Sunday, December 30, 2012

1 Christmas

Dec. 30, 2012

John 1.1-18

+ This year, for New Year’s, I sort of planned a small, sort impromptu New Year’s Eve party at the Rectory. The way the Rectory looks right now, done up as it is in the mid-Century Modern décor, one would think we’re about to be ringing in 1963, instead of 2013. Only if 1963 had flatscreen color TV, Netflicks and Internet. As I have been planning this party I have been thinking a lot about one of the films I always watch at this time of year. It’s not a good movie. I don’t recommend it to any of you. But, for me, it’s one of my guilty pleasures. It’s just pure kitsch. And you know I LOVE kitsch.

The movie is 200 Cigarettes. It came out in 1999. It stars Courtney Love (see, now you all want to see this movie don’t you?) along with Paul Rudd and a bunch of other twenty-and-thirty-something actors from the 1990s and it takes place on new year’s Eve 1981. It’s a true homage to New Wave early 1980s (which I actually love, almost as much as cool early 1960s).

My favorite character in the movie is Monica, played by the actress Martha Plimpton. She is hosting a New Year’s Party and throughout the movie, she frets over the fact that no one is coming to her party. Finally, in her anxiety and frustration, she drinks way too much and passes out. But while she’s passed out, everybody arrives and have a party. Monica wakes up on New Year’s Day to a bunch of strangers asleep on her floors and she has to piece the night together through Polaroid pictures of the evening. Even her favorite musician, Elvis Costello, shows up—and of course, she missed him.

I relate the most to Monica. I know how Monica feels. I fret like that too, whenever I host a party. I fret no one’s coming. I hate the beginning part of a party that I’m hosting. I hate waiting for people to arrive. Because in my waiting, in my anxiety, I let every bad thought come into my head. I think, No body’s coming. Or as Monica would say, “I have no friends. Everybody hates me.” And then, people show up and I’m fine.

But I what I realized, I don’t like the beginning of anything. I like the comfortableness of the middle part of anything. I like when people are at my party and we’re settled down and we’re just having fun. If I could skip from the planning to the middle of parties, I would be a happy camper. The fact is, life doesn’t work that way.

And in our Gospel reading for today, we are told in no uncertain terms that there is no getting around the beginning. The beginning we experience today is a bit different than the beginning we read about in Genesis. The beginning we encounter today even harkens back further than the creation of Adam and Eve. It goes back to before those creation stories to who and what God was initially.

“In the beginning…” we hear at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel.

And they are certainly the most appropriate words if ever there were any. Especially at this time of the year. As this year runs down and the new begins, our thoughts turn to beginnings. We think about that New Year and how important a new year is our lives. It heralds for us a sense of joy—and fear—of the future. All of a sudden we are faced with the future. It lies there before us—a mystery. Will this coming year bring us joy or will it bring us sadness? Will it be a good year or a bad year? And we step forward into the New Year without knowing what that year will hold for us.

But, the fact is, at the very beginning moment, we can’t do much more than just be here, right now. We need to just experience this beginning. And we can’t let that anxiety of someone like Monica from the 200 Cigarettes take hold. We just need to be here, right now, and take part fully in this new beginning. That’s what beginnings are all about, I guess. That one moment when we can say:

“Right now! This is it! We are live and we are here! Now!”

And we all know that just as soon as we do, it’ll be past.

In our reading from John this morning, it’s also one of those moments. In that moment, we get a glimpse of one of those “right now” moments. It seems as though, for that moment, it’s all clear. At least for John anyway.

We encounter, the “Word.” The Word, as John intends, is, of course, Jesus. Jesus as the knowledge and mind of God. Jesus as the essence of God. This is an appropriate way to begin the Gospel of John and to begin our new year as well. It is a great beginning. It sets the tone for us as followers of Jesus. He was there in the beginning. And he is here, now, in our beginning. And in him, we experience a beginning that doesn’t seem to end.

In Jesus, God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine. God appears to us in the Gospels not as God in the Old Testament, cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind. Instead, in Jesus, God appears before us, as one of us in a whole new beginning. God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s essence became flesh. God’s voice was no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices.

