Friday, December 23 2022
“Glory to God in the Highest Heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
A blessed Christmas to you all.
Our gospel for Sunday, Christmas Day, includes the phrase we say or sing most of the year during the Gloria. At the Rite I service, the prayer book uses the language: Glory to God in the Highest, and peace, good will towards men. In the Rite II service, Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to his people on earth. Many Christmas hymns reference this portion of the Christmas Story: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing portrays this part of the narrative in its refrain, along with Angels We Have Heard on High. I think even Linus from Charlie Brown quoted this scripture as well. This very important phrase is one of the four virtues our Advent wreath has called us to pay attention to.
Many of you may remember at the beginning of the service the past few weeks, I’ve repeated the phrase “we gather again around the/our Advent wreath.” I wanted the repetition to be ingrained in us all as we know why we use a wreath: the never-ending love of God is circular and never ceasing. We light each of the four candles to represent different characteristics of anticipating the newborn king: one represents hope, one represents peace, one represents joy, and one represents love.
The phrase from Sunday’s gospel from St. Luke: “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” truly captures all four of those Advent characteristics of hope, peace, joy, and love. The phrase, along with the overarching theme for the season of Advent gives us hope: hope in the Christ child as our Redeemer, as our collect titles Jesus for Sunday. We switched our vestments from penitential purple to a hope filled blue to symbolize our transition of a mindset this Advent season. Jesus came to save us from sin and eternal death, to give us new life in God through Him and through means of caring for the world around us. This is our hope.
We know this phrase from Luke’s gospel calls us to admire peace. It quite literally spells it out from the angels who proclaimed this to the shepherds in the field: on earth – peace. I truly believe that our world is fractured due to the lack of peace. Many of you know I am a big Star Trek fan; one of the cardinal virtues for a world in the Star Trek universe to grow is true global peace. Without peace, a world cannot grow into a better version of itself. This is true in our reality. We listen to the news or look at the world around us; we do not see peace right now. Rather, it is something to be grasped at; we still pray for peace.
Joy – Gaudate! Guadate is Latin for rejoice! Let the earth rejoice, as our Sunday psalm, Psalm 97 says so joyfully in verse one. Let the multitude of the Isles be glad! Joy is apparent in the music we sing, the happiness in giving and receiving of gifts brings us all. Our gospel story depicts this as the shepherds returned to the manger scene – glorifying and praising God for all they had seen. We wore rose vestments for the 8:00 am Eucharist and lit the rose-colored candle, symbolic of our joyfully receiving him as our Redeemer as our collect beautifully illustrates.
I believe love is the final ingredient for our preparation time, which is why it is the fourth week of Advent’s theme. Sunday’s second reading, in the epistle to Titus, sums up God’s love for us so clearly and succinctly: When the loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy. God loves us so much that God gave His son as a sacrifice – meaning a holy gift – that we may share with God, Jesus, and all our loved ones that have gone before us in everlasting life: heaven.
Our Christmas gospel is more than just the birth narrative according to Saint Luke. The birth narrative points us back to what we’ve been preparing for and how we have been preparing! This is the yearly festival of the birth of the Son of God. Let us take the gifts we’ve received during this season of preparation into the Christmas season, and forward, proclaiming like the angels and the multitude of the heavenly host, praising God by saying: “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Let us proclaim this in thought, word, and deed through the advent characteristics of hope, peace, joy, and love.
May God fill you with hope, peace, joy, and love this Christmas season.
Your sibling in Christ,
Friday, December 16 2022
“With every fiber of my being I hope and pray this morning to convey this message and this hope: the Son of God is born of Mary. Listen: many of you, most of you this morning, are already believers. You have already heard and obeyed, like Mary. You know that God is really God, and not some vain and wish fulfilling projection of ourselves onto an abstract figure in the sky….But somewhere deep down in each one is a lost and frightened child who has lost its way, who has been rejected by its father, who has been shut out of the party. Who is truly afraid-deep down-that ashes are all we will get for Christmas. Help us you who believe-help us spread the word, in carols, in bells, in lights, in prayers, in presents, in words, deeds, and love, that the Father has come seeking for all his children, that he has a place set at his table with your name on it, that he will deliver us from numbness and from fear and from guilt so that we will be able to reach out with joy and gladness to those who have not heard.” (Fleming Rutledge)
The word Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus: "Coming." Advent is a time of preparation and awareness of the coming of Jesus Christ. We know this season best for getting ready for Christmas. We buy presents for those we love, decorate our houses, put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, send out Christmas cards, and get together with our friends and co-workers for food, drink and fellowship.
