Sunday, January 26, 2014

III Epiphany

 (A) Matthew 4: 12-23

Grace and peace and good morning this Third Sunday after the Epiphany, the Thirty-Third Day of Christmas, in the midst of this winter, and with the encouragement of knowing that as of tomorrow there are only nine more weeks--nine!-- until our Pirates will take their opening day positions against the Chicago Cubs down at PNC Park.  So no matter how much it snows this afternoon: hints of spring and summer in the far distance! 

Thinking about different seasons of the year:  no bagpipes this morning, but the Second Lesson certainly should ring for us with great familiarity, anyway the last part of our reading from the fourth chapter of St. Matthew--which is, we would I’m sure all pretty much remember once we hear the reminder, the gospel reading appointed for the festival observance of our Patron, St. Andrew the Apostle.  So we in this parish hear this reading every year in November, echoing deep down and front-and-center in our congregational psyche and DNA. 

Again and again for almost 177 years now for this congregation:  Jesus looking deeply into our eyes and hearts to issue that great invitation and to enlist us to join his work.  In the cadences of the traditional translation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Last Sunday in the announcements I had a few words to say of appreciation and encouragement about our recent Annual Stewardship Campaign.   And just to repeat again this remarkable moment, that in the same year that we as a congregation amazingly responded to a call to support the Opening Door campaign for capital improvements and outreach, with gifts and pledges from a smaller congregation like ours of more than $1.5 Million Dollars--50% more than the total that the metrics of our feasibility study originally indicated as the upper end of our most likely projection--and so providing the foundation to build new capacity and new resources for mission and ministry in generations to come . . .  in that same year, to have turned almost immediately after the conclusion of the development portion of the Opening Doors Capital Campaign to turn to the annual campaign for 2014, and in just a few fall and early winter weeks to know that more families, more households have made pledges of support for the life and work we will share together next year I’m pretty sure than we have seen in more than the last 20 years, and to see more resources pledged and committed to this work in annual giving for 2014 again, in real dollars, than in any year before.  Near as I can tell maybe all the way back to 1837.

What is going on here?  Something, that’s for sure.  Something.  Follow me, and fish for people.

The point of all this isn't really for us to be congratulating ourselves for two overlapping and still very successful fundraising campaigns.  That sounds like fun, and in fact I think it probably is fine to smile a bit for a moment. We can and should celebrate.

But I actually think the more emotionally coherent and spiritually discerning thing for us all to be feeling right now around St. Andrew’s is, you should pardon the expression: a sense of terror.  I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word.  But close.  And I’m actually pretty serious about that.  Holy Cow!  What in the world is going on?  Keep your eyes open.  Hold on to your hats.

Peter and Andrew heard these words.  Get up.  Now.  Now.  Put down what you were doing.  Follow me.  A whole new agenda for you.  To use a term that got really overused a few years ago, but is right on target here:  a paradigm shift.  And what they must have felt, pretty much it seems to me what you and I, all of us, might be feeling in these first weeks of 2014, facing deep truth in the presence of Jesus.  Which is just to say, “something really big is about to happen, IS happening, right here, right now.”  Something really big.   Our next job, a challenge much bigger and way more important than a couple of stewardship campaigns, is going to be to get our eyes open and our heads straight and figure out just what it is.  What it means.  What we're supposed to do now.  Look and listen.  Watch and pray.

If this moment is going to mean anything, it certainly is not just about one brief afternoon conversation by the shore.

 The Kingdom is near.  Right here, in fact.  Sometimes we talk about “hiding in plain sight.”  Back in the 1980’s when I was doing a lot of Youth Ministry we had a conference worship book with a song, “Have you seen Jesus my Lord?  He’s here in plain view.  Take a look, open your eyes.  He’ll show life to you.”  So by the seashore, mending nets, needing to learn to see in a new way.  God reaching in, with mercy and forgiveness and love.   