Now, in this beginning moment, God instead speaks to us as one of us. And this voice is a familiar one. The Word spoken to us in this beginning moment, is a word of Love. The commandment this Word tells us of is a commandment to love. Love God and love one another as you love yourselves.

This might actually be one of the few times when I actually enjoy the beginning of a story. I enjoy this beginning because this is the true message of Jesus as the Word.

Maybe the true message of Jesus is that, in God’s Kingdom, that beginning keeps on and on, without end. In God’s Kingdom there is constant renewal. In God’s Kingdom it is always like New Year’s Day—always fresh, always full of hope for a future that does not end or disappoint.

As we prepare to celebrate 2013, this is a great way to live this beginning moment. In this beginning moment, let us think about beginnings and how important they are for us personally and for our spiritual lives. And let us do what we can to be the bringers of new beginnings not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others. With this encounter with the Word, we, like John, are also saying in this moment, this moment is holy. This moment is special. This moment is unique and beautiful, because God is reaching out to us.

Unlike how we might feel at the New Year—full of both hope and apprehension—or how poor Monica feels waiting for the beginning of her party, in this instance, in our grasping of it, it doesn’t wiggle away from it. It doesn’t fall through our fingers like sand. Or snow. It stays with us. Always new. Always fresh. Always being renewed. We’re here. Right now. We’re alive! It’s the future.

The Word, the Essence, of God has come to us as one of us. It’s incredible, really. This moment is a glorious and holy one. So, let us, in this holy moment, be joyful. Let us in this holy moment rejoice. And let us, in this holy moment, look forward to what awaits us with courage and confidence. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


December 25, 2012

Isaiah 52.7-10; John 1.1-14

+ Last night was one of those magical nights. We had an overflow crowd here at St. Stephen’s for Christmas Eve Mass. And, of course, I LOVE that!

At that Mass last night, I shared how much I LOVE this Mass—the Christmas Day Mass. And I do. I think—though I’m not sure—I might even love it more than Christmas Eve.

We’re not overflow by any sense of the word today. And that’s just fine. I like that we’re not overflow today. I like that there’s balance.

Christmas Eve is beautiful in its way. But Christmas Day is just….so perfect in its own way. There really is something pristine and lovely about Christmas morning. If there was ever a holy moment, it is this morning.

Now, as we enter this holy day, I have to admit something. Some of you, in the midst of the craziness and hustle and bustle of these past few weeks have heard me make a confession I really didn’t want to make. In the midst of being exhausted and tired and overwhelmed by everything, I let slip my secret: Christmas is not one of my favorite seasons. I mean, the commercial Christmas.

I have tried. I have made every effort throughout the years to celebrate and enjoy this holiday. But it just has never really endeared itself to me.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking here about Jesus’ birth or Advent or anything of the spiritual things associated with this season. Rather, I have never been a big fan of all the Christmas trappings that go along with his holiday. OK, I do kind of like some of the glitz of the holiday. But only on a surface.

Still, despite my frustrations over the actual season, this morning I, like most of you, feel a little tinge of excitement on Christmas. I, like most of you, know that today is just a little more special than any other day. Something holy and beautiful is happening around us today.

This morning, at Morning Prayer, the verse we use for the Benedictus (we call this verse an antiphon) was particular beautiful and apt.

“While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course, your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of your royal throne.”

I love that! I love the image that arises in my mind when I hear. “you almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down…”

It’s so powerful and stunning. As wonderful as that image seems, it also seems to say to us that when God’s word—Jesus—leaps down in our midst, he will bring with him all the answers. When Jesus comes to us, our questions of life and death will be answered. Our enemies will be vanquished. All will be made right. And today, on this Christmas day, that prayer has been answered.

