Begotten from Before the Beginning

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Christmas

Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14: St. John 1:1-18


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Incarnate Word. Amen.

From before time and space, Christ is. The Only-Begotten Son of God is the One Through Whom All Things Are Made. Christ is the Word spoken by God to create the entire cosmos. And now, in the fullness of time, this same Word has descended from the right hand of the Father to become one of us.

The entirety of the Incarnation defies our attempt to understand it – that the Jesus is fully God and fully human? That the Son and the Father are both fully and entirely God – not two gods or different aspects of one God but two persons of a Blessed Trinity? That God would step down from the heavenly throne to become one of us? That this God, having already condescended to become human, would choose to live not in a palace in the heart of a major empire but as a common laborer among a conquered people?

Continue reading “Begotten from Before the Beginning”

The Word Made Flesh: Christmas 2C

Some Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Christmas

Texts:

  • Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:7-14 -or- Sirach 24:1-12
  • Canticle: Psalm 147:12-120 -or- Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
  • Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Holy Gospel: St. John 1:(1-9 optional), 10-18

Texts in Summary:

Well first, let’s get on the same page. What are we actually reading?

It’s complicated.

It’s not terribly common for there to be two Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany, and when it does happen, the various lectionaries tend to go a bit haywire. And so, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, we are reading the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel – but this was the appointed reading for Christmas Day. That is, unless your parish reads the Lukan texts on Christmas Eve and doesn’t gather for worship on the 25th. Or if you opt for the shortened Gospel text, which begins at v 10 and only overlaps with the Christmas reading for four verses before embarking into “new” territory. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer appoints a series of options for the Gospel reading, flipping the pattern of the RCL but maintaining the Old Testament and Epistle readings. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is marking Epiphany this Sunday. Alas, the Revised Common Lectionary is not so common as its framers hoped.

Continue reading “The Word Made Flesh: Christmas 2C”

God Made Flesh, God Mad Vulnerable

A Homily for Christmas

Texts: St. Luke 2:1-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Amen.

We’ll sing Silent Night in a few minutes. It’s a beautiful song, but I’m not sure it’s the most historically accurate. Certainly the shepherds quaked at the sight of the heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia.” But if you’ve ever been present for a birth, you know that they are not silent or calm affairs. For that matter, they’re not the squeaky-clean events of Christmas cards and paintings. Where is the Christmas card with the Blessed Virgin Mary exhausted and sweating while Saint Joseph wipes away the vernix? Technology has come far enough that I should be able to buy a nativity set with a little speaker playing the newborn Christ’s hungry screams.

Continue reading “God Made Flesh, God Mad Vulnerable”

Doth Magnify the Lord: Advent 4C

Some Thoughts for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Texts:

  • Old Testament: Micah 5:2-5
  • Canticle: The Magnificat (St. Luke 1:46-55) -or- Psalm 80:1-7
  • Epistle: Hebrews 10:5-10
  • Holy Gopsel: St. Luke 1:39-45*

*The Gospel lection is flexible as to guarantee that if the psalm is used in place of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin’s song of praise is still read.


Texts in Summary:

As we come to the end of Advent, we make a thematic shift. The lectionary had been pointing us ever forward to the eschaton – starting with apocalyptic imagery at the end of St. Luke’s Gospel and then with John the Baptist’s call to repentance and use of fiery imagery. Now, the RCL is putting everyone in their starting positions.

Continue reading “Doth Magnify the Lord: Advent 4C”

The Creator Enters Creation

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Christmas

Text: St. John 1:1-18


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Word who was with God and was God in the beginning. Amen.

In the beginning, some thirteen billion years ago, the universe exploded into being from nothingness, the echo of the Big Bang still reverberating to this day. Through the æons, stars were forged in the cosmic furnaces, erupting forth as light in the darkness, burning brightly and dying in explosions, leading to the birth of new stars and planets. When life emerged on this, our home, it bore in itself the stuff of stars – as stars emerged and passed away, sewing the matter that would become this pale blue dot, so to did life rise and fall, returning dust to dust, a cycle of life and death giving way to new life. And even so, as humanity emerged, we were nurtured by this star-stuff – the air we breathe, the food we eat, the blood that pumps in our veins was forged in the same cosmic furnace as the stars. As physicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson put it, “We are in the universe, and the universe is in us.”

Continue reading “The Creator Enters Creation”

Expectation, Disappointment, and Fulfillment

A Homily for the First Sunday of Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:20-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light for revelation to the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.

Well. It happened. Christmas came and went.

After four weeks of eager expectation, of singing Advent carols and lighting Advent candles and reading Advent texts, all while the rest of the world started observing Christmas back in November, we held fast. Or at least, we tried to. (Yes, even I broke down and listened to some Christmas carols before the Feast of the Nativity.)

