Monday, January 10, 2022

Year C Epiphany 1 WED 2022 Ecce Homo

 Year C Epiphany 1 WEDNESDAY, 12 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Ecce Homo”


Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated

means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).


The season of Epiphany is all about the declaration to the world who this person Jesus is.


Often the portrayal of Jesus in paintings is entitled, Ecce Homo quoting Pontius Pilate after Jesus’ scourging. The Latin comes from St. Jerome’s Vulgate. “Behold the man!”





We see several seeing Jesus for who he is in our reading.


John declares that he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and that he is the “Lamb of God.” The vision that he received made it clear for him that he was the one.


Then John shared it with two of his followers. One of them was St. Andrew, who shared it with his brother, St. Peter.


We all have ways we were given the image of this one, the Man, the Messiah. We all also have ways we tell the world how we understand and how seriously we take this one, however we see him.


How do we declare who Jesus is? How do our lives say, “Behold the Man!”


Pilate respected Jesus, and had a grudging admiration of him. It was hard to let him go, and he was not willing to take the political fallout for releasing him.


We have a hard time knowing how what we live and what we project will be seen and heard. But that is not our responsibility. We trust the Holy Spirit to precede us, and to lay the groundwork for what our recipients need to see and hear. Just like John the Baptizer. He heard the Spirit, and it was confirmed by the events at hand.


As has been said to be an apocryphal statement of St. Francis, “Preach at all times, when necessary use words.” How does your life preach the Christ?


Think on that today.


Protect yourself, friends. How we behave and care for one another during these crazy days shows how seriously we take the mandate of Christ to care for the “least of these.” Amen


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Year C Christmas 2 WEDNESDAY 2022 Unbind Us

Year C 2nd Sunday of Christmas WEDNESDAY, 5 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Unbind Us”


Collect: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 11:17-27,38-44

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

So here we are again. We are delayed today because we have icy roads, and the schools are opening late. I am actually glad. We are now 5 times higher on the infection rate that shut us down not even a year ago. There are more cases now than at the worst of the last year and a half. I trust that it will be no surprise when we have to make the call to suspend in-person gatherings for a time.

And here we are contemplating resurrection. I wish we could be like Lazarus, and despite our stink, despite what appears to be our imminent demise, despite all the fuss, we could have the stone rolled back, and we could hear Jesus words commanding, “Unbind them, and let them go!”

Now Lazarus did nothing to make this happen, he had just been faithful in what he was responsible for, caring for his sisters and responding to Jesus’ teachings about his way of loving and following and serving God.

Jesus considered him and his sisters friends. And Jesus even wept at the word that Lazarus had died.

I think on the things that I do or that I left undone that brings Jesus to tears.

My prayer is that this time of stink, this time of what seems to be decay and our demise, our time of grief and heartbreak, and death, that we will be faithful as Lazarus was, and that we will be ready for resurrection when it is offered. If it is.

Resurrection is rare biblically, with only a few examples ever mentioned. But one thing that is throughout Scripture is that even in the worst of times, in times of war, or famine, or death, God prevails. A righteous remnant always is saved and left to carry on the faith in the living God. Think on Noah, the prophets, the Babylonian Exile. God always finds a way around the horror and the heartbreak. And even when they attempt to kill the very God that saves the righteous remnant, even there, we are give a Resurrected Lord.


That is my hope. That is the faith I preach and teach. That is the unique heart of our Good News.


In these dark days, hold onto that light. Hold onto that Hope. That is the heartbeat of Lazarus, and may it be ours as well.

Have Hope. Fear Not. Amen



Sunday, January 2, 2022

Year C Holy Name Observed 2022 Creator-Sets-Free

 Year C Holy Name (Observed), 2 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Creator-Sets-Free”


Collect: Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Luke 2:15-21

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. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


Words mean things. That is one reason why you hear me talk about etymology so much, the roots and inherent meanings of words. Words are where I live my life, consuming them, sharing them. I love breaking down words and seeing the ingredients. It is like when you taste something new and you try to pick out the ingredients the cook used even though your mouth is being overwhelmed by the mixture and new interactions.