We realize that Jesus has truly leaped down among us. But what we find in his coming is that our questions about life and death have not been answered. We still don’t understand life and we still fear death. Our enemies have not been vanquished. In fact, sometimes, they seem to be triumphing all the more. And as we look around this world—at the mass murder of children, the violence, at the crime, at the war and injustice of this world, at the racism and homophobia and sexism that still exists—we realize all has not been made magically right. And what we expected in our Savior, our Redeemer our Messiah—what we thought would be the mighty warrior coming with sword in hand to shield us and vanquish the forces of evil—we instead find a Child. We find a vulnerable human baby, born of a teenage mother under mysterious and scandalous circumstances.

And still, despite all of that, somehow, on this evening, holiness shines through to us. The Word has leapt down to us and yet we know that although it has not been cataclysmic, something incredible still has happened.

As the great Archbishop of Canterbury (and probably the greatest of my personal heroes), Michael Ramsey once wrote: “Our Christmas is no less Christmas and our joy no less joyful because we are keeping Christmas with a very dark and troubled world around us…Our rejoicing at Christmas is not an escape from life’s grim realities into a fancy realm of religion and festivity. Rather is it a joy that, as we face and feel the world’s tragedy, we know that God has an answer: an answer for [hu]mankind to receive. In a word, this is a time of hope.”

This morning, on this crisp day, we celebrate that hope. While darkness still exists, we now see that in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light. It is dim at times. It doesn’t seem like much. But it is there. And as we strain into that darkness, we realize that hope comes to us as Light. We celebrate hope of that Light that has come to us in our collective and personal darknesses. We celebrate the Light that has come to us in our despair and our fear, in our sadness and in our frustration. And as it does, we hold bask in the glory of those two emotions—the two emotions Christmas is all about—hope and joy. Hope—in our belief that what has come to us—Jesus—God made flesh—is here among us,

The Word of God has leaped down among us.

“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,” we hear the Prophet Isaiah tell us today, “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

We are experiencing joy at seeing this salvation of God in our midst. As we come forward today to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we remember and commemorate and make ours this day, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. This hope and joy we are experiencing this morning comes up from our very centers. We will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a barn in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people.

Our lives are different because of what happened that evening. This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we feared and dreaded. When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we realize that yes, the Word of God has leaped down. And the salvation of God has appeared in our midst.

This is the source of true joy. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before. And that is what we are rejoicing in this glorious day.

Our true hope and true joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents under a decorated tree. Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. We know that our true hope and joy are not there because by Saturday, we’re going to see that what the rest of the society is celebrating in this Christmas season will be disposed of. By tomorrow, the wrapping paper and the boxes will be on the curbs and so will many of the trees.

Our true hope and joy is more powerful and more tangible than anything that is so disposable. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory. Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he comes to us, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence. Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God who would come to us, not on some celestial cloud with a sword in his hand and armies of angels flying about.

Our hope and joy is in a God who comes to us in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager under scandalous circumstances in a dusty third world land. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh—a God who is born, like we are born—of a human mother—and who dies like we all must die. Our hope and joy is in a God who comes and accepts us and loves us for who we are and what we are—a God who understands what it means to live this sometimes frightening uncertain life we live. But who, by that very birth, makes all births unique and holy and who, by that death, takes away the fear of death for all of us.

So, yes, I guess maybe all our expectations of Jesus’ coming have, in fact, been fulfilled. Slowly, but surely, he does make all things right—eventually. This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful night. This is why we are feeling within us a strange sense of happiness and excitement. This is why we are rushing toward our Savior who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let this hope we feel today as Jesus comes to us stay with us now and always. Let the joy we feel today as Jesus comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.

Jesus is here. He is in our midst today. He is so near, our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. So, let us greet him today with all that we have within us and welcome him into the shelter of our hearts. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9.2-7; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

+ I have a guest at the rectory next door. My guest will staying with me through Christmas, until Thursday. I have been so excited about this guest. And she is darling… Her name is Bella. And she is a beautiful Chihuahua.

She belongs to my friends, Greg and Lisa and their daughters Sophie and Phoebe, who are in town for a few days. They couldn’t get a kennel in the cities for Bella and Lisa’s parents are not excited about having a dog around, so I get Bella.

As I said I have been so excited about Bella, despite having a few weeks of some stress and personal turmoil. In fact, knowing Bella’s coming has got me through some of that stress and turmoil. It’s been a good kind of anticipation. The fact is, throughout our lives, most of us find ourselves clinging to life’s little pleasures. Little pleasures like a little dog coming to stay with us.

