Friday, December 31 2021
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a)
It is my prayer that you will have the “eyes of your heart enlightened.” Paul begins with a compliment to the Ephesians because he has heard of their faith. He assures them that God is working through them and has immeasurable greatness of his power. In the third chapter of Ephesians Paul said, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” This spirit of revelation and wisdom is the knowledge that God loves us and gave us God’s only Son that we might have abundant life in this world and eternal life in the next.
Love is a key factor in the world. Even though we all know the importance of love in the world, we often get distracted by all that is going on in our lives. At Christmas, we experience the eternal love of God in a crude manger in Bethlehem. Kings travel from the East to pay homage to Jesus Christ. God calls us to fill our hearts with this love and share it with others.
Our first act of love should be thanksgiving to God in heaven for the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. Our next act of love should be to those around us. When loving God and loving our neighbor are combined, our brain stops playing the fear and anxiety video that leads our reptilian brain to increased heart rate and stress. We play the hope video that leads our brain to a healthier pattern of rational, moral behavior. This in turn sends the signal to our reptilian brain to produce endorphins, lower our heart rate, and reduce our stress. Most of us are aware of that when we listen to music that triggers happy memories. When we laugh, exercise, have sex, or eat certain foods, our brain triggers the release of endorphins and other chemicals which gives us that sense of being in a euphoric state. Likewise bad experiences and traumas trigger feelings of pain, fear, and anxiety. Since we all experience these triggers to different degrees, we need to love one another in the knowledge that we have all been damaged by the actions of others and are all in need of love and comfort. We especially need to care for those who are most vulnerable and least likely to be loved and comforted.
Christianity leads us down a rational, moral path that helps us to feel good about ourselves and triggers that feeling of contentment and satisfaction in our lives. Instead of selfish, egotistical, controlling and sometimes hurtful behavior, we follow Jesus Christ in self-giving, humble, loving behavior. This leads our brain to a healthy pattern of releasing chemicals that give us a sense of wellbeing. A healthy diet, lots of clean drinking water, loving relationships, exercise, and good sleep contribute to a happy and heathy life.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, December 24 2021
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all people,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Nativity Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago
Angels and Arc Angels
May have traveled there
Cherubim and Seraphim
Thronged the air
But only his Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the beloved
With a kiss
What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Give him my heart
Hope, peace, joy, and love. Four candles, four promises continually offered to us by God, and all of them manifest in this one we light tonight: the Christ candle. In Christ we find the hope of transformation, the peace that follows justice, the joy of self-fulfillment in community, and the love that encompasses us in all our diversity, empowering us to make our own unique contribution to this world. In Christ we find light and life, and the courage to be like him, answering his call and following in his footsteps.
We rejoice in God’s steadfast presence in our lives,
and in God’s unique presence in the life of Jesus of Nazareth—
born of Mary, growing through childhood into an adult ministry,
in all his life manifesting the peace, love, and justice of God;
his voice undimmed by the centuries
his call and his promise as clear to us as it was to his disciples so long ago.
Come to us, Lord Jesus,
Be born in us this night, in our hearts, our minds, our lives.
May the light of your life be kindled in us,
And lead us to the shining truth,
of God with us, God for us, God in us. Amen.
In Christ’s love,
Friday, December 17 2021
Last week we looked at the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and informing her that the Spirit will come upon her and that she will bear God’s son. Mary does not fully understand God’s plan, but is open to be a part of it. Her reply is “Here I am a servant of the Lord; let it be according to your will.” Mary has a sense that she is a part of something really important and agrees to follow God’s plan. God enters the world as fully human and fully divine in the person of Jesus Christ. That is one of the foundations of understanding Christianity and it isn’t easy for any of us. But as good as all this sounds, the reality is that things were tough for Mary. She would have to deal with those who would judge her in her community. Having a baby out of wedlock could get you stoned to death. Mary was in a tough spot.
In a world besieged by fear and hate, God comes from heaven to earth through Mary to bring light into the darkness of the world. Jesus Christ comes again and again and offers wholeness instead of brokenness, hope instead of fear, love instead of hate, and life instead of death. In a time when some of us remember the loss of someone we love, when some of us are recovering from an illness, when most of us are tired of wearing masks, and when many of us do not feel as joyful as we should, Jesus Christ comes to offer us comfort. We are all offered the incarnational presence and love of our Lord. Last week I spoke of being open to God’s plan. This week, I am asking you to say yes to it. We can say, “Here I am Lord, May it be according to your will or no thanks, maybe next time.”
In today’s Gospel, Mary sets out for the hill country to Zachariah and Elizabeth’s house. Mary needs support from the rumors and judgmental pressures of her community. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth is joyful about the news that Mary is pregnant. The baby in her womb, who will later be named John, jumps for joy in her womb. This prayer has been called the Magnificat or Song of Mary. Mary echoes the promises that were given by the prophets in the Old Testament and declares that God’s promises are about to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. I can’t even imagine the sheer joy and wonder of being given such an honor as to be the theotokos or bearer of God’s son. Elizabeth will bear a son in three months, fulfilling a promise made to Zachariah in last week’s Gospel.
