Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourth after Epiphany, 2010

Luke 4: 21-30

So this morning we get what the late Paul Harvey used to call, “the rest of the story.”

Last week in the first part of the fourth chapter of St. Luke, we will remember, the famous home-town-boy-made-good Rabbi Jesus was escorted with much enthusiasm and interest and respect to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. The whole town is buzzing. He processes with such great dignity into the center, receives the holy scroll, unrolls it with dramatic slowness, reads those great words from the Prophet Isaiah. The vision of God’s great promise to Israel, healing of the sick, freedom of prisoners, release of the oppressed. We see the congregation standing around him on tiptoes. Waiting. Poised, in anticipation. And he sits down, in the rabbinic chair. The traditional place of teaching. Looks up. And then we heard that strange comment. A one sentence opening. So unexpected. So disconcerting. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In that little synagogue, an intake of breath, a gasp almost. And then a pause. You could hear a pin drop. This morning: the rest of the story. He has their attention. They’re all ears.

And then, as elaboration, sermon illustrations, not a clever account: funny thing happened to me on the way to the synagogue; but two stories about times when God passed over his own chosen people to bless instead a Lebanese woman and a Syrian soldier. Two Bible stories from our home-town-boy-made-good, designed to challenge and affront, designed to push back at the core values and beliefs of the congregation itself. Who does he think he is? Still wet behind the ears. The kid who used to play ball in the streets with our kids. Now coming here, saying things like this?

When I was a seminarian at the Church of St. Anselm of Canterbury, in Lafayette, California, back in the early 1980’s, I was on the schedule to preach about once every six weeks or so. Then, in the week after, I would meet once with Bob Tsu, the rector, and once with my parish supervising committee, for an hour or so each of “sermon feedback.”

And of course what I can tell you is that though the sermons I preached were all quite a bit longer than the one Jesus preached that day. Longer, and for sure less powerful. But in any case, the good folks of St. Anselm’s were always much kinder to me than we see here in St. Luke this morning. Maybe I just never got around to pushing the right buttons. Which is not to say that I didn’t try. The perils of being a young preacher . . . .

But here this morning: this is “sermon feedback” with emphasis! No-holds-barred, bare-knuckles, Nazareth style. An immediate roar of disapproval. And then, as I know each youthful preacher in his or her audacious dreams imagines will likely happen to him or to her at some point: the whole congregation gathers together as one, rush the pulpit, drives him out of the building and down the street with the hurling of sticks and stones, wild shouts of anger, intent to throw him off a cliff.

Feedback, in any case, that is, let’s say, direct and succinct. To the point. Without ambiguity. Without even the genial chatter of coffee hour after to take the edge off. “Who do you think you are, Jesus? How dare you!” As perhaps one of his disciples might have said later: “Jesus, it appears that you touched a nerve.”

Now in a quarter century and more now since I preached my first sermon, I have from time to time had some sharp feedback. But nothing like this. Though you hear about it happening almost like this from time to time. Again, when the preacher hits the hot button, and there is a perfect storm. I know back during the days of the early civil rights movement there were some preachers who took a rock through the window as sermon feedback, or worse. There just has to be this “perfect storm,” I guess: the right word, and the right time.

The right word. The right time. We’ve been reading through the Letter to the Hebrews in the Daily Office Lectionary. This familiar passage struck me this week from Hebrews Chapter 4, as I thought about Jesus preaching in Nazareth: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It was what he said. It was perhaps the way he said it. It was certainly above all, simply his presence, which was revealed to them in that moment in a flash of insight that seemed to turn upside-down everything they ever had known or believed. Today, in your hearing.

From the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the passage again that we heard proclaimed at the midnight service of Christmas Eve and that continues to stand over this season of Incarnation, Christmas and Epiphany. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Some things never change. There is this part of us that rebels. That turns away. That doesn’t want it to be true. That doesn’t want him to be true and real and alive, here and now. This part of us that prefers the shadow. This part of us that can’t stand the light of day. Not wanting to face the hard and challenging questions. What the evil spirits cried out to Jesus when he would perform his miracles of exorcism: “We know who you are, Jesus. Leave us alone. Leave us alone.” De-nial, as the saying goes, is not simply a river in Egypt. A broad river, a deep river that flows directly through our hearts and our lives. To choose to continue in the darkness rather than to accept the responsibilities and accountabilities that come when we turn on the lights.

