Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Son-Light in the Darkness

Easter is always on a Sunday, being placed by the Western Christian tradition on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the Spring equinox.  Basically a calculation of sun AND moon can put Easter on any Sunday between March 21 and April 25. But Christmas as a day determined by a solar calculation is seldom on a Sunday.  Instead it is on the day that December 25th finds itself.

The narrative begs this timing.  As Advent -- the season -- has turned our focus to the interplay of encroaching darkness and promising light we need for Jesus to be born within the very first turning of those longer days of winter.

It took a long time for Christians to get all these elements together. Exactly when was Quirinius Governor of Syria?  How interesting that Luke recalls that Bethlehem is the family home of David the shepherd boy thus setting up a comparison with the failures of the city that David the King called home, Jerusalem.  What could be meant by adding swaddling clothes to the set of signs?  And what's with "lying in a manger?" Why are shepherds; dirty, poor, migrant-worker-like shepherds the first to hear the angels' Gloria?

Seems like all these features echo lowliness, humanity's lowliness.  Seems like the same principle is at work in the Annunciation to Mary and her Magnificat sung in response.  Lowliness and darkness are the origins of the Messiah, not Rome's palaces or even Jerusalem's temple.

Christmas is when it is because of what the light shining in the darkness means!  Indeed, has always meant.  God is at work reemphasizing His place in our lives not from the top down like a Caesar but from the bottom up, from the lowliness of a young mother, a manger and swaddling clothes, from within darkness to light.

You don't tell that story from the high noon of Summer's solstice or even the halfway point of Spring's or Fall's equinoxes.  You tell it in the dark of a winter in a hemisphere that was ancient Israel's and is ours today. You tell it so that all the subversion that is the lowly being lifted, the proud being scattered, the mighty being cast down, the hungry being filled gets right something that needs righting!

You tell it now because there is still too much darkness in our lives. Darkness that is ours no matter our rank or privilege. Darkness that persists through every human's, every caesar's, every president's, every priest's, every parishioner's attempt to be rid of it.

Only the light of God, pointed and small can make its way with us and we call him Emmanuel.  Can makes its way for us and He is Jesus.  Can make its way in us just like it did in Mary.  Can make its way through us because there is still too much darkness.

We'll miss grandeur of John's gospel this year.  It has the language in a couple of sentences that it takes Luke three chapters to convey.  It goes like this, "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:4-5 NRSV.)

Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christ is born . . . for whom?

The title is not a trick question.  The answer is simple: the whole world.  But how we make our way through these seasons of Advent and Christmas and the days after our Epiphany feast speaks volumes to how we understand the direction and effect of the incarnation.
So here are some other questions:
How do the conditions of your birth affect your life, today?
Jesus came into the world in just about the worst of circumstances.  Thanks be to God he had a mother who loved him who had the committed support of a husband.  But Bethlehem was not his home.  How many of us were born into circumstances that thrust meaning and significance onto us over and above joining a family?  How do we understand poverty or wealth as related to our beginnings?  What family histories of health concerns are now ours to consider?
How do you balance society's version with the Church's version?
Ours is a confused mix of symbols and signals.  If we take the first amendment seriously or literally then why is there a display on the post office square of wisemen and the holy family?  How much care do we take to protect the legendary nostalgic Santa Claus from the Christian history of sacrificial saints?  How so we teach so as to minimize what must be "unlearned?"
How do you understand our lives as made better or different by his birth?  We hear "god with us" and many are encouraged toward gratitude and so turn into gift-ers to those less fortunate.  Others understand His birth as indicating God's love and therefore are encouraged toward hope for a darkening and fallen world.  Some immediately feel blessed and joy is their first expression.  
How do we express our claim that God is incarnate -- think "with us" -- when the days aren't a break from routines of school and work?
The incarnation must play out over time, when the decorations are down and the season is ordinary. But will it work to chime, "Merry Christmas!" in mid February's chill?
How do we incarnate God?
If Christ is born for the whole world then how do we participate in furthering his presence, in making him real, helping others to see that greatest gift of God with us?
I'm not suggesting that we leave our trees up into Lent or that we force our Christmas traditions beyond their reach.  Twelves days is too much for many.
I am suggesting that we have a part to play in the emerging of what Christmas capsulizes and capitalizes for us.  Some of it will be to look for ways to make a difference in the world that traps people in the conditions into which they were born. Some of our part will be to disambiguate society's versions from the Church's. Some of it will be to engender hope, joy, gratitude and faith in our own lives. Some of it will be keep asking the questions of how is my life better by way of His incarnation and what difference we can make for others?  
All of it is for the whole world.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Echoing our vows

When I was ordained to the deaconate at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC in June of 1993 I was handed a bible, "The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition.   It is leather bound, black, heavy, a little floppy (think Billy Graham) and . . . seldom used.
Don't get me wrong I read a Bible everyday, either electronically or from among the other 20 plus translations and copies I own.  I even have another "New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition."
I seldom read from my ordination Bible BECAUSE it is special.  I want to use it as a symbol as much as a tool, as a milepost as much as a map.  Maybe you have something like this in your life.  A piece of wedding cake?  Some jewelry? An article of clothing?
But the marker IS a reminder that at a specific time and place in my life I committed to those ordination vows, gave up my life as a lay person (including my parish membership), was blessed and with the laying on of hands made a deacon.
There is something about our vows that begs an echo, a reminder, a re-upping.  When we celebrated as we did this past Sunday with Bishop Whitmore's help we all participated in echoing the first vows I made as an Episcopalian. Vows I made in May of 1989.  They are the vows of the Baptismal Covenant.
As Anna, Daisy Jane, Debbie, and Holly and the several others who presented themselves to the Bishop in reaffirmation and as I accepted your call to serve this parish as Rector WE ALL renewed our baptismal vows.  The echoing refrain of "I will with God's help" is just plain beautiful, deeply stirring, consistently encouraging, bright but sobering.
So I will remember this past Sunday without a Bible but with a people.  A people together renewed and committed to:

  • Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • Persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • Proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves
  • Striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being

To each of these we aspire "with God's help."  Over and over we recall the promises we made first at our own baptisms, then our own confirmations, and then every time we've welcomed others into this fellowship.
There's a post-it note in the front of that New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha Expanded Edition.  It says, "Please bring this Bible to the ordination May 21, 1994.  [signed] FCB
I was ordained to the priesthood a little earlier than that. January 21, 1994 at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, GA.  I brought the Bible.