Even more than words, Names are so important. One of the greatest burdens as new parents weas naming our new children. For both of our kids, we narrowed it down to a handful before they were born. Our oldest, when born, was premature. She was almost 6 hours old before we could even see her. A nurse came in and asked what we had decided to name her and Stephanie, obviously irritated said curtly, “I am not going to name her before I hold her!” Because of the shift change, the nurse was not aware of this and helped remedy the situation immediately. And once we held this precious one, our guts confirmed it independent of one another. And we named our child.


As an English teacher I loved looking up the meanings of the character’s and how we shape identity with the names authors pick. Some are for meaning. Some for a feeling. Think of it, would Ebenezer Scrooge be as Scrooge-y if his name were not Scrooge. 


Think on your name. What meaning and purpose does it give you? My given name is Jeffrey, God’s peace, but very few of you ever call me that, much less even knew it. A nickname was given to me in college and it stuck. In my 50s I still use it. It has become an identity, it has become my self-perception. Rock, and I had it before Dwayne Johnson ever started using it.


In Jesus day, one often kept family names, so this angelic imperative was different. For both Jesus and his cousin John. The Messengers declared the names they were to be called. Names mean things. This was important.


The Holy Name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew name Yeshua/Y'shua, which is based on the Semitic root y-š-ʕ (Hebrew: ישע), meaning "to deliver; to rescue." In Hebrew it is often written as Joshua. In short it could be “YHWH Saves” or simply “God Saves.”


Focusing on the meaning of the names is culturally different. A fascinating new translation of the New Testament has just come out that makes this very clear. 


Now when people do translations of Scripture, they have a few choices to make. Is it going to be a literal translation? Word for word? If so it is often clunky and it can make no sense in a new culture. Think of a society that does not have sheep. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” how does one translate that? Do you find a cultural equivalent herd animal? Llamas? Reindeer? If you do then it becomes more of a thought translation which is very different as the translator’s understanding, biases, and opinions come into play. So I was excited to hear about this new translation looking at our native populations. 


A First Nations Version writes to the indigenous peoples of our country, and follows the tradition of saying the meaning of a person’s label, and that is the name. In our culture, names are mostly just sounds. We do not think on what they mean when we say them. In reading the Scripture with Names-Spelled-Out, it gives a powerfully different reading. The reading from today’s Gospel shows this…


When the messengers (angels) returned to the spirit-world above, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us go and see this great thing Creator has told us.” So the hurried to the village of the Chief Much-Loved-One (David) and found Bitter-Tears (Mary), He-Gives-Sons (Joseph), and the child, who, just as they were told, was lying in a feeding trough!

The shepherds began to tell everyone what they had seen and heard about the child, and all who heard the story were amazed.

Bitter-Tears (Mary) kept these things hidden in her heart and wondered what all this would mean. The shepherds returned to the fields, giving thanks to the Great Spirit for the wonders they had seen and heard.


Adding the meaning into each and every sentence makes us listen again for the first time. It breaks the rhythm we expect, and makes us ponder the narrative in every word. Jesus becomes Creator-Sets-Free in this translation. Jerusalem becomes Village-of-Peace. Even the name of the Gospel of Luke is enhanced, as it is called Shining-Light Tells The Good Story. With Luke’s emphasis of bringing the light of God to the world, this fits so well.


It is so easy for us to gloss over the meaning of what we talk about because it is old hat to us. Most of us have heard the Good News so long and so intensely, that we forget how Good it is and even more that it is NEWS!


We need to remind ourselves of how precious and miraculous what we share with the world is.




One of the great gifts of the story we tell is the intentionality and patience of God. As our Galatians reading opens, it says “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” Galatians 4:4 


Like waiting for dough to rise, the Divine waited for the perfect time and place to insert the leverage of Grace to impact the world. 


In naming the baby Jesus, a declaration was being made. Yeshua, God-Saves, Creator-Sets-Free, Jesus. With every invocation of his name, we make a proclamation. In the Roman Empire, the phrase at the time of Jesus’ birth is Caesar is Lord. One of the earliest creeds of the Church went against that. “Jesus is Lord,” they would boldly declare, throwing down the gauntlet to the powers that be and the state of the world they found themselves in.


In Antioch, in an attempt to mock the early church, the followers of “The Way” as they called themselves first started being called Christians, little Christs, little Messiahs. It was said in derision and used to belittle. But names mean things. It became an identity, it has become our self-perception. In the name of God-Saves Messiah, Jesus the Christ, we see our role in the world as continuing down through history the work he started and left for us to do. We take on the name of Jesus, and we do what we do in his name. We pray in his name. We serve in his name. And today, we honor the Holy Name, the name given him in the Temple at his circumcision when he was first dedicated to God.