And sometimes, if I’m being honest, Christmas can feel like a bit of a let down. It doesn’t go quite the way you wanted. The dish you were hoping for didn’t taste quite the way you remembered. The stress keeps you from really “getting into the spirit,” as they say. Or, let’s say, hypothetically, you lived in a state with a warm climate and so, instead of a snowy Christmas, you end up with greyish brown grass, deciding if you would rather perspire a little in your sweater or be more comfortable in short sleeves.

Continue reading “Expectation, Disappointment, and Fulfillment”

Let It Be with Me

A Homily for the Annunciation of the Lord

Text: St. Luke 1:26-38


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-Begotten Son. Amen.

There’s a day that will be here before we know it: November 1st. The Halloween candy will be moved to a discount bin and in its place, stores will be putting out Christmas decorations. Clergy Twitter will invariably foam at the mouth as we (rightly) point out that it’s All Saints’ Day and that we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.

But tonight, thanks to some overlapping cycles of the liturgical calendar, in the tail-end of Lent, we’re already looking forward towards the Feast of the Nativity and the birth of our Lord. (Before COVID foiled this and many other plans, we were going to be singing that wonderful Basque carol tonight, “The angel Gabriel from heaven came.”)

The Nativity of our Lord and the holy feasts related to it are a reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ, true God from true God, the Only-Begotten Son, through whom all things were made, became truly human – so fully human that he knew the pain of hunger, the temptation of sin, and even the sting of death.

But nine months before his birth in royal David’s city, on this day near the end of March, we take a day to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

It is Mary who, through her body, fed and nourished the one who gave us his own Body and Blood as a holy meal to sustain and nourish us. It is Mary who, in the waters of birth, delivered the one who gives us new birth through water and the Spirit.

Like the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, in ages past, God promises Mary a child – but unlike Hannah, Mary has not been trying to conceive. For the Blessed Virgin, pregnancy carries with it not only the risk of medical complications in a world with low standards of health care and high mortality rates for both mother and child but also the risk of societal shaming for being with child (and the underlying assumption of how that child came to be) before marriage. The Gospel according to Saint Matthew reveals Joseph’s concern: that while he wanted to spare Mary the scandal of conceiving out of wedlock, he also intended to divorce her – until an angel convinced him otherwise.

Despite these risks – despite the fact that the Mother of our Lord was likely barely a teenager and even more likely terrified of what Gabriel had to say, that her Son would lay claim to the throne of David, bringing him and all of Judea into conflict with Rome and its legions – Mary answered the Lord’s call with these simple words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

And here is really the center of this entire feast: in the ancient Greek and Roman myths, gods had children with human women through acts of abduction and  sexual violence. But the God of Israel, the One who has elected Israel from among the nations, the One who looks with favor upon the lowly and casts down the mighty, acts only with the Blessed Virgin’s knowing consent.

God’s covenant to bless the whole world through Abraham and Sarah’s descendants rests on the shoulders of a young woman who is willing to bear the Only-Begotten into the world.

Listen, dear ones, and hear what God is asking of you, the role our Lord has called you to play in this covenant. And despite all fears, tribulations, and threats, know this: You, too, are highly-favored, and the Lord is with you.

Amen.

Jesus is Lord, Herod is Not

A Homily for the Epiphany of our Lord (Transferred)

Text: St. Matthew 2:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who reveals the glory of the Triune God to the nations. Amen.

Today we observe the Epiphany, the celebration of the Messiah’s manifestation – through his Incarnation and Nativity, through his first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, through the descent of the Holy Spirit at his Baptism (which we shall hear next week), and today, through the visit of the magi, astrologers visiting from Persia in the East (what we would today call Iran). Continue reading “Jesus is Lord, Herod is Not”

The Ordinary Incarnation

A Homily for the Nativity of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:1-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, born this night, the Prince of Peace, laying in a manger. Amen.

On the 6th of May 2019, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, seventh in line to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was born to Prince Harry and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the exclusive Portland Hospital – birthplace of royalty and celebrity. His birth was heralded by a media spectacle as well as illuminations of the London Eye Ferris wheel, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Niagra Falls, and for £125 (just over $160), shoppers could buy the officially-sanctioned souvenir teddy bear. He was baptized in the chapel of Windsor Castle by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. This pomp and circumstance in spite of the fact that his parents have opted to raise him a “private” citizen, foregoing the right to pass on one of his father’s hereditary titles.

What else would we expect for the son of a prince? This is precisely the sort of extraordinary attention we reserve for those lofty few, those who will reside in palaces or mansions.

The story of Jesus’ birth is likewise extraordinary, but in a completely different way. Our Lord was born not in some elite hospital nor a palace but in the ancient equivalent of a garage because the house was full.