Occasionally, something fills us with such joy and happiness, that we find ourselves savoring that moment, clinging to it, hoping it will never end. They don’t happen often. We can’t make those moments happen by own concentrated will. Even more often, we don’t ask for them. They just happen when they’re meant to happen and sometimes they come upon us as a wonderful surprise.

Now one of life’s pleasures for me anyway, that I actually CAN kind of control, is happening right now. One of life’s pleasures for me has always been Christmas Eve Mass. Some of my most pleasant memories are of this night and the liturgies I’ve attended on this night.

Another of life’s small pleasures is Christmas morning. I especially enjoy going to church on Christmas morning. The world seems different—so pristine, so new. 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. And tomorrow morning I am looking forward to celebrating my first Christmas Day Eucharist with you here at St. Stephen’s.

If this was what Christmas was really all about, I’d be happy. Sadly, it’s not. Still, I 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. No body like glitz and glamour more than me! 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. 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 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. Babies and mothers died all the time. There was no medical knowledge as we know it then. 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.

But for us, this event is a little of glitz and glamour and warm-heartedness, and some of that awesome, God-filled mystery. The event we celebrate tonight is THE event in which God breaks through to us. The event we celebrate is the Incarnation.

Now, Incarnation seems like one of those big, strange, church words. But, for us, it does not have to be. For us, Incarnation means, God breaking through to us. Christmas, for us who are followers of Jesus, is about God breaking through to us in Jesus. 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 can be blinding and can be painful. And what it exposes is sobering. That is what Jesus does to us. That is REAL Incarnation. It shakes us up and changes 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. And it can happen again and again in our lives. 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 some THING. It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will all 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 humility. 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.

A few Sundays ago, I preached about how the prayer of Advent is, “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” This is the prayer all of who are followers of Jesus pray. Well, tonight, that prayer is answered.

Tonight, Jesus is that point in which God breaks through to us. Yes, God breaks through to us all the time. God breaks through to us in incarnational ways many times in our lives. And one of our jobs as followers of Jesus is to be incarnational ourselves—to be that point through which God breaks through to those around us.

But tonight, something different has happened. God has broken through in a very clear way to us. God, in this child, has become one of us. God is among us. God is with us. Not in some esoteric, symbolic way. God has come among us with flesh like our flesh, and blood like our blood. God has become a Child, like we were all once children.

By becoming this Child, our flesh is now made holy. Our blood has been made holy. Our bodies and souls are now holy. Or, as Paul writes tonight in his letter to Titus,

“The grace of God has appeared, brining salvation to all…”

This Incarnation is the grace of God in the flesh. It is something we did not ask for, nor would we even know how to ask for it. But here he is—Grace personified. Grace in the flesh. Grace we see and feel. And we now are compelled to leave the safety of this church, on this holy night, with that grace and sacredness dwelling within each of us as well.

Lord Jesus, come quickly, we have prayed all Advent. And tonight he has. Tonight, is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. The Light has broken through into our darkness.

Let us cling to this moment. Let us savor it. Let us hold it close. But, most importantly, let us embody it. Let it dwell within each of us.

Tonight, as the great German martyr Fr. Alfred Delp said, God has touched us. God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart. 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.

“Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them has light has shines,” the prophet Isaiah tells us.

We are those who lived in deep darkness. And it is upon us, this holy night, that light—a Light that will not flicker or fade and die—shines.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Weird introspection at the year's end

So, being weirdly introspective today, I am looking back over 2012, and I have to say it has certainly been a roller coaster year. What I thought would be a year of some major healing didn’t quite turn out that way. The poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop (a poet whose influence on me has been the longest-lasting outside of George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins) might be the most apt summation for the year: loss is a diffuclt lessons to learn, but the fact is, loss is not always a bad thing, nor does it always a disaster. Ulcers, a concussion, a car accident, set-backs and frustrations and various other kinds of loss both professionally and personally certainly were in abundance. And yet, in the midst of it all, the good things were exceptionally good: my congregation flourished in incredible and amazing ways, my 10th book continued to be somewhat successful, my 11th book was published, etc. Strangely, it all balances out. So, I guess EB is right: none of it was disaster. But certainly, after all is said and done, the art of losing really is not hard to master.


