Sunday, January 15, 2017

2 Epiphany

January 15, 2017

John 1.29-42

+ A few weeks ago, our Senior Warden, Cathy McMullen and Michael McMullen gave me a wonderful Birthday/Christmas/Epiphany gift, a biography of the infamous Russian religious figure, Rasputin. I love the book!  It was a fascinating book about Rasputin and the fall of the Romanov dynasty.

But surprisingly, what I found truly interesting was some of the back history about religious life in Russia before the Revolution.  And I soon found myself exploring, on my own, some of those religious expressions, namely a branch of Russian Orthodoxy called hesychasm. Hesychasm was—and is—a mystical ascetical expression of the Orthodox Church that was prevalent in Russia right up to the Revolution one hundred years ago. 

As I read some articles and historical accounts I found myself going down a kind of rabbit hole. I’m sure some of you history buffs do this on occasion. You find yourself going down side stories and interesting tidbits that go hither and yon.

Somehow, my rabbit hole led from Rasputin to hesychasm to a fascinating view in orthodoxy regarding the Lamb of God. Namely, the fact that, in the Orthodox Church, they do not allow any representations of the Lamb of God.  Yes, there is Jesus in his human form, of course, depicted in icons. But they do not allow any representations of Jesus as the Lamb of God. Which shocked me. (I already sort of knew this about Orthodoxy, but never really have it a second thought).   

So, my rabbit hole got deeper as I tried to find out why. Which led me to the Council of Trullo. The Council of Trullo was held in 692,  I’m not going to go into all the controversies that were going on the Eastern church at the time.  I invite you to go and explore them—they’re fascinating if you’re into all those things. But I will share what the Council of Trullo ultimately decided about the Lamb of God. Its  82nd canon declared:

In certain reproductions of venerable images, the precursor [St. John the Baptist] is pictured indicating the lamb with his finger. This representation was adopted as a symbol of grace. It is a hidden figure of that true lamb who is Christ, our God, and shown to us according to the Law. Having thus welcomed these ancient figures and shadows as symbols of the truth transmitted to the Church, we prefer today grace and truth themselves as a fulfillment of this law. Therefore, in order to expose to the sight of all that which is perfect, at least with the help of painting, we decree that henceforth Christ our God must be represented in His human form but not in the form of the ancient lamb.

In other words, they didn’t want people to think that Christ was really an actual lamb, with fleece and hoofs. Sort of like the lamb we find on today’s bulletin. It was only a description of him.  And, as such, should not be represented in art and icons.

All of this, of course, hits home to me this week because our Gospel reading for today deals with Christ as the Lamb of God.  And for some reason, this past week, as I was meditating on our Gospel reading for today, the whole image of Jesus as the Lamb of God really hit home to me in a new way.

In today’s Gospel reading we find John the Baptist calling out not once but twice, identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God. Now, we can kind of see where those bishops of Trullo are coming from. For us, it’s a very nice image. A nice fluffy, sweet-natured lamb.

But…is that the right image we have of Jesus? If God chose to be incarnate in the flesh, would God want to be looked upon as a sweet, fluffy lamb?  No, not all. And that’s not what John is getting at when we calls out the way he does.  Sweet and gentle is not what John saw when he observed Jesus as the Lamb of God.  For John, what he observed when he looked at Jesus and saw the Lamb of God walking past, was truly a  thing that would most vegans cringe:

he saw that sacrifice that was seen in the Temple in Jerusalem.

There, the lamb was sacrificed—and quite violently sacrificed—as a sin offering for the people.  He saw before him not Jesus the man, but the sacrificial Lamb, broken and bleeding.

To be fair, in our own images of the Lamb of God, we don’t always have just a fluffy little lamb.  In our images of the lamb, if you look at them closely, we see the Lamb pierced.  We see blood pouring from the side of the Lamb.  We see a sacrificed Lamb.

In our Sunday Mass, we sing the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—after I have broken the bread.  I am so happy that we do.  This “fraction anthem” as we call it, carries such meaning. In it we sing:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Then you see me hold up the chalice and that broken bread and you hear me say,

“This is the Lamb of God. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we who are called to this supper.”