It is an amazing thing to me that we manage to get here at all, this morning or any morning. To come out of the shadows and stand in his light. Even at the margin, with one eye on the exit. Nervously. In one way or the other this morning, by an act of will, an act of imagination, into the Presence. Before the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known. From whom no secrets are hid. And he does push our buttons . He will hit our raw nerves. What the old saying was about the mission of the Church: to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. And I suppose we should be at least a little uneasy, in his presence.

What the Samaritan Woman at the Well said to her neighbors as she ran to them: “Come hear a man who told me everything I ever did.” I don’t know about you, but most of the time I’d just as soon take a pass on that one. Perhaps what scared the Nazareth congregation. The look in his eyes, as he paused before beginning to read. They knew that he knew. That he saw through them, all the way in. That he knew them. And if that sermon was going to go on any longer . . . well, who knows what he might have said next?

In any event, Christmas and Epiphany, and it is without any doubt at all in my mind pure and simple the case that supernatural grace is what it has taken to get us here this morning, and to keep us here. Because we aren’t any better, or any different than the congregation gathered in the Nazareth synagogue. We’ve reacted in anger, we’ve run away before, and we will again. We’ve gone hiding, in fear, in anger. In distrust. But what it takes, today, here, now, to be here: supernatural grace. Not to run away from him. In fear. In anger. Not this time. Not this morning, anyway. Not to seek to throw him from the cliff. (What a perfect allegory for the psychological strategy of denial.) To get rid of him and to get back to business as usual. But to take the risk. To remain. To listen. This morning anyway. To put down whatever it is that we have been clinging to for dear life all these years, and to open our hands for the gift of all gifts: to reach out to take with open hands to receive the bread of life, the cup of heavenly blessing. His presence. To hear him say, whisper in our ears, “Today this has been fulfilled, completed, accomplished, in your hearing.”

Continuing in, returning to that First Chapter of John. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti Update

A wonderful, heartbreaking report from Haiti, featuring Bishop Duracin.

Third after Epiphany, 2010

Nehemiah 8: 1-12; Luke 4: 14-21

Artist's impression of the Water Gate
with the projecting tower
[Reconstruction by artist Balage Balogh]

Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace
Our path when wont to stray;
Stream from the fount of heavenly grace,
Brook by the traveler’s way.

This lovely old hymn, 627 in our Hymnal 1985—the text a poem by Bernard Barton, a wonderful English Quaker poet of the early 19th century, honoring and celebrating the gift of Holy Scripture.

Bread of our souls, wheron we feed,
True manna from on high;
Our guide and chart, wherein we read
Of realms beyond the sky.

Just the right poetry I think to stir in our hearts with the readings appointed for this morning. These two dramatic and pivotal scenes, one of the Old Testament and one of the New. The priest Ezra at the Water Gate of Jerusalem. Jesus, at the synagogue in Nazareth. Two watershed moments in our spiritual heritage. Turning point moments. Key moments of identity and definition, in the great story of salvation.

For years now they have been returning. The wandering exiles of Jerusalem and Judah. An individual here and there. A family or two. Clusters. Some old and sick. Weighed down by the struggle to survive in distant corners of the world. Haunted by memories of their earliest childhood and stories of their parents and grandparents of the fall of David’s City before the roaring armies of the East. Years of siege, poverty, hunger, impossible warfare claiming the flower of the nation’s youth. The breaching of the walls, death, destruction, fire, plunder. The worst you can imagine. The holy Temple looted, ransacked. The King himself, descendant of David and Solomon, led away in chains. Every humiliation and degradation.