By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3 Advent

Gaudete Sunday
December 16, 2012

Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18

+ I know you all so well. I sometimes think I may be able to read your collective mind. As I stand before you this morning, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Is he wearing pink?” Already, I can tell I am going to get some questions—and comments—after the Mass today.

Yes, I am wearing pink today. Actually, it’s rose. And yes, this IS an option for us Episcopalians on this Sunday. It’s right there on our liturgical calendar that the color rose may be used today. And so it is.

It is Gaudete Sunday. It’s called Gaudete because in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say rejoice” or in Latin: Gaudete in Domino simperinterum dico, gaudete.

Gaudete means Rejoice. Rejoice is our word for the day today. I don’t think we think about what that word really means.


As we draw closer and closer to commemorating Jesus’ birth, we find ourselves with that strange, wonderful emotion in our hearts—joy. It is a time to rejoice. It is a time to be anxious (in a positive way) and excited over the fact that, in just a little over a week, we will celebrating God’s coming among, God’s being with us.

Or as Paul says today, ”the Lord is near” Or, in Latin (since we’re on kind of a Latin bent this Gaudete Sunday) Dominus propus est.

Actually, preaching about joy today—on this day—is not easy to do. From where we stand—here and now—it might not be so easy to find joy in our hearts. I think most of us have been deeply affected by the events on Friday of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Yes, there have been worse mass shootings. Yes, there are terrible things happening all the time—murders, and bombings, and general destruction. But this one resonates and will continue to resonate with us for a long time to come. For me, it didn’t really hit home until I saw some of the photos of the children. That’s when it hit me hard.

But, yet, today might be the day when we need something different. We need a break from our Sarum Blue. What I many people don’t realize is that Advent, with all its hopefulness, is actually, like Lent, a penitential time. It is a time for us to slow down, to ponder, to think. And to wait. It is a time to be introspective, as well—to think about who are and where we are in our lives.

So, in the midst of pondering and waiting and introspection, we also find ourselves pondering the effects of this mass murder, Yes, maybe it is time for a little joy in the midst of all this pain.

It is important, as followers of Jesus, that, in the wake of these things, we do not despair. We do not lose heart. Even in the midst of a penitential time such as Advent, it is important that we also find joy.

That is why we are decorated in rose this morning. That is why, in our pondering, we are pondering joy—even joy in the midst of suffering and pain. That is why, even despite all that happened and will happen, we can still rejoice.


In our pondering and in our moment of rejoicing, we are also given a dose of sobering finger-shaking. We find, in our Gospel reading, that formidable figure of John the Baptist, saying to us,

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

These words speak loud and clear to us even now—in this moment of joy. We can hear those words and know, even now, in whatever pains we have at this moment, what the source of our joy is John is essentially saying to us, Jesus is near. And because Jesus is near, let’s keep doing good. Let us bear fruit.

We—Christians—bear fruit when we are joyful in our God. We bear fruit when we are joyful and rejoicing, even in the midst of darkness and pain. How can’t we? That joy that we carry within us fertilizes the good things we do. It motivates us. It compels us. It gives us purpose and meaning in our lives.

This is what Gaudete Sunday is all about—rejoicing. Living in joy. Letting joy reign supreme in us. Letting joy win out over the pain.

There is a personal reason why I introduced rose-colored vestments here at St. Stephen’s. This Sunday—Gaudete Sunday—has always been a meaningful Sunday to me. And the reason it has been so meaningful is because of a book I read several years ago. The book was about Fr. Alfred Delp. If you do not know about Fr. Delp, I encourage you to. He was truly one of the world’s heroes. I can never let Gaudete Sunday pass without referencing Fr. Delp in some way.

