Cultivated by Fire

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

Text: St. Luke 3:7-18


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our coming Lord, who is cultivating us for the Kingdom. Amen.

Is there anything quite like fire? All it takes is flicking a match against a box to strike a flame. The initial light is so weak that even a child can blow out – but that same blaze can leave a burn that will “torment you throughout the night.” And that same small, delicate flame can quickly grow into a fierce and unquenchable fire threatening to destroy everything in its path.

In the unfolding climate crisis, we have seen larger and larger wildfires consume massive swaths of the Pacific coast, the mountain west, Alaska, Siberia, and Australia. Smoke from the fires can cover hundreds of miles, turning the sky a terrifying shade of hellish red, and send haze and smog thousands of miles further. These infernos threaten to devour everything they touch. In 2016, the Chimney Tops 2 fire in the Smoky Mountains destroyed more than two thousand structures. In 2020, wildfires destroyed more than 17,500 structures in the US. And in 2018, the Camp fire in California destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings and killed 85 people.  It doesn’t take much – yes, downed powerlines and lightning strikes can start up a blaze, but even something as simple as a car driving over tall, dry grass can light a fire that will unleash scenes of hell on earth.

Continue reading “Cultivated by Fire”

Repentance and Fire: Advent 3C

Some Thoughts for the Third Sunday of Advent

Texts:

  • Old Testament: Zephaniah 3:14-20
  • Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6
  • Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7
  • Holy Gospel: St. Luke 3:7-18

Texts in Summary:

We continue our Advent readings with a second week of John the Baptist.

It’s Gaudete Sunday, one of the two Sundays when rose is the appointed liturgical color. (If you’ve ever wondered why your Advent wreath has three purple or blue candles and one pink one, it’s for this weekend. This tradition is slowly falling out of favor, though. I know of exactly one Lutheran parish that even has rose-colored vestments, and more and more parishes are dropping “the pink one” from their wreaths.) The name comes from the Latin entrance chant, which in turn is taken from this week’s Philippians reading:

Continue reading “Repentance and Fire: Advent 3C”

A Straight Path Through Badlands

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Texts: Baruch 5:1-9; Malachi 3:1-4; St. Luke 3:1-6


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who leads us into the coming Kingdom. Amen.

If you’ve ever been through badlands, you know what good news this. Badlands are areas where the topsoil has given way to soft layers of sedimentary rock – rock so soft that a single rainstorm can shift the landscape. Deep gullies drop down a hundred feet without warning and steep buttes and spires rise just as high. The terrain is so rugged that both the Lakota people and French-Canadian explorers dubbed them “bad land to pass over.” (I’ll spare us all the embarrassment of butchering the original Lakota and French pronunciations.)

Castle Trail, Badlands National Park, August 2016
Continue reading “A Straight Path Through Badlands”

Prepare the Way in the Badlands: Advent 2C

Some Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Advent

Texts:

  • Old Testament: Baruch 5:1-9 -or-
  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Canticle: The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)
  • Epistle: Philippians 1:3-11
  • Holy Gospel: St. Luke 3:1-6

Texts in Summary:

Sunday marks the beginning of Advent’s two-week interlude of John the Baptist. I appreciate the way the lectionary cycle uses John as a pivot from the eschatological focus towards preparation for the Nativity story. After beginning the year with the end of history, we jump backward to John’s ministry preparing the way of the Lord (which, chronologically, takes place after the Nativity) before moving even further back to various events leading up to Christ’s birth:

  • In Year A, we read St. Matthew’s account of the angels appearing to St. Joseph
  • In Year B, we take a break from Sts. Mark and John to read St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation
  • In Year C, we attend to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth (and get an extra peek at John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb)
Continue reading “Prepare the Way in the Badlands: Advent 2C”

From the Beginning, with the End in Mind

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Mark 6:14-29


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who claims those whom the world has rejected. Amen.

A mediocre tv show or movie might be worth watching once. We all know what a “beach read” is – a bargain book that you take with you on vacation. It might be worth reading once while listening to the waves and trying to keep an eye on the dog or the kids.

But a really good movie or book is worth re-visiting, and a great work is worth returning to time and time again. Each time through, some new detail emerges, a new theme grabs your attention. The second, third, tenth time through, you’re still catching subtle foreshadowing, shades of irony, jokes that are set up three episodes before the payoff, plot lines discretely seeded in the first pages that culminate in the final chapters. Notes that start subtly but soon dominate the score, meaningful echoes that play out at different levels.

