December 24, 2012

What God did that night...

December 24, 2012 7:00pm
RCL Christmas Day 1

On behalf of the clergy and lay leadership of Christ Church, let me say how very glad we are that you are here. I am sure there are other things you could have done with these precious minutes and hours. Maybe there was a party invitation you declined. Maybe you still have gifts to wrap or gifts to assemble. Maybe you’re giving up some quiet time with family…

But instead, you chose to be here in worship. I am thankful, and I know God is honored by your presence and your choice as well.

If you will indulge me to ask: Why are you here? What is it that you’re looking for? What it is that motivated you to put on your clothes that maybe you only wear in the month of December and make your way to this place, on this night? And what is it that you hope to have found when you leave tonight?

The birth of a child, especially The One for whom so many were waiting, is a reason to pause what we’re doing, step outside of our normal routine and acknowledge the power and the mystery that is our God. I mean, when else would you find yourself in church on a Monday night if it weren’t Christmas Eve?

Whether you’re here under some duress or guilt trip or because it’s tradition or because you can’t imagine yourself anywhere else, there is something that each of us is seeking on this night of nights, something that’s not under any Christmas tree or in any stocking.

Maybe it’s the promise of Isaiah that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a light, and you’re looking for that light.

Maybe it’s because you recognize, even if you have some doubts, that this child born in such meager conditions, carries these fantastic titles like Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace… and that is an occasion worth celebrating.

Maybe it’s because, like the shepherds, you want to see what the fuss is all about. I’ve always wondered how the shepherds actually found Mary & Joseph and the baby. Bethlehem was a big city, and if Luke’s account is to be believed, it was probably pretty crowded with people. But no matter. They heard the voices of angels, followed their directions and found this child.

Now, if I were Joseph, and these shepherds (not exactly the best of the best in society) showed up, I might ask them the same thing I asked you: Why are you here? The best they could say was that a bunch of angels told them what they’d find and where to find it. But beyond that, I wonder if even the shepherds knew why they went.

Here’s what God did on that night: God turned the world upside down. God chose an unexpected set of parents in an unexpected place in an unexpected time to come as close to humanity as God could come. And instead of it happening in a place where those in power, those with the most prestige, could see it and be in awe, God chose a stable. Instead of putting Jesus on display for kings or princes or religious leadership, God chose shepherds to be the first ones to lay eyes on this Almighty Child. Shepherds, a group often without power, often looked down upon, those with an important task, but a task thought beneath most other people, the out-casts of society. From the moment of his birth, Jesus began to change the world. His entire ministry was about welcoming in those whom the religious establishment and those whom the Empire said were not good enough, and Jesus said to them, “Oh, but you are good enough.”

The mystery of God choosing to become human may have happened once many years ago in a far away land, but the work that was begun that night in a dark and smelly stable continues today. It continues in you and me and in all those who continue to seek and understand him.

Whatever it was that brought you here tonight, I hope that you will take to heart this Christmas message: That Jesus’ work of welcoming the out-casts, standing up to those in power, and being the light in the darkness continues today. We have a choice. We can remain silent, thinking that this is just one hour of our life and tomorrow things will be back to how we’re used to. Or…

Or can we be like the shepherds, who responded to the angelic voices and the viewing of the child by glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.

The reality is, once Jesus was born, the world could never go back to “the way things were.” The message is clear: We are moved by the memory of this night to welcome those whom society says aren’t good enough. We care for those who are poor, who, like this baby king, have no real bed in which to lie on a cold night. We are called to be the light to those who walk in darkness. We are called to help change the world.

No matter why you’re here tonight, I don’t think you can leave the same person that came in. I hope and pray that you will take this Christmas message, and like Jesus, help to turn the world upside down.

December 16, 2012

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Advent 3, Year C, RCL
December 16, 2012
Two days after 28 people, including 20 children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
Click here for the audio.