We do the same when we baptize, naming them and dedicating them to God. I say the name they will be called, and mark them as Christ’s own forever.


One of the beautiful promises to believers in John’s Revelation is in the letter to the Church at Pergamum, 

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. [Revelation 2:17]

 

God has a special name for you, one that only God knows. A love name. A name for a Beloved. You may have or had one with your special someone. God feels the same way about us.


As we ponder this special, this precious, this Holy Name, may we appreciate and glory in it as we can.


As the old hymn sings out:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

Sweetest name I know

Fills my every longing

Keeps me singing as I go. Amen


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Year C Christmas Day 2021 Traditions 2021

 Year C Christmas Day, 25 December 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Traditions 2021”


Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.


[Note: This sermon is on traditions. And one of my traditions is to preach a version of this sermon every Christmas Day. If it sounds familiar, it is. Merry Christmas! And may your traditions, and this one of mine bring you comfort this year! Blessings- Rock+]


We all have them. We might not see them as Traditions, but we do things in the same way for comfort, for ease, for our brains to go on automatic pilot at times. We also carve out space in our days or seasons to do things with intention. Christmas is filled with Traditions, and that means Christmas is filled with Intention.  


This is our second pandemic Christmas. We are gathering, but we are distanced. We are singing joyful carols, slightly muffled through masks. The pandemic is not over, but so many of us were over it a long time ago. I am weary from being at the rudder during stormy seas, but I know the role that this place plays in so many lives. We do what we do out of love. We do what we do amidst the frustrations, amidst the complaining and second-guessing, amidst the grief. We grieve because things are not the way we want them to be. They cannot be for now. And all of us respond to that disappointment and grief in our own ways.


That makes the traditions that we can have all the more special.


Stephanie and I were married on the 19th, so on our honeymoon we began to read the three Gospel accounts of Christmas from Luke, then Matthew, the John. And then we read the Gospel according to Dr. Seuss. The Grinch is Gospel, as there is a conversion when his heart “grew three sizes that day.” 


We got to read those together last night in the Rectory. Another Traditional Ritual is  the eating of Chinese Food which comes from my birth family who always went to the Chinese restaurant after the Christmas Eve service. Wonton Soup might not scream “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” to you. But it does to me.


Traditions bring us comfort. Traditions warm our hearts. Traditions make us cozy inside. 


Another one of my traditions is to usually cry, whether I want to or not, when I hear, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.” The song comes from a poem by Longfellow. A simple song, a throwaway song almost until you hear the words with Longfellow’s thoughts in your mind. Two years after his wife died in a tragic accident, which also left him permanently scarred, Longfellow’s son enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War. Receiving a grave wound, Charley, Longfellow’s son was in hospital in Washington, D.C. Longfellow joined him there to help in his recovery. On Christmas Day, in the midst of personal tragedy and in a beloved country ripping itself apart, he penned these words.   


I heard the bells on Christmas Day 

Their old, familiar carols play, 

And wild and sweet,  the words repeat 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


And thought how, as the day had come, 

The belfries of all Christendom 

Had rolled along the unbroken song 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


Till ringing, singing on its way, 

The world revolved from night to day, 

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


And in despair I bowed my head; 

"There is no peace on earth," I said; 

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, 

With peace on earth, good-will to men." 


And that poem became a song when we are tired and beaten by a world that ignores the message of Hope and Love we share at Christmas. One cannot be cynical and call oneself a disciple of Christ. It is as hypocritical as the bigot, the sexist, the blatant sinner. Cynicism is a sin of the heart. And this song reminds us of that. 


This year, I look to the Christ Child in hope, and in trust. I have to. 810,000 of our fellow citizens have died from this disease, more than doubling since last Christmas when the toll was at 325,000. 50 million Americans remain unvaccinated who could be. I cannot fathom that number or the reason why. I have a joke t-shirt a parishioner gave me my first Christmas here. “Y’all Need Jesus!” it says. I think that when I hear the numbers. 5.38 million have died worldwide so far. 5.38 million souls. We all need Jesus. We all need hope in days like these.


