Saturday, December 29, 2012

1 Christmas and Baptism

God's word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. The Word is born into this humble and majestic world. In a deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence, who is Jesus. Jesus, whose birth we just celebrated. Jesus, born in a barn to parents of questionable status. This same Jesus speaks the word and it happens, forgiveness and judgement, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Hear it again. The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

During advent we saw much of this John. We learned that John calls us to a change of mind and heart. John calls us to turn around and face the Light, to fall on our knees and be forgiven. And today John calls us to be partners with him in showing the way to the Light.

We are yet in the season of incarnation, God in the flesh meeting us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves.

Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with whom we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. We become the new life that Jesus promises.

And today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into God's household of faith. Today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into the life, death, and resurrection of God in the flesh. Today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into the body of Christ, in the flesh. Today, once again, God shows the world that Love wins.

Many of Zakariah's relatives are making promises on his behalf this day, they are making promises that will help transform Zakariah into the person God calls him to be. The promises that are made on his behalf, and the promises he will renew himself someday soon, and the promises you and I renew today, form and shape us into the person God calls us to be. We are formed and transformed, our minds and hearts are constantly and consistently turned to God, as John would say. We are bathed in the water that reminds us of our mortality and our new life in Christ. We are marked with the oil that leaves an indelible cross-shaped tattoo on our face. And we receive the Light of God, so that we may bear it into the dark and broken places of our lives. We are upheld in our promises by God's household. We become God's flesh in the world.

We recognize baptism, whether it is here at St. Andrew's, or in any other denomination, or even if it is a "baptism by desire", as that which helps us remember who we are. We are God's beloved, no matter what, there is nothing we can do, there is nothing we have done, that puts us outside of God's capacity to love us and to bring us into that loving relationship. We are God's beloved, and baptism is a time on our journey of life where we can return on purpose or by chance. Every time we get wet, in the rain, in the shower, in the pool, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of justice and peace, of mercy and compassion. Every time we see a cross, in the trees, in the window, in the sidewalk, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of bearing the loving work that Jesus does on the cross into the world. Every time we smell the oil, the oil of cooking, the oil of healing, the oil that moisturizes our body, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of healing and reconciliation.

Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, and we promise to hold this child in our prayers, we promise to hold this child in our hearts, we promise to walk this way together, never alone. Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, and we renew our commitment to be partners in this most grace-filled and difficult work. Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, we remember the Word that calls us into being, we remember the Love that wins, we remember the Spirit that sustains us and gives us new life.

You are God's beloved, you are marked as Christ's own forever. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas

There's a wonderful video wandering its way around youtube, called An Unexpected Christmas. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to look it up. The line repeated in it is, "that's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!" God decides it's time to send his son to help the people remember that God loves them. But how will they pay attention, seeing as how it's clear they haven't been paying much attention. God decides the way to get the people's attention is to send something so surprising, so unexpected, the people would have to take notice. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

It seems to me that we've put Christmas in a nicely wrapped package with a beautiful bow, and completely lost the surprising and the unexpected. We've tried so hard to experience Christmas as a time of romance and nostalgia we've pushed the astonishment of the inconceivable incarnation under the rug. We get so absorbed in the stuff of Christmas we've lost the unreasonableness of a baby born in a barn. A baby born in poverty to parents uncertain of their own future. A baby who would be king, born in the muck and the mud of a stable. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

This story that we tell as each Christmas comes and goes, the story of the baby born in the manger, the angels singing and the shepherds coming to see him, the wise men who read the stars and recognize this world changing event, is not about comfort, or nostalgia or romance. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us and all of creation to know that Love wins. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants to meet us flesh to flesh. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us to join with Mary as she says yes to the difficulty and pain and joy of new life and new birth.

They won't be expecting that! Mary says, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

We continue to experience much violence far away and near, we wonder about how to make peace in our homes, our communities, our countries. This Christmas event, this wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, shows us the way. This Christmas event, this Galilean carpenter, shows us the way. This Christmas event, these angels and shepherds and prophets, show us the way. This Christmas event, shows us the way.

