Christmas Sermon (2): The Incarnation: God’s Yes to Humanity and Creation

Sermon delivered on Christmas 1C, December 30, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus. OH.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 61.10-62.3; Psalm 147.1-21; Galatians 3.23-25, 4.4-7; John 1.1-18.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! This past week I was reading about “blue Christmas” services that some churches seem to be embracing with increasing frequency. “Blue Christmas” services are offered to people who have lost loved ones to death and/or who might not have any family with whom to celebrate Christmas, and who don’t feel like engaging in the joyous celebrations that characterize Christmas. The articles I read didn’t offer much detail about these services and so I must be circumspect in my observations. But as I read about these services and those who attend them, I couldn’t help feeling blue myself because it seems to me that they were not offering people any good news in the midst of their grieving, let alone the Good News of Jesus, God become human to rescue us from sin and death and the alienation between God and humans that our stubborn rebellion has caused. Unlike John’s magnificent prologue, which constitutes our gospel lesson, it’s almost like these services are saying to those who attend them, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has overcome it. Sorry about that.”

Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that people who are grieving the loss of loved ones and/or other important things in their lives should put on some kind of phony front during Christmas. Every one of us here knows the terrible grief that death or loneliness can cause and we don’t feel much like celebrating when that happens. Because I had so many wonderful Christmases as a kid, each Christmas Eve I still miss keenly those who were an integral part of those parties, but who are now enjoying their rest in the Lord. I get all that. What bothers me is that I am afraid these kinds of services encourage those who grieve to wallow in their grief and make it all about them, rather than focusing on God’s ability in Jesus to bring about real healing in the power of the Spirit. And so this morning, I want us to look briefly at how the hope of the Incarnation can help us in our grief and to cope with the darkness when it confronts us. I think this is very important, especially since we are going to welcome a new member into God’s family today. As Turner grows up, he is going to need all the real hope he can get, just like the rest of us. And if you are one of those folks who is having a “blue Christmas,” I hope you are able to hear the good news of the Incarnation this morning as well.

“In the beginning was the Word…” With these words, John begins his gospel. What other book in the Bible opens with these words? If you said Genesis you are absolutely correct. This reminds us immediately about the goodness of God’s created order, and how after creating humans in his image, God pronounced his creation to be very good. But we look around our world and we don’t always see things that are very good. In fact, we often see quite the opposite. This, combined with some very bad and sloppy escape-from-the-world theology that some churches preach, makes us think that the world is bad and what is most important is the world of the spirit. We therefore conclude that God made a mistake when he created us and his world, and that God is angry with us and wants to do away with the whole thing and start over. This is just another version of the almost endless variety of gnosticism.

But in John’s gospel we hear a resounding no to this kind of wrong-headed thinking. Yes, human sin and the evil it propagates have made a mess out of God’s good creation and resulted in all kinds of suffering and misery. As Paul reminds us in Romans, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23) and all creation, us included, has been groaning under God’s curse that human sin brought about (cf. Genesis 3.1-19; Romans 8.19-23). Despite this, despite our persistent and willful rebellion against God and God’s desire for us to live happy, prosperous lives, John is reminding us that in becoming human, God remains faithful to his creation and creatures. We matter to God. That is why God became human, to rescue us from our slavery to sin and death by dying on a cross for us. If you want to know the true character and nature of God, look to Jesus. When you do, you cannot help but see the tender and merciful love of God for us.

And despite appearances to the contrary, especially when evil and disaster strike, when John emphasizes the creative power of Jesus by telling us he is the author of light and life—the light that shines in the darkness that cannot be overcome by the darkness—John is reminding us that God is very much active and in charge of his broken world, just like his Spirit was active and creative in bringing order out of chaos in Genesis 1.2ff. God intends to redeem his creation and us, and rescue us ultimately from our sin and the suffering and death it causes.

This is echoed throughout today’s psalm. The psalmist praises God’s creative power and affirms God’s desire and ability to heal the brokenhearted and establish his healing justice and righteousness in his world. Paul says something similar in today’s epistle lesson when he tells us that Jesus was born of a woman in the fullness of time. This reminds us that from all eternity, God’s plan to redeem his creatures and creation involves the calling of people to help him in this task. That is why God called Israel through Abraham. But Israel was part of the problem instead of part of the solution and so God sent himself to be and do for Israel what Israel had failed to be and do so that through Jesus the world could find healing, hope, and redemption.

God entered human history to save us, not so that we can escape this world by going to heaven, but rather so that he can use us as beacons of  his light to bring his healing love to the world. That is why Jesus calls us to follow him by imitating him. We are to offer mercy and forgiveness instead of revenge and hatred. We are to bind up the sick and provide for the needy in all sorts of ways. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus by telling others about what he is doing for us in our lives and by how we live our lives in the light of the gospel.

