Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What child is this?

I wrote last week about the importance of incarnation as a fulfillment of God's saving us from death.  I want to push a little into that idea in the hope that we can demythologize and re-apply much of the nostalgia that shapes our attention to the "babe in the manger."

I want to identify the nostalgia but not eradicate it.  There is an important aspect of innocence that night in Bethlehem that needs  a new recognition.  Just as much, it needs balance.  We need to sing "Away in a Manger" and then we need to ask, "why a manger?" We need to sing, "O little town of Bethlehem" and then ask, "why Bethlehem?"

Part of the mythology that would inform our first answers blends together separate Gospel accounts into every character's piety being the same.  Shepherds, wisemen, Joseph even the animals seem to be frozen, almost afraid to "mess it up."

Not a bad choice.  But it is important for us to let each character, each class of character show us more than our dainty crèche sets let us see of their varieties of responses.  

Warned in a dream the wise men go home by another way because of the threat of Herod's violence.  The shepherds understand their unusual inclusion at least as a mild indictment of a world where economic violence castes people into the haves and have nots, the ones expected to speak and the ones expected to stay quiet and out of sight.  It is exactly that they are the ones to share their having heard the angels sing which triggers Mary's pondering.

The world into which Jesus is born is broken, no more or less than today.  Like much of our world it is one way or another fixated on violence, death and sacrifice as the system to set things right.  Even much of the expectation that a Messiah would come is described in terms of war and violence, of political power and heroic actions.

The world wanted a good bully to beat the bad bully.  It will be later in Luke's gospel on the road to Emmaus that we read the story of hearts changed to understand the law and the prophets in a new light other than the one of Isreal's getting even. 

But it takes a baby being born and living and learning and leading and then challenging the very lessons he had learned and the very leaders his people had chosen to save the world that is lost and broken in darkness and violence.

It takes the new light of the incarnation of one who dies and is raised -- first displayed from a manger in Bethlehem -- to tell the story of things being set right by means other than a violence endorsed by God. 

No more bullies.

No smiting, no armies marching, no zealous insurrections.  Just a silent lamb, a light in the darkness, an innocent child born in an obscure village who saves the world. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What we're not saying

Perhaps a way in which the Episcopal Church particularly distinguishes itself from its other more protestant neighbors is during and by way of this season of Advent.

While the countless versions of "Little Drummer Boy"  --  Even Jimi Hendrix recorded one!  --   accompany our shopping and Andy Williams, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby visit us like the ghosts of Christmases past making sure our hearts are mellow even though just about everything else in our lives is ratcheting up our anxieties, "us Anglicans" are still chanting through our most sincere invitation of the season, "O come, o come Emmanuel."

We've yet to turn beyond hymn 76.  We've yet to hear of lowing cattle, watching shepherds, signatory stars or Roman taxes and census takings.  Instead we are working, yes working our way into an appreciation for the incarnation of God and its purpose, an interplay of hope and memory, of judgement and redemption, of looming darkness and promised light.

We are not just practicing delayed gratification, but much of what we are NOT saying is as important as what others are already saying.   To do as so many around us do and to superimpose our pleasure and fun into the days and months before His arrival, to confuse his coming with our deserving a reward for good behavior, or to think that our generosity and giving are all the world needs to be the place that God intended is nearly to insure that we will miss the meaning of Christmas.

We need at least to be willing to acknowledge what we are doing in lieu of what we are not saying.   There are plenty even among us who do not understand that our preparation is to be a kind of vigilance, an honest expectation that will finally amplify the light as much as focus our gaze on the one from whom the light shines.

Yes, I am an Advent Snob but I am just as much an Incarnation snob.  God will save us by "being born of the virgin Mary, his mother."  I want us to be ready for a human to be born and become the way in which God makes a difference in the world.

Consider this, that for God to make the difference and to intervene in the course of human affairs any other way would be to violate our free will.  Only as the incarnate one can God set right the course of history and do so in a way that does not render us as mere puppets, objects to be manipulated, or cosmological nuisances to be endured and replaced with improved models.

Using the standard, culturally driven reverse projections of the season which for retail purposes begin earlier each year -- "Aren't the 12 days of Christmas the last ones we have to finish shopping?" --  or pro-actively celebrating so that we can take our trees down December 26 -- I've seen them in the gutter on Christmas day -- or praying for a chill in the air so we can wear our ugly contest sweaters one more time -- the gift of irony? -- are not the "things we need to say" maybe especially right now.  Whether we do those things or not there is still so much more for which to prepare.

