Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011

Holy Matrimony
Rebecca Ann Filipek and Anthony David Marinov

Tony and Becky, what a wonderful day, a beautiful evening. Your wedding day and always now your wedding anniversary in years ahead, the 30th of December, and on the calendar of the song of this season the Sixth Day of Christmas. And “on the Sixth Day of Christmas my True Love gave to me six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.” And gifts and blessings in abundance, in this season of Christmas and as we are all ready this weekend to turn the page on the calendar and to celebrate the fresh beginning of a New Year, your first New Year together as husband and wife—and not just the beginning of a New Year but of this new chapter of your lives. I would say for myself and I know for all of us here this evening that it is a privilege and an honor and a gift and a blessing to share this evening with you, to be present as you exchange your vows and mark the formal beginning of this new adventure. Thank you for including us, and thank you most of all for all that you are together, and all that you share with us.

Of course I’ve known you, Becky, for many years, you and your family, and it has been really very enjoyable for me to spend this time over these last months with you both in preparation for this celebration and for your marriage. And Tony, it really has been great to get to know you during this time as well, and to begin to get a sense of you both together as a couple. A hint of who you will be together as husband and wife and family in the years to come. You are two thoughtful people. Both of you mature, sensitive, insightful. With a warm sense of humor. And I very much have appreciated the tenderness that you share with one another, and the sense of your friendship. Those are all such important parts of the foundation of the life you will be building now in a new way. And I know they are gifts that you will share with each other, and also with your families and friends in all the years ahead. I know when we first began to meet I thought, “this is a guy that seems just right for Becky, and she seems just right for him.”

Underneath and surrounding all of this of course the Christian family, the Church, has two words to describe what this is all about this evening as we celebrate your marriage: sacrament and vocation. In our Prayer Book service we have just heard the words, “the Covenant of Marriage was established by God in creation.” And that is a reminder for us that as we share this evening with you we are invited to see not only two people in love who are agreeing to share their lives together, but that we might see you as well sacramentally as outward and visible signs of something deeper. Echoing the reading you selected from the First Letter of St. John. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.” This is a moment when you in your marriage and we with you come closer to God and are drawn deeper into a knowledge and understanding and experience of who he is, and what the real meaning of life and of all creation really is.

And we’ve said as well that God has established marriage with a purpose in mind. A purpose for all the human family, but also with a specific purpose for both of you. In the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground

We don’t actually have to take off our shoes here this evening. But I want to say that we might do so at least in our imaginations for a moment. Because the great reality here is that just as Moses at the Burning Bush came into the presence of God and discovered what the call on his life was that God had in mind for him, so here, for you. It was the beginning of a new chapter for Moses. A chapter in which he would play a key role in fulfilling the great plan that God had for his people. And so here, for you. “Take off your shoes. For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” God calls you into this relationship of marriage this evening, Becky and Tony, because he has work for you to do. We only see hints of what that will be in these beginning moments, but we do know that he has a great plan for your life together from this day forward. May you know and experience that reality this evening, in this place, on this holy ground--and in all the days you will share together in the years to come.

Now as Tony and Becky come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would invite all of us to bow our heads in a moment of silent prayer for them, that God will care for them, bless them, and protect them as they enter this new chapter of their lives together.

The Rev. Dr. Bruce M. Robison

Sunday, December 25, 2011

At Midnight, Christmas Eve

Propers for Christmas (III):
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Hebrews 1: 1-12; John 1: 1-14

Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Grant, O heavenly Father, that what we have sung with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and may always steadfastly fulfill. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace and peace to you this night, and we would all pray together that in the music that we hear and sing and in the words of Holy Scripture, in our prayers and in our silence and in the living presence that our Lord shares with us at the Holy Table we may know and experience blessing, peace and joy. That in a world and in lives that can be broken and full of anxiety and hurt there would be for us his gentle and tender embrace. For this midnight hour, and then in all the hours and days to come. In this place, and in all the corners of our lives. Home, work, neighborhood. The wide world. Grace and peace.

The text for my sermon this evening from the first verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, as we have just heard Ed read it: “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

The articulation of Christian faith can seem challenging at times. Theologians can fill libraries and artists and poets and preachers can do their part. Preachers and pastors and evangelists, Sunday by Sunday, in cathedrals and parish churches, in quiet conversations and in debate in the public square. Doctrines and dogma, Creeds and Confessions. All important, even essential to the life and work of the Church, to communicate the gospel far and wide and from one generation to another.