And why do we do this? Because humans matter to God and as John will remind us at the end of his gospel, history and creation are going somewhere. In Jesus’ bodily resurrection, God launched his promised new creation in which he will ultimately right all the world’s wrongs, especially death, and heal up all our hurts. This is our hope and destiny and it is made possible because of God’s faithfulness to his word and his creation. We can trust God’s word, not only because God is God but because as we saw on Christmas Eve, God has a verifiable track record that he is good to his word to his people and world. This is why blue Christmases must not have the last word because even in the midst of sin, evil, and death, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. God will end our separation from him and our loved ones so that when death strikes, as it inevitably will, we can grieve as people with a hope and a future (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). In Jesus, we are reminded powerfully that we worship the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that are not (Romans 4.17). This is the only real remedy for our grief. Thank God it is available to anyone who says yes to God’s gracious offer to us in Jesus to have abundant life!

And if you think that is a pipe-dream, I would invite you to talk to my wife and her family. Three years ago, Dondra’s dad died two weeks before Christmas after struggling mightily with a long and debilitating illness. It was not pretty to watch and it wore us all down. Dondra’s family had every reason to observe a blue Christmas that year, but they didn’t. Yes, we were sad and yes we missed dad very much. Still do. But in the midst of our grief and sorrow there was a joy that transcended the sting of death and the separation that resulted. It was palpable for all to see. The light shone in the darkness of death but the darkness did not overcome it because her family knows Jesus. They have hope for the present and the future because they believe in the resurrection of the body and God’s promised new creation. You can have that same hope too. When your future is secure, it makes all the difference for how you live in the present.

In a few minutes we are going to baptize Turner and bring him into God’s family here at St. Augustine’s, and consequently into God’s hope and future in Jesus, the Word become human. Turner will have his fair share of joys and sorrows, of successes and failures. He will be confronted by darkness at every stage of his life. And so along the way he is going to need to learn, and his family and godparents are going to need to be reminded of, God’s great love for him (and them) in Jesus, and of the active, creative, and healing Presence of God’s Holy Spirit, both in the world and their lives. God calls us to help in this task. And because of this, we will have work to do on an ongoing basis to support Turner and his family in the faith. Are you ready to do your part with the help and power of God? If you really know Jesus, you know that his light does shine in the midst of our darkness. You know where you are headed and that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.39). That is why we can actually have a Merry Christmas in the midst of the darkness of our grief. Help Turner learn this so that like you, he too can have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dr. Ben Witherington: The Meaning of Incarnation

A good piece from Dr. Witherington.

Incarnation is a big word, and sadly, not a lot of Christians either use it, or know what it means. It does not refer to the same thing as the virginal conception, though the latter is the means by which the incarnation of the Son of God took place. Incarnation refers to the choices and acts of a pre-existent divine being, namely the Son of God, that the Son took in order to become a human being. He took on flesh, and became fully, truly human without ceasing to be fully, truly divine.

Read it all.

Christmas Sermon: Don’t Be Afraid

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.2-7; Psalm 96.1-13; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! Tonight we celebrate one of the most breathtaking events in all history—the birth of Immanuel, God with us, God born of a Virgin, who entered our history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Think about that! The God of this vast universe chose to become one of us to rescue us from sin and death, to end forever our exile from him along with the alienation we experience because of our sins and rebelliousness, and to call us to be the fully human beings God created us to be, people who are God’s wise image-bearers. No wonder the angel told the terrified shepherds in our gospel lesson not to be afraid!

But we are afraid. We fear that others will neither love us or find us acceptable. We fear economic instability or financial ruin or other kinds of failure. We fear catastrophic illness striking us down. We fear growing old and ending up totally infirm or all alone and abandoned. Events in our world also make us afraid, things like the threat of terrorism, random acts of violence, and other kinds of evil over which we have no control. But most of all, we fear death. And so this evening I want us to look briefly at why that is and what God has done, and we can do about it.

We are afraid because as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, we are a people who live in darkness. We live in the darkness of our limited perspectives. We have a hard time seeing the world in any other way than through our own lenses. We live in the darkness of our finiteness. We don’t know what is going to happen in the future let alone what’s happening in the lives of the billions of people living in God’s world. Simply put, we are not all-knowing and all-seeing. To make matters worse, we are control freaks and when awful things happen around us over which we have no control, it makes us afraid because those things tend to remind us just how powerless we really are. And we live in the darkness of our own intellectual arrogance that makes us discount things that we really cannot explain or measure or observe. If it doesn’t make sense to us, we tend to think that it just cannot be. We hear this all the time, from believers and unbelievers alike. How can God allow despicable acts of evil to go on around us, we ask? If God is good and all-powerful, why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening in his world?

