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Searching for the 8th Rector of St. George’s
23 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 2: 21 - 32
Tonight, I was driving home from work and wondering how I was going to fit everything in before Christmas day. We still had a lot of preparation to be done, wrapping last minute gifts, cleaning the house, baking cookies, and preparing food. Christmas Eve is only a few days away. With my head spinning, I made a slight detour and stopped at a life size crèche that a local Roman Catholic church puts up every year.
The crèche is in the Italian ornate style and has an impressive 12 figures, including the animals. The details are impeccable, it is as if one has stepped directly into the scene. They obviously took great care in erecting the stable. As I stepped out of the car and approached the manger, I was surprised to find that the baby Jesus was not there. Of course, I thought, not until Christmas Eve. Than I thought, I want to be there when they lay him in the hay. I want to see him.
In today’s scripture reading an older righteous, devout man named Simeon is there when Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple to dedicate him to the Lord. God had promised Simeon that he would see the consolation of Israel before he died. Simeon is there at the temple, waiting to see Jesus. And when he does, he says the following words.
22 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 2: 8 - 14
I love this passage. I love that the first response the shepherds have is one of fear. They are fearful of what they do not recognize, of what is new, unknown to them.
And the Angel reassures them to trust and push away fear, though the experience of seeing an angel in the field at night is unfamiliar. And because the shepherds remain open and listening, they learn, they experience the truth and beauty of God, in the most humble of circumstances —- baby Jesus, is born in a manger.
I love this passage because it reminds me that the experience of God has come for me most often, in the smallest, often unexpected places, sometimes in moments of struggle, sometimes in community, but sometimes in the most quiet places, in the simplest moments. This passage reminds me to be vigilant and to pay close attention. It reminds me to stay awake, to trust, even when I am afraid or distracted with daily worries.
The other night, after reading a story, my children and I fell asleep. They were cuddled in close, sleeping on either side of me. Several hours later I woke up and just laid there, feeling them breathing against me, the three of us breathing our own rhythms, but breathing. Breathing all together. I thought about this passage again and knew that this moment was exactly what it was about. About how the breathing, rising and falling inside of me and from each of my children on either side of me was exactly the Glory of God in the highest, found right there in the most basic, simplest of moments. And I remembered to always be paying attention.
20 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 2: 15 - 20
Shepherds? I was hoping that my assigned text would include sheep and shepherds. And, lo and behold, it does!
The angels announce the birth of the child in Bethlehem to shepherds. Of all people. Not the elders, not the priests, not the merchants, but to shepherds and their sheep. What an unconventional choice those angels made. As crucial as herding was in that ancient culture, shepherds were outside the structures of their society—more time with the sheep and each other than with their communities. Vital, yet marginal and, at times, a bit suspect and scurrilous in reputation.
How wondrous and unexpected are God’s ways, in this case, in the choice of messengers. Not only did the shepherds immediately hasten to Bethlehem to take in this “good news,” they went and told others. So, no matter how insignificant or marginalized the messengers may be, the message of wonder is all that matters. We, too, need to take in the message as we “glorify and praise God” for all we have been told. Let’s take this waiting time of Advent to do just that.
I imagine that the sheep followed their shepherds to that humble place in Bethlehem. We should to the same.
19 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 2: 1 - 7
This Gospel passage from Luke is the only Gospel that provides the details of the birth of Jesus and we are all intimately familiar with it as it is often proclaimed during Christmas Eve services.
While the Advent message of waiting, patience and preparedness often leads us towards Mary’s readily acceptance in the birth of Jesus, I have always identified more with Joseph’s story. It must have been difficult to know that his betrothed was having a child out of wedlock that was not even his and was said to be from God. What faith and inner strength he must have had to quietly embrace this and to let the awe-inspiring events unfold around him. Joseph’s obedience in following the decree to return to his ancestral home of Bethlehem was difficult because it was a reminder that God’s people, while in in the land of promise, were not free and must follow the rules and dominance of others. But this does bring families together. While there, Joseph, as the protective father, does what he needs to do for his family by finding a safe and warm place for the impending birth – a stable, which foreshadows the kingdom of Christ as it shelters and protects all comers as none are cast out and all are cared for and nourished.
As an adoptive single father, Joseph’s story always resonated with me. Like Joseph, my blind faith on saying yes to the call of fatherhood created the gift of my family of choice and nurtured a real understanding of the depth of God’s love which was possible for me. Providing the opportunities for my son to outshine all the other surrounding stars, including mine, created beacon of hope and inspiration for our world, especially as it is so needed now.
Joseph always lived in the shadows of other shining stars but was always a constant steadfast and quiet source of strength. Who or what in your life provide you strength to allow your light to outshine others?
17 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 1: 57 - 80
Luke 1:57-80 tell the story of the John the Baptist’s birth. I have always been drawn to John the Baptist for two reasons: the first is what his role was in the story of Christianity. And the second, is that my oldest brother, who passed away in 2001, was named after John the Baptist. I want to reflect on each of these a bit.