This shed blood. This broken body.  This sacrifice. That is what we hold up.

I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at this altar during that anthem and looked down at the broken bread on that paten and looked into that cup and had a moment of real spiritual clarity. So many times I have looked at the broken bread and the cup and thought, this is Jesus.  This is the Lamb of God.

For me, that moment of spiritual clarity is very much like the moment John announces Jesus as the Lamb.  For me, it might as well be the Baptist’s voice in my ear, announcing to me that this is the One. And it should be for all of us. The hesychasts of pre-revolutionary Russia would be proud with such a revelation.

But more than just some mystical experience is this concept of the Lamb being broken.

Why do we break the bread at the Eucharist?  Why do I, when I hold up that broken bread with the chalice, say, “This is the Lamb of God. This is the One who takes away the sins of the world…”?

Yes, we do it to symbolize the broken body of the Lamb.  The Lamb was broken.  The Lamb was sacrificed. And it is importance to recognize that. Trust me, we understand brokenness right now in our world, in our society, and, no doubt, many of us know it in our lives.  Brokenness is part of this imperfect world in which we live. And it is hard to bear. When we gaze upon that broken bread, when we gaze upon that broken lamb, we gaze upon our own brokenness as well. But we gaze upon a God who understands our brokenness. A God who understands these fractures and these pains each us bear within us and in this world in which we live.

But it symbolizes something even more practical.  We break bread, so we can share it.  We don’t get the option of just sitting around, wallowing in our brokenness. We don’t get to just close up and rock back and forth in pain over the unfairness of this world and society and our lives.  We are called to go out and do something about it.  We break this bread and then break it and then break it again until it becomes small pieces that we must share with one another. By sharing our God who knows brokenness, by sharing of our broken selves, we do something meaningful. We undo our brokenness. We become whole by sharing our brokenness.  

It means we take what we have eaten here—this Lamb, this Christ, this God who knew pain and suffering and death—and we share this Christ with others, through our love, through our actions of love, through our acceptance of all people in love.

It is not enough that we simply recognize the broken Lamb.  We must recognize the Lamb, broken for us, so that we then can share the Lamb with others. And that is the purpose of our lives as Christians.

Yes, we gather here and are Christians.  But we are also gathered here so we can go out and share this Lamb that has been broken and given to us.  And in sharing the Lamb, others too can share the Lamb.

So, let us listen to the voice of the Baptist proclaiming in our ears, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  Let us hear that voice when I hold up the Bread and the Chalice.  Let us hear that voice as we come forward to share that bread and drink from that chalice.

But let us be that voice when we leave here.  Let us proclaim the Lamb of God as we share Christ with others, in all that we do as Christians, in the differences we make in this world around, in all the good we do and say in our lives. When we do that we will find ourselves, as we heard in the beautiful collect from this morning, “illuminated by [God’s] Word and Sacraments.”  And being illuminated, we will “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”




Sunday, January 8, 2017

1 Epiphany

The Baptism of Our Lord

January 8, 2017

Isaiah 42.1-9; Matthew 3.13-17

+ Sometimes—oftentimes—when one preaches week in, week in, the preacher maybe—sometimes—oftentimes—falls into ruts. We preachers too are at the whim of our obsessions, whatever might be right on the surface in our lives, or what have you.

So, of course, on this Sunday—this Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord, this Sunday in which we officially end the Christmas season—yeah, you kinda know where I’m going.  You know it’s gonna be another of one of those Fr. Jamie Baptism sermons.  Because, as you know, there are few things I like preaching about more than baptism.

It could be worse, right?

Of course I’m going to preach about baptism today.  After all, we’re celebrating the Baptism of Jesus today! And of course, how can we not talk about baptism? And ministry?

Because this is what it’s all about for us as Christians.  All ministry—the ministry we all do together—stems from that transformative event of our Baptism.   In fact, to be baptized means, essentially, to be called to ministry.  When we look at our spiritual lives and our ministries in the “big picture,” we cannot do so without seeing that big picture circling and being centered on the singular event of our baptism.

