CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS - Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-14(15-20) - CANON ERIC COOTER AT ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Christmas includes so many wonderful traditions : decorating the tree, drinking eggnog, hanging stockings, unwrapping gifts, children waiting for Santa Claus, and all those awesome Christmas stories on television and the movies. This year’s (2020) Christmas celebrations and festivities will not be traditional to say the least. A global pandemic plagues all of us, and in the midst of these days, we live in troubling and painful times. Life is different and we all long for something that looks normal. Many of us this week will try and get lost in a movie or television drama. Hopefully we will watch a story that will portray Christmas from prior years. Televised entertaining stories can, in the midst of all that has changed, allow us to experience those wonderful holidays of old.
Pre-pandemic fantasies of Christmas can be enjoyed watching stories such as: Home Alone I, II, and III, Elf, Christmas with the Cranks and Polar Express. We can be whisked away to a better time and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and of course, the never-ending Hallmark Channel Christmas Romance Novels made for Television. These Christmas stories can help us forget just how different life is this year such as, Christmas shopping is mostly online, holiday celebrations are cancelled, and family gatherings are minimized or non-existent. Televised Christmas fantasy can give us a respite from social distancing and mask wearing, as we watch better times being played out on the screen.
Stories of Christmas
It is interesting to note that all of these Christmas stories I mentioned, follow a similar story line and all have similar beginnings, middles, and endings. Most begin with some controversy or challenge involving a close-knit family. Next, the tension of the story is somehow miraculously resolved, and finally everyone experiences unexpected joy, peace, and goodwill. Each story presents a different central character, who in the story eventually wins the day and a new era of life emerges after the Christmas Joy. One thing I find interesting about this stories is that they do not even mention the central character of the true Christmas story we Christians tell. Hallmark never mentions the real “reason for the season;” Jesus Christ. The Christmas story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, God in flesh seems to compete with, and is often the secondary narrative of the season we celebrate today. Now, when the story of the Nativity of Christ is depicted on the big screen, it is often presented to us as a picture-perfect Hallmark moment. Nonetheless, that night in Bethlehem was far from perfect. The real story of Christmas and the events of that fateful night, seem less like the perfect, fairy tale scene. That fateful night seems much more like the unimaginably difficult times in which, we find ourselves today.
There were no twinkling lights except the stars in the sky and of course, that special star that shown above the manger. There were no red paper wrapped toys, except the ones the Maggi brought from the Eastern parts of the empire. There were no elves, reindeer, or snowmen characters, but there were shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and other animals finding shelter where the Baby Jesus was laid. There were no Christmas Carols being sung in the background, save the angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Jesus’ birth took place in a shabby, untidy barn with difficult circumstances for a poor family that night. This story gives us a peek into the difficulties of everyday normal life of the world’s people, in the midst of unexpected challenges and a global plague of poverty, oppression, and an oppressive empire. You see, we 21st century folks tidy Christmas up and make it almost seem surreal, as if it were a mere fairy tale or just another story on television.
The Christmas Story
Joseph, Mary, the Infant Jesus and the scene in that little town of Bethlehem is the ironic story of how God, the Creator of all we perceive, the Redeemer of our lives, and the Sustainer of all creation came among us as one of us. God came to us to close the chasm between, to bring us back to him. This act by God, humbled, and vulnerable is the good news of this story. God acted first in love, which is what God always does to reconcile and restore us.
God came to us not in power but in humility. Under the oppression of a governmentally mandated census, through which all the known world would be required to travel to their birthplace to be counted. The egotistical and narcissistic Roman Emperor Cesar, sought to place a numeric value on what and who he ruled, all as a symbol of his earthly imposing power. Now, part of the irony of the Christmas drama is that the real ruler of the world Jesus Christ, came to us as a poor little helpless baby and not a power-wielding Emperor that needed to feed his ego. The real Christmas story from its humble poverty-stricken beginnings, overturned the idea the earthly power leads to redemption. The real story of Christmas tells us that true power comes from humble, self-giving love, shared by a young family, and manifested in a baby, whose purpose and eventual mission would be to change the whole world through love.
The Humble God
There was no pomp and circumstance in this story, no social insiders, no big parties, and no consumer-influenced gifts. The first visitors to see this King of Kings were not celebrities, pop culture stars, or even political figures. There were no Kardashians, or Taylor Swift, Kanye West, or even political all-stars showing up to this event for an endorsement. At this critical world-changing event, only shepherds who herded unsavory sheep out in the fields came to sing praises to the God who came to us in the flesh. There were no bands or choirs, and definitely, no small-town Hallmark movie celebrations or parades.
The birth of Christ was like the real deal life we all live each day, and the God who brought it all into being, showed up as one of us in the middle of our muck and mire. God humbled Godself, to heal the chasm of the relationship, from which we often walk away. We often reject the pain, poverty, and difficulties of story of humble love in a manger, for the comfortable, satisfying, and safe stories for which we all long. The irony of God’s mission to bring us to love and joy is found in the path of trust and faith, even in the midst of pain and troubles.