But all beginning here. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

The sun sets over the village. And something happens in the stable. Emmanuel. God with us. Another way of expressing what we have heard also tonight in the first chapter of St. John: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

It is, to use a word that we’ve heard a lot lately in other contexts, an occupation. St. John’s Greek is a word that means “to pitch a tent.” “To set up camp.” The Word became flesh. And pitched his tent. He doesn’t phone it in. No conference call. No virtual meeting. He comes himself. The banner in the sky: Occupy Bethlehem! And tonight all the world is Bethlehem.

Not by force, not with coercion. But in weakness. In emptiness. At the farthest edge, in the back, out of the way. Simply a child crying in the distance, in the night. And the quiet invitation. Come and see.

Everything is here, in him. All the news we’re going to need to hear.

And as we see him born this night we also walk with him and watch with him and travel all the way to the Cross with him. Following at a distance in heart and mind. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. In his weakness our strength. In his brokenness our healing. You shall call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. A transformational occupation. In his life, our life and our hope for this life, and for the life of the world to come. All beginning here.

In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. The brightness of his glory, the glory of the Father, the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had a great line in his Christmas message this year, about how “in the complete mess of the first Christmas , God says, ‘Don’t worry-I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you.’”

In the complete mess. The mess of our world. War and rumors of war. Economic and social and political turmoil. The mess of our lives. Our relationships. Our mixed feelings. Doubts. Hesitations. Things done and left undone. Miserable offenders. No health in us. We have only a glimpse into the turmoil of the lives of Mary and Joseph. The conflicts and struggles of their minds and hearts. We have no idea at all who those shepherds were. The challenges of their lives. Their hopes and fears, their questions.

And then--the sky is filled with angels.

Nobody in this story is ever really ready. I sometimes say, “I wish Christmas didn’t always happen at such a busy time of year. If only there weren’t so many things going on. If only we had more time.” And you should see the adventure of the St. Andrew’s Church Office in the week before Christmas. Not pretty.

Those of us who are poets or philosophers, thinkers, skeptics, inquirers, might find ourselves asking questions about what the meaning of Christmas might be. What’s the message? But of course the whole point is that there is no “what” to talk about, really. Just a knocking at the front door.

The question is and can only be about “who is the meaning of Christmas.” Who is the message?

In the first hour of creation God spoke the universe into being by a word. And in this hour he speaks by his living presence.

It’s all Jesus here tonight. Manger and Cross. The crowded stable. The Empty Tomb. The Scriptures. The sacred music. The Bread and Wine on the Table. All Jesus. As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever. Though not perhaps in the way we might have expected. While we are still weak, while we are still broken, while we are still wandering. More lost than we would care to admit.

Before we’ve got everything "sorted out perfectly." Because that’s never going to happen if we’re left to ourselves. Before we’re ready. Born for us. In Bethlehem. Behind that Traveler’s Inn. Lying there on the straw.

Sometimes it seems that we were so unready, that it’s not even that we didn’t know who we were waiting for, so much as that we didn’t even know that we were waiting, at all.

And then when there is this knocking at the door, when the invitation comes, it seems out of the blue. Unexpected, undeserved, unearned. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior. In these last days. This night. Any night. Every day and night. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. And here he is, for us.

Welcome, Lord Jesus.

May this night be a blessing for you. May his Word find a place to be received, to be welcomed, in our lives, our homes, our minds, our hearts. To be born in us.

And may it be for you, and for those you love, grace, peace, forgiveness, mercy, hope, and a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Reading for December 24

Take a good heart, O Jerusalem: for he that gave thee that name will comfort thee.

Miserable are they that afflicted thee, and rejoiced at thy fall.

Miserable are the cities which thy children served: miserable is she that received thy sons.

For as she rejoiced at thy ruin, and was glad of thy fall: so shall she be grieved for her own desolation.

For I will take away the rejoicing of her great multitude, and her pride shall be turned into mourning.
For fire shall come upon her from the Everlasting, long to endure; and she shall be inhabited of devils for a great time.
O Jerusalem, look about thee toward the east, and behold the joy that cometh unto thee from God.

Lo, thy sons come, whom thou sentest away, they come gathered together from the east to the west by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God.

Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of mourning and affliction, and put on the comeliness of the glory that cometh from God for ever.

Cast about thee a double garment of the righteousness which cometh from God; and set a diadem on thine head of the glory of the Everlasting.

For God will shew thy brightness unto every country under heaven.

For thy name shall be called of God for ever The peace of righteousness, and The glory of Gods worship.

Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and look about toward the east, and behold thy children gathered from the west unto the east by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the remembrance of God.

For they departed from thee on foot, and were led away of their enemies: but God bringeth them unto thee exalted with glory, as children of the kingdom.

