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


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.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Year C Advent 4 2021 Hopeless

 Year C Advent 4, 19 December 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

This season is one of hope, one of expectation, but it is also one of surprises. And surprises, by their very nature, come from places unexpected.

Mary, most likely a young teen, walks 60 miles or so to drop in on her much older relative out of the blue. Mary had just been surprised by the angel Gabriel who announced that not only was the Messiah to come, but to be birthed by her, a nobody in the backside of a forgotten region of a mighty empire. No one expected anything from there, even the folks who lived there. Surprise!

That is the nature of God, playing the long game, sneaking in unaware to deliver miracles at the bottom of the ninth inning, or what felt like it anyway. God has a way of usually using the ones normally picked last, or better yet, the ones ignored altogether.

The Grace of God abounds in the story of Mary, the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, and just as much in Elizabeth her cousin, Mother of John the Baptizer. You may think that miracles stopped a long time ago, but Grace, whenever it appears, is a miracle, and beats even the Law of Tooth and Claw the world expects us to play by.

I have been drinking too much coffee lately, even more than usual, trying to keep pace with the season this year. One night, mulling things over, I remembered the story of a sleepless night Christian speaker and author Tony Campolo shared. Dr. Campolo’s day job was as a sociology professor, but a profound Christian thinker and minister.

He tells a story of being in Hawaii for a speaking gig, and because of being from Philadelphia, his body clock is all off and finds himself going to a diner at 3:30 in the morning. A “greasy spoon” on a sketchy side street is the only place open, so he goes in and orders a donut because he could see it on a covered tray. He was scared to think what went on in the back.

As he sat there, a group of provocative and boisterous women, 8 or 9 in number, came in, street walkers by trade. I jump now to Dr. Campolo’s own words…

It was a small place, and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was loud and crude. I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be 39."

Her "friend" responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing 'Happy Birthday'?"

"Come on," said the woman sitting next to me. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter, and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah!" he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah!" he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya wanta know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her—right here—tomorrow night?"

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks, and he answered with measured delight, "That's great! I like it! That's a great idea!" 

Harry, the owner, arranged a birthday cake, and Dr. Campolo went to a store for decorations and the poster board to make a big sign reading, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” He got there around 2:30 a.m. to start decorating, and crepe paper streamers were all over. And around 3:15 the place was packed with everybody for the surprise party for Agnes.

…the word must have gotten out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open, and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all, I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy birthday!"

Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted so stunned so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter, we all sang "Happy Birthday"' to her. As we came to the end of our singing with "happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna hafta blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake."

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I, I mean is it okay if I kind of, what I want to ask you is, is it O.K. if I keep the cake a little while? I mean, is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's O.K. If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home, if you want to."

"Can I?" she asked. Then, looking at me, she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, okay? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all just stood there motionless, she left.

You may think that miracles stopped a long time ago, but Grace, whenever it appears, is a miracle. A miracle happened in Honolulu that night. And Grace beats even the Law of Tooth and Claw the world expects us to play by. That could have been the end of the story. But when miracles happen, there are ripple effects. It is usually more than one person affected. Mary received Grace; Elizabeth received Grace; and through them, we are able to receive Grace, too. The story ends this way…

When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?"

Looking back on it now, it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her.

When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, "Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?" In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!"

Wouldn't we all? Wouldn't we all like to join a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning?

Well, that's the kind of church that Jesus came to create!

This story is told by Dr. Campolo in his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party! And Mary and Dr. Campolo remind us that all are welcome to the party, but some people need to be invited in especially because they have been repeatedly taught that they are not welcome. Agnes and her friends in our story and the Shepherds at the end of this week, not one of them would have thought that the invitation that comes in the form of a simple baby applies to them. Which is why we can be like the multitude of the heavenly host and welcome one and all, and especially some.

To quote Mary this time instead of Dr. Campolo, hear again these words…

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Each and every day, we are given a chance to magnify the Lord, too,  by caring for those in need, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, and proclaiming the greatness of our God. We do it in small acts of great Love. We surprise the world with Grace, freely given as it was freely given to us. Amen

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Year C Advent 3 WEDNESDAY 2021 Fear and Awe

 Year B Advent 3 WEDNESDAY, 15 December 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Fear and Awe”

Collect: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Revelation 4:1-8

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,

“Holy, holy, holy,

the Lord God the Almighty,

    who was and is and is to come.”

Matthew 24:45-51

Jesus said: “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

We are presented today with two diverse images. One of awe and one of fear. One in the Gospel, the other in the Revelation to John.

Now both are powerful and meaningful, profound motivators in the human psyche. Fear compels us when we are unsure and hesitant. Awe inspires us to the point we cannot look away.

In Jesus’ parable, we see Matthew’s abbreviated version of a parable we have heard before. One was supposed to be responsible, and given the authority to do what was to be done for his Lord. But when delayed, the servant begins to use and abuse the authority entrusted to him. He beats those beneath him, gets drunk alongside drunkards, and then is caught unaware when the Lord returns home. What did the servant think? What other outcome could he expect than to be cut to pieces and put out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But then we see where one has a proper relationship with the authority. Sitting in the very presence of God, we have 24 elders dressed in white wearing golden crowns. And around them four living creatures which through church history have been seen as the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. St. Jerome, the translator of the biblical texts to Latin, the Vulgate, associated each Evangelist with one of the living creatures: Matthew is the Man; Mark is the Lion; Luke is the Ox; and John is the Eagle.

There is thunder and lightning, the torches of the seven spirits of God, and these words: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

This is where there should be true fear, true terror, but it is not there. There is power and might, and awe. Awe is being in the presence of something beyond belief or comprehension. Think of that famous shot in most Steven Spielberg movies, where people are seen looking up in wonder, whether Close Encounters, E.T., or Jurassic Park. He always uses it to shape our emotions. When we are confronted with something so much greater than ourselves, awe can only be our response.

But notice in all of the details in Revelation, there is no fear mentioned. Perfect love drives out all fear. Fear only comes in the absence of love. The servant did not love the Lord, and was afraid when they arrived.The elders, seated in the very presence of God Almighty, within striking distance, sat in awe singing praises.

“Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

This morning think on where you are expressing or feeling fear.

Then, think on where you are expressing awe. When was the last time your mouth gaped open?

I bet, where you find the love will be where you find the awe. May we be in the presence of even God Almighty, and not be afraid. Fear Not! Amen