You see, you cannot get to the joy of the Easter story without the unsavoriness of the Christmas story. You cannot get to resurrection and salvation, without the event of incarnation and the Babe in the Manger. You cannot really receive the Good News of God’s love, unless you listen to the angel, who proclaimed that night in the midst of fear, cold, and the plague of poverty and uncertainty, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” That same promise of God is being shared with all of us in the midst of the plague, in which we must make sacrifices, offer humble love, and face challenges like never before, so that we all can live and ” not be afraid.”
Reason for the Season
So, this story of humble love presented in the birth of a child is the reason we celebrate Christmas and it is the Good News that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The God who made all of us, loves us. God loves us so much that he transcended time and space and entered into the mire and muck of life as one of us, so he could show us what the love he has for us looks like, and it looks like Jesus. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” Jesus is the rabbi, teacher, healer, and lover of all with whom he came in contact. Jesus is God in flesh, who restored the broken, set prisoners free, and showed us the kind of self-giving love that we as his followers should strive for.
Now maybe you are thinking, “that all sounds so wonderful Canon Eric, but I am not sure I believe all of it.” “Ok,” that’s fair and thank you for being honest. So, may I suggest you take a little leap of faith in the coming year and make the story of Christ’s humble love your story. Try and live your life filled with love, forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. Live as if the story is true, because if it is true (which I believe it is), then everything in your life is going to change. However, even if it is not true (which I believe it is true), and if you live as if it is true, then everything in your life is still going to change. If each of us were to live the Christmas story in the coming year, then the world will change as well.
So, my hope for you this Christmas Eve is that you might hear this story with renewed hearing. When you leave this service for the safe distanced celebrations that you plan, I pray you go forward each day trusting your life to God. I pray you will live in humble love and listen to those holy messengers who promised so long ago, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Now that my sisters and brothers that is the real Christmas story that changed everything in history, it changes everything this day, and if you let it, it will change everything in your life, from this day forward! Merry Christmas.
Canon Eric Cooter, at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, December 24th, 2020
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE - ISAIAH 9:2-7 AND LUKE 2:1-20 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excepts of a Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord – 2020
Isaiah 9:2-7 & Luke 2:1-20
“This Little Light of Mine”
We humans are mystified by light. All cultures and religions lift up the power and potency of light. Be it Diwali, Kwanza or this Festival of the Incarnation; commonly known as Christmas. We are drawn to light like a moth to a flame and this month especially when the nights are so long, cold and dark we pine for the light. Be it the soft glow of a candle; the heat and intensity of a roaring fire; or a light show that brighten the night. seems that light truly becomes our closest friend.
No, the holiday season would not be complete without our gazing upon the lights. Be they on our Christmas tree or dramatically displayed in a Winter Wonderland park scene. Not unlike those in Yukon.
It is said that there are some five million lights, covering 100 acres of the Freedom, Chisholm Trail and City Parks with over 400 displays.
Wow! It’s electrifying and must be an electric company’s dream come true.
But none of that would be possible without the invention of something called a light bulb. In fact it is said that the light bulb was invented not but Thomas Edison. But, rather almost 100 years earlier by Humphrey Davy.
Imagine a world were the only light you had was by a candle or the sun.
The people who heard the message of the Prophet Isaiah must have known something of this. A people in need of direction hear that those who walked in darkness have the promise of seeing a great light.
Words of light in the deep and dark night of despair.
Words of love in the midst of hate.
Words of peace in the face of war.
How we need to hear those words of assurance again in our time and age.
You see my friends. Dr. King said that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. A single light in darkness can change anything. A single candle can banish the darkness of the world around.
To know that we can make a difference in the world.
How do you know that we can make a difference?
Because though our baptism into Christ we have been made Children of Light.
It is at our baptism that we receive the light of Christ from that burning Paschal candle and promise to let our light so shine before others that they will see the good works that we do and give glory to God in heaven.
Yes, we need the light of the Son to illumine of pathway and our life.
Understand that the sun of which I speak is not that celestial object composed of hot gases that is fixed in the center of our solar system and is some 92.92 million miles away from earth. That primary light source for all of us and with which all life on the planet exists and is sustained.
The Son of which I speak is that One who was God’s only begotten Son.
The One whom we worship and adore on this day.
The One whose birth in the most meager of accommodations the Church around the world is preparing to celebrate.
The One who was Light from Light true God from true God. Amen.
Fr. Joseph C. Alsay, Rector, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
A BLUE CHRISTMAS - SERMON ON JOHN 14:1-7 - FR. TONY MOON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
“Blue Christmas” Service
Monday, December 21, 2020, 6:30 p.m.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In his dark night of the soul, he doubted all that he’d given his heart and his life to. Thomas, in our Gospel lesson, questions his peers in their belief about the one they’d come to love and follow. In this dark night, he doubted his own Redeemer. The reality of his senses over took the Truth he’d come to know. In this dark night of the soul, darkness within and darkness without, darkness cast doubt; it unseated Thomas’ belief in his transcendent Lord.
The “Dark Night of the Soul” is the title of a poem by St. John of the Cross. And, in common “church parlance,” it has come to represent the darkness we feel in our souls when doubt creeps in, doubt that replacesany sure knowledge of our relationship with God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, or Holy Spirit our Sanctifier. Folks set adrift on the waters of doubt often describe the life of their spirit as a “dark night”: “I’m in a dark night,” they say. The visual image clearly defines their intertwined emotional, spiritual and psychological lives in only a couple words.