I spent this past week re-reading a book by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times (five?) and with each revisit, new details stick out to me, ways that he sets up themes in the first pages that dominate the rest of the novel. The ways he plays around with genre. The minor turns of phrase in this work that, with a wink and a nod, pop up in what he called his “fictional autobiography” a decade later.

Continue reading “From the Beginning, with the End in Mind”

Lights & Caves

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; St. John 1:6-8, 19-28


Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World. Amen.

I am, generally speaking, not scared of the dark.

But there was one time.

My high school youth group went on a retreat to the mountains of southeastern Tennessee, doing all the things you normally do on such excursions: white water rafting the Ocoee River, high and low ropes courses, rappelling down the face of a 100 foot cliff…and caving. Mind you, not a leisurely stroll through a large cave with handrails and a paved path, like at Carlsbad Caverns, but a get-on-your-hands-and-knees, wade-through-waste-high-water, crawl-through-mud, filthy sort of caving. We entered the cave in grungy clothes but otherwise clean with helmet-mounted lamps and emerged an hour later, covered head to toe in miry clay.

About midway through the excursion, God only knows how far underground, the guide instructed us to do the unthinkable: turn off our lamps. Every single one. In the span of about five seconds, some fifteen lanterns clicked off and we transitioned – dropped, more like it – from an illuminated chamber to pitch black.

And it.

 Was.

Terrifying.

Continue reading “Lights & Caves”

Prepare Ye

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Texts: Isaiah: 40:1-11; St. Mark 1:1-8


Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will lead us on the way of the Lord through the wilderness to the Kingdom of God. Amen.

As the house lights dimmed, the spot hit the back of the theater and my classmate belted out, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” as he processed down the center dressed like John the Baptist – or rather, like John the Baptist as imagined by a Broadway producer in the late 60s. The tempo picked up and other cast members danced their way onto the stage. The Leavenworth Senior High fall musical for 2004 – a production of 1971’s Godspell – was, by most accounts a smashing success.

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Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways

A Homily for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Text: St. Luke 1:57-80


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Ecce Agnus Dei: John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Ettal, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a mighty Savior raised up for us from the House of David. Amen.

 

What can we say about John the Baptist, that wild man of the wilderness? He who ate locusts and wild honey, wearing ragged clothes?

It’s a bit unusual to encounter outside of Advent and Christmas – our lectionary cycle usually gives him a Sunday or two in December as the forerunner of the Messiah and then a few weeks later, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, recalling when John baptized his younger cousin in the river Jordan. But why now, almost exactly six months away? Continue reading “Go Before the Lord to Prepare His Ways”

The Ax and the Tree: Good News

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent

Text: Isaiah 11:1-10; St. Matthew 3:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, who stands, ax in hand, to cut down that which does not bear good fruit. Amen.

Three years ago – just days before this text was last read in the lectionary – I sat at the bar of the Holiday Inn in downtown Athens. My parents, my sister and her husband, Suzanne, and I had gathered from across the US for my grandmother’s funeral, but as we sipped our beers, our attention was trained on the TV. CNN was covering the wildfires ripping through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and devastating Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Continue reading “The Ax and the Tree: Good News”

Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent

Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; St. Luke 3:7-18


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who stands ready with the winnowing fork in his hand. Amen.

We’re over halfway through Advent — we’ve made it to the third Sunday, sometimes called Gaudete Sunday, or “Rejoice!” Sunday. In many parts of the Church, they’re lighting the odd candle out, a rose candle that stands out like a sore thumb among the purple and blue. Some parishes are even hanging up rose-colored paraments, and a few lucky priests are wearing rose vestments. I’ve even been told that somewhere, someone can somehow differentiate between rose and pink.

It’s a festive, jolly time of year! It’s time to rejoice, to deck the halls, to go out caroling, to feast on all sorts of sweets, and to raise a hearty glass of wassail or gluehwein. As many of you know, I’m fairly rigid about the liturgy, which means I’m hesitant to celebrate Christmas before we arrive at the 25th, but I do want to join in the seasonal festivities.

To that end, I’ve endeavored to write a few Advent carols rooted in this year’s lectionary readings; here’s a fun one based on the first Sunday’s Gospel: Continue reading “Rejoice, You Brood of Vipers!”