I wish I had a different message for you this morning. I really do. As a matter of fact, I did have a completely different sermon written and ready. I even kind of liked it.
And then Friday happened. And whatever I had written on those pages didn’t matter so much anymore.
Friday, December 14th, 2012, was a dark day. It will be a day that punched each of us right in the gut and left each of us and our nation changed. We don’t have to know someone directly to be impacted by Friday’s events. Each of knows an elementary school student, an educator, a school faculty member, a police officer, a firefighter, an EMT, or an emergency room professional. We have someone, or probably several someones, like that in our own lives, and even in this room right now.
When moments like Friday’s unspeakable tragedy crash into our lives, we want there to be some sort of justice for the fallen, some sort of punishment for the perpetrator of the crime, some sort of something to make it right. We want to make it like it never happened. We want to take away the hurt and the pain. We want something, someone, to fill the empty hole in the lives of those 27 families. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t do or give anything to erase the memories of the students and teachers who survived on Friday.
Unfortunately, all we can do is have a broken heart.
Thursday, December 13th, 2012, was the Feast of St. Lucy, or San Lucia. Lucy was a young woman who was martyred in 304 during one of the worst persecutions of Christians. Until Pope Gregory changed the calendar in the late 1500s, December 13 was also the shortest day of the year. In other words, it was the darkest day, the day with the least amount of sunlight in the whole year. The name Lucy comes from the same Latin word lux where we get the word light. In fact, it is still tradition in many Scandinavian countries that the youngest girl in the family wears a crown of candles on St. Lucy’s Day. The candles remind the family that even though it is the darkest day of the year, from this point forward, the light will only grow.
Our Gospel this morning begins with a disturbing verbal assault from Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer. It would have been delightful if John had introduced himself by saying, “Hi. I’m John, and I’m here to help point you in the right direction…” Instead, his followers and those just stopping by to check him out get called a “brood of vipers.” How pleasant.
Here’s the thing about John the Baptizer. He wasn’t the light. He even says that he’s not the one they were looking for, that he’s merely pointing the way. He doesn’t do this quietly or calmly. He does it boldly and courageously. The Gospel of John talks about him this way:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)
This Wildman of the Wilderness, John the Baptizer, got himself into more than a couple of troublesome spots with people for speaking truth to power. He starts off that way today with his “brood of vipers” comment. He keeps going, too. Did you see that?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
He’s saying that God doesn’t care what has happened in the past. God doesn’t care who your ancestors are or were. What have you done today that is going to help bring peace to the world and God’s Kingdom on earth?
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
You hear that kind of message a few times, and you’ll begin to wonder why you got out of bed on a perfectly lovely Sunday morning. Instead, the crowds say, “What can we do?” They ask John, who has just accosted them for being who they are, what they can do differently?
So John tells them. He is pointing them (and us) to the one true light of the world. We cannot welcome the Light of Christ, let alone be the light of Christ, if our focus is on ourselves and not on something beyond ourselves. So John lays it out:

  • Give to those who have less.
  • Don’t take more than you need.
  • Don’t think that what you did yesterday is going to count for what you do tomorrow.

If we have do those things, we will make room for the Light of the World. In fact, we’ll make so much room for the Light, that as John’s Gospel also says, the Darkness cannot and will not overcome it.
The Feast of St. Lucy is about daily increases of the amount of daylight in our lives. The message of John the Baptizer and the season of Advent are about preparing for the Light of the World. In nine short days, we will again celebrate the birth of the Jesus the Christ. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The light will continue to outshine the darkness, including the darkness of this past Friday in a small town 600 miles away from New Bern..
Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, Allison N. Wyatt, 6.
The staff: Rachel Davino, 29, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27.
Adam (20) and Nancy (52) Lanza
Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
And let all God’s people say, “Amen.”

December 4, 2012

The Waiting...

First Sunday of Advent, Year C

The waiting is the hardest part.
Everyday you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.
-- Tom Petty

Yup. But that doesn't mean it's an idle time... It's a time to look forward.
Click here for the audio.

And happy Advent!