This evening is indeed a dark night, as well. As it happens, this night of December 21st marks the Winter Solstice or December Solstice, which means that it is the shortest day--with the least amount of sunlight, and the longest night--with the most amount of darkness--that we experience during the course of the entire year. In this long night, it might be easy to get physically lost, or emotionally lost, in the darkness. Spiritually, it might be easy to believe the input of our senses and disregard any higher messages of our soul. We might surrender to darkness, saying, “It is dark and I have lost my way. All is lost.” Groping our way through the darkness, perhaps a road once easily traveled becomes a tedious and difficult passage. Questions soar and doubt settles in—just as it did with Thomas.
This year of 2020 has not been kind to us: Easily identified insults are the COVID pandemic, racial and social injustices, and a declining—sometimes failing—economy. And, then there are those of us that have endured not only the commonly shared hardships we’ve all undergone, but who have also sustained our own personal difficulties with illness and loss. We wait for the pandemic to subside. We wait for health to return. We wait for resolution from distress. We wait for things to return to some kind of familiar normal.
In this season of Advent, we wait. We wait not really for that one day of Christmas when we commemorate the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago, but in Advent, a time of preparation and waiting, we prepare and await the re-birth of Jesus in our own lives. In this season of waiting with expectation, we mirror the Virgin Mother’s experience of herexpecting—her waiting with expectation. Remembering St. Mary’s wait—her actual pregnancy, in which deep in the darkness of her womb, a life began stirring little by little, as God knit together the cells and fibers, the muscle and bone of no one other than our Lord and Savior. While it seemed in the outer world that nothing particularly special was occurring, in the darkness of Mary’s womb, God was about the work of creating a Savior of the world.
In the dark night of the soul, and in the darkness of Mary’s womb—both appear to be devoid of God’s presence, let alone God’s actions. This maybe even a time we experience as “apart from God”—apart from aGod that we are told is everywhere at all time. And, perhaps God iseverywhere, it may seem, except in my darkness, as God seems away from me. God seems to have made some kind of reverse personal appointment with me--a time appointed in which God will make an effort to avoid me…rather than meet with me, while at the same time, it seems, God is otherwise intimately involved with every other person, every life form, every rock.
And, as we have been told before, God is not absent from us, it is wewho hold God at bay—whether we mean to or not; whether we even know it or not. And it is possible that it might seem risky to have a conversation with God, to let God in. If we let God in, we might be uplifted… or even comforted or healed of our loss or grief; we might gain some freedom we don’t currently experience. And, that just might seem risky--What happens next? Or, it may even seem disrespectful. Resolving our grief, accepting a new freedom from grief, could somehow mean forgetting a beloved relationship--which we know, in our clear thinking, is not true.
Thinking about accepting a new relationship to ourselves as healing—maybe not cured, but healing, coming to wholeness—might prompt us to ask, “Who am I to expect that things could be better for me?” But, the question disintegrates in the reality of an always-loving God. We might think that opening ourselves to God might mean opening ourselves to the next thing God has in store for us—and, maybe I’m not ready for that. Maybe I want to sit with the memories a little longer; maybe in an unexpected way, I’ve become comfortable with how things are. And, that’s OK. It’s OK to remember who we love and miss, especially at this time of year. Maybe our hearts are far from the joy we experienced when we celebrated these sweet seasons with them… but, they can be full of tender joy for having had them in our lives—a gift from a God who loves us.
At this time of year, it may seem that the whole world is marching right on by. It could seem that everyone else is in a joyous step with the right drummer, one who is clearly dialed in to this joyous time of year--and we are somehow wrong or maligned because our steps are halting. Our pain or fear block us from seeing the joy obvious to others. It is at this time that we can be reminded of the words of Ecclesiastes, that there are different drummers, for different people, at different times, because to everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…You are OK where you are. Grief and mourning are natural human experiences. And if something within you tells you that this grief, this illness, this focus on loss or slight or irritation has gone on too long, and that something physical, medical, psychological, spiritual must be worked out to move on, know that you are not alone. St. Thomas shared his disbelief with his community. I encourage you to share your doubt and sadness with your community as well—whether that is family, church, friends, neighbor, physician, therapist, AA sponsor or other. There are always, it seems, others near us that care for us more than we ever suspect! Others who willingly join us in our dark times. Others who would not see it as a burden to join you, but an honor. Be willing for a little time, to lean on those persons that God has placed in your path for this very reason.
Whether we know it or not, whether we can even imagine it or not, even in the midst of our darkness, in the midst of our anger, loss, grief and struggle, God is loving us and working within us. Loss, grief and struggle have a way of casting us as victims, causing us to forget any power we have. We would do well to see through this illusion, to re-establish our relationship with God our Maker, and pray to God for yourown condition and for others in similar circumstances. Pray for a hurting world that so needs your prayers.
God has not forgotten us. God has not pushed us away while God looks for happier people to share time with. God does not require us to be whole or settled, calm or happy to be with us, to work within us. The Holy Scriptures are wrought with people of failings who God uses to act on His behalf and bring his message to the world. We can do well to remember that Jesus climbed a hill one day, and addressed a large crowd of followers, saying that it is the poor in spirit, it is those who mourn, it is the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because of righteousness whom he holds close. These are the ones to whom Jesus promises the Kingdom of God.