Christmas is about God showing us the way to love. Christmas is about God showing us the way to peace. Christmas is about God showing us the way to hope. God shows us through this birth, this new life, this new beginning, this powerless baby and these powerless parents in this ordinary stable. God came to dwell with humanity to show us about love. God comes to dwell with us in the flesh so that in the flesh we live life fully and completely. Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with which we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here on this night/morning seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

We go home, and share our own meals, we gather around our own tables, we spend time together, we give and receive presents. And we go out into the world bearing God's love, bearing the light that grows and grows and grows. We go out into the world as God's transformed body, God's flesh in our flesh, making a difference in every dark corner, in the places that need healing and wholeness and love. We go out into the world as God's body, God's flesh in our flesh, and we show the world that love wins. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

Be the surprise, do the unexpected, say yes with Mary to God made present in you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

3 Advent Yr C Dec 16 2012

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Remember, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be.

As you know, there's a lot of chatter about wishing folks a Merry Christmas at this time of the year. The problem with that conversation is that it misses the point. The point being that we are not there yet. I prefer to wish people a Blessed Advent. We are not at Christmas. The problem is that when it finally is Christmas, and it's time to wish one another Merry Christmas, many are already tired of the whole thing.

So why bother with the whole thing. Why bother with the waiting, the preparation, the anticipation? We are not really "merry" at this time anyway. We are hopeful, expectant, and joyful, but not really "merry." Diana Butler Bass, a well known contemporary writer on the church in society, wrote in the Huffington Post, "Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony." Not really very "merry" at all.

We bother with Advent because we human beings need to spend time waiting and preparing for this event that turns the world, this event that brings light into the darkness, this event that makes the first last and the last first. We can't just jump into it. We can't just jump from Halloween to Christmas without some time to be immersed in the mystery of incarnation; this mystery that we struggle so to understand, this mystery that seems unreasonable, this mystery that takes leaps with our imaginations. In Advent, we get glimpses of it, but it takes time for that mystery to grow in our hearts, and in our souls, and in our lives. It takes space for God who is with us, to sit down next to us and teach us that Love wins. It takes quiet to hear the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, and to hear the voice that calls us to transformation.

And it is not easy. We want desperately to make it easy, and romantic, and nostalgic. We want it to be about feeling good. Indeed, some of that is part of what Christmas is, but that is not what this story is about. John calls us to a change of direction in mind and action. John calls us to Advent transformation. John calls us to be ready for the one who is coming, the one who has come, the one who turns the world. God in our midst, Emmanuel, the baby born in a barn, the one who shows us that Love wins, calls us to deepen our commitment to loving one another, calls us to deepen our commitment to compassion and to mercy.

These winter days are dark. They are short, the light is with us for only a few hours. These winter days are dark, there is much violence and sadness that may lead us to believe that the light really has gone out of the world. But Advent reminds us that the Light is never extinguished. Advent reminds us that even if it seems dark, the Light is there, and the Light will brighten even the darkest corners of our lives. Advent reminds us that God walks with us, God does not take away our sadness and our pain, but God walks with us through the sadness and the pain.

We live in this in-between time, in this time of the already but not yet. We live in this time where we tell the story of Jesus birth, we await Jesus birth, and we imagine the end, God's fulfillment of all time. There is where our hope is. It is in the already but not yet. We know what God has done in creation, we await what God will do in creation, and we live our lives in God's grace. There's no guarantee of happiness, there's no guarantee that pain and sadness will not visit us, there's no guarantee of prosperity. But there is love, there is hope, there is joy.

