless. Being lost is terrible. Being lost makes us want to cry out: for help, for recognition; to let somebody – anybody! – know we are lost. “Hello!?” “Is there anybody out there!?” And how much hope does a response bring! Somebody is out there! Somebody knows we are lost, and will find us! A response is the answer to the no doubt innumerable prayers that have been uttered; the answer to the deepest longing of our heart: We are found! The wilderness is the place we get lost, but the wilderness is also the place we are found. Continue reading