In our darkness--and we are all broken and lost in some way—Jesus isreadying us, charting our course. God loves us so much, that God sent his only Son, born in lowly circumstances, to live among us, to die for us--especially when we are splintered away from God; God sent the Christ to redeem us. And, sometimes, our dark night wants to rob us of that clear knowledge. Our darkness makes us want to forget that we are beloved children of God. Darkness created doubt in St. Thomas. Andyet, this is only called “being human.” God meets us where we are: in our trials God meets us; in our darkness, God meets us; in our brokenness and grief, God meets us. With the face of Jesus, God meets us—and this is a face that looks just like the face of your neighbor, just like the face of the person sitting next to you.
Eventually, darkness yields to light, as we are told in an earlier chapter of John’s Gospel, the darkness is overcome by light. And, Thomas’ doubt—spoken out loud, spoken and shared with others in his community, leads Thomas to believe and know. Even our Winter Solstice with its dark night, when all is said and done, is a necessary turning point in that tomorrow our day of sunlight will be a tiny bit longer and our night of darkness will be a tiny bit shorter—a pattern that will continue well into the coming new year and our next seasons.
Fr. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
ALL ABOUT BOXING DAY, THE FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN DECEMBER 26 - DR. GIL HAAS, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The Feast of St. Stephen honoring the first Christian martyr is celebrated on December 26th (December 27th in Orthodox Churches). However, the date is also called Boxing Day in many Anglican countries. On Boxing Day, a legal holiday in the former British Commonwealth, workers traditionally receive gifts from their employers. From a British shopper’s viewpoint, it mimics in almost every aspect America’s Black Friday on the day following Thanksgiving. In pre-Christian Rome, slave owners and slaves changed positions, and boxed gifts were presented to the slaves and persons of lesser status on Saturnalia. Another possible origin is that in early Christian Rome, metal boxes were placed outside churches for offerings linked to the Feast of St. Stephen. On Christmas Day, the servants were required to wait on their masters. However, Samuel Pepys’ diary notes that on the following day, the servants of the wealthy were given boxes of gifts and food as they left to visit their families. Pies made from the masters’ leftover turkey were often consumed. On this day, officers and enlisted personnel of the British Army switch places. On one episode of M*A*S*H, Colonel Potter attempted this with mixed results.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The Incarnatus within the Nicene Creed has been translated “by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” The Incarnation is the belief that the divine nature of the second person of the Trinity is united (“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us”) with a human nature in one being, Jesus Christ, who was both “truly God and truly man”. The Incarnation is celebrated each year at Christmas, but it is also celebrated at the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), nine gestational months before Jesus’ ceremonial birthday. At the Annunciation, the archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation. For many centuries until the reforms of Vatican II, a genuflection was made at the Incarnatus during the Creed of every Catholic mass to reverence the gift of the Incarnation to humankind, and this reverence continues to be practiced in Anglo-Catholic parishes. Because of its implications, it is not surprising that genuflections at the Incarnatus were commonly practiced by Christians at Christmas and also on the Feast of the Annunciation.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Each and all of us hope for the best, try for the best, and sometimes even our best efforts, even though they are well intentioned, aren't the right solution in a situation. It's like in one of my top five favorite scenes from the Simpson's when Homer gets his blue haired wife Marge a Christmas present, a monogrammed bowling ball. A sweet gesture, with some good intention but the execution of the gift was wrong for two reasons. First, Marge doesn't bowl and second the ball was monogrammed with Homer's name upon it. Good intentioned? Yes. Well Executed? Not really. Self serving? Probably, but maybe not. It is muddled for reality sure. A lot of the times those things we do are often a 'hodge-podge' of self sacrificing, self serving, altruistic, and selfish. We humans are a curious mixed bag of saint and sinner, who attempt more often than we'd care to admit to exert a control over our world that isn't ours to have.
Our reading today from 2nd Samuel it has some kinship to that scene from the Simpsons. (Stay with me church) Our reading features David, one of the most tangled and captivating figures in all of the Scriptures, who after a long and circuitous series of events can now rest from battle.
He is THE king, he is now able to rest, he lives in resplendent luxury, but something vexes him. He dwells in sumptuous opulence but he is troubled that the Ark of the Covenant, that object imbued with power and awe and presence of God resides in a humble tent. This gives David sense of dissonance, “Why should I live in lavishness whilst the Ark of the Covenant is in a mere tent?”. So he decides to do something about it, he resolves to make a dwelling for God/The Ark that is at least as nice as his digs. He tells his court Prophet Nathan “Hey here's what I'm thinking of doing.” and Nathan responds promptly “Yes boss that sounds great, do it.” Is David's intention good? Probably, maybe
However, something happens that night for the Court Prophet Nathan is visited in a dream and given a glimpse/reminder of God's story, hope and promise for his people. God basically says “Nathan go and tell my servant David: You're cute, do you think this what I want. You’re going to build a ‘house’ for me to live in? Why, I haven’t lived in a ‘house’ from the time I brought the children of Israel up our of bondage in Egypt till now. All that time I’ve moved about with nothing but a tent. And in all my travels with Israel, did any hear me say to anyone “Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?”