The survivors lined up and led out in a long journey to a longer captivity. Some sold into slavery. The national foreign policy of the Babylonians, to make double sure that no further rebellion would come, ever again. And they are scattered. Refugee camps, urban ghettos. Small groups across the empire, trying to make their way, simply to survive. Some in Egypt. Some making their way to ancient Iran, Persia. Living in destitution. And yet, as the years roll on, in these far corners, continuing to remember the old stories, to remember the prayers, and the songs--and continuing to hope.

Until finally the old empire of Babylon is overrun by a new force out of Persia, and Cyrus, the Great Shah, announces a new foreign policy about refugees. That all the exiles from all the many lands and peoples once conquered by Babylon and scattered across many lands and territories, may return to their homes. The event we remember so vividly in the poetry of the 40th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah, of course: Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. And the word slowly spreads. And over the next months and the next years, they begin to return. Exile, and return. Darkness, and then a new dawn. Sin and forgiveness. Estrangement and redemption. Brokenness and then healing.

Finally, the journey home: reaching the ruined City. Barely recognizable. And they settle in, begin to try to scratch out a living. The dream of return now seen in the harsh light of day. And there is discouragement. Disappointment. Fear. Hostility.

Like the ancient Hebrews in their journey across the Sinai, a sense of remorse. “At least back in the slums of Damascus there was food to eat, a house to live in.”

And the great priest Ezra steps in at this moment, to see with understanding that what is needed first is not the rebuilding of walls or the reconstruction of buildings, but a renewal of spirit, an openness and receptivity to God’s living presence. A reconnection of the deepest root of identity and purpose. And so, in those days, at the gate of the City, in what were still ruins, knee-deep in the ancient rubble, he calls the people together, and from morning until night, the Torah of God is--sung to them. Filling the air around them, repeated for them quietly by teachers moving among them. The precious Word.

And as they hear the ancient words, God’s love and God’s presence is made known to them, their identity, their purpose, made known to them. Hearing with their ears, and then with their hearts. To know who they are, and whose they are. And tears fill their eyes. They weep with gladness and sorrow, repentance and joy. What a scene this is: the Word falling upon them, as Barton says, like Manna from on high. God’s provision, God’s nurture, for his hungry people.

And Nehemiah the Governor sends them home. Still in the midst of the ruins. Still with a generation and generations of hard labor ahead of them Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. That the power of the word to enter lives and to remake lives: for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Barton again:

Pillar of fire, through watches dark
And radiant cloud by day;
When waves would whelm our tossing bark,
Our anchor and our stay.

And we spin ahead a few centuries, to that backwater synagogue in remote Galilee. And the boy who grew up in their neighborhood and grew to manhood there has now gone away and begun to make something of a name for himself. And this his first return. Boy next door now famous, controversial Rabbi.

And they come to hear him teach. And he reads the scroll, this familiar great passage from Isaiah, and sets it down. And he says to them, “today, here, now, in me, it comes to life.” And the old neighbors and friends are confused, even offended.

But for us it’s different. We see him. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. And the word he speaks into our hearts is the word that makes real the presence of God and the power of God, and our identity, and our purpose in him. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory. Glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Word that is for us the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Eternal Life. Word that is for us all we need, our beginning and our final destination. Who we are, and whose we are.

And so we open ourselves to that Word. Again and again. In the scriptures, our daily Bible reading and study, our liturgical proclamation, our sharing in the deep mysteries and sacraments, in our prayers, in our speaking and in our silence--as we rebuild walls and as we seek to be expressions of his care, his healing, in our relationships and in the wide world around us. Open ourselves to the Word.

At the Water Gate of ruined Jerusalem, after a long afternoon of listening and as the Books of Moses came to an end, they would have heard the priest intone the words from Deuteronomy, chapter 30: For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say ‘Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart . . . .

One last verse of Barton’s hymn –

Word of the everliving God,
Will of his glorious Son;
Without thee how could earth be trod,
Or heaven itself be won?