Delp was a German Jesuit priest who, in February, 1945, was killed by the Nazis. On Gaudete Sunday, 1944, while he was in prison awaiting his uncertain future, Fr. Delp wrote these words about a Christian full of joy (and remember as you hear these words—they were written by a priest in prison who is about the executed for standing up to the evil he saw in his world):

"Only a person like this will be capable of breathing deeply, and life and the world will not refuse him. They will give all that they rightly have to give, because it is demanded with the sovereign goods of divine jurisdiction, which have been put at his disposal. He will feel the eternal brilliance of creation again, regarding it reverently and protectively…. his mind and heart, his hands and works, have the creative gift and strength to pass the test. And such a person becomes one of great joy—the great joy that he lives and experiences, as well as gives and enkindles in others. Gaudete!”

Fr. Delp is telling us essentially that what our job as followers of Jesus, one of our many jobs, is not just to rejoice with our lips today. Rather, he is saying to us that we must embody rejoicing. We must embody joy. We must live joy in all we do and say and are. Even when life throws horrible things at us, we must still embody joy. Even in the pain we feel over these shootings, even in whatever difficulties we’re facing in our own lives, at this time of the year, we too can still, in all honesty, proclaim:



And live that Gaudete out in our very existence.

So, let Gaudete be more than just what we say or we do one Sunday a year. Let it be our way of life as we await Jesus’ presence coming to us. St. Paul are both right:

The Lord is near!

The Lord is near even in this darkness we might be in at this time. The Lord is near even as we reel from violence and death around us. The Lord is near!

Let our joy flow up from within us and burn in our lives with a radiant flame. And when we do we will find that we too have “the creative gift and strength to past the test.” We too, as embodied joy, will be bearing good fruits

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The One We Hardly Knew

The One We Hardly Knew 

after Óscar Romero

No one can celebrate
this birth genuinely.
Certainly not those who rely on no one,

those who rely only on themselves,
those who, having it all,
look with sneered disgust

at those who have none,
those who have no need
even of you.

For them, there will be
no real celebration,
no true realization of this birth.

Only those who want,
who hunger with a gnawing pang at their very depths,
who ache for that someone

to come to them on their behalf
will finally—
after all of this—

have that Some One.
That Some One—

who comes to us now—
you have also been with us.
You, the One who came to us sometime long ago,

you are with us even now, in this crushing
lonely poverty that causes us to cry out
without a sound in our throats.

Without that wringing-out of our very souls
there could be no moment such as this
in which abundance rained down on us, unasked-for.

—Jamie Parsley

Óscar Romero (1917-1980) was Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980 by a paid death squad assassin as he elevated the chalice while celebrating a funeral Mass in the chapel of La Divina Providencia Hospital in San Salvador.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2 Advent

December 9, 2012

Luke 3.1-6

+ So, it seems there are two phrases that sort of define my life. For any of you who know me for any period of time, you will have heard me say, at some point, one of these statements. And sometimes, on a rare occasion, you may hear me say both phrases.

The first phrase I say often is “The chickens always come home to roost.”

I love that statement. I think it should be the epitaph on my gravestone. In many ways, it summarizes my ethic/moral view of the world. Essentially what is says is that there are consequences to all of our actions. There may be such thing as Karma in the world.

The chicken always come home to roost.

The other phrase I use often—more often than not tongue-in-cheek—is “I am the prophet in your midst.”

By that, I mean I sometimes have a weird perception of things. I can take one look at a situation, assess it and make an educated guess on how it is going to turn out. The prophet in your midst.

The problem is, sometimes the prophecy doesn’t always turn out as planned. That, of course, is also prophecy. Sometimes the prophecy changes because those to whom the prophecy is made, change, and God grants them grace.

Today, in our Gospel reading, we encounter another prophet—one of the great and one of the last official prophets. In this morning’s Gospel, we are faced with the formidable figure of John the Baptist. The impression we get from Luke is of someone we probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He comes across to us through the ages as a man crazed. Certainly it would be difficult for any of us to take the words of a man like this seriously. Especially when he’s saying things like, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. How could WE do any such thing? Somehow, in the way John the Baptist proclaims it, this is not so much hopeful as frightening. It is a message that startles us and jolts us at our very core.