So what do we do in this dark time, what do we do as we wait for the Light to fill the room? We don't do nothing. Waiting is not doing nothing. We love one another as God has loved us. We hold one another, we listen to each other, we bring light into each other's lives, we do not wait alone. We are God's household, you, and me, and all of us. We bear God's light and love into every corner of our lives. We bring healing and wholeness to those whose lives are torn apart. We bear the Good News that Love wins.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2 Advent Yr C Dec 9 2012

Nine months Zechariah was quiet, nine months he could not speak, nine months Elizabeth didn't hear him complain, nine months he had to think about what his first words would be. And those first words out of Zechariah's mouth were Blessed be The Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. Zechariah was a priest in the temple. What did he do for those nine months of silence, those nine months of preparation for this child who could not be, this child to be born to his barren wife Elizabeth, this child who who was an impossibility, this child who would prepare the way for the one to come after him. Silence. Silence in the face of mystery, silence in the presence of new life, silence, as the world is about to turn.

John the Baptist, son of the priest of the temple and his wife Elizabeth, was as different from his father as different could be. John, son of Zechariah, lived in the wilderness, not in the temple confines like his father and mother. John, an itinerant preacher, son of Zechariah, priest of the temple, proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not temple sacrifice, not temple piety, but repentance. John, son of Zechariah, preparing the way for the one who is to come. The one who changes everything.

The world is about to turn. The coming of Christ into the world changes everything. Blessed be the Lord God.

You see, what is happening here has far reaching effects. This story of John, and the story of Jesus, is set squarely in the political context of it's day. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. It is at this time and this place that God is doing something new, that the world is turning, that change is happening. We are being pointed toward this absolutely new thing that God is doing in the world, we are to prepare for it, we are to stay awake, keep alert, be ready. The birth of two baby boys, first John and then Jesus, have everything to do with everything, Luke is saying. What seems so insignificant changes the world, Luke knows that and is telling us that.

Luke has John say these words from Isaiah. In Isaiah these words are about God leading God's people out of exile, back to their land. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. And in Luke, John points to Jesus, who comes to empower and finish the re-turn of God's people to their God. John points to Jesus who shows all humanity that Love wins.

These two bundles of promise, John, born to Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, bring God's love into time and space. These two bundles of hope, show us that the world is about to change. These two bundles of peace, speak truth to power. These two bundles of joy, bear such grief to their mothers. These two bundles show the world that love wins.

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. That is the repentance that John calls us to. You see, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be, whether or not you know who that is. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Repentance is being who God calls you to be, and who God calls us to be. And being who God calls us to be is what we do in the waiting, it is what we do in the preparing. And who God calls us to be may be surprising, indeed, if it is not surprising, it may not be God doing the calling.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. God's voice that says you are already loved, you can do nothing more or less to earn my love. Let go, give up control. Put up your tent, make camp right here. Enjoy what this is, right here, right now. The one next to you is also already loved, just as much as you are. Give her a smile, buy his coffee, make their day.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. Take time to pray, to listen, to wonder, to invite God into this day, this circumstance, this ordinary stable we live in. Give up the busyness, the worry, the noise, the stress. Be filled with the Love that is born in the mess of the stable, the Love that is born in your heart, the Love that is born here each time the one who is looking for something more finds their way to this table. Be filled with the Love that wins your time and attention, your pocketbook, your heart and your mind and your soul.

What words come to you in the silence of new birth? Blessed be the Love that wins.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

1 Advent Yr C December 2 2012

Happy New Year! You all know that, right? Today is the first day of the new year. We begin again on this day, the first day of Advent. We count time differently in the church. Time in the church looks much more like a circle than a line. Our beginnings look like endings, and our endings look like beginnings. Our church year looks much more like a circle than like a line so that we would always remember that for every ending there is a beginning, and for every beginning there is an ending. This time is the time for getting ready, this time is the time for preparing, this time is the time for waiting. What is it we wait for? We wait for the great mystery of Christmas, the inconceivable incarnation, the baby born in a barn, Jesus born in our hearts, the Cosmic Christ that turns the world.