As we at St. John's prepare, we will have a rehearsal for our Christmas Pageant on Saturday, December 17th at 9:00 am. On Sunday December 18th at 10:00 am, our children will perform our Christmas Pageant. After the 8:00 am Sunday service, we will green the church during the coffee hour. Please join us! Christmas Eve Services will be at 4:00 pm (family service), 7:00 pm (candlelit service with beautiful music and the St. John’s choir) and 10:00 pm (Rite I HE with wonderful music and solos). Our Christmas Day service will be at 10:00 am and will also have beautiful music.
Advent is also the time of the year when we help those in need. We give not only to our loved ones, but also to those beyond those boundaries, those in our communities, and strangers. Thank you to the ECW and everyone who has helped out with our food drives, HIHI homeless ministry, and Adopt-a-Family. There is a meeting of the ECW this Sunday after the 10:00 service to determine outreach for 2023. With all of that we have to do at this time of year, sometimes we forget to quietly await the coming of Jesus Christ in our own hearts.
“Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent)
One of the greatest surprises in the story of God’s coming into our midst is that God did not choose a queen or a princess to be the mother of God’s Son. In fact, God chose a very unlikely person. Instead of choosing royalty from a high and mighty family, God chose a lowly maid. In a period of history that emphasized the importance of age, God chose a young virgin. In an empire where wealth was power, God chose a poor servant, betrothed to a Jewish carpenter. In a patriarchal society where men controlled everything, God comes to Mary. So it was in a small, unimportant town named Nazareth, in an insignificant province of the Roman Empire, that God sent an angel. The angel Gabriel comes and
The prophet says to Joseph, “Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
In Christ’s love,
Friday, December 02 2022
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Advent is the tension-struck time of preparation. In Bible Study on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings, we’re discussing The Rev. Fleming Rutledge’s book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to think about the “once” part of this - Jesus’ life, death and resurrection two thousand years ago. In Bible Study, however, we are talking about the “future” part of this equation - the uncomfortable yet necessary discussion of the second coming of Christ. We are preparing for the coming of Christ - which we understand both spiritually and literally. These days, people are afraid of talking about the end of times. Hearing “the end is near!” is not inspiring words for most, but historically the church has understood that Jesus promises that something better is on the horizon. I believe Rutledge is helping point our gaze to this and inviting us to intentionally prepare.
Advent, for the past several decades, has been viewed as a penitential season as Fr. Duncan spoke about last week in his sermon last week. This is because many people treat this season like another Lent. When Fr. Duncan approved Blue Vestments for St. John’s Church to be bought, I was overjoyed! Not only because I look good in blue, which I do, but because blue is the color that represents hope! Blue, for me, separates and differentiates the liturgical seasons of Lent and Advent.
The time of preparation that we know of: with the Advent calendars and ABC’s Christmas Movie Countdown, is what society tells us to focus on: the preparation for Christmas. The church has been trying to refocus us; as Rutledge puts it, “Advent observance is called as a countermeasure” against a world and society that tells us we are just in a time of Christmas-lite. My friends: We. Are. Not.
Advent is about the preparation of the second coming. It is a challenging place for us to dwell in, think about, and wrap our heads around. Let us start with something simple: a promise. Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead and His Kingdom will have no end. Familiar words from our creed. We know that Jesus has a kingdom that is not of this world, where He reigns supreme, and death has no power. This is what we believe. We wait in hope for the second coming of our Savior. While we wait, “disappointment, brokenness, suffering, and pain that characterize[s] life in this present world is held in dynamic tension with the promise of future glory that is yet to come.” Life still happens. Just because we believe in the second coming, doesn’t mean that life is hunky dory in the meantime. It will be hard and staying the course of believing is challenging in itself. It is in the “Advent tension” where “the church lives its life.”
Last week, we lit our first candle of Advent which focused on hope which will remain with us the entire Advent season. This week, we focus on the gift of peace. It is hard to find peace during this time of the year as there are so many distractions from peace, like with sales at Target or on Amazon. It’s hard to settle ourselves and just be with Jesus. Jesus has many titles: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, but my favorite is the Prince of Peace. May the Prince of Peace guide you into the way of peace - bringing you into a state of contemplation, wondering the following questions:
We do not have to have all the answers right now. We do however need to place ourselves in a place of trust and direct ourselves to face the apocalyptic unveiling God is revealing to us. I will see you Sunday as we gather and light another candle in our Advent wreath. We stand together in tension, yet in unity, by preparing a way for the Lord. May we make straight His paths.
Your partner in hope and in peace,