But this—whether we like it or not—is the true message of Advent. Like John the Baptist and those who eagerly awaited the Messiah, this time of waiting was almost painful. When we look at it from that perspective, we see that maybe John isn’t being quite as difficult and windy as we initially thought. Rather his message is one of almost excruciating expectation.

For us, as followers of Jesus, we too are living with this excruciating expectation. But our expectation is not something we do complacently. We don’t just sit here and twiddle our thumbs in our patient waiting. Rather, in our expectation we do what John the Baptist and other prophets did. We prophesy. We proclaim. We asses the situation, and strengthened by what we know is coming to us, we make a guess at how it will all turn out. And we profess and proclaim that message. Our job as prophets is to echo the cry of the Baptist:

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

We should find ways to prepare for the Incarnate God’s coming to us. We do it in many ways during Advent. We light the candles of the Advent wreath. We listen to the message of the prophets from the Hebrew Bible. We slow down and we ponder who it is we are longing for. And we wait…

As prophets, as fellow seers of the future, of that moment when the Messiah will come to us, the most common prayer we seem to pray during this Advent season is:

Lord Jesus, come quickly.

But it is also the perfect summation of this Advent season.

Lord Jesus, quickly come.

It is the prayer we should all be praying as we prepare the way of the Lord. It should be the prayer that is on our lips constantly in these days before Christmas. We know he is coming. We know is imminent. But sometimes it seems so agonizingly slow in coming. In our impatience and our expectation, we cry out:

“Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

A few years ago, Joanne Droppers, a former member of this congregation, gave me one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in some time. The book is Exiles by Ron Hansen. I have long been a fan of Hansen, every since I read his exceptionally beautiful novel Mariette in Ecstasy.

In Exiles, Hansen examines, in his fiction, the story of the great poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now for those of you who know me, you know that Hopkins has been a major poetic influence on me. I recently came across my journal from 1987, when I was seventeen years old. I was amazed how much Hopkins I read at the time and how many times I referenced him.

Hopkin’s most famous poem is “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” And, in Hansen’s novel, he examines the actual disaster that inspired the poem.

On December 6, 1875, a German passenger steamer, The Deutschland, on its way from Bremerhaven to New York, ran aground in a blizzard on a sandy shoal in the Thames estuary near Harwich, England. After several hours of being trapped there, early on the morning of December 7 the ship began to take on water and the captain ordered the ship to be abandoned. The passengers panicked and people began falling into the freezing water. Among the several hundred who died were five Franciscan nuns who were fleeing the anti-Catholic sentiments that were sweeping Germany at the time under Otto von Bismarck. All five nuns died in those waters. But as they floundered in the water, they were heard crying out one prayer.

As Hopkins puts it in his poem:

“And they the prey of the gales;
She the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.”

To some extent, our Advent is much like the freezing waters that rise about this poor nun in Hopkin’s poem.

In this season, overwhelmed by all that is happening around us, we too might find ourselves crying out as that sister did in those freezing waters. Both places are frightening. Those freezing waters are frightening. And our own lives can be frightening. And at times, these moments of expectation are frightening.

But, still, even in these frightening moments, we are prophets. We can assess the situation—as ugly and bitter as it is—and see that there is a positive outcome. Always.

Jesus is coming. Yes, not at the speed we want him to come. But he is coming. And in that moment, prophets that we are, seeing into the dark of the future, we too can say,

“Even so, Lord, Jesus, come quickly.”

In it, we find our hope and our longing articulated. We, the prophets, find that we can now see the goal for which we are working. We can look into the gloom, into the frightening future and see that all is not lost.

He is coming. He is coming to us. He is coming to us in this place in which we seem sometimes to flounder. He comes to us in these moments when we feel overwhelmed. He comes to us in those moments when it seems we have lost. He comes to us in our defeat. And when he does, even in those moments, we know.

Truly the summation of our prophecies is upon us. And that summation? It is the fact that, in his coming “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” in our midst. And with that realization, with that actualization, we are listed from those waters and from mire and muck of our lives, and we restored.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!


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