His parents were not special, neither royalty nor celebrities, not even religious leaders. His father was a craftsman engaged to a young woman. They were from a small town that was often the butt of the joke – one of Christ’s own disciples would snidely ask, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These blessed parents were far from home because the emperor in Rome decided to flex his political muscle over the farthest reaches of his realm.

The angels herald Jesus’ birth only to a few shepherds out in the fields, and a few foreign astronomers notice a strange star, but that’s about it. Save for his parents, the shepherds, and those magi (who don’t even show up for a few years – but more about that in two weeks), everything about this night seems so extremely ordinary.

This is the story of the Incarnation, the story of God the Son, the Divine Word, the Eternally-Begotten One through whom all things were made, becoming a human, one of us. It’s a night that changed the world, and yet it was so entirely plain.

There’s something unsettling about a God who comes to us in such humble form – born not to a king or emperor but to a craftsman and his fiancée in a far-flung province of an oppressive empire, a God who, like all newborns, cried and soiled himself and woke his holy parents up in the middle of the night. The one who gave us his Body and Precious Blood was fed of his own mother’s body, was entirely dependent on the Blessed Virgin Mary for his being.

We dress this night up with illuminations, festive greenery, and sacred song, but at its core, its is holy because it is common.

The Jesuit priest and gang intervention advocate Father Greg Boyle once remarked,

I think we’re afraid of the incarnation. And part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated, and cost… millions [with a] cast of thousands….

But this is what tonight is all about: God enters the world, shunning the pomp and circumstance of human royalty, foregoing the gold-plating in favor of fragile human flesh. Living among us, he encounters pain and disease, he weeps at the graveside of a dear friend, knows the true anguish of hunger and thirst, and feels the sting of death. Our Savior is one who has gone through the same trials and tribulations as us.

On this night of nights, we remember and give thanks that our Lord blessed us with his presence not by appearing as some sort of angelic being devoid of flesh and bone nor by dwelling in some palace far removed from the pain of common, everyday life but that he lived among us, greeted by working-class shepherds.

He lived under earthly kings. He talked to, healed, touched, and even ate with the religious elite, the enslaved, the sex worker, the tax collector, the occupying soldier, the divorcee, the pure and unclean alike, washing away human distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female,  slave and free, calling all of people to new and everlasting life.

And it is this ordinary-looking child who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, who shall wield all authority on heaven and earth, who will reign with righteousness and justice.

It is this newborn Child who will break the oppressive yoke of sin and death, who will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty, who will lift up the lowly and topple tyrants from their thrones. It is this crying infant who will taste death but, in dying, destroy the deathly powers of this world.

By taking on humanity, ordinary, fleshy, common humanity, Christ will pull us ordinary, fleshy humans out of the grave and dress us in ever-living divinity.

And on this holy night, my dear friends, as we remember the God who came as an infant, we celebrate also that he left us this Blessed Sacrament, his Body and Blood, as a gift of grace. But even this we have tried to dress up with silver and gold. Again, Father Greg reminds us:

And so we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’s hand, and we’ve replaced it with a chalice, because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup….Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends, and that’s the incarnation.

Our Lord’s presence continues in our midst through the mystery of his Body and Blood made present in ordinary bread and wine. Here, beloved, the miracle of our Lord’s birth continues: a God who came to us as a normal kid comes to us again as an ordinary meal. Here he is, for us, to forgive and bring us into newness of life, to make us the holy Body of Christ.

Amen.

The Little Boy Lost

A Homily for the First Sunday in Christmas

Text: St. Luke 2:41-52


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us as both a child and a savior. Amen.

What was our Savior like as a child? Beyond the carol’s claims of “no crying he makes”?

We see shockingly little of Christ’s early life. Mark and John completely omit our Lord’s childhood. Matthew gives a quick over-view in only a chapter and a half. Luke packs it all – from birth to age thirty – into one chapter, fifty-two verses – much of which focuses on the first few days of his life and the people around him rather than on Jesus himself. All of the material we have is laden with symbolism: the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt as refugees only to return safely in a re-creation of the Exodus. Jesus presented in the Temple, greeted with prophetic excitement as Anna and Simeon proclaim that this child is the one they’ve been waiting for. Today, St. Luke builds on his already-rich imagery, telling us that the Holy Family was pious, and that Mary and Joseph observed Passover with the traditional pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. In a foreshadowing of the Passion and Resurrection, Jesus disappears for three days before being returned safely.

But today, beneath the symbolism, we also see an important – no, a vital part of Jesus’ life. We see something incredibly normal. Yes, this reading is set 2,000 years ago, and yes, it is full of vibrant imagery, but it also contains a very human moment. It’s a scene that has undoubtedly played out in nearly every family over the centuries. Continue reading “The Little Boy Lost”