Jesus comes to the disciples because he has big, big plans for them.  More than anything they ever could have imagined.  Plans that are going to launch them from the routines of their ordinary lives and carry into a life of challenge and purpose and accomplishment that never could have been on their radar.  He’s not just inviting them to join him for a six week tour of the Galilean villages.   A short-term mission trip.  No, this is different.  Turning everything over.  A watershed moment.  This is the pivot of history, after all.  A moment of transformation that is cosmic in scope.  The whole creation has been groaning to come to moment, as St. Paul says in Romans 8.  In the presence of Jesus, enlisted, lifted up.  Come with me.  Nothing ever going to be the same again.

Jesus says in St. Luke’s gospel, “from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”  And that’s what might be in our mind this morning, in this new year of our life together.  Called like Andrew and Simon Peter, to be apostles.  Called to follow.  Called to fish in new ways, to fill the net.  Called not simply to go out into the old fields of our life experience, but into new fields, for a new harvest.

God would never have come to you in this way without having something big in mind for you.  About to be revealed.  Stay tuned.

Sounds fun, maybe.  But also, terrifying.  You all know how much I love change . . . .  Like maybe lots of great new things will come.  Like maybe lots of the old things and the old ways will need to be left behind.  Thinking for James and John of their father, old Zebedee.  This is the first and only time we see him, and the young men perhaps with tears get up to move along in the new way.  Remembering the title from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “A Costly Discipleship.”

Our Bishop Alden Hathaway used to talk about what he called “the Seven Last Words of the Church:  We’ve never done it that way before.”   “Last Words.”  And of course as a deeply habituated traditionalist, I always got a little nervous when he started talking like that.  But I think it is just right for us to have this thought in front of us as a congregation, and each of us in the corners of our own lives.   As we sit by the shore, mending our nets.  Whether we know it or not, our whole lives have been directed toward this moment.  We can think about these things corporately, and at the same time we need to be thinking about them individually.  Thinking as best we can in and with the words of scripture, in the fellowship of the Christian family.  What is going on in your life right now?  Where is it that you see him?  That  I see him?  What do you think he has in mind when he says his to you?  “Get up.  Come with me.  Let’s go fishing.”  

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Conversion of St.Paul and the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

Our preacher at Evensong on January 19, 2014, was the Rev. Dr. Donald B. Green, Executive Director of the Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Propers were for the Conversion of St. Paul and the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Please click on the link below for the text of Pastor Green's sermon.

Sermon  for Evensong

Monday, January 20, 2014

II Epiphany

Sermon this Sunday morning by seminarian C. Garrett Yates . . . .

Father Chris Yaw wrote a delightful little book a few years ago entitled: Jesus was an Episcopalian, subtitled And You can be one too. Mr. Yaw makes a good case for at least entertaining the idea that Jesus was really a closet Episcopalian all along. Well and good. 

With that said, one book that I do not see being written anytime soon, by Father Yaw or anyone for that matter, is one recommending that John the Baptist was an Episcopalian. For of the things we know about John the Baptizer, something tells me he wouldn't be our poster child. For starters, he is altogether out of touch with high-born fashion - camel hair and a sun-dried leather belt. And his dining habits of bugs and wild honey would most certainly exasperate our Lady Grantham sensibilities. Most disturbing of all, what I think really rules him out, is his total indiscreet manner of conversation, full of everything except subtlety. He knows one volume: loud, one mode of discourse: annoyingly direct, and one subject matter: apocalyptic, end of the world stuff.

Okay fair enough. But what I want to say this morning is` perhaps something like a campaign for John: a campaign which will recommend we give him a second look.

Of all the things that befuddle us about John, one thing remains clear: his proclamation. The Gospel writer scripts a blindingly simple message for John in this morning's text and, really, throughout his entire career as St. John narrates it in Chapter 1 of his Gospel. He makes two emphatic statements: "I am not the Christ" and "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." John stubbornly refuses the Messianic laurel and when he does catch sight of the Messiah he doesn't take the time to introduce himself, no courteous bows of deference; no, like a punch drunk buffoon who has laid eyes on the love of his life, all he can do is yell: There he is, oh my goodness, the lamb of God. Agnus Dei.

