Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do you believe?

"And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." - Elizabeth (Luke 1:45b)
One of the many Christmas decorations in our house is a painted piece of slate which says simply: "We believe." It is accompanied by either a painted sprig of holly or painted Santa (I can't recal which) but it obviously is intended to convey a belief in at least the spirit of Santa Claus. I thought of that piece of slate as I prepared and delivered the sermon for last Sunday. The Gospel passage is Mary's visit to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, while she was still pregnant with John. The quote above is part of Elizabeth's exclamation as the child leaps in her womb in response to Mary's greeting. We might even say that John started preaching even before he was born!

As Christians, we talk a lot about belief and blessings. Most of the time, when we talk about blessings, we talk about them as things that already are. We are blessed with a wonderful church, family, job, etc... In the Magnificat that follows this passage, Mary recounts something that will be as if it has already happened! She believes so strongly in God's faithfulness that she is able to proclaim that faithfulness by talking about God's wonderful works before they even happen. She might have even heard the words "Consider it done" from God, and so she does consider it done!

As the days are short and the nights are long this time of year, it is very tempting to look out upon the world with a skeptical, even cynical eye. We are still embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate is even now wrangling over health care reform. Our own state is dealing with a substantial budget deficit, and even our church is dealing with the aftermath of the church split that occurred earlier this year. There are many, many reasons to be pessimistic! Yet, if we have Mary's faith, we can say in the midst of all of this: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..."

May that faith be born in us anew as we again await the Christ child. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What then should we do?

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
--Teresa of Avila

This morning in my sermon I explored the question: What would John the Baptist say to us today? In the Gospel lesson appointed for this, the Third Sunday of Advent, John begins "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance!" Not exactly a Hallmark or Christmas special moment! John is speaking plainly, even brutally, and no one has any doubts about what he means. In fact, several different groups of people ask him "What then should we do?"

So, what then should we do? Given the fact that we are approaching the season of the Incarnation, perhaps thinking and praying about how and where God might be calling us to live out our faith more tangibly would be an excellent start. Then, of course, we actually need to do what we believe God has called us to do. As Teresa of Avila says above, we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. If we don't do it, who will?

As I think about what it exactly means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, a few ideas come to mind. John the baptist addresses everyone when he says "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Clearly, then, the responsibility to share what we have with those who have less than we do applies no matter who we are. I'm even thinking about my family's closets and how many coats we actually have. How many people do not even have one? Something to think about, especially in the dead of winter!

Beyond giving to the economically needy (remembering that we are all needy, just in different ways), the ways of being Christ's hands and feet in the world would seem to be as diverse as the gifts and talents that God gives us. Someone with a talent for construction, for instance, might well volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, or even labor unseen to help another nonprofit renovate their office or help a needy neighbor with a long-deferred home maintenance project. For me, of course, as a priest, my job is my ministry--visiting the home-bound with communion, planning and leading worship, and even the innumerable administrative tasks that threaten to take over the day. Even typing on the computer like I am doing now can be a Jesus thing.

What is God calling you to do in the world in Christ's name?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hurry up! No, wait....

As I write this blog entry from my office with the patches of sunlight streaming through my window, I am thinking about the fact that Christmas is less than three weeks away. On Thursday, it will be exactly two weeks away. I have now been here for a little over eight weeks--two months--and there are still boxes to move or unpack (in both office and home) and what seem like a million things to get done. Into that sense of urgency, Christmas can sometimes seem almost like an intrusion. One is almost tempted to say to God: "How dare you interrupt my important work, everything I need to get done, with yet more things that need to get done because of Christmas?!"

And yet, as the video below illustrates, Christmas is not intended to be an additional burden to add to the stack, but as an opportunity for transformation. Advent, then, is the opportunity to prepare for such transformation:

This video challenges me as a father, a person, and perhaps especially as a priest, to look at my own life and ask where God is trying to break in, to transform me into the person he wants me to be. That transformation will not occur because I crossed the last thing off my to-do list, as if that ever happens, but can only occur if I make the time to put aside the list for the one thing that actually makes a difference--the coming of Jesus. As these next few weeks roll by, join me in stepping back, taking a breath, and preparing, really preparing, for transformation. Who knows what God might do?

(thanks to Irenic Thoughts, the blog of King of Peace, Kingsland, GA)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Singing Songs of Expectation

Our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, has recorded a brief Advent Message for the church. Here it is:

Though she speaks well for herself, I thought it was notable that in the midst of all of wars, poverty, economic crisis, etc... she says that "we live in expectation of a world that is healed." That is the essence of Advent and Christmas--Jesus coming into the world as a healer and reconciler. This is not some mushy Hallmark card sort of thing. As anyone who has ever tried to heal a relationship knows, reconciliation is very, very hard work. As Christians, we know that the truly impossible work of reconciling God and humanity has already been done in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need only take hold the power of that reconciliation and resurrection life and make it our own. Blessed Advent.