Blessing, and grace and peace to all this morning. In the word spoken by the Prophets, and in the Word made flesh, broken and poured out for us.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Second after Epiphany, 2010

January 17,2010 Second after the Epiphany (RCL C) Isa. 62: 1-5; I Cor. 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11

From Isaiah, in the 62nd chapter, thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken, neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah; for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.

That’s the King James, with the transliteration of the Hebrew, as we had this morning in English translation: thou shalt be called My Delight is in her –Hephzibah—and thy land Married—Beulah.

Two familiar Hebrew words, of course. Hephzibah I guess a pretty old-fashioned name, more 19th century than 21st, but my mother had an older friend when I was a boy who had that name, which I just thought sounded funny. In any event it seems kind of like poetry to me now: Hephzibah, “my delight is in her.” I enjoy watching the T.V. show NCIS, on Tuesday evenings, and one of the main characters has that name, an exotic Israeli agent called “’Ziba.” Hephzibah. Wonderful.

And of course Beulah, more familiar, in poetry and hymns, and our friends of the Beulah Presbyterian Church over in Churchill. The reference here of course not just “married” as opposed to “single,” but for the nation and people of Israel, the land itself, in profound and eternal covenant, married to the LORD, cared for and treasured in a covenant of steadfast love and faithfulness. No greater loyalty and commitment, no greater love, heart and soul together. And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Good news, Israel. Good news. Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Grace and peace indeed. Grace and peace.

All this a wonderful Old Testament preface and preparation for the traditional reading in this season after the Feast of the Epiphany of the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, and the miracle that was the first sign, John tells us, for those who would see it, of the deepest miracle of all, the miracle of Jesus himself, Incarnate –Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Himself the Bread of Heaven and the fresh Wine of Life Eternal.

At Bible Study this week Bill Ghrist recalled the saying of John the Baptist as we heard it last week in Luke. I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming . . . . He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and with fire. What the Baptist says in the John gospel is similar, just before the story of the Wedding Feast. He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

I’ve thought about that and I think it is just the right prelude. Water as the critical ordinary material of ordinary life on this world and perhaps as near as we can tell of ordinary life in the universe, as we hear reflected in the things the scientists tell us in the studies of the Mars Rover and of the Moon, to say that where there is water there is the potential for life. Just plain water.

But Holy Spirit! Now we’re talking a new language. Here at Cana the door swings open and in the presence of Jesus water just can’t be what it is. Unexpected grace. His life, his death on the Cross, his body broken, his lifeblood poured out for us. All present in this moment. No such thing anymore as plain old ordinary water.

No such thing in him anymore as plain old ordinary anything. In his presence there is blessing and transformation and a bursting forth into this world of the Life of the World to Come. Unexpected grace. Just his presence: Breathe on me, Breath of God; fill me with life anew.

Just his presence is what made all the difference, what makes all the difference. And the wedding banquet of these cousins of Jesus in this little Galilean town becomes before our very eyes in his presence the Banquet of the Kingdom of God, the feast of resurrection. The point and message and miracle is that it’s not just the water that it transformed in his presence, but everything--and all of us.

Where Jesus was, heaven was. Where Jesus is, heaven is. What it can be for us, as we open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him. Country roads and Galilean villages. His faithfulness all the way to the Cross. Your life, my life, here this morning, at this table. Where did this new wine come from? Unexpected grace. Blessing. Changing everything. The Wedding Feast of the Kingdom, here this morning. No one has ever in all the world had wine like this before.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Faith among the Ruins: A Christian Reflection on the Earthquake

What shall we then say to these things?

Pieta, Michelangelo Buonarrotti, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, 1499

Please click here to read an excellent article by my colleague and friend the Rev. Craig Uffman: Where was God in the earthquake?

And always, from Romans, Chapter 8:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

For the People of Haiti

O God, merciful and compassionate, who art ever ready to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in thee; Graciously hearken to us who call upon thee, and grant us thy help in this our need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With special intention for the ministry of the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, and for their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jean-Zache Duracin, and for his wife Marie-Edithe, who was injured in the earthquake.

Click Here to link and contribute to Episcopal Relief and Development.