Speaking of Hope, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special.  


I heard an interesting piece of trivia, and I have shared it the last few years. I am shocked I had never noticed it before. You see, Linus stops the production of the Christmas show rehearsal to tell Charlie Brown the real meaning of Christmas, and he quotes Luke 2. 


8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field , keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo , the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid . 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold , I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes , lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying , 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 


“That’s the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Linus, being a cartoon character, is defined in simple ways. He is a believer, trusting or naive, depending on your point of view. He also is comforted by his security blanket and sucking his thumb. He holds tight to his protection from his insecurities, and most of us cannot think of Linus without it. 


But if you go back to watch the video, and I did a couple of times to make sure, while he is quoting Luke, a most amazing thing happens. As soon as he says “Fear not!” his hand disappears from the screen and it returns without the blanket. The boy who is so timid, so fearful, goes center stage and let’s go of his fears, or at least his comfort from his fears. His “security” dropped at his feet. You see, the one who can stand with Linus, the one who can stand beside Longfellow in his pain and grief, the one who can stand beside me in my weakness and insecurities and you in yours has come into the world. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  



Maybe that is the greatest Christmas Tradition of them all, and it started with Mary, then Joseph, then the Shepherds all the way down to us. And we gather in the midst of a raging pandemic, holding onto hope and offering it to a suffering world. Immaneul, God-with-us, encourages us and is with of us through all of it. That is Christmas, and always will be. The words of the angels come to us today, “Fear Not.” And that my friends, is a Tradition to keep, especially in 2021! “Fear Not!” Amen


Friday, December 24, 2021

Year C Christmas Eve Late Service 2021 R.S.V.P.

 Year C Christmas Eve Late Service, 24 December 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“R.S.V.P.”


Collect: O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Luke 2:1-20

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.


When you get invited to something, it is appreciated when we respond. The host has hopes and expectations, and responding, yes or no is the least we can do. The very least.


Many of you know of my dear friend, the Rev. Canon Malcolm Rogers. When I was visiting with him in Liverpool a few years ago, he received a delivered package with no return address. It looked important, even official from the outside, and sure enough, it was actually from the Queen. THE QUEEN of ENGLAND. We always say we wish we were a fly on the wall, I was humbled and honored that for this occasion I was there. And I got to see the formality, the pomp that exuded even second-hand. I was blown away and so happy for him.

He was being invited to Buckingham Palace, along with two guests, to receive the honor of becoming a Member of the British Empire. He actually has the letters M.B.E. added to his name. This is not something you apply for, or even know that it is a possibility. For service to the country, and after years to show that it is not a flash in the pan, Mal+ was recognized for his work to make a difference in racial reconciliation and healing in his community after a horrible racial murder which happened just down the block from his vicarage. A young teen of Jamaican descent was murdered by white teens. His work to calm the situation and then hold public events to promote racial healing and unity continue to this day. And for that he was honored.


He took his mum, and she was so proud. Here is a picture if you are curious. But I remember the formal invitation, the seal of her Majesty, signatures of Elizabeth R. at the top, Philip, Grand Master at the bottom, and the lettering and everything was just so perfect. I was blown away for him, and just proud to know him, much less to be there when the invitation showed up. 



















He said yes. His humility had him wrestling with the thought of going, truly. But I reminded him, “Do it for your mum. This is not an invitation to ignore, or turn down.” I was so glad he responded, Yes.


So he went to the Palace in London, and received his honor of becoming the Rev. Canon Malcolm Rogers, MBE. He would be Sir Mal, but clerics (clergy that is) cannot receive the military honor of becoming a knight. But as a bud, I cannot help but call him that. 


Rarely in life do we ever get such invitations. 


As I talked about in my sermon from Advent 4, there are many in this world for whom the idea of God welcoming them, or anyone welcoming them without a scam involved, is beyond their comprehension. Agnes of Honolulu was just last week’s example.


But Scripture is filled with the bungled and the botched, the Charlie Browns of this world. The Zaccheuses. The thousands of Hebrew children enslaved in Egypt. The woman at the well. Ruth, a foreigner looking after her mother-in-law. The Gerasene demoniac. And the shepherds, filthy from their work, and unclean in liturgical ways as well. The outcast. The loser. The refugee. The you. The me.