For those of you who have visited the rectory you have no doubt seen my baptismal certificate on my wall.  It is there with my ordination certificates.  It is there to remind me and to help me commemorate that incredible event in my life 47 years ago—this event that changed me and formed me as a Christian. And, this gives me another opportunity to remind you, if you haven’t done so yet, to do a bit of detective work and find the date of your baptism as well and to share it with me or James so we can commemorate it and celebrate it.  After all, everything we do as Christians should come from the joy and amazing beauty of that simple event.

As you all know, as you have heard me preach from here many, many times, probably to the point you start rolling your eyes, Baptism, for me anyway, is not a sweet little christening event for us as Christians.  It is not a quaint little service of dedication we do. For us Episcopalians, it a radical event in our lives as Christians. It is the event from which everything we do and believe flows.  It was the day we were welcomed as loved children of God. And it was the day we began following Jesus.

And when we look at the actual service of Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, the words of that service drive home to us how important that event is. For example, after the Baptism, when the priest traces a cross on the newly baptized person’s forehead, she or he says,

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

You have heard me preach on those words many times before. And trust me, I will preach them again and again. I will because they are probably the most important words we are ever going to hear in our lives.  That is not just some nice little sentiment.  Those words convey that something transformational and amazing has happened in the life of that person.  This is essential to our belief of what happens at baptism.

In baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own.  Forever.  It is a bond that can never be broken.  We can try to break it as we please.  We can struggle under that bond. We can squirm and resist it.  We can try to escape it.  But the simple fact is this: we can’t.  Forever is forever.

On this Sunday on which we commemorate Jesus’ own baptism—on this Sunday in which we remember the fact that Jesus led the way through those waters of baptism and showed us a glimpse of all that happens in this singular event, we should remember and think about what happened at own baptisms.  Yes, we might not actually remember the actual event.  But the great thing about baptism is that, our own individual baptismal event was, for the most part, just like everyone else’s.

In those waters, God spoke to us the words God spoke to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. In those waters, the words we heard in our reading from Isaiah were affirmed in us as well.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;


Those words are our words. Those words were spoken to us in those waters.  In those waters, we were all made equal.  In those waters, the same water washed all of us—no matter who are.  In those waters, there are no class distinctions, no hatred, or discrimination or homophobia or sexism or war or violence. Or walls.  In those waters, we are all equal to one another and we are all equally loved.

In a few moments, we will stand and renew the vows we made at baptism.  When we are done, I will sprinkle you with water. The sprinkling of water, like all our signs and actions that we do in this church, is not some strange practice a few of us High Church-minded people do.  That water that comes to us this morning is a stark reminder of those waters we were washed in at Baptism—those waters that made us who we are Christians, those waters in which we all stand on equal ground, with no distinctions between us.

Here at St. Stephen’s, all of our ministry—every time we seek to serve Christ and further the Kingdom of God in our midst—is a continuation of the celebration of baptism.  Sometimes we lose sight of that.  Sometimes we forget what it is that motivates us and charges us to do that wonderful work. Sometimes we forget that our ministry as baptized people is a ministry to stand up and speak out against injustice.

Our ministry is to echo those words from Isaiah God spoke to us at the beginning of our ministries:

I have put my spirit upon [you];
   [you] will bring forth justice to the nations. 
   [You] will faithfully bring forth justice. 
[You] will not grow faint or be crushed
   until [you have] established justice in the earth
;

The water of our baptism is a stark reminder to us of our call to the ministry of justice.  There is a reason the baptismal font in the narthex—the place we actually baptize—is always uncovered and always filled with fresh, blessed water.  Again, this is not some quaint, Anglo-Catholic tradition that spiky Fr. Jamie introduced here. This is a very valid and real reminder that in that place, in those waters, we began to do the radical things we are called to us as Christians.  It is good for us to take that water and bless ourselves, and with it to be renewed for our call to justice.  It is good for us to be occasionally sprinkled with water as a reminder of what we must still do in this world  It is good to feel that cold water on our fingers and on our foreheads and on our faces as a reminder of our equality and our commitment to a God of love and justice.   And, as you have heard me say many, many times, it is good to remember the date of our baptism and to celebrate that day, just as we would a birthday or a wedding anniversary.