Sunday, January 10, 2010

First Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

(RCL C) Isaiah 43: 1-7
Baptism of Slade Marco McNaughton

I have called you by name: you are mine.

A word of God through the prophet Isaiah, spoken first to the people of Israel at the end of their long passage of exile and in the first hours of their healing and recovery and restoration. I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.

Following the complete and catastrophic disaster to the people and to the nation. The walls of David’s ancient city torn down, the Temple and royal palace looted of their sacred and magnificent treasures. Death and destruction. Every last source of national identity and pride ruined forever in this great humiliation. And after decades of isolation, despair, in the far-off refugee camps of the diaspora.

The refreshing word, fresh for us in our imaginations, even as it echoes down the corridors of time, 2,500 hundred years ago--as we heard it first in the opening words of Isaiah 40, Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.

Healing and recovery and restoration. Fresh for us. Feeling it not just a bit of ancient history, but in our hearts. That somehow the pages of the past tell what is profoundly our story. Where there had been no hope, now the highway has been opened, the hills leveled, the rough places made smooth, and there can be homecoming, and a new beginning. I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.

Good and gentle and life-giving words. Words of refreshment and renewal and promise. Not abandoned, not left to disappear with the dust of the ages, but given a new heart and a new way of life, from this day forward and forevermore. “I created you; I gave you your name; and I will never let you go.”

Something of the same we perhaps hear as Jesus hears them in the words from the Father in the great story in Luke of the Baptism of Jesus at the River Jordan. “You are my son. My beloved.” The sense of never-failing love and care. I am yours and you are mine. Long ago and far away. Yet our story too.

And as we come now into the second full week of this New Year 2010, and as we hear the words of promise spoken in the deep baptismal waters for young Slade McNaughton this morning, we would take this word and appropriate it for ourselves, each one of us. To hear it whispered in our ears, for us alone: I created you; I have blessed you, redeemed you, forgiven you; I have given you your name; and I will never let you go.”

What a great New Year’s message and promise that is. Spoken by God to Israel in ancient days. By the Father to the Son. And by the Son spoken from the Cross to each and every one of us, as we have passed through these waters of baptism as well, to enter new life, to say again and again, that he might dwell in us, and we in him. To speak of the intimacy and completeness of his love and care for us. In this life and in the age to come. Our story too. A word we would hear and know and show forth not only with our lips, but in our lives.

The newspaper columnists at the end of December and the beginning of January, some of them, tried some predictions about what might be in store for us all in 2010. Informed and not-so-well-informed guesses about the state of the economy, the environment, the city we live in, the world around us. And of course none of us can know even one day to the next. That is the reality. My prediction: that there will be high moments and low moments. Some things will get better, some will get worse. It will be different for different people. There will be surprises, good and bad, for all of us.

But what we can say this morning is that the word spoken in our baptism is a word that will be sustained and will be true for us no matter what the weather, what the economy, what the state of our wide world. For Slade. For us all. As it was, as it is for us now in Christ, and ever shall be, world without end. And may this blessing be rich and perfect for you in this New Year as we all of us with Slade splash in the waters of New Life. I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Epiphany

The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

And the city had no need of sun or moon to shine upon it; for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
~Revelation 21:23

Adoration of the Magi, Nicola Pisano, c. 1260

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten son to the gentiles; mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Psalm 84; Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a;
Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23

Good morning and welcome all, and Happy New Year 2010, and Happy Tenth day of Christmas.

[And I would this morning simply say a word of thanks for the good thoughts and prayers so many have added in my direction following my bout this past week with a kidney stone. What I guess I’ll say at this point simply a most memorable addition to the holiday season, but not necessarily one I’d want to repeat.]

