“My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”
We are at our best when we are yearning for God and earnestly seeking to make more room in our lives for God. The more we pray, the more we can ground ourselves in God’s love for us and in our love for God. If we feel at our core that God loves us, we can endure trials that we would not otherwise have the strength to overcome.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
How do we love one another in a time of deep division? How can we love people when there exist between us great chasms of disagreement? In theory, I don’t believe that I can do it, but as it turns out, in practice I can. I can look into the eyes of my fellow parishioners with whom I disagree on almost every issue, and I can say, “May the peace of The Lord be with you.” and mean it. I can love my family members who voted in a way that is quite painful to me, although it may take me a while to understand what motivated them. We have been commanded to love one another and that is what we need to do in order to bring healing to ourselves and to our world. Love is not always easy and there are times when we must call on our Creator to help us to forgive so that we may love.
Jesus said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Jesus knew that the apostles would not have an easy time of it either before or after his crucifixion. He knew the risks involved in preaching a new way. Today progressive Christians don’t usually risk bodily harm when confronting sexism, homophobia and just plain backward thinking in the Church, but in conservative diocese we do face being shut out of the ordination process and feeling unwelcome. We risk becoming disillusioned or even bitter when we take on a confrontational stance. Christ’s sage advice to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves is just as relevant to us as it was to the apostles. We can engage with our diocese no matter how conservative it may be. By our participation we can help our more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ to see that we are all just trying to live in a manner that we feel would be pleasing to God and true to ourselves.
When the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.
The Holy Family became refugees and sought asylum in Egypt until the threat Herod posed to Jesus had passed away with the despot himself. For as long as there has been civilization there have been refugees. They flee their homes for many reasons, but in the end it is about survival. Today we are witness to a huge refugee crisis. Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children are fleeing for their lives. Many of them die en route and many, once they have reached safety, will be be deported or detained in camps. They need our help and our compassion.
God of mercy, help us to see your son, Jesus Christ in every refugee, in every person who is fleeing from injustice, war, persecution or famine. Help us to open our hearts and our minds so that we may provide places of haven and rest for all who are in need of our help. Let us welcome each stranger as we would welcome Christ himself so that all may know the love and compassion of your people. Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
Just in case we should forget that the Apostles were humans, and as flawed as any one of us, here we are reminded of the jealousies and rivalries that existed between them. It seems odd to me that while walking and talking with The Resurrected Lord one would stop to argue and say, “Lord, what about him?” It’s as if walking along and chatting with your teacher who has been raised from the dead is the most normal thing in the world. We don’t have Jesus here with us in body to settle our arguments and to scold us as he did the apostles; and so the challenge for us now is to set aside our differences, rivalries and jealousies and treat each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
I confess that I am unable to forgive in the manner of Saint Stephen. Stephen forgave his murderers even while they stoned him. He prayed for his attackers in a supreme act of spiritual generosity of which I cannot imagine I would be capable. Of course, that is the goal though isn’t it? Stephen’s ability to forgive can be a model for us all to try to emulate. Even if we fall short of Stephen’s brand of radical forgiveness, our attempts at being more forgiving will make us better people and make the earth a kinder place.
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.
We Celebrate Him
With adoration let us praise Him.
Into our hearts we integrate Him.
With diligence we emulate Him.
Gratefully, we celebrate Him.
What Child is This?
What child is this who’s star Leads kings and shepherd boys?
This infant king in barnyard born.
His family is forced to flee a tyrant’s rage and jealousy.
His tender mother’s heart is pierced, but to the world he will bring joy, this King, this Savior, now a boy.
John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This year Christmas Eve is an especially hard one for some of us. I have been having difficulty feeling the joy of the season. I’ve been angry and fearful about what fate has in store for our nation when power is handed over to the incoming regime. Reading Zechariah’s prophecy helps to bring me into a frame of mind which is more in keeping with the optimism that Christmas ought to represent. God has raised up for us a mighty Savior and we cannot be robbed of our hope or our faith. We may be forced to resist and to protest, and we will do those things knowing that we do them in holiness and in righteousness. We will fight bigotry of all kinds, knowing that God has promised through his tender mercy that we will be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
“What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
At the birth of a child we often wonder what the future holds for this new little person. We imagine all sorts of wonderful things that the child might do in his or her life and we might also worry for the child’s welfare. On the joyous occasion of their son’s Briss, which is the Jewish ritual circumcision performed on male babies on their eighth day, John’s parents must have wondered why the Lord had blessed them with a child in their old age. John’s conception was a miracle announced to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel, who also told him what name to give the child. John is derived from the Hebrew Yochahnan, which means God is gracious, so what expectations must his parents have had? This cousin of Jesus preceded him into the world and prepared the way for his ministry and then, tragically preceded him yet again into martyrdom.
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.”
At this time of year we share in the joy felt by Elizabeth at the coming of the infant Jesus into the world. As we come to the shortest day of the year, we’re surrounded by festive lights adorning trees and houses, lighting up the night in celebration of the coming of Christmas. We probably don’t give a lot of thought to the symbolism, which may well be unintended. If we’re theologically minded we can think of our strands of little lights as symbols of the great light that illuminates our lives, the light of Christ.