Today, on this first Sunday in Epiphany, we start out on the right note.  We start out celebrating. We start our commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.  And by doing so, we commemorate our own baptism as well.

In our collect today, we prayed to God to “Grant that all who are baptized into [Jesus’] Name maybe keep the covenant that they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour.”

That should be our prayer as well today and always.  We pray that we may keep this Baptismal covenant in which we seek to follow Jesus and serve all people equally and fully in his name, no matter who they are.  And we pray that we may boldly live out our covenant by all that we do as Christians in seeking out and helping others in love and compassion and justice.


May we always celebrate that wonderful baptismal event in our lives.  And may we each strive to live out that baptism in our radical ministry of love and service of God and of one another.  Amen.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Holy Name of Jesus

Holy Name
January 1, 2016

Numbers 6.22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4.4-7 and Luke 2.15-21


+ Happy New Year. I always sort of revel in the New Year. I really kind of like this time. I love getting up early on New Year’s Day and driving around town. It is so quiet and so serene.

This getting up early on New Year’s Day is a new tradition for me, especially ever since I became a teetotaler a few years ago. It’s nice waking up on New Year’s Day and not having a hangover, or, as my mother calls it, the “bottle flu.” There is always something so hopeful and wonderful about New Year’s Day.

But…I am going to share a story of a time when it wasn’t so wonderful and hopeful in my life. Fifteen years ago, as the new year of 2002 began, I faced a bleak new year. I had just been laid off from a job I really enjoyed because, surprise of surprises, I had some issues with my superiors. If you thought I was rebellious now, you should’ve seen me back in 2001!

It was an unpleasant situation, and two days after Christmas, they informed me that they were letting me go due to a “financial shortfall.”   I knew the real reason., We all did.

But I limped toward the end of that year beaten down a bit. I was still three years away from being ordained a priest, and the past year had been a particularly difficult one for me in ministry. I was still transitioning from my pre-ministry life to the stark realities of what real ministry was like. And, let’s just say, it was hard. And it wasn’t always fun.

As that New Year dawned, I, for the first time in several years, had very serious doubts about whether I should be ordained or not.   And I was, to put it bluntly, struggling. I was definitely praying for an answer, but no clear answer came.

In fact, rather than a clear answer telling me I should definitely go forward, the new year brought me a bigger devastation than losing my job. In February of 2002, I was diagnosed with cancer.  And I spent most of the rest of that year getting better.

It’s not the most pleasant story for us to hear on this New Year’s Eve. But…actually it kind of is. The answers I received to the prayers I was praying on that bleak New Year’s Day in 2002 were answered. They were just not answered in the ways I expected, or even wanted. My zeal for being a priest was renewed. I was healed. I got well. I pushed forward. And look! I endured.

And when anyone asked me then, or even now, what got me through, I say:

The love of my parents, the support of my friends and the Holy Name of Jesus.

In the midst of the stress and turmoil of it all, in those moments, when I couldn’t form a tangible prayer in my head, the prayer I prayed most was simply the Name of Jesus. If any of you have ever been anointed by me in the hospital or at any other time, you will have invariably heard me repeat a wonderful passage that we find in the Book of Common Prayer. It goes,

The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

That passage spoke loudly to me back in 2002, especially when I was so sick. And you know what? It speaks loudly to us this morning as we begin this year of 2017.

Today, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.   This feast used to be known at the Circumcision of Our Lord.  We have kept the feast, but we’ve changed the name, probably for good reason.  On the eighth day following Jesus’ birth, he, like all Jewish males born in his time, was brought to the temple, circumcised and named. 

His name, Jesus or Joshua, Yeshua in Hebrew, was a common name in his day.  There are two differing translation of the name: one is “God with us.”  The other is “God saves,” or more specifically “God saves us from our sins.”