John’s job was to “prepare the way” for Jesus. Can we imagine for a moment what an important task that might just be? John set the stage for so many of Jesus’ teachings. He taught about repentance from sin, forgiveness, baptism and, ultimately, of God’s mercy. In doing so, he built the foundation for a movement that allowed Jesus’ teachings to be more readily accepted and understood.
Growing up, I was a football player (now, I know Father Poppe isn’t the biggest fan of this sport, but hear me out…). One of the more underappreciated roles on a football team is a fullback. It’s his job to lead the way for the hot shot running back. In many plays, a running back’s job is to simply “follow your blocker,” which is the fullback. John was Jesus’ fullback. He took the hits, endured extreme punishment and suffering, all to make the path for Jesus that much easier.
When I think of my brother John, he also in many ways dedicated his life to making the path easier for others – whether it be his family, his co-workers, or simply a confused customer he’d bump into while shopping at Home Depot. My brother’s life was not an easy one. He suffered. He struggled. But through it all, he remained selfless, and gave of himself for the benefit of others.
Each of us is called upon from time to time to be John the Baptist. We are all called upon to “plant a seed in a garden you will never see.” We may be a parent, a teacher, a boss, a mentor, a sibling, a friend. John’s father, Zechariah, knew this when John was born when he ended his song to his son with his own prophesy – that John would “in the shadow of death,…guide our feet into the path of peace.”
16 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 1: 47 - 56
This passage, Mary’s song, has always intrigued me. In a past Christmas pageant, I was dancing the part of Mary and had to interpret her song into movement. In studying the text, I found many commentaries stating that in this passage Mary possessed a mood of joy. That interpretation ended up influencing my choreography – creating moments of lightness, caring, love, and joy. It wasn’t about telling the story at that point, it was about rejoicing.
In the Christmas season, we are often bogged down by all our obligations, everything we must do. The presents we must buy, the parties we must attend, the cards we must write. I am sure Mary had her own long to-do list at this point in their story. She was getting married, had to travel, and of course was about to have a baby. Any parent knows that at times preparing for a baby is a full-time job in and of itself. Yet Mary found time to stop, and to sing praises for God and for her blessings. She found time in her list of to-dos to pause, breathe, and be thankful.
I have to admit that this season I have been quite bogged down with my own obligations. From work to kids, from presents to parties. It has dampened my own joy and could have continued to do so if I hadn’t been blessed with reading Mary’s song for this Advent meditation. Like Mary, I need to find time to gather with ones I love, stop, and find my joy. To look at all the beautiful moments, big and small that make up my life. To be thankful for all God has blessed me with.
May we all find time to have our own joyful songs this holiday season.
15 DEC - 2017 Advent
Luke 1: 39 - 46
When the call recently went out for St. Georgians to share their thoughts about Advent, I hardly believed it appropriate for me to participate. By nature I am one whose typical modus operandi is to keep moving forward, not looking back. I have now, however, come to appreciate the instructive andhealing value of meditation and reflection.
The passage from Luke describing Mary’s visit with Elizabeth acknowledges our belief, especially at this time of year, in the power of miracles, faith and hopefulness. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was thought to be ‘barren’ and beyond the age of childbearing. Mary’s excitement and celebration of the coming birth of John represents the joy and expectation we all experience, not just during our celebration of the birth of Christ, but with all newborns. Mary’s act was a positive affirmation of Elizabeth’s faith in God and ours as well. Every child is a gift from God, offering possibilities of great and good things in our lives.
In the current climate, Advent season reminds us that there is joy and redemption in our lives. Our faith is a guidepost to bring us through the darkness and into the light. Blessed are the Mothers.
14 DEC - 2017 Advent
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
“Oh, highly favored lady.” Poor Mary. Imagine, if you will, a virginal teenager, betrothed to an older man (not necessarily an old man, but not a kid), and getting this message from an angel.
Yikes. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
As a Jewish girl, Mary would surely have heard many stories about God. Likewise, she would know about angels as messengers. But this was not the kind of message that she had ever heard of before. The Holy Spirit would give her a baby, and he would be son of God. Even considering the implications for her betrothal and Joseph’s reaction—remembering that women were barely more than chattel in those days, regardless of whether they were Roman, Greek or Jew. The very idea that, out of nowhere, she would bear the burden of the future or her people, on the word of an angel, is beyond reckoning.
Each of us, in our lives, gets handed some sort of responsibility now and again that we don’t really want; that we didn’t expect; that we’re not sure we’re up to. If we accept that burden, we do it because, somewhere inside, we have faith that we will be able to carry it. But Mary is being asked so much, so unexpectedly. How did she do it? Where did that faith come from? Even Jesus, at the time of his final trial, had known for a long time what would be expected of him.
So Mary, I think, representing the weakest possible member of the Jewish community, takes on the greatest responsibility imaginable, and does so without being able to really explain it to others. She risks slander and scandal, maybe even ostracism, because she believes that this is what she must do.
And it won’t be the last time she’ll be asked to bear a terrible burden as a mother to the Son of God.
“Be like Mary” is not a phrase that any man is taught in his youth. But how could I ever aspire higher than that?