So Nathan get the fun job of telling THE King; David “Hey boss I got a word from the higher up, your big project it can't happen.” As we read through the text of this passage it is difficult to tell if the execution of this plan was self serving; from what we know about the character and characteristics of David is that he is a complicated individual with a strong ego and a desire to make a mark. This gift of a temple for God is marked by piety and probably some ego. God's word to Nathan for King David basically says this I AM GOD. YOU ARE NOT. I WILL NOT BE CONSTRAINED.
God flips the script, I mean it would be expected/normal for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity to come back to David and say “Ya know what? Build me a fancy dwelling place, I am YHWH; you owe me this; I am sort of a big deal”
It is tempting for each of us to try and capture God, to put God in a box, to domesticate God, because it puts us in a safe place as captains of our fate. We each and all of us can be tempted to take God, who created us in God's image, and return the favor by doing the same. We are all probably at times a guilty of trying to sequester God so that God will fit in with our inclinations.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can not and will not be put into captivity. A boxed in God is a God who doesn't ask too much of their followers, it's easy to follow a God who only asks for occasional visits to their narrow little world.
God won't be captured, God won't be contained, God won't be made to be convalesced. For you see God is on move. God is amongst the people. God has things to do and won't be pleased to reside in any one place. God is on the move, and thank God for that.
A God constrained, and domesticated is timid and doesn't ask much of their followers.
A God on the move is wild and dangerous to and threatens the keepers of the status quo...
A God domesticated is a God that is far off and distant cold and uncaring.
A God on the move is responsive and reacting, and with the people....
A God pent up is a God that demands folks to come to them and would never deign seeking the wounded.
A God on the move is a God who seeks out and comes to the wounded....
Throughout the scriptures and history/witness of the church God is always flipping the script that we humans tend to draft for the world around us. God shows mercy when we want vengeance, God shows preference to those we would rather damn to the margins of society, God shows compassion upon those persons whom we would rather opt to subjugate under the weight of our own preconceived notions of worth.
This world we live in has always known divisions and hatreds, its always been fluent in parsimonious partisanship, this world is our home and it has always struggled to lean into love and away from hate.
It is into the midst of this reality that the God who will not be captured, who will never be boxed up and put away, who can not be constrained enters into in a way most unexpected.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke , God once again proves that God can not and will not be boxed in, when God chooses Mary to be the bearer of the savior of the world. In choosing the BVM God goes off the script.
God chooses a nobody from backwater nowhere to be the "Theotokos," the bearer of God, the mother of God. God could have used anyone to start his plan but God goes off script and chooses Mary.
The blessed Mother gets a big piece of news when she is chosen. This news from an angel was a lot for Mary.
Mary knows her expected role. She is full well aware of who she is; And this should not be happening. She’s a she..., a teenager..., and from the wrong side of the tracks.
Gabriel tells her the big news; she’s going to be pregnant with a son, but not just any son, the Son of the Most High no less, from the lineage of David, you know the rock star of Israel.
In choosing to enter into the world as a created being, in choosing the place and time in which to be born, in choosing the person to come into being through, God acts intentionally and violates the notions of how people perceive that a deity is supposed to act and sets forth a new reality, the Kingdom of God as revealed most perfectly in Christ Jesus.
God is/will forge and God is/will craft a kingdom/a politic where the powerless of society are loved, where sinners are forgiven, where the grace and love of God is not exclusive to one type of people.
God is creating a new reality for all of creation to live into, one steeped not in nationality or race, not forged in politic or perceived notions of worth, not fabricated from exclusive evaluations of importance, but something that transcends any walls we are tempted to put up.
God unifies his creation in the person of Jesus Christ, when the creator becomes creation everything shifts, it is because of and in the person of Jesus Christ the grain of the universe is being realigned and we are moving away from death and towards life.
God will not be restrained as a far off all powerful deity, but instead will not be cornered in God's glory away from creation. God leaves the holy cul-de-sac and jumps into the neighborhood to bring redemption for all God's children. That's the news our world so deeply needs.
Our God is with us, our God is on the move, our God is embodied love reaching out towards all seeking to heal and redeem us.
So what does that mean for us church? It means we freed, we are loosed , we aren't trapped to live inside the bondage of preconceived notions of how the church is supposed to be. We have been set free because of and by the love and example of how God interacts with creation to be a people of love and purpose.
Because of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus there is literally nowhere that God has not been. God is, because of Jesus, our companion on the way. God, through Jesus, is working in an amongst us all to bring about new world inside the crumbling shell of the old.
God is kicking down doors that separate, God is knocking down walls that divide, God is stepping over boundaries that create categories of worthy and unworthy.
Jesus Christ our Lord and savior isn't a just quaint idea, he isn't just a good and wise sage, he is God incarnate.
He is embodied grace/forgiveness/opportunity to be made new and whole and different. It is in Jesus that we are confronted with ...who God is and who we are and it is with the companionship of Jesus we move the needle a bit closer towards who God has invited us to become.
God will strengthen you by the power of the Holy Ghost to proclaim and be gospel/ good news for a world that so deeply needs it. You have been liberated from the lies of a world hell bent on self destruction by the power of God to proclaim Jesus Christ in deed and word.