What are you waiting for? Some of us are waiting for presents. Some of us are waiting to see our families and our relatives. Some of us are waiting to see if the Mayan calendar that has no more days after December 21 means anything. Some of us are waiting to die, some of us are waiting to be born again. Some of us are waiting for the economy to collapse, some are waiting for the president to fail. Some of us are waiting for the president to succeed. Some of us are waiting for the world to change, some of us are waiting to change the world.

Advent is a time of waiting, and I think the waiting in and of itself is what we are waiting for. I think Advent may be about creating some room in our very loud and busy lives, for the surprise. The surprise that Christmas is. The surprise of Love born anew, Love born again, Love born.

I do think it is much like the waiting for a baby to be born. There is nothing you can do to make it go any faster or any easier. The baby just grows. And once that baby starts growing, it will change your life forever. Nothing will ever be the same. You, will never be the same. And, no matter how much we think we know about that new life growing inside, the birth itself is surprising, the baby itself is surprising, and we can never be fully ready for the changes to our lives the baby will bring. At every moment, we are changed by that new life. At every moment we are surprised by that new life. At every moment the possibilities will change us.

Advent comes to us every year. In that way it is a gift. We need Advent. We need to pull away for a time, from the cacophony of the cultural Christmas, and be quiet, and wait. We need to be in a space where God can find us and surprise us with new life and new birth. We need to hear the wonder of new birth, we need to hear the mystery of God with us, we need to hear the thunder and the roaring sea. We need to taste the fig from the tree. We need to ponder the mystery of Jesus, of God with us, and God who will fulfill all time.

We are in this middle place, a time between time. We live in the time when God is bringing all of creation, all of humanity, to Godself. God’s reign on earth is what we anticipate, the birth of God into the world 2000 years ago and the raising of Jesus from the dead, inaugurated God’s reign. We live in the time between the beginning and the end, and advent is the time we are given to wonder about and to anticipate God’s reign.

What are we waiting for? We wait for birth, and then we can’t wait for a child to grow out of being two, or six, or thirteen. We can’t wait to finish college and get a real job, we can’t wait for our children to finally make it on their own. We wait for a parent or loved one to die.

Part of waiting is in anticipation of what life will be like when the waiting is over. As we wait, we may have the opportunity to reflect on life as it is and possibly to come to appreciate the glimpses
of the wonder and beauty of life as it is. Maybe, we begin to see life differently, more clearly. Maybe, all the things we thought were important aren’t so important anymore. Maybe, the falseness is being stripped away, and what is left is a truer person, a person who wants to plunge into every moment of life, no matter what, instead of sleepwalk through it. Maybe there is actually transformation in the waiting. At its best, Advent waiting transforms us. We are shown a glimpse of “what if.” What if we approach our Advent waiting as a radical time of transformation?

The Good News is that Advent transformation isn’t born out of fear of the end of the world. Advent transformation comes from joy because the promise has already been given. Advent transformation comes from the hope that Love wins. For those with the eyes of faith, “what if” has already happened. God is already with us. The reign is at hand. Heaven is already here. And nothing will break God’s promise.

Our Advent waiting may then be about making the world look more like the heaven that we already see by faith. We do this by focusing on the essentials—the basic things every human needs in order to reflect the divine. The poor have to be cared for, the hungry have to be fed, the homeless have to be sheltered, and the sick need to be healed. Forgiveness has to be offered, those at war must stop,
and peace must be our legacy.

It’s almost as if Advent calls us to faith in the Real Absence of Christ—to believe in Emmanuel even in our darkness, in God-With-Us even when we hear no answer, and in the Incarnation even when we feel nothing at all. And so during Advent waiting, we may abstain from the flurry of Christmas not as a penitential punishment, but as a way to train our eyes to see God even without the angels and trees, crèches and stars. We focus instead on the basics of light in the darkness, silence in the chaos, and stillness in the turmoil. Advent waiting is waiting for Love to be born, again.