Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ ---- 13 January 2019



Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

"You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
·       Over the past few days, I’ve driven by a certain church a few times. Their sign in the front yard said something like “Rejoice in the Good News Jesus brings!” Now I can’t argue with that, and it still made me think. I didn’t wonder about Jesus bringing good news. That idea is often repeated in the Gospels.
·       Jesus often took the side of the poor and the down-trodden in what he said and did. He also was willing to be seen with those who were considered to be “sinners” by those who saw themselves as “righteous.” Jesus often ate with tax collectors and ‘sinners’ and was kind to those known to have offended against the Law of Moses, even with those ‘caught in the act’ as it were.
·       We’ve often heard the message of what is called the Sermon on the Mount – Blessed are the poor; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We even know the negative side, the “woes”, that tell of those who have it now and are missing out on what will come.
·       We know of Jesus’ proclamation of the both the coming and the nearness of the Kingdom of God. We’ve heard his call to repentance. Although it may not sound like ‘good news’, but the call to change our lives is good news. The telling of a coming change is good because it gives the hearer a chance to become part of that change. To tell someone to “Repent!” means that someone can actually repent of sin and have a new life and a new relationship with God.
·       Having said all this, we might remember that the prophets of Israel and Judah had been saying these same things for hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. His preaching was in direct line with the spirit sent to the prophets before him.
·       What made me think when I saw that sign in the church’s yard was one small change. What if that sign said “Rejoice in the Good News Jesus Is!”? Does that make any difference?
·       It sure does! On top of the powerful and hopeful prophetic message Jesus brings, he himself IS the message.
·       The church season we have just finished – Christmas & Epiphany – has little to do with Jesus’ preaching. The Christmas readings have a silent Jesus… unless you imagine him as a normal human child who cried when hungry or wet or cold. The readings from Luke for Epiphany have the wise men come to see Jesus and leave gifts… and Jesus never says a word. Today’s reading about the baptism of Jesus, he again is silent. The most important message is what is said about him, both by John the Baptizer and the voice from heaven. Further, the heavens open and the Spirit descends on him in the bodily shape of a dove. Is the Scripture, when the heavens open, big things are happening. Here the earth and the heavens are being joined; they are not separated as many have thought... and still think.
·       Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Beloved of the Father, the one whom John the Baptizer said I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. We know all this and it always pays to be reminded. The Good News in woven into these titles and there is one more thing that is overwhelmingly Good News for us. Jesus is the Word become Flesh, something beyond our imagination. Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the Beloved of the Father, of whom the Father says with you I am well pleased.", is also Emmanuel, God with us. That the Word of God become Flesh has been with us as human beings and had blessed our flawed existence in this world is Good News beyond measure. “Rejoice in the Good News Jesus Is!” God is with us; go and show it in what you say and what you do, for in what we say and what we do, God is with us!
"You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ ---- 6 January 2019



Matthew 2:1-12
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' " 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?
·       This festival of the Epiphany (or “Three Kings Day” or “Little Christmas” if you prefer) brings us the Gospel story of visitors from far away lands who come to honour the child Jesus having observed his star at its rising…
·       It’s an odd story since it includes unknown “wise men” coming to see the Christ child because they observed his star at its rising… It also includes a note of menace as Herod says the wise men are to report back to him so that I may also go and pay him homage. We know what Herod means and he shows his intent in the horrible event that the Church has long called “the slaughter of the innocents”, the killing of all boys up to the age of two in and around Bethlehem. There’s even a very sad Christmas carol about that event, the Coventry Carol.
·       A lot of things have been added to this Gospel story, things that Luke didn’t tell us… like the number of the wise men. Were there three or were there more? We don’t know, but since there were three gifts, we get three wise men. Tradition has named them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but they might have been Curly, Moe, and Larry since Luke doesn’t say.
·       We call them “wise men” or even “kings.” Luke calls them “magi”, a plural term for the learned priest of the Persian religion of the time. They were known to be astrologers as well, studying the stars for clues about the future. Whatever we might call them, they are not Jewish and they are from the nation that was the deadly rival of Rome in the Middle East. They are Gentiles and possibly even hostile enemies.
·       They bear odd gifts. Modern day comedians have said wise women would have brought casseroles, fresh diapers, and baby sitters. Instead we have gold, frankincense, and myrrh and we might wonder why.
·       I have a story for that. Years ago, when I was part of a monastic order, I’d go for spiritual direction at a near-by Trappist abbey. It was Epiphany and the monks were permitted to speak in the dining room, a rare treat. They also had a sort of party with some wine and desserts. From the library where I sat, I could hear them laughing. Just then the abbot came into the library with the figures of the three magi for the nativity scene. He’d had a few drinks and was very talkative that day. He explained the gifts to me. Gold is the gift worthy of a king, representing our lives given to God. Frankincense is used in worship as the incense mentioned in the book of Revelation, so it is the gift of worship, our worship and prayer. Finally, myrrh is said to be the most bitter of herbs and could be used in incense. It is used in burial rites and it is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death. Or so the abbot told me. In these gifts, the magi acknowledged Jesus as King, God, and sacrifice for the sins of the world.
·       So is there Good News here among all these additions? Absolutely! “Epiphany” means “appearance” or "manifestation" and in this festival we celebrate the appearance of the Word made flesh. In many traditions, this is the end of the Christmas season (although you can stretch it to next week’s festival, the Baptism of Jesus, which is also tied to the idea of Epiphany), so we continue to celebrate and rejoice in the Incarnation of Jesus.
·       Add to that the presence of the Gentile wise men, honoring the Word made flesh. Now in their presence in the Gospel, the Gentile world is added to the people of God. Now all people are God’s people, are the chosen people, without taking one thing away from the Jewish people as God’s people. Luke is believed to be writing to a Jewish-Christian audience, so the inclusion of Gentiles as worshipers of Jesus would be a surprise. In the same way, Matthew may have written to to the Gentile world which despised the poor. So who is first to be told of the birth of Jesus?  Poor shepherds!
·       We may not be rich or powerful or born into a special group. We may not be seen as wise by a great number of people. What we are is blessed and graced and included in the love of God by the one who took on our flesh, who preached good news to the poor, and made us all – no matter where we were born – a holy people.
·       One custom for Epiphany is house blessings. Often the year is written in chalk above the door as well as the initials “C-M-B” for Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The letters can also mean Christus mansionem benedicat – “May Christ bless the house.” May this always be  so.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The First Sunday After Christmas ---- 30 December 2018