So first, why is John so adamant to refuse the Messianic title? Well, John lived in a world that was all but obsessed with the Messianic. It was a world that craved for someone of power and charisma to wave their magic wand and usher in a golden age; someone to inaugurate a politico-religious revolution that would bring the vicissitudes of history to a halt. Take a religious group like the Essenes. This sect of Judaism had removed themselves from the pagan culture and relocated to the desert where they could devote special attention to purifying themselves in order to that they could have front row tickets for the Messiah’s entrance. They were altogether anxious for the Messianic. Or another example: the Romans began looking to the emperor to fulfill the Messianic role. The Emperor was to be someone who upheld justice, quelled enemy forces, and appealed to the people’s hope to "take away the sins" from the empire. Suffice it to say, in John's day virtually everyone was enamored with the idea of the Messianic. And curiously enough, we are all left to wonder if it is any different in our day? 

"I am not Messiah" he teaches us to say. How much different would our world look if our political leaders had to say this before speaking in a City Council Meeting or Congress or at the NATO Summit? Better yet, how different would our own lives look if we said this at the start of each day? "I am not the Christ. I am not the one who can single handedly change my own world or anybody else's. I refuse to believe that I am the answer."

So first, renunciation. Secondly, he teaches us about confession: "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

This makes me think of some words penned by the late and much beloved Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Heaney writes: History says, Don’t hope/On this side of the grave/But then, once in a lifetime/The longed-for tidal wave/Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme.

"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" or in Heaney's words, "The longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme." That's what I think John has seen. John denies that he is the Christ and points to the one who is. Well, the question could still be asked: "what makes John so sure that this man Jesus has the Messianic prerogative?"

All of us are probably familiar enough with the first chapter of St. John’s gospel wherein we are told Jesus's staggering Messianic resume. He is the Word of God who has been with God since the beginning. He is the one who knows the Source of Reality like a child knows his Father. He is the one who has spent eternity basking in the radiant love of Father Son and Spirit. In short, this man Jesus is from an altogether different order than all other Messiah’s. His charisma is of a whole different sort. He is not like the other Messiah’s – political or otherwise – whose campaigns are built around glitzy power and celebrity attention; no ego flattery with him. He is not one like the Messiah's hoped for by the Essenes or the Romans who would whisk them away from the risks and travails of history for a timeless utopia. This Messiah wants to do business with this world; its this history, this life he wants to save.

And John recognizes that this Messiah's MO is too of an altogether different sort. John refers to him as a lamb. Of course this is not a symbol any of us usually associate with grandiose power. Quite the contrary. This is an animal that is, might we say, dumb by the jungle’s standards: simple, innocuous, and totally un-threatening. And yet, our text tells us that it is this MO that the Spirit of God alights upon. The sins of the world can only be dealt with in this way. "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth."  "Behold the Lamb of God!" John tells us.

I want to pull our attention back to John's life. We have seen that John has denied his own right to the Messianic; he has challenged us to realize our own tendencies to believe that we are our own Christ's. And he has asked us to relax that movement. John has also taught us that in this act of renunciation we are wise to point the world to Jesus, who is the true Messiah.

One final thing can be said about John the Baptist that is worthy of our attention. From this point on in John's gospel, John the Baptist all but fades from view. Once you've finished reading the narrative, you hardly remember that John was there at all. Its almost like the gospel writer wants us to see that John's life had been fulfilled in this small, supporting role - in this role of pointing away from himself to another. In short, John is almost like the kid standing before the Grand Canyon, who is all but swept away by the majesty and beauty of it all. All the kid knows to do is laugh, maybe even weep, and holler for his parents: "Mom! Dad! Get over here, you've got to see this! Look!"

