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.

For All the Saints

A Homily for All Saints’ Day

Texts: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; St. Luke 6:20-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has united the saints throughout the ages into the Kingdom of God. Amen.

There’s a musical meme, a centuries-old piece of liturgical hymnody used by composers throughout numerous symphonies and film scores to add an air of foreboding. You’ve heard it, even if you don’t realize it.

It’s popped up in The Shining, Star Wars, and The Lion King. It’s the funeral chant Dies Irae, part of the medieval Requiem Mass for the dead. If you’ve ever heard Mozart’s setting of the Requiem, his take is especially dramatic, full of fury. Continue reading “For All the Saints”

Like Found Sheep

A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: I Timothy 1:12-17; St. Luke 15:1-10


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Good Shepherd who seeks us out and calls us all by name. Amen.

It’s Christmas during one scene in the infinitely-quotable Tom Hanks classic Forrest Gump, and physically and emotionally wounded Vietnam vet Lieutenant Dan angrily asks his former subordinate:

“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”

The kind but simple-minded Forrest responds, with unwitting humor and accidental theological insight:

“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

Continue reading “Like Found Sheep”

A Place of Honor at the Feast

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Proverbs 25:6-7; St. Luke 14:1, 7-14


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who beckons the lowly to places of greater honor. Amen.

Let’s suppose you were to describe Lutheran culture. What is it that sets us apart? Just off the top of my head, I can think of organ music and congregational singing, certainly a big part of our contribution to the wider Church. And there are also foods brought over from the old country, whether it’s lutefisk from our Scandinavian siblings or plantains from our Afro-Caribbean kindred. And food is important, because of course Lutherans love potluck dinners. (If you have a choice at the potluck, go with the plantains, not the lutefisk.) Then there’s that ubiquitous Lutheran trait: sitting in the back of the church.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say Lutheran? I meant Back-Row Baptist. Or Methodist. Continue reading “A Place of Honor at the Feast”

“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him even unto Jerusalem. Amen.

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””

Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 11:1-18; St. John 13:31-35


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Peter’s Vision, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has given us a new commandment. Amen.

“Love one another.” Such a simple, straightforward commandment. And yet like all of God’s Law, this one convicts us of our own sinful shortcomings, revealing how rarely we live into the life that our Lord intends for us. It seems odd that the lectionary should place this passage on Maundy Thursday and then, this year, bring it back around so quickly. It’s been, what, a month since we read it last?

But perhaps there’s some wisdom in this: to keep this perfect Law ever before us, a reminder of our need for God’s forgiving grace and a guide of how Christ intends for us to live in response to our redemption. As if to say, “On Maundy Thursday, you were forgiven your sin, given the new commandment, and fed with the Bread of Life. Let’s check back in. How have y’all done living into the gracious new life of Christ?” Continue reading “Revelation, as Told by Saints Peter and Flannery”

I Am the Bread of Life

A Homily for the Fourth Wednesday in Lent

Text: St. John 6:27-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the True Bread of Heaven. Amen.

“Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

That’s a bold claim, but it’s one most of us don’t fully appreciate.

Most of us have never known the level of want and hunger that plagued our ancestors, that haunts parts of our world today, that some of our neighbors here in Macon wrestle with. Most of us have not missed a meal for lack of food. Between advances in food preservation, transit, and economic growth over the past seventy five years, most Americans have been spared that level of persistent hunger. Continue reading “I Am the Bread of Life”

The Prodigal Son

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who welcomes the sinner and invites them into the banquet. Amen.

I have some good news: we are more than halfway through Lent. In three weeks, we will gather to proclaim that Christ is risen, and our fasting will turn to feasting.

As we enter the home stretch, it’s important to remember that we don’t fast during Lent simply because God wants us to give up coffee or dessert or some little vice or because skipping that hamburger on Friday earns God’s love. Rather, Lent is a time of preparation; around the Church, people are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Holy Baptism or to re-affirm their baptismal vows, and the fasting is a traditional way to remember our dependence upon the Lord, to remember our need for God’s redeeming grace poured out in these waters. Our fasting is a way of both supporting these new Christians and preparing to renew our own baptismal vows at Easter.

As we gather to break our fast and enjoy both the Resurrection and that first sip of beer or that first bite of chocolate, we will also celebrate that our family has grown. Across the Church catholic, we are going to gain thousands of new sisters and brothers in Christ. At Easter, as we celebrate Christ’s Passover from death to life, our newest kindred will pass through the waters, dying and rising with the Living Christ.

At this feast, we’ll welcome in a lot of infants and children, and Christ’s Church will grow. Some will be people who grew up outside the faith and who are responding for the first time to the Gospel of our Lord. Such a joyous occasion. There will be people transferring from one congregation to another, renewing their baptismal vows as they live anew into who God has called us to be. After gathering around the Font, the Church will move on to the sacramental banquet, the great meal of thanksgiving as we celebrate that the Almighty has redeemed the sinner and rescued us from the power of sin, the devil, and Death. And what a tremendous time it is to rejoice with these newest sisters and brothers as we gather with them for the first time around the Heavenly Feast.

But then there will be the people it’s harder to welcome – those who put the whole notion of grace and forgiveness to the test Continue reading “The Prodigal Son”

Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

One Lord, One Faith, One Body

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; St. Luke 4:14-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into his Body. Amen.

The church in ancient Corinth, the recipient of today’s letter from Saint Paul, was situated in a context not so very different from the Church today in Macon. Corinth was a city divided. The population split along social and economic lines, along religious lines, along ethnic lines. These divisions seeped into the church, where those who had converted from the polytheistic religions of the day clashed with those who had been raised in the Jewish community. These early Christians argued about who was baptized by whom.  They debated whether one could eat meat butchered in pagan temples. They even argued about proper hair length. The rich valued themselves above the poor, so much so that the wealthy, who didn’t have to labor long hours and who would pay for the food and wine used in the Eucharist, would gather before the working class could depart their places of employment, feasting on the bread of life getting drunk on the blood of Christ while leaving only scraps for their poorer siblings. Continue reading “One Lord, One Faith, One Body”