Today is an important feast. It’s a VERY important feast. Because, that Name is important to us. It’s important to those of who have been healed by it. It’s important for those of us who have found that it is, at times, the only prayer we can pray.

Today’s feast also reminds us that we do truly have an intimate relationship with God. God is no longer a nameless, distant deity.  God has a name.  The God who came to us in Jesus has a name. 

Names, after all, are important.  Our names are important to us.  They define us.   We have been trained to respond when we hear our name called.  We, in effect, are our names.  Our names and ourselves are bound inexorably together.   Our name is truly who we are.

The same can be said of God.  In the Old Testament God reveals the Divine Name as Yahweh.  Yahweh is such a sacred and holy word to Jewish people that it cannot even be repeated.  In a sense, the name Yahweh becomes so intertwined with Who God is that is becomes, for the Jews, almost like God.   And I agree completely.

It is the Name God revealed to Aaron.  God said,

“they shall put my name—Yahweh—on them and I will bless them.”

The message here to all of us is that to have a truly meaningful relationship with anyone—to truly know them—we need to know them by their name.

So, too, is this same idea used when we think about our own relationship with God and, in turn, God’s relationship with us.  God knows us by name and we know God by name. This is important.  God is not simply some distant Being we vaguely comprehend.  God is close.  God is here, with us.  God knows us and we know God.   We know each other by name.

This is why the name of Jesus is important to us.   That is why we give the Name a certain level of respect. Like the Name that was revealed to Aaron, so has the Name of our God been revealed to us.   And like the name Yahweh to the Jews, the Name of Jesus is holy and sacred to us Christians. 

Certainly even for us, the Name is a vital and important part of what we believe as Christians.   The collect for today recalls that the name of Jesus is the “sign of our salvation.” 

Now, I don’t see that as a sweet, overly sentimental notion.  I see it as a very important part of who we are as Christians.

As most of you know, I try very hard to take the Name of Jesus very seriously. Coming from a more Anglo-Catholic background, you’ll notice during our liturgy on Sunday or Wednesday night, I bow my head every time the Name of Jesus is mentioned.   Again, I don’t see that as an overly pious action.  I see it as a sign of respect for Jesus at a time when his Name is widely abused and misused.

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all sworn, using the Name in a disrespectful way.  I’ve done it.  We have not given the rightful respect to God’s name in our lives, even when we know full well that a name is more than just a name.

A Name is, in a sense, one’s very essence.   Certainly in the case of Jesus case, it is.  Jesus is “God with us.”  Jesus is “God saving us.”  By this very name we have a special relationship with this God who has come among us. We belong to this God whose name we know.  God, in Jesus, has come to all of us.  God in Jesus knows each of us by name.  We are special to our God. We are, each of us, deeply loved and cared for by our God.

Certainly those of us who are Christian know this in a unique way. When we were baptized, we, like Jesus eight days after his birth, were named. At our baptism, we were signed as Christ’s own forever. We were claimed by God by name. By Baptism, our own names became holy names. By Baptism, God came to know us by name and because of that, our names are sanctified. We bear in us our own holy name before God.

So today—this day we celebrate not only God’s holy name but our own as well—and in the days to come, take to heart the fact that God’s name is holy and sacred. Be mindful of the words you use and be mindful of that name of Jesus in your life.  
But also be mindful of your own holy name.   When you hear your own name, remember that it is the name God knows you by and, as a result, it is truly holy. In sense our own names can be translated as “God with us.”  When we hear our names, let us hear “God saves us.” And let us be reminded that God knows us better than anyone else—even our own selves. Claim the holiness of your name and know that God in Jesus is calling you to your own fullness of life by name. Amen.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas

December 25, 2016


+ Last night, before our Christmas Eve Mass, I was talking to a parishioner about the pitfalls of being an extrovert. A lot of people don’t talk about there being pitfalls to being extroverted. But for me, I climb the walls when I can’t be around people. I find a good amount of energy from being around people.