Luke 2:41-52
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49 He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

After three days they found him in the temple
·       A missing child is usually a reason for panic, police action, and search parties, and all with good reason. For Mary and Joseph to lose track of their son must have been a frightening experience. Luke said they believed him to be with other families in the group of pilgrims returning from celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem that year. This may have been normal and not an unusual thing. I could imagine families watching out for other’s children in such a setting.
·       This story is important for us to hear. It’s not an object lesson to keep our children on a short leash. We need not suspect that we should call the Children’s Aide Society on this appearently neglectful couple. It is not a case of a practical lesson or a moral. It is good news in the best Gospel sense.
·       Luke places Jesus in the Temple among the teachers and scholars, hearing what they had to say and asking impressive questions. Even at the age of his Bar Mitzvah, he is showing sign of becoming a rabbi. Such questions and discussions are very common in rabbinical circles.
·       Of course there is more to this passage than this. Some have taken it to emphasize obedience to parents and to proper authority. Some take it as an example of the humanity of Jesus.
·       The passage does show both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. At his age, the young Jesus shows a remarkable grasp of the Scriptures and he even shows some inkling of his mission. This passage is the last we hear of the child Jesus; Luke’s next passages deal with the start of Jesus’ mission. Still as the young boy sits among the teachers of the Scriptures, he shows more wisdom and understanding than they expected. He is coming into his own.
·       At the same time, Mary and Joseph are desperately searching for Jesus in the great city. They find him in the Temple. The human concern for the boy’s where-abouts is coupled with his Scriptural knowledge and his realization that he must be in my Father's house?, something more than simple human understanding or a mistake in setting out on a journey.
·       The earthly and heavenly have met. The mundane and the miraculous are present at the same time and in the same actions. It is nothing less than a revelation of the Incarnation of Christ for those who are willing to see it.
·       We are blessed to be present at a similar event today… the baptism of Hayden here among us. The earthly and the heavenly, the human and the divine have come together. Really, that is what sacraments are all about – earthly elements bearing divine grace to the people. Whether is it water poured and joined to the Word of God or bread and wine eaten and drunk “in memory of me”, the reality of the created and the uncreated eternal are together.
·       The celebration of Christmas is called in the Church “The festival of the Incarnation of Christ”, the taking on Flesh of Christ.
·       Jesus did not refuse to take on the flesh of humanity, nor did he refuse to take on all it means to be fully human – infancy, childhood, sickness, weariness, learning, fear, disappointment, happiness, sadness, and even death. All of these and more he embraced.
·       This embrace continues today. God is with us in our daily lives and every aspect of our lives. Nothing is outside of this embrace of Jesus Christ. There is nothing on earth that is not the concern of God.
·       If I may be permitted to do so, I’d like you to hear a text from the Gospel of John, one that all of you might know by heart: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
·       We could add that God so loved the world, that God entered into creation as a part of creation… and creation will never be the same again. Thanks be to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Christmas Eve --- 24 December 2018



Luke
    In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
     In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
    [When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.]


Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people
·       Put yourself in the place of the shepherds for a moment. We can all use our imagination for this.
·       We’re out in a field with our companions, watching over the flocks in case a predator or a robber comes, so our staves or “crooks” are handy. The quiet is deep and the conversation with the others has stopped. The sheep bleat every so often, but we’re used to that. Another normal day in the land outside the holy city, Jerusalem. We can’t often go there because we’re watching the flocks and we rarely get to clean up to go into the famous city. BUT we don’t have to deal with the Romans very much out here. Still in all, not much happens out here.
·       Wait! What was that? Did you hear something? The wild animals sometimes make noise, but that was no wild animal.
·       Where’s that light coming from? Did we light a fire or does someone have a lantern? No? Then what’s going on? We’d best look to protecting our flocks!
·       Who’s that? Over there! What did he say? “Do not be afraid!” Don’t come any closer! I’ll smack you with my stick! Of course, I’m afraid! Do you think I’m a fool? You just don’t sneak up on shepherds out here in the fields like that! We should’ve seen you coming.
·       But we didn’t. What’s that he said? “Good News of great joy for all.” What does that mean? Is this a joke? I’d laugh if I weren’t so scared!
·       You bring good news, eh? Is this freedom from Rome? From Rome’s puppets here in Judea? From laws set up as hurdles and barriers between us and God? That we would hear as good news!
·       Now there’s a whole bunch of these messengers, and they’re praising God! I don’t care what the first one said! It’s still scary! “On earth, peace to those he favours.” So for the special ones who keep the Law and decide who is special!
·       Wait… what if… we’re the ones who were meant to receive this Good News, rather than the powerful and the rich and the self-righteous? That would be something!
·       Maybe we should head over to Bethlehem and see about this. Maybe that herald and his choir know something.
·       Well, you know the rest of the story, so we can come back to ourselves and look to the angel’s proclamation: Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…
·       That statement may have stunned the shepherds as much as the surprise of the “glory of the Lord” shining around them. Could this be? Are there more surprises?
·       Could the Messiah be born among us?
·       Could the Messiah be born as one of us?
·       Could the one to save us from our own evils have more to say about the world and the powers of the world?
·       Could those same concerns be with us now some 2000 years later?
·       Well… Yes!
·       People remain people. Problems remain problems. Sin remains sin… and thanks be to God, grace remains grace.
·       Christ is born… not over again, but once in a poor birth for us worth celebrating every year and probably every day.
·       Christ is born, and the life of God is among God’s people, within and around all of us.
·       Christ is born and new life is possible for each and every one of us… grace, the free gift of God, makes no exceptions.
·       Christ is born and our world cannot be the same… and neither can we.
·       You all know I’m no angel, but I’m charged to give the same message as those better heralds, a message to each of us individually.
·       So I might say to you and to myself…
·       O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.
and another less-known, un-official verse...
·       Oh, come, ye unfaithful,
Broken and mistreated!
Oh, come ye, Oh, come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the Friend of Sinners.
O come, let us adore Him, (3×)
Christ the Lord.
·       Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing YOU good news of great joy for all the people: TO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent ---- 23 December 2018



Luke 1:39-45(46-55)
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
[And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."]


My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
·       This hymn/poem/canticle/whatever you might call it is placed on the lips of Mary, the mother of Jesus, by Luke. It’s a lovely poem and we sang a version of it for our Responsorial. In it, Mary gives thanks and praise to God for what she has been given. It’s called the Magnificat, because like so many other things in our church history, the Latin words that begin the prayer become the prayer’s title (so the Pater noster, the Gloria Pati, the Agnus Dei, etc.)
·       That’s not all that’s there. If I dare to say it, the Magnificat is altogether subversive! And maybe the world as it is needs a little subverting. In Mary’s song, everything in the world is turned on its head!
·       It’s right there for all to see:               My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
Mary declares that all generations will call her blessed, that is, all generations will recognize what God has done and what God is doing. No one could deny that she holds a special place in the history of salvation and grace. We don’t need to worship her to realize that no one else in the history of God’s people has the place she has. And we dare not deny that it is the grace of God that has done this!
·       She goes on:
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
Once again, Mary gives praise to God for God’s mighty deeds in the history of Israel up to and including her, and she takes it further in a word of what might be called “Prophecy”, proclaiming the mercy of God for all in every generation.
·       Now the topsy-turvy story/song of grace comes into play:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
All that is powerful and great and honoured by all the world is dumped over the side and declared an illusion. God’s strength is greater than the strength of the proud, the powerful, and the rich. The proud are scattered “in their conceit” as another translation puts it. The powerful are pulled from their thrones and the rich are left in hunger while the hungry eat. As Jesus put it during his ministry “The last will be first and the first will be last.”
·       Mary ties all this to the story of salvation as it has come to her in the story of God’s people:
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
It is God who has remained faithful through all the years. It is God who is active in her life and the lives of all God’s people. It is God who will remain faithful and merciful from one generation to the next. It is God who has sent a saviour, born as one of us, and as the letter to the Hebrews states And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
·       To read and contemplate the Magnificat allows us to look over the history of our salvation through the eyes of one who was intimately involved in it while at the same time hear the prophetic word of what is to come, sooner or later.
·       Elizabeth greeted Mary and the unborn John the Baptist jumped in her womb… because of who Mary bore with her. Elizabeth said it best: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
·       Again it is God who is praised in the recognition of Mary’s place as Jesus’ mother. What she said of Mary I hope might be said of any of us here: …blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…