Mary will soon bear a son that will be the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. This is Good News in difficult times. God comes to ordinary people and does extraordinary things. This time, God comes to a woman to bring hope to the world. Mary and Elizabeth are filled with joy because they believe in a dream in the scriptures that one day, things would be different. Maybe one day, those who are hurting will be comforted. God is about to send his Son to rescue the poor, the hurting, and the oppressed. For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son that all who believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting life. God is coming soon to fulfill the promises that God has made. For the women, waiting for the birth of their childen is filled with joy, wonder and thankfulness. Mary shouts,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation…
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever”(Luke1:46-55).
May it be according to your Word,
Friday, December 10 2021
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word” (Luke 1:35-38).
Our collect for the third Sunday in Advent begins, “Stir up thy power, and with great might come among us.” In this week’s Old Testament reading from Zephaniah, we hear the words, “The Lord is in your midst.” In the letter to the Philippians Paul tells us, “The Lord is near.” John the Baptist says in Luke, “One who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
All our readings point to the one who is coming from the realm of the eternal to the realm of the temporal. We are asked to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. Last week we set the story in its historical setting that you might believe.
This week, the crowds in Luke’s Gospel ask, “What then should we do?”
I want to jump ahead a bit in the Gospel readings to use Mary as an example of the answer to this question. Mary was told that nothing is impossible with God. Although she cannot wrap her mind around the incarnation, she is willing to be a part of God’s plan. This is the key to spiritual development. It is natural to question what we cannot understand intellectually. Mary asks, “How can this be?” More and more folks today are spiritual and not religious. They do not understand the incarnation and close their mind to the possibility that Jesus came from the realm of the eternal to be near to us. We are asked to be part of God's “plan” (or Word). We need to be at least open to the possibility that Jesus is God incarnate. God asks us to be part of his “plan” (or Word). We only need to be open to the possibility that Jesus is God incarnate.
Today’s readings not only point to the existence of God, they point to God coming near to us. Jesus comes again and again that we might be in personal relationship with him. Timothy Keller helps us understand this in our December bible study book, Hidden Christmas. “What are the elements of a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus? It requires, as does any close relationship, that you communicate with him regularly, candidly, lovingly. That means not simply saying your prayers, but having a prayer life that leads to real communion with God, a sense of his presence in your heart and life. On the other hand, being in close relationship means he communicates with you. That comes from a deep acquaintance with the bible.” (Hidden Christmas p. 55)
John the Baptist helps us with the next step, “In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise’” (Luke 3:7). On Sunday, December 12th, we will share with the Huntington community, the fruits of the Harvest Fair. Fran and Chris will meet after the 10:00 service in the St. Hilda’s Guild Room and decide how we will support nonprofit organizations in our community. Please join us.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 12:2-6).
In Christ’s love,
Friday, December 03 2021
“May he whose second Coming in power and great glory we await, make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you forever” (Advent Blessing).
In the Advent season, we wait in joyous expectation for the birth of Christ. We shift our attention from worrying about the problems that face us to a crude manger in Bethlehem, where all of God’s promises are fulfilled. We shift from thinking about scarcity to the abundance that we have from God. Please take time to relax in this busy season and journey with all of us at St. John’s to Bethlehem. Our theme this season is Joy. My blessing for you this Sunday is that you will be steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Last week we talked about being in right relationship with one another. In our vulnerability, God is able to show his love and mercy through the one born in a lowly manger. We need to just take a short rest from our worries and look away from the darkness into the light. Advent is a time when we realize the one who loves us deeply is coming again. It is a time when we deepen our relationships by calling others and listening to both their pain and joy. We take the time to visit with our family, co-workers and friends. We remember one another through cards, presents, and social media.
Advent is a time when we give of ourselves to others as Christ gave of himself to us. We bring about the coming of the kingdom of God by looking beyond ourselves. We pray for one another and help the poor and needy where we can. I have asked each member of St. John’s to draw closer to our Lord in the coming year. Please consider deepening your faith in Christ by loving God and one another. The best way to get started is to pray to God that your heart may be kindled again and that you will be steadfast in faith.
The St. John’s Youth Group will be delivering wreaths, flowers, and poinsettias on Saturday, December 4th, 10:30 am - 1:00 pm & Sunday, December 5th, 8:30 am to 12 noon. This fund raiser supports our youth on mission trips and youth events. The ECW is collecting money for the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s Adopt-A-Family Program for Christmas for the next two Sundays. Join us for an Advent Retreat "Four Advent Words from the Giver of the Gift" with Rev. Dr. John McGinty on Saturday, December 4th, 9:30 to 11:30 am on Zoom. Our Advent series, “Preparing the Way: Listening for God in the Borders of our World" will continue this Tuesda, December 7th with Jeanne Provenzano, Attorney. Please join us for Evening Prayer at 6:30 pm and our Advent Program from 7:00 – 8:00 pm. Bible study continues with the Nativity in the Gospel of Luke and the book Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller. It will be held Monday nights at 6:30 pm and Tuesday mornings at 11:00 am. There will be a LIGMC concert on Sunday, December 12th at 7:00 pm and our Sing Noel Concert on Sunday, December 19th at 7:30pm.
Lastly, I want to make a special request from the Altar Guild. They are looking for a few new members to care for the altar. It is a profoundly rewarding ministry to serve preparing the Lord’s altar. Please contact me if you are interested in more information.
In Christ's Love,