Yesterday morning and during the day, I was just…down. I was feeling run-down. I was emotional. Christmas does that to me. And by the time Christmas Eve Mass started rolling around, I thought to myself: how am I going to muster the energy for this?

And then…people started rolling in. Let me tell you: people started rolling in! And we ended up breaking our Christmas Eve attendance record (at least going back to 1988).

As the church filled up to the rafters, and the temperature from all those people started to rise, I found myself invigorated and rejuvenated.

As a result, I had trouble settling down last night. I went over to my mom’s and opened presents. I came home and lit the Menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. And I tried to sleep. But I was too wound up.

I felt great!

It just goes to show you: I really am a church geek. I love being in church. I love being around people.  And this morning, even though I knew we wouldn’t be getting a huge crowd of people, I was still pretty excited.

I especially love the Christmas morning mass. The world seems to pristine, so new.  And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this morning that is, in its purest sense, holy.

Christmas Day Mass!

I also understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas.  It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. I admit I enjoy some of those sparkly Christmas displays.   I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.

But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard. That, I think, is what we experience in the secular understanding of Christmas time. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping.  

But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver.  It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.

The Christmas we celebrate here this morning, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.  

The Christmas we celebrate here is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas. Yes, it has a baby. Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.

A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event.

Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder.

And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world.

The event we celebrate this morning is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us.

For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world.  It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes is sobering.

That is what Jesus does to us. That is what we are commemorating today. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter.

What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy. 

The joy we feel today, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, is a joy that promises us something. It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day.  It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.

But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event.  What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in adoration.  It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives.

Throughout Advent I have been re-reading Advent of the Heart by Alfred Delp, a young German Jesuit priest who was killed by the Nazis on February 2, 1945.  This is one of those books that has moved me to my very soul.  My copy of the book is almost falling apart, I’ve read it that much.  In the book, there is wonderful Advent play Delp wrote for children about ten years before his death. It ended with a monologue that captures perfectly a Christian understand of what Christmas truly is.

Delp wrote at the end of his play:

“That is Christmas—that a hand from above reached into our lives and touches our hearts. That is Christmas, not the other things. My friends, believe it, we have to suffer a lot and hang on. Only then is it Christmas.

“Christmas is a not a sweet fairytale for little children—for happy nurseries…Christmas is serious—so serious—that [people] gladly—die for it. —Tell everyone—many things have to change—first—here—inside…

“Christmas means that God—touches us, —that [God]—grasps our hands—and lays them—on—[God’s]—heart. —That God comes—to us—and sets us free. —Tell everyone—the other isn’t Christmas, —only this—is—Christmas, —that—God—is—with—us.”


Today is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. That’s what makes this a holy time.

So, cling to this holy moment. Savor it.  Hold it close. Pray that it will not end.
 And let this joy you feel this morning be the strength that holds you up when you need to be held.

Today, God has reached out to us.  God has touched us.  God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart.  This is what it is all about. God is here, among us.

This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness. And this joy that we are feeling is because the Light that has come to us will never, ever darken.










Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016


+ Most of us, throughout our lives, find ourselves clinging to life’s little pleasures. Occasionally, something fills us with such joy and happiness, that we find ourselves just wanting to savor that moment, cling to it, hope it will never end.  They don’t happen often. And we can’t make those moments happen by own concentrated will, even if we try really hard. Even more often, we don’t ask for those special moments. They just happen when they’re meant to happen and sometimes they come upon us as a wonderful surprise.

Now, having said this, I’m going to admit something to you that will come as no surprise I’m sure.  I really am a church geek. I love being in church. I always have.

And the best times to be in church were always Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  One of life’s pleasures for me has always been Christmas Eve. And more specifically a Christmas Eve Mass.  Some of my most pleasant memories are of this night and the liturgies I’ve attended on this night. And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this evening that is, in its purest sense, holy.

But, I also understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas.  It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. I admit I enjoy some of those sparkly Christmas displays.

And you know what I really enjoy? I sometimes really enjoy a good Christmas commercial on TV.