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Ten pipers piping, Nine drummers drumming, Eight maids a-milking, Seven swans a-swimming, Six geese a-laying, Five gold rings, Four colly birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Footnote Wikipedia: A version considered by many to be the authoritative, traditional version of the chant in England appears in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes,[2] as follows:

The twelfth day of Christmas, | My true love sent to me | Twelve lords a-leaping, | Eleven ladies dancing, | Ten pipers piping, | Nine drummers drumming, | Eight maids a-milking, | Seven swans a-swimming, | Six geese a-laying, | Five gold rings, | Four colly birds, | Three French hens, | Two turtle doves, and | A partridge in a pear tree.

All we have left are eleven ladies dancing, which should be fun, and twelve lords a-leaping. And then the Feast of the Epiphany will arrive and our Persian Magi, and we will move along into phase two of this great season of the celebration of the Incarnation of Our Lord. A season that will last through the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on February 2nd. So 40 days, after which we will turn to the great pre-Lent Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves here, where it’s still just right to wish each other a Merry Christmas! Christ the Savior is born—born for us in Bethlehem. Born for us.

A wonderful set of readings proper to this Sunday. The gospel as we’ve just heard carrying on the St. Matthew Nativity narrative. I remember Ruth Cover told the story some years ago of children in Sunday School doing some artwork during Christmas time, and one of the little boys drawing a picture of a jet airplane, with one face distinguishable at the cockpit window. “What’s this?” asked the teacher. The boy replies, “The flight into Egypt.” “Oh,” replied the teacher. “And who is this at the front of the plane?” “That’s Pontius,” the boy said. “Pontius the Pilot.”

--In any case: with a smile, to say that this story is a rich and perhaps not often appreciated detail in the larger Christmas pageant. A continuation of the stories of the dreams God gives to Joseph to inspire his care and protection of the child and his mother through this precarious moment. As we’re about to hear of Herod’s ruthless efforts to escape God’s judgment and to cut short the great story of redemption in his Massacre of the Innocents of Bethlehem. But God has the right people involved here, with Mary and Joseph, and the right discernment. And so with all the drama, the baby is safe and sound.

And of course the story also for Matthew is a sign and confirmation that the birth of this child is precisely what God has had in mind from the beginning, and a fulfillment of the hopes of Israel, with the echo of the line from the Prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” This great thematic convergence: just as the people of the Hebrews in ancient days found their true identity and life as the Chosen People of God in the Exodus from Egypt and the Journey through Sinai to the Promised Land, so God’s very Son would bring salvation in a life story that would include as well the symbolic journey from Egypt to Nazareth in days to come.

The story of salvation. The Collect we prayed together this morning reminds us, if we need reminding, of what the point of the Christmas story is.

. . . that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity . . . .

The Incarnation not simply some miraculous event long ago and far away, but an act of God to set in motion the healing of creation and the restoration of our human family to the fullness of the communion we shared with God when Adam and God first walked together through the Garden in the cool of the evening. In the theological language of Eastern Christianity the word for this is “deification.” Not that human beings become gods, but that through the work of Christ we as human beings are drawn into that “divine life.” He comes down from heaven, so that we may be lifted up into heaven. The Cross at the very center of the stable. So that we may live even now sacramentally, within the sacrament of his Body, the Church, in the courts of heaven.

Which is why Psalm 84 is right for this Sunday:

How amiable to me are thy dwellings, thou LORD of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing t enter into the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God . . . . Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be always praising thee.

And then of course this rich poetry of the Prophet Jeremiah, and his vision of God’s triumphant and generous and graceful and loving intention to restore what was lost, to heal the broken, to bring his people home again.

Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob . . . . See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back.

His birthday, but we who receive the gifts. His birthday, but we who are given a new name, a new family, a new identity, a new purpose. His birthday, but we who come to the Table to feast this morning. So Paul to the Church at Ephesus:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children, through Jesus Christ.

May Christ, who by his Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill you with joy and peace and brighten your heart with the light of his holiness, now and always.

And again, Merry Christmas!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury: New Year's Message

Feast of the Holy Name: Circumcision of Christ

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
Revelation 19: 11-16

Eternal Father, who didst give to thine incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we beseech thee, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, even our Lord Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Eight days later the time came to circumcise him, and he was given the name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. Luke 2:21

Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.