For God hath appointed that every high hill, and banks of long continuance, should be cast down, and valleys filled up, to make even the ground, that Israel may go safely in the glory of God,

Moreover even the woods and every sweetsmelling tree shall overshadow Israel by the commandment of God.

For God shall lead Israel with joy in the light of his glory with the mercy and righteousness that cometh from him.

Baruch 4:30 - 5:9

Christmas Eve, 2011

Out of the Ash

Solstice of the dark, the absolute
Zero of the year. Praise God
Who comes for us again, our lives
Pulled to their fisted knot,
Cinched tight with cold, drawn
To the heart’s constriction; our faces
Seamed like clinkers in the grate,
Hands like tongs—Praise God
That Christ, phoenix immortal,
Springs up again from solstice ash,
Drives his equatorial ray
Into our cloud, emblazons
Our stiff brow, fries
Our chill tears. Come Christ,
Most gentle and throat-pulsing Bird!
O come, sweet Child! Be gladness
In our church. Waken with anthems
Our bare rafters! O phoenix
Forever! Virgin-wombed
and burning in the dark,
Be born! Be Born!

William Everson (Brother Antoninus, O.P.), 1912-1994

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Advent, 2011

II Samuel 7: 1-11, 16; Luke 1: 26-38

It is a simple but also poetically and symbolically suggestive observation that the word Bethlehem, the little town of our Savior’s birth, is drawn from two Hebrew words, for “house” and “bread.” I’m not sure if that’s because in some deep background of prehistoric antiquity this was a village of bakers. Names and titles don’t always come about in such obvious and literal ways. But the echoing is nonetheless interesting and meaningful in a devotional way. We never have one thing at a time, and the journey through these midwinter days and nights from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown connects us even now on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to that gathering as he took the bread in his hands and said “this is my Body, given for you.” The manger itself the Holy Table, where in our hearts and minds the hard wood of the Cross becomes real for us, where he has given himself for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins. His Mercy Seat. The home of his abundant generosity and healing and blessing.

The reading from Second Samuel builds a long line of connection from the story of King David to the story of his son King Solomon. As we hear this passage this morning we of course know already that Solomon built a great Temple on the holy hill of Zion. But we know as well that the true home of the Lord of heaven and earth is in the hearts of his people, where he is and will be enthroned forever.

And in the womb of Mary is the Word made flesh. As we noticed last week with the beautiful Clara Miller Burd Annunciation window just outside this Chapel. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.

Many streams, flowing together, contributing to a deeper river of meaning. At 11 o’clock this morning, as you can see in your leaflets, the whole story will unfold right up the center aisle of St. Andrew’s Church. The Angel Gabriel. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, the Baby in the Manger. The Star. The Wise Men from the East, at the end of their long journey.

It’s hard to think of a story that we’ve heard more often. A child is born in Bethlehem. The town that is called “House of Bread.” Long ago and far away. And yet it is certainly true as well that every time we hear it, when we tell it to our kids and when they tell it back to us, it is fresh and new. And it is like hearing it all again for the first time.

As we turn from this Fourth Sunday of Advent, and begin the last part of our journey toward Christmas again this year, may he indeed be born again into our lives, may he find his home in our hearts, and may we be fed and nourished and sustained by him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Advent, Gaudete, 2011

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

St. Paul, in the fourth chapter of Philippians, in St. Jerome’s great Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible, and for so many centuries in the great Churches of the West the choral Introit for this Third Advent Sunday. Gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!

That’s where this Sunday gets its name, “Gaudete Sunday,” and the pink or, more precisely, “rose colored” candle on the wreath a sign for us of the tender blessing and joy we experience as we turn in our hearts and minds toward Bethlehem and begin to anticipate the birth of our Savior, whose name, the Prophet told us, would be Immanuel, “God with us.” In some churches it’s not only the candle, but also the paraments and hangings and vestments as well, “rose colored.” Which can be quite beautiful. As Dean reminded us last Sunday, we do a lot of “frolicking” in the observance of this season, but in this Advent what we are invited to is something less ephemeral, deeper. Joy.

Third Advent is a Sunday as well where on the stage of our imaginations Mary steps forward. The traditional antiphon for the day is from the Magnificat, and when I was reviewing the music for this morning I was very glad to see that Peter had chosen as our choral introit that lovely 16th century setting of the Angelus, the prayer of the words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “Hail, Mary, full of grace. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” We would pause as I’m sure many of us do often by the Nativity Window in the Transept and to see in the left panel the beautiful art-nouveaux style representation of the Annunciation by the stained glass artist Clara Miller Burd. One of the artistic and I think spiritual treasures of St. Andrew’s, and this the perfect Sunday of the year to notice and appreciate it again. Gaudete in Domino semper. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice.