For in him, "the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme." "Behold the Lamb of God."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

Year A,  Matthew 3: 13-17

First Sunday after Epiphany, the Feast of the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles—the Nineteenth Day of Christmas, and my true love gave to me . . . .  Any trees and greens still up beginning to show their age now . . . the kids finally all back in school, working-around the ongoing winter cold weather and snow days . . . Wise Men long-ago home again after their pilgrimage . . . the Holy Family now returned from their time in the refugee camps in Egypt.  Joseph of course goes back to work in his career as a tekton, variously translated as construction worker, builder, carpenter.   The boy Jesus grows up with the other boys in the village, has his lessons with the village rabbi, travels with his extended family and many others of the village and region up to Jerusalem for the great festivals.  Then the scene fast-forwards.  “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.”  A new chapter.

From Christmas to Epiphany.  So to begin by saying: in these days of rapid innovations of technology  and consumer goods it inevitably happens once or twice on Christmas morning that the festive holiday wrap comes off the package and the box is opened: “wow, this is great!  Thanks very much!  But, um: what is it?  How does it work?  What does it do?”  

Songs of the Angels still echoing in the far distance.  And questions for us.  What child is this?  Who is he?  Why does he matter?   How is this "Christmas" thing supposed to work?  This is the project of this season after the Feast of the Epiphany, the next weeks in the cycle of the Christian year.  Exploring those questions from a number of different angles and perspectives.

And we begin this first Epiphany Sunday by noting that all four gospels tell us in one way or another that an important part of the way to begin to understand who Jesus is and what he is about and what he means for us is to see him in the context of John the Baptist.  Echoing the song John’s father sang at the time of his birth, “thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his way.”   In Matthew 3 verse 2 we are given this synopsis of John’s preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And in Matthew 4, verse 17, we are told that after John had been arrested by the authorities Jesus also began to preach, and the content of his sermon—and it sounds pretty familiar: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In any event this scene at the Jordan, the first meeting of these two cousins since the time when their two pregnant mothers were together as we read in Luke, when the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, and as Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, repeats to Mary the words of greeting spoken first by the Angel, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

John’s message about repentance, and then of course the message that Jesus would later preach, was very much in synch with what we remember of the message of so many of the prophets of Israel.  The Baptist out there in Judea, in the desert beyond the walls of Jerusalem, dressed in homespun camel’s hair, eating the food of the desert, as the wandering Hebrews of old would have done, not  manna from heaven exactly, but a wilderness diet nonetheless:  locusts and wild honey-- calling the leaders and the people to turn away from the worship of false gods.  As Carlos Santana and his band sang many years ago, “you’ve got to change your evil ways, baby.”  Turn away--from the false gods of political power and ambition, prestige, collaboration, from the powers and principalities of a social and economic system built on pervasive injustice and oppression, from the false gods of materialism, greed, corruption, gluttony and lust, the whole roster, outward and visible signs of our inward corruption, and to return again to the worship of the one true God who had spoken to them at the mountaintop of Sinai and who had led them 40 years through the wilderness.   And to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, to seek themselves--to seek ourselves--to live lives of holiness, righteousness, justice, purity of heart, body, and mind.  To allow our lives to be formed by his word.  

And John’s signature prophetic gesture and symbol was baptism in the Jordan.  The river that was the mother of life for the people of this Promised Land.  The River through which n ancient days Joshua led the people on dry ground when they came to the end of their exodus journey.   The river in which the Prophet Elisha told the Syrian General Na’aman to bathe for the healing of his disease.

Early Judaism had the practice of many times of ritual washing, sometimes simply, sometimes in elaborate ceremonies, before the Sabbath, before the Holy Days, after coming into contact with something that made you ritually unclean.  John the Baptist announces that the whole people have become unclean, body, mind, and spirit, individually and corporately, offensive to God in their sinfulness--and that the time is now to repent and return to the Lord.  And as a living sign and symbol of that intention, he called all the people to come out again with a new heart and a new spirit, to let a ceremonial washing in the waters of the Holy River be a sign of deep cleansing and purification, a sign of new birth.  Personal  commitment and re-commitment.  The movement led by John the Baptist a sweeping revolutionary movement with impact in personal lives and in the social and political and economic spheres.  “You’ve got to change your evil ways, baby.”