The invitation of the child born this night is one of meeting us where we are, as we are. A child has no preconceived notions. That is something adults slap on each other, along with the divisions and judgments that go along with it. Children accept us as we are. Curious. Patient. Guileless. They know no different. They see things without the stigma of societal pressures, without the prejudging (the root of the word prejudice) that we tend to teach our young ones.


The mayor of Bethlehem was not invited. The head of the synagogue was not invited. The rich of the town were not invited. The ones working all night, out in the cold, covered in mud and filth were the ones God made sure knew that a new day had dawned, a Prince of a Kingdom not of this world, a Prince of God’s way of Abiding was born this day.


So often when I hear the name of Jesus invoked today in public settings, too often, I find that the projections of what I hear Jesus would say or do in our time is so far removed from the humble carpenter who is the Prince of Peace that is beyond belief or comprehension, at least to me. It drives me to Scripture to remind what this child we honor and celebrate and worship will become, and how he threatened the world then as much as he threatens the world we find ourselves in today.


He is a threat to our prejudices.


He is a threat to our pettiness.


He is a threat to our pride.


He is a threat because he invites us to a different way of living.



In The Brother Karamazov by Dostoevsky, there is a poem quoted by one of the brothers, Ivan, about Jesus coming back during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. In the poem, the Grand Inquisitor rejects the real Jesus standing before him for the power that the church promotes. 


Why have you come to get in our way? For you have come to get in our way, and

you yourself know it. But do you know what will happen tomorrow? I do not know who you are, and I do not want to know: you may be He or you may be only His likeness, but tomorrow I shall find you guilty and burn you at the stake as the most wicked of heretics, and those same people who today kissed your feet will tomorrow at one wave of my hand rush to rake up the embers on your bonfire, do you know that? Yes, I dare say you do," he added in heartfelt reflection, not for one moment removing his gaze from his Captive.


This is not a stretch. Jesus even quoted Psalm 118:22-23 as a prophecy about himself:

Have you not read this scripture:


‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone;

11 this was the Lord’s doing,

    and it is amazing in our eyes’?”  [Mark 12:10-11]


Jesus’ invitation is to come away from the rule of this world on our lives and transition into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven if you prefer.


He invites us to let go of the fear and worry that cling so closely to us, to the sins that hinder, to the worries about today or tomorrow, to the life where we have to look out for number one. We are invited to be at peace.  

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” [Matthew 6:25-29]


He invites us to not seek revenge. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” [Matthew 5:38-39]


He invites us to even do the impossible and love our enemies. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” [Matthew 5:43-44]


Jesus invites us to a lot. And tonight is all about the celebration that this life in God’s Kingdom entails. As we sing in that beloved hymn of the season O Holy Night

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!


Better than Mal+’s invitation to the Palace, better than the best invite you have ever received, better than your wildest dreams, out of nowhere, unexpected, full of Grace, you have been invited to live a godly life, the life that your Creator dreamed for you to live. You have been invited. But just like with all the best invitations, there is an R.S.V.P.


R.S.V.P., from the French expression, “répondez s'il vous plaît.” Please respond.


Every day of my life I have to think to myself, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Will I follow Christ or will I go my own way. Will I accept the invitation to a full, devout, and holy life, or not. This invitation is not about getting a barcode that St. Peter can zap that will let you in the heavenly gates. It is about a daily devotion that proclaims what we believe through our actions. “Preach at all times, when necessary use words.” as has been attributed to St. Francis. 


As we pray over the newly baptized, 

“...bestow upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and raise them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring mind and a discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” 

That’s a lot more than a barcode. It is an invitation that I cannot say no to, because in this invitation of the Child born this night “My soul felt its worth.”


The shepherds heard the invite, and did not take the time to clean up. They ran to see this for themselves. They were not left out in the cold. They were invited in by the one throwing the party himself. And so am I. And so are you. Celebrating the invitation is not enough. So many of the distractions of this time of year are celebrations of the invitation. Jesus wants more than that. Jesus deserves more than that. Accepting it and heading into the Kingdom is the fulfillment that the invite represents. May none of us forget to R.S.V.P.


Scripture promises that when we accept the invitation, all the angels rejoice, just like that night 2,000 years ago when the shepherds got their glorious invitation. Merry Christmas, dear friends. I hope we see each other at the party. Amen.