In the reading from Isaiah the Prophet reaches back into the deep past and memory of the Biblical tradition to speak of the present and the future. In the Book of Leviticus and the Law and Torah revealed at Sinai there is a description of what was called the Year of Jubiliee. It’s a part of what is sometimes called the “Holiness Code.” The elaboration of ceremonies and practices that are intended to set apart Israel and give evidence of their identity as God’s Chosen People.

Central to the Holiness Code was the observance of the Sabbath. When God’s people would share with God in God’s perfect rest and Shalom. And if the Sabbath day was the seventh day, then the Sabbath year was the seventh year, and the Sabbath of Sabbath, seven times seven, 49 was set apart as a commandment of God as the Year of the Lord’s Favor. A festival year, a long sacred holiday, in which the fields were to lie fallow, in which debts were to be forgiven, indentured servants released from their bondage, prisoners set free, lands and other property given as collateral on loans returned to the original owner. A time of restoration and healing and renewal. Joy and peace, rest and celebration. The Sabbath Vision. And as this was a commandment of God for his people in the ordering of their economic and social lives, their family and political lives, so the Jubilee was a reflection of God’s deepest care for his people, a foretaste and anticipation of his intention and his blessing, at the heart of his Covenant relationship with them.

It’s not known whether a Year of Jubilee was ever in fact practiced among the ancient people of Israel, but its description in scripture was a sign for them of what God’s peace and God’s righteousness was all about. If it was aspirational in terms of how we should live with one another, it was also word of promise about what God will do. A promise Isaiah saw beginning to be fulfilled in his present moment, in the return home, after long years of refugee life in exile, in the reading this morning. A Jubilee moment. And a promise that the people would hold in their thoughts and prayers and imagination. God’s intention and promise, to be brought about in a complete way in the future, in the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one. The word “rejoice” here too, for Gaudete Sunday:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

This is what is swirling in the background in the reading from John’s gospel this morning. God’s Sabbath, God’s Shalom. As Dean also reminded us in his sermon last Sunday, the Baptist here is at the center of these middle weeks of Advent. Last week we heard the sermon preached on the banks of the Jordan, “Repent.” A great word. I don’t know the nuances in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in Greek a wonderful word. “Metanoeite.” Translated “repent,” which is I guess a correct translation. But to unpack it. It’s not just about saying we’re sorry for something we’ve done. “Meta” means “another.” You have “physics” and then you have another kind of physics, “metaphysics.” And noeia, from the word meaning “thought” or “idea” or even “mind.” We have words like “paranoid,” which would be a thought or idea or state of mind that is disordered or separate from the right way of thinking. John the Baptist tells the people in this great imperative, “Metanoeite! It means a lot more than an expression of regret over some failure or omission or bad act, though it may include some of that. Change your mind, get a different idea, even a different state of being. Repent of the old way of being who you are, and begin to think and be something new.”

A few chapters ahead in John’s gospel Jesus gets at this idea himself when he tells Nicodemus, “you must be born again.” That’s what this word “repentance” means. To say, as we approach the Feast of the Nativity, that for him to be born, so we also must experience a new birth.

And I suppose that John’s ministry of baptism in the Jordan had a lot of associations. A reminder of the ritual washings for purification in Jewish ceremonies of the day, and of the symbolic baths that converts to Judaism would take in preparation for their reception into the community. Wash away the impurities and corruption and prepare to be made presentable, to be admitted to the holy place, where God abides. But in the Jordan also a reminder of how the Chosen People entered the promised land by crossing through that river, to become Israel, God’s people, and even a reminder of their passage through the waters of the Red Sea. To come through the water a symbolic fresh start, an amniotic journey.

What’s going on here? The question the priests and scholars ask John the Baptist this morning. What in the world do you think you are doing? Are you the one God is going to use to bring in his new kingdom, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Year of His Favor? Are you the one? And here on this Third Advent Sunday, of course, John steps back, and points to another, the one who is about to appear.

What it takes is a new mind, a new heart, a new birth. Metanoia. Repentance. Because what God has done in Christ and what God is about to do in our lives and in our world is a new thing. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy. The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

The exiles return home. What was taken from them is returned. What was broken is repaired. Better than new. Where there was sickness, strength and well-being. Injustice and oppression are overturned, righteousness and kindness reign over all. Wars cease, and there is a fullness of peace and prosperity.

Third Advent Sunday, and we can see it all unfolding in the days ahead. Shepherds and angels. The Manger and the Cross. The Church School was rehearsing the Children’s Pageant yesterday, getting ready for next Sunday. About the most familiar story in the world. But every year, and every day of our lives, always fresh and new. A child is born in Bethlehem. For us. God with us. Gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!

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