Here in Matthew 3, when John sees Jesus here he knows exactly who Jesus is.  “Why do you come to me?  I’m the one who needs to be baptized by you!”  We know who he is too.  Yet we are transfixed by this moment even so.  Jesus of course doesn’t have need of repentance or purification, but there is something more that he sees, as he says, “let it be so now, for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

Reflecting St. Paul.  Philippians 2: Though he was in the form of God he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient.  And First Corinthians 13.  Love is patient and kind.  Love does not insist on its own way.  We remember that saying attributed to St. Francis, “preach always, when necessary use words.”   

Jesus doing this thing, stepping into the water with John, not for himself, but for those who are watching, the crowds, for us.  Preaching.  John has prepared the scene, and now Jesus is going to show us the way, by himself being the way.  And in this moment inviting us all to follow him out into the Jordan.   Giving way in obedient love to the will of the Father.  Wading out there with him, head down, total immersion-- the whole Body of Christ.  The one who says just a little later in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, that he has come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill and complete it.  His prayer at the end, “not my will, but thine.”

In this act of generous obedience, then, not because he has to, but because he seeks only to please the Father in an offering of praise, there comes the eternal blessing.  The heavens are opened, the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  It is this deep, abundant, reciprocal, mutually self-denying love that is the energy that flows in and among the Persons of the Trinity.  Baptism not simply about what happens in the water, but about a life to be shaped in relationship to the Father; not just about following Jesus into the river, but about following him out again.  Not simply following rules, but about giving up ourselves in his service and love. 

What in our 1979 Prayer Book is called the “Baptismal Covenant,” prefaced by these solemn commitments by those who are to be baptized, or on their behalf by parents and godparents, setting the framework for Christian life: six questions, and when I hear them every time, it just about takes my breath away.  “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?  Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”  Following Jesus into the water.

An amazing sixteen baptisms recorded in the parish register of St. Andrew’s Church in 2013, and I met with a family this week to begin preparation for what I expect will be the first of 2014.  Following Jesus into the water, and then following him out again into the wide world of our lives, our homes, our families, as we work, as we live in our neighborhoods and communities, to be refreshed and renewed.  In a world centered in identity and self-fulfillment, where the greatest triumph of all is to find oneself,  where the bumper sticker announces, “the one who dies with the most toys wins,” we would be invited here to lose ourselves in him, with Jesus to pass through the waters of the Jordan,  with Jesus to open our hearts and our minds to receive the blessing of the Father.  This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Second Christmas Sunday

Matthew 2

Grace and peace on this first Sunday of the New Year, 12th Day of Christmas, 12 Drummers Drumming--and the whole parade before us, with pipers, lords and ladies, milkmaids, swans, geese, golden rings, calling birds, French hens,  right down for the last time to that Partridge in a Pear Tree.  Merry Christmas!  At some point in the early morning hours tomorrow the Magi will find their way to Bethlehem, and the long winter season of reflection on the Incarnation will move ahead to the wider frame of Epiphany, the revelation of Emmanuel, God with us, not simply in the quiet of the Holy Night but expanding in wider and wider circles, Jews and Gentiles, all nations, all peoples.

Last Sunday Phil Wainwright turned our attention again to the First Chapter of St. John, the Gospel of Christmas, the affirmation that the Baby in the Manger and the Holy Family and the Shepherds and the Angels cannot be reduced to the status of characters in a sentimental children’s story.  The resounding power and reality of the Eternal Word, God himself, shaking the foundations, filling the darkness with the brightness of new light.  Changing things.   In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Indeed a warm and gracious assurance in the Bethlehem Stable.  Tidings of comfort and joy, even in the heart of the bleak midwinter.  All good and all true.  

And yet before the Nativity Scene is packed away for another year, we have this morning one more word of Christmas.  A tug on the sleeve and a tap on the shoulder.  And this a word that the world most definitely doesn't want to hang around for.  A part of the Christmas story that we don’t dwell on at the Children’s Pageant or with a Hallmark card . . ..