Go forth from this place preaching with your lives the love of God as revealed in the very person of Jesus Christ so that all people, all creeds, all colors, all around the world will have faith in Christ and follow his way.
For God, who has perfectly revealed God's self and character in the person of Jesus Christ, is with you.
God has called you, God's church, to step away from the well worn pathways of the way things are and into a new world of the way things ought to be.
You the church as disciples of Jesus Christ have been and are called/instructed/commanded/invited with an obligation to respond to be a new community of co-conspirators with God working to overthrow and heal the brokenness of this world.
we are a people of forgiveness/a people of inclusion/ a people who are reconciling divisions. We live together in community to practice becoming the people who God calls us to be for the sake of the world.
we are building a beautiful new world where all who confess Christ as Lord have a seat at the expanding banquet table of God's unbridled.
The world is hurting, what are we waiting for? We got this church, we got this. AMEN
~ Fr. Lance Schmitz, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The words that we heard in Luke’s Gospel are the same message we hear every year during Advent.
The reader and listener find themselves with John in the wilderness after being told about the world around them. And, John is proclaiming that the particular world in which Luke has just placed us is about to change. To be ready for that world to change, people must themselves transform and change.
John invites people to do this by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That call went out to the rulers, the clergy, the teachers, and everyone else, that they should examine themselves and their lives and acknowledge their sins, their failures, their self-righteousness to God and be baptized to receive God forgiveness. Now note this was not John’s forgiveness. It was God’s forgiveness mediated through John’s baptismal cleansing.
EXCUSE ME, John the Baptist why do you always have to come in and burst our bubble? We are busy shopping, decking the halls with boughs of holly (even if we are no longer donning our gay apparel) and deciding what we should use to stuff our stocking and our Christmas goose. And along you come, the madman, talking about sin, about changing our ways, about repenting. And we thought the Grinch stole Christmas!
Yes, once again thanks to good ole John we are called to the same recognition of our sinfulness, our failings, our self- righteousness; not in the abstract, or in some “spiritual” never never land, but in the concrete daily acts of our lives. In other words: REPENT! Why is it that?
Repentance is not a word that flows easily off of the lips of good “Church Going Folk” like you and me nowadays. Perhaps, it is because we believe that the concept of repentance smacks of fundamentalism, and we associate it therefore with the fanatic on the corner. Not unlike the unkempt, tacky, eccentric John the Baptist, who Mark tells us wore camel’s hair, it assuredly did not have a Brooks Brothers label. And his taste was all in his mouth, into which he poured a vile concoction of locust and wild honey. It was he who was the prophetic precursor and the holy harbinger for Jesus Christ urges us to repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand.
But amazingly enough, the idea of repentance is inextricably woven into our liturgy. It starts at baptism. The priest asks the candidate: “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” And later asks: “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if “repentance” is too churchy a word try “turning around,” which, if I remember correctly, is the literal meaning of the original Greek word, metanoia. Or, if we are more at home with the language of psychology or pop culture, try “behavioral modification” “attitudinal adjustment” “paradigm shift.”
Whatever you call it, do it. Try it. Mend a fence. Bury a hatchet. Apologize. Pay attention to your child. Re- discover fidelity. You fill in the blanks. Come clean. Get responsible. Seek God’s forgiveness, and then recommit to the people whom God has given you to love- - - “your families, friends and neighbors, and those who are alone.”
Only when we know the reality of our need for repentance and for the action and the grace of God’s forgiveness in our own lives, can we be in any way prepared to understand the reality of Jesus coming into the real world, into flesh exactly like ours.
Archbishop Rowan Williams mentions in an Advent sermon included in his 1995 book of Sermons and Reflections entitled “Ray of Darkness,” We are perpetually “on the eve” of God’s coming, knowing and not knowing what it will be. Advent insists we stay for awhile in the tension of being “on the eve”. . .
The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross. . .
If we are looking for some “spiritual” way that by – passes or devalues the importance of repentance in our day by day acts, then we have no business looking forward to the feast of the “incarnation.” For this feast is about the “en-fleshing” of God in a person, at a particular place, in a particular time. A God who in face of Jesus, has born all our sins and sorrows and has announced to us just as it was told to Jerusalem in our reading from Baruch that the slavery of sin is past: the punishment is over. People who had once been subjugated are now ready to be set free.
Therefore, take off the old sin - stained garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beautiful baptismal garb of the glory of God. Live in the gracious light of God glory, with mercy and righteousness that come from the Almighty. For the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Let us pray: Then cleansed be every breast from sin,
Make straight the way of God within;
And let each heart prepare a home
Where such a mighty guest may come.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
“Herod” is the name for multiple Biblical rulers. Herod the Great slaughtered the male children after the Magi’s visit in hopes of killing Jesus (Matthew 2:16). One of Herod the Great’s sons was Herod Antipas who, after Herod the Great’s death, ruled one-fourth of his father’s kingdom which gave him the descriptive title, Tetrarch (one who governs a kingdom’s fourth; this fourth included Galilee). His marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias, ultimately resulted in John the Baptist’s beheading. Herod Archelaus, another son of Herod the Great, ruled Judea after his father’s death. Herod Archelaus ruled with such cruelty that Joseph and Mary feared returning to Judea from Egypt, and instead they settled in Galilee (Matthew 2:22). Since Herod Antipas ruled Galilee where Jesus had been most active, he was the Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus during Jesus’ trial. Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great; he persecuted the Church in Jerusalem and killed James, the first martyred apostle. Herod Agrippa’s gruesome death is described in Acts 12:23. His son, Herod Agrippa II, saved Paul from possible death at the hands of the Jewish rulers (Acts 25:13 - 26:32).
~ Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS - A SERMON ON ISAIAH 61:1-11 - DR. MARK HEANEY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Sermon: Light in the Darkness Preached: December 13, 2020
St. Augustine Episcopal Church Isaiah 61: 1-11
Who are you? Or perhaps more importantly, who are we? What if we were to define ourselves, individually and collectively by a certain passage of Holy Scripture? What scripture would we choose?
I know many, especially from my hospice days who would say, “I am ready to go now, because I know where I am going.” Their passage of scripture might be John 3:16, “those who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
There is a temptation, you see, in American Christianity today to individualize the Gospel. To make it be about my salvation alone. To be about knowing where I am going when I die. In this way of thinking, Christianity becomes a passive waiting. Waiting for death to come and to release us from the suffering which we endure in this life. It is a waiting for Jesus to take us to the paradise of the life to come. But is this the kind of waiting that we are called to practice during each Advent season?
Certainly, the passages of Scripture we read today, do not lend themselves to this individualistic understanding of the Christian faith. Indeed, they are, dare I say, political. They call us to active involvement in the world. They announce. They proclaim. They cry out, not for us to wait for heaven, after we have left this mortal coil. But indeed, they fervently address the devastating conditions of their day and time.
Indeed, if we, like Jesus before us who read from Isaiah 61 when he began his ministry, adopted those words as our collective, not individual identity, a radically different image arises in our minds eye. “The LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed….” What if this were the operant scripture passage by which we defined ourselves?
This passage, as a source of identity, has legs. It does not allow us to sit idly by and await the next train bound for heaven’s gates. No, it calls us to action. It propels us forward into the world as God’s agents for justice, liberty, joy, peace and hope for the future.
Dennis Brachter in a commentary on Isaiah 61 which we read today says the key theme of this passage is: “God is at work in the historical events of the day to bring glorious restoration and vindication to the people of God.” Whoa! That is a challenging sentence that is worth repeating! “God is at work in the historical events of the day to bring glorious restoration and vindication to the people of God.”
In the words of Isaiah, God proclaims restoration to the hurting and broken people of Israel. These people were returning from captivity in Babylon to the devastation of the destroyed city of Jerusalem. To those lost and disoriented refugees, God announces that he will restore and rebuild their lives. Could it be that the same promise is available to the broken people of our day? Can we dare to imagine that God’s favor will be upon the downtrodden people of our modern times? I believe the answer to that question is, yes! But I also believe that we are called by God to be fellow workers in that act of restoration. We are not called to sit on our hands and wait. Our waiting is full and active in anxious anticipation of the coming of God’s justice and restoration to this hurting and broken world.
We Christians have a powerful message to bring to the world during this different, strange, frightening and disrupted Advent season. We must lift up the Gospel witness that proclaims the coming of one who is not merely concerned with personal salvation, but with the restoration of those whose lives have been shattered. Indeed, the one coming will be, in John’s words: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world…full of grace and truth.” And those words of the prophet Isaiah who proclaims good news to the oppressed, liberty to the captives, comfort to those who mourn, and praise instead of a faint spirit.
But even more than this, Isaiah’s word not only relates to the restoration of the spirit, but to the rebuilding of that which has been devastated in the physical realm: building up ancient ruins, repairing ruined cities, restoring of flocks and vines, and bringing justice to those who have been wronged. It carries an even more radical pronouncement: the LORD will give the people a recompense—double for all that they had lost. These words of the prophet contain a resounding call for justice for those who have been harmed by the political circumstances of their day and time.
This is indeed, a very strange Advent season. Here I stand in a nearly empty sanctuary, preaching to a camera, while faithful musicians and worship leaders stand around me and do their part. All of you, ethereal presences are listening to this worship service in your own sort of exile. An exile not to a foreign country but an exile in your homes, separated from loved ones, deprived of the presence of love and nurture that this season normally brings.
But perhaps God has a message for us during this unusual exilic Advent. Perhaps God is offering us a unique opportunity to be thrown, not by our own volition but through an unpredictable pandemic, into a heightened sense of waiting that more fully captures the theme and purpose of the Season of Advent. From this unique vantage point we can become much more acutely aware of the ruined cities around us. Ruined cities not of stone and mortar, but of failed economics, lost jobs, stressed families, disturbed childhoods, interrupted educations, hungry stomachs, toxic environments, lost hope, dysfunctional governments and weakened faith.
In the midst of our unusual exile, we are waiting. We are waiting in anxious expectation, for the light to come into our world once again. We are waiting with the a far greater awareness of the need for Christ to come into our midst to bind the wounds of the marginalized, lost and devastated people torn apart by broken systems and unjust structures. We are waiting for a light which was first born into a humble shed, of poor, frightened parents. We are waiting for the one who will bring comfort, hope and restoration to a world that is hurting, broken and lost.