Please understand, we are not saying anything bad about these preemptions, just that their timing is off.  In Advent we wait and watch, we warn and exhort, we listen and magnify so that when Christmas season begins we can focus on the one who makes the world enlightened and into the place where God is with us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


What a wonderful day December 6th was for the Church of the Advent.  The whole day!! There is no way to thank all those who contributed to hosting our Bishop for his first visitation to Madison and to those who made our fourth annual Bonfire and Pageant a success.

Recalling Claude Raines I can say we should just "round up the usual suspects" but that list would be as long as the parish roster.  

So here are a few whom I want to particularly mention:

Thank you Anna Marrett!! Your bright spirit helped me make it through a large dose of anxiety and trepidation.  

Thank you Bill Abbott!! Your can do attitude and willingness to do what needs to be done without fretting made for a reassuring interaction with Bishop Wright.  

Thank you, Kate Smith Booker!!  Yet another Bonfire Pageant and visit from the jolly elf was a success. 

Thank you Mary and Bob McCauley for providing your field and starting the fire.*

Thanks to the vestry for letting Bishop Wright know where we are in our lives together RIGHT NOW!  He had nothing but good things to say about your involvement and the products of that involvement. 

Thanks to the Confirmands and those being Received.  Kate and Alex should get a prize for endurance.  Following the Bishop's sermon Wes and Beth kindled an energy and interest that spilled out on so many and led 14 to respond to the Bishop's invitation to Reaffirm their faith.

Thank you St. Nag-at-us for getting the paperwork done!

Thanks to the Choir, Dan(s) and Jim for filling our worship with beauty and depth.  

Thanks to Ian and Riley for letting their eagerness teach us all something about the offerings we bring forward.  

Thank you Joyce Morehouse and Daisy Jane Buck for valuing the OT reading.  

Thanks to all who contributed to our feast through their donations of food and beverage. 

Thanks to Bishop Wright for driving fast and staying late.  Thanks for preaching to us in the whisper that is God's word to us in Madison. 

*Thank you Brian Lehman for only almost becoming a Youtube sensation. ;-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Goodness

I made a mistake. In the rush to leverage the coincidence of the lesser Feast of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and our decision to have the children of the parish donate gifts to the children sheltered by the Circle of Love with our now Fourth Annual Christmas Pageant and Bon-Fire at the McCauley's on the night of December 6, I got in the way of Santa Claus. I forgot how important certain stories and connections are to many of our children.

You see, Santa has always paid a visit to the children and families gathered in that field just off Dixie Hwy.

Every year he comes after we have enjoyed a chilly night and a roaring fire and good food and an always engaging rendition of the story of the baby Jesus being born.

Every year he sits with our children and lets them know that he sees the good in them and he sees there is still more than enough goodness in the world around them; a goodness that turns into giving.

Every year our children have left the McCauley's "back forty" with their tummies full, their friendships renewed, their parents happy and their confidences reassured.

Every year the good that God provides us is translated into stories we can learn and share.  Every year we have learned about the goodness of giving.

It was one of those situations you can describe as "don't need fixin' cause it ain't broke."

Word has it that Santa is coming back this year, too.  Let's hope he finds the same spirit in us and our children that he has found in previous visits; a spirit to be good, to do good and to give from that goodness.

Word also has it that the Bishop of Myra's story will be told so that our children can understand their own gift giving as part of a long history of Christians helping those in need.

For those of you who can't be with us at the McCauley's here's a summary of the story from Myra:
He lived in a part of the world we now call Turkey.  He lived and served the Christians in and around the city of Myra.  He was also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. 
The story we tell most often is what he did to help a family with 3 sisters hoping to be married but whose father was not able to afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.
For many of us there are connections between Nicholas and Santa.  The one that matters most is one about goodness and giving.

If you can, please join us as the children of our parish experience God's "giving of goodness" in the story of Jesus' birth.  Or join us as they hear about the "goodness of giving" in the story of the Bishop of Myra and write their own story in their own support of the Circle of Love. Or join us and stay for a visit from Santa himself.