Second Chapter of Matthew.   The Wise Men slip away.  And the next character to stride out onto the stage, raging King Herod.  Raging.  And Matthew doesn't mince any words:  “He sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men.”  And the echoing songs of the Angels over the hillsides are drowned out by what comes next: “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children.”

Leave this out and we’re not getting the whole story of Christmas. The light shines in the darkness.  And all of a sudden there it is, out of the shadows.  The reality of what was going on under the cover of darkness.  The hidden squalor.  Violence.  Jealousy.  Greed.  Appetite.  Secretly feeding the old furnace.  Whatever dark matter we would sweep under the carpet.  What we might allow ourselves not to notice in the shadows, now fully exposed.  No way to hide from it. 

If we think sin is an antiquated concept,then we haven't been reading the newspaper.  We haven't been looking into the mirror.

The hard reality and the first reality of Christmas, the most important reality in so many ways, again from St. John, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”  

Turning away, and in some way even fighting back.  We love the eager shepherds, but in the end we human beings all of us most often most resemble that horrible king.   If we’re honest.  In his raging.

There is an old joke about the problem with kittens.  “They grow up to be cats.”  And the problem with the Baby in the Manger, the problem with Christmas.  He grows up.  He grows up to be Jesus.  And we would need to say, each and every one of us, along with our brother King Herod, that this child grows up in a dangerous way to be a problem for the world, and for us. 

We sing the song: No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground . . . .   This is about putting a stop to things in our own lives.  Not just about other people.  A long time ago and far away.  Or even about the bad people we see on the 11 o’clock news.  Ancient villains, modern terrorists. 

  Christ came down from heaven with you and me specifically in mind, which is the scary part of the Christmas message.  And for us that Bethlehem night if it is going to mean anything at all that is more than a fairy tale for children is going to need to be about personal accountability.  There’s a long literary tradition about how kings handle the bearers of bad news.  And not just kings.  The light shines in the darkness, and it’s all there.  For God to see, for us to see.  Every dark thought and every deed, lie, betrayal, every self-centered act of greed and force, the altar of every false god.  It all comes out.

The Baby in the Manger grows up.  The lights come on.  After his gentle cooing in the manger he learns to speak.  And in the fourth chapter of St. Matthew at the 17th verse we are told what are the first and central words to the world, the world he made, the world for which he would give his life, the key message of his ministry, what he was born to tell us:  “From that time,” Matthew says, “Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  To know with clarity that from his point of view this is a matter of life and death.  The Greek, metanoite, more or less literally, “think again.”  “Put on a new mind.”  “Get your head on straight.” Before it’s too late.

The traditional Prayer Book absolution after the Confession at Morning and Evening Prayer was replaced with a shorter form for those services in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer—but the classic text (which we at St. Andrew’s will still hear a couple of times a month at Choral Evensong) does continue to be found in contemporary language in the order for Ash Wednesday.  “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live, has given power and commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins.  He pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.”  --This is what that Nativity Scene and the Manger and the Shepherds and the Angels have got to be about, if they are about anything real.    A prayer from the heart.  “Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Back in the 16th century it was Archbishop Cranmer’s thought that we would each and every one of us do well to hear those serious, serious words about repentance twice a day.  Until they would become embedded in our deep consciousness.

It’s what Herod doesn't want to hear about--the enraging message of Christmas is that Christmas is about change.  Not first of all about the things “out there” that need to be changed.   But about what change needs to happen to us, in us, in the new light of the Christ child.   To let Christmas happen, to get our acts together, to get our heads on straight.

The First Chapter of John, again:  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . . .

We welcome him at Christmas, but on that morning and in that season we would sing as our Christmas hymn a hymn about change, new direction, new heart, new life.  A Prayer for the Last Day of Christmas.  That the hymn Herod couldn't bring himself to sing when the Wise Men told him Christmas had happened might be our hymn:

 “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.  Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise; take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.  Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”