Above all, in this season of despair, Advent heralds the arrival of hope. This is not some weak, watered down hope. This hope is not for spiritual enlightenment. Nor is it an individualistic hope that we will go to heaven when we die. No, it is an audacious hope of restoration. It is a hope that cuts deeply into the very lives of those who have been devastated by the powerful forces of evil. It is a hope of good news. It is a hope, primarily not for the privileged and powerful, but for the oppressed, the captive, and the dispossessed.
Behold my friends, the light has come. The light is coming. The light that will enlighten everyone. Let us, as followers of that Light, go forth to bring hope and restoration first to ourselves, then to a world in need of such hope.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Amen.
Dr. Mark Heaney, Guest Preacher
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
A Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
For the Funeral of Anthony Caminos
When we look all around us at the landscape it seems to say that all is dead. The Advent shades of midnight blue and purple testify to the fact that creation has hunkered down for long winter’s nap.
Creation is asleep.
The dark comes early and stays late into the morning. The air changes from crisp to frozen; the falling leaves will soon be falling snow. We like the ancients before us look for consolation and reassurance that things will come alive again. Here in this time of cold and dark we wait for the news that we are NOT on a timeline heading off to where we know not; but that things will come around again, the light and warmth will return.
No matter the twinkling lights and the glitter in the malls, the darkness is out there all around us.
That is what these four weeks before Christmas are all about.
A time of waiting and expectation.
The Church calls this time and season of the year Advent. A time when we wait to celebrate the coming birth of the Christ Child but, long for the coming of the one who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Our First Reading form the Book of Isaiah – a favorite during this time of the year paints a vivid picture of a people who are bereft of hope. Living through the long, hard and cold winter of existence after they have suffered the atrocities of war and captivity under the Babylonian oppressive rule. They were sure God had forgotten them as they stumbled in a sense of spiritual darkness. Everything seems to be coming apart at the wheels and in the midst of this mess a message of hope rings forth like a clarion call. Comfort, O Comfort my people says your God. These words speak to us as they did for those people who experienced great shame and uncertainty almost 3,000 years ago.
Our beloved brother Anthony M. Cominos also knew something of the atrocities of war. He knew first-hand what it was like to suffer long and stumble through the pain of the winter days of life longing for release and resurrection. Anthony, like so many was in an “Advent” period a time of waiting and expectancy for what has yet to be reveal to all mortal flesh. For just as we are counting off the days and hurriedly preparing for the gift of comfort, of experiencing once again how God claims us as God’s own through the child born on Christmas morn. So too did Anthony prepare for and engage in what is truly important not only in this life but the one to come.
It was Lt. Colonel Cominos’ LOYALTY to friends that caused him to serve his country valiantly for 21 years first as a Merchant Marine during WWII, then as a pilot in the Korean War and two tours as a pilot in Vietnam ultimately retiring with over eight thousand flying hours, numerous awards including a Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal with 2 service stars, National Defense Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, United Nations Medal, Korean War Service Medal six overseas bars and the list goes on and on.
It was Anthony’s LOVE for family that enabled him to be married for 47 years to his beloved spouse Cola Jean who he remembered every Sunday during the Prayers of the People and raise two daughters, Cassandra & Pam.
It was Tony’s LIVED out faith that caused him to be gentle of spirit, humble in service, and kind in mannerism. It mattered not whether he was on the golf field exhibiting that perfect swing, working as an insurance agent or real estate broker or serving as a Lay Eucharistic Minister, Lector or Usher here at St. Andrew’s Lawton or St. Augustine in OKC.
What a wonderful example of Loyalty and Love for not only family, friends and country, but more importantly a Lived out faith in God. It is a faith in this God who came to us as a babe, bringing hope to the hopeless; rest to the restless; and life to the lifeless that Tony desperately clung onto and gave him strength to meet the days ahead no matter how dark or cold they might be with a firm resolve unfettered faith.
Indeed, it is because of that strong and abiding faith we can commend Tony into the loving care and keeping of the God whom he loved and served. The God whom St. Paul reminds us in that 15th chapter of I Corinthians “Will raise us up on the last day in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
Those of us who go to the cemetery will once again witness the pomp and pageantry of the military rites and here the stately notes of the bugler. I am reminded of the story told of when Sir Winston Churchill was planning his own state funeral. It is said that he requested that there be two buglers positioned at the opposite ends of the vast dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. They were given instructions that when one bugler had finished playing taps – that song of farewell another bugler was to respond to the dying notes of that sorrowful song with Revere – that song of Good morning, wake up to the rising of a new day.
My friends, on Tuesday morning our beloved Anthony went to sleep and slipped the surely bonds of earth and touched the face of God; and joined the countless hosts of others who have heard the clarion call of that faithful fanfare blast. A blast that shouts - - - Revere: “Good morning, wake up to the rising of a new day.
Wake up, to see the angels spread their whimsical wings.
Wake up, to greet his parents and his beloved Cola Jean once again,
Wake up, to see the Jesus who died and rose again for Tony’s sake.
Wake up, to experience first-hand what the birth that place on Christmas was about.
For Christ was born this! Christ was born to save!
~Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church