I’ve probably shared this before at Christmas, but there’s one old commercial that instantly put me back into my childhood Christmases.  I’m sure you’ll remember it too.  If not, just look it up on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqhUuH43LNM 

It begins with the Ink Spots are singing “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” Two very attractive people are in a very modern (by 1980s standards), sparsely decorated office overlooking the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.

The man introduces himself as “Charles,” the woman as “Catherine.”

Charles asks Catherine: “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“No,” Catherine says. “What is it?”

We never find out what that question is because, just then, the shadow of a Leer jet flies across the Transamerica building.  Then announcer comes says:

“Share the fantasy. Chanel no. 5”

For some reason, that commercial was synonymous with Christmas for me as a child. So much so, that later, I had to buy my mother a bottle of Chanel no. 5. Now, that might sound sweet, but every since then, guess what she wants ever few years? Chanel no. 5. Let me tell you, that stuff’s expensive!

Now, I know that that commercial had nothing at all to do with Christmas. There wasn’t a Christmas tree in sight in that commercial.  Nothing about it spoke of Christmas.  And yet, for me, it WAS Christmas.  And I remember the joy I felt that first time I bought my mother that bottle of Chanel No. 5.

So, yes, I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.  But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard.

That, I think, is what we experience in the secular understanding of Christmas time. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping, or, as in the case of the Chanel No. 5 commercial, it can do it without any bright lights and wrapping.  But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver.  It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.

The Christmas we celebrate here tonight, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.  The Christmas we celebrate here is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas.

Yes, it has a baby. Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.

A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event.

Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder.

And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world.

The event we celebrate tonight is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us. For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world.  It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes is sobering.

That is what Jesus does to us. That is what we are commemorating tonight. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter.

What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy.  The joy we feel today, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, is a joy that promises us something.

It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day.  It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.

But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event.  What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in adoration.  It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives.

Tonight, is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. That’s what makes this a holy time.

So, cling to this holy moment. Savor it.  Hold it close. Pray that it will not end. And let this joy you feel tonight be the strength that holds you up when you need to be held.

Tonight, God has reached out to us.  God has touched us.  God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart.  This is what it is all about.

God is here, among us.  This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness. And this joy that we are feeling is because the Light that has come to us will never, ever darken.










Merry Christmas


Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Christmas Letter

December 15, 2016

My Friends at St. Stephen’s,

As we near the birth of Jesus and as we look forward toward 2017, the future continues to look over brighter and brighter for us at St. Stephen’s.

Serving as St. Stephen’s continues to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my priestly life. Our life together of worship, ministry, music and outreach, our life of being a safe place where all are accepted and welcomed has been a source of great personal joy for me and has helped me to see how gracious God is in showering blessings upon faithful, committed people who truly do seek after God.

As we move forward together into this future full of hope and potential growth, I ask for your continued prayers for St. Stephen’s and your continued presence on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and whenever else we gather together to worship and to do ministry.

As you know, I pray for each of you individually by name over the course of each week in my daily observance of the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer). I also remember all of you at the altar during celebration of the Mass. This my way of expressing my gratitude to God for each of you. Above all, know that I also give God thanks every day for the continued opportunity to serve such a wonderful, caring and loving congregation of people who are committed to growth and radical hospitality.

In return, I ask for your prayers for me in my ministry. I depend on your prayers and blessings in my life and certainly can feel the full effect of those good works in lifting me up and sustaining me during those inevitable low times.

And please do join us during this Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Christ. There will be plenty of opportunities to join in the celebration at St. Stephen’s/

My sincerest blessings to you and to all those you love during this season of joy, hope and love.

PEACE always,


Fr. Jamie Parsley+


Christmastide 2016
at St. Stephen’s
 Saturday December 24  - Christmas Eve
7:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music
Christmas tableau for the Children during the reading of the Gospel

Sunday December 25 –   Nativity of Our Lord
11:00 am Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music

Monday December 26St. Stephen
6:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music
Incense will be offered at this Mass
Supper afterward at a local restaurant