Isaiah and his contemporaries would have understood this because they too were beset by the same kinds of problems and fears. In the context of our OT lesson, the darkness about which the prophet spoke was the presence of foreign invaders in Syria and Israel. The kings of both Syria and Israel had pressured Ahaz, king of Judah, to join them in a military alliance against Assyria, the world’s greatest power of Isaiah’s day. Isaiah went to Ahaz and warned him not to enter such an alliance, assuring him that God would protect Judah and Jerusalem. But Ahaz was afraid, just like his counterparts in Israel and Syria. So Ahaz sought to ally himself directly with the Assyrians. The result was invasion and devastation. Listen to the reaction of the people of Israel to this awful calamity [read Isaiah 8.21-9.1]. Devastated by the darkness and destruction of an invading foreign army, God’s people were hard pressed to see where God was in it all, just the way we are when confronted with unimaginable evil, and it made them angry and afraid, just like it makes us.

But it was this world of darkness, both theirs and ours, that God made his breathtaking promise through the prophet to enter and redeem. Despite the dark circumstances that they faced in their lives, God reassured his people that he would fulfill his ancient promise to David to establish David’s dynasty forever (2 Samuel 7.16). In other words, God promised he would not abandon his despairing and fearful people. And it is that promise that we ultimately celebrate tonight in the birth of Jesus, God become human. In the birth of Jesus, God is telling us not to be afraid because he is with us and is in control of his creation, even when everything seems to scream otherwise. In telling us who the movers and shakers were when Jesus was born, Luke is reminding us that God entered our history to fulfill his ancient promises to redeem his broken world and free his people from their slavery to fear, sin, and death. This alerts us immediately to the fact that God is not some remote or distant God, but rather a God who is willing to mix it up with us on our level so that we might be able to see beyond our own selfishness and darkness. We see this illustrated poignantly in the angel’s instructions to the shepherds. Go find a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. It wasn’t so much that Mary and Joseph had been snarfed out of a place to stay in Bethlehem but rather that God used the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth to help the shepherds locate and identify Jesus so that they could confirm the truth of the angel’s announcement. Surely the angel could have led the shepherds directly to the holy family in some spectacular way. But the angel didn’t do that. Instead, the angel described the situation that would allow the shepherds to find Jesus themselves and the shepherds obeyed. Until we grasp this truth about God’s primary modus operandi (working in history and the lives of ordinary people) and how we are to respond to it (by obeying his call to us), we will likely remain in our darkness regarding how God works to heal us and his world.

Paul says much the same thing in our epistle lesson. Because God loves us and is gracious toward us, even though we often prefer to remain in our own darkness rather than in God’s light, God appeared to us in the man Jesus. Paul is referring to not only Jesus’ birth but also his death, resurrection, and ascension as Lord. In Jesus, God gave himself for us to redeem us from wickedness, to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, and bring us into the kingdom of light (cf. Colossians 1.12-22). On the cross, God not only condemned our sin in the flesh so that he would not have to condemn us, but he also defeated the dark powers and principalities (Romans 8.3; Colossians 2.15).

But of course there is more to it because we all know that Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness and evil is not yet fully consummated. We live as a people with hope in the midst of our darkness and the world’s, not only because of what God has done for us in Jesus, but also in anticipation of God finishing the work he started in Jesus. Both Luke and Paul remind us of this in their own ways. As we have seen, Luke is keen on having us understand that God is a God who works in and through his people and history. Luke wants us to understand that history is going somewhere, and for the good. We know that because as Paul reminds us, we wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus the Messiah, to usher in God’s promised new creation and consummate his victory over evil won on the cross and vindicated in his resurrection. Resurrection and new creation where we will live for all eternity in God’s wonderful presence is our destiny, not death and darkness, and it all started with the birth of a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Immanuel. God with us. What is there for us to ultimately fear?

This hope and promise of new creation must make all the difference in the world for us right now. And please. If you don’t hear anything else I say tonight, listen to this because it is massively important to your ability to live without fear, even in the midst of darkness. The birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are historical and verifiable evidence that God is good to his ancient promises to use his people to help redeem his lost and fallen world. This is the basis for our confidence in God’s future promise of new creation. If God is good to his ancient promises, why would he not be good to his future promises? When we know we are going somewhere and for the good, it allows us to live with hope in the midst of desolation. Think about it. If you are convinced that death is the end and God does not exist, you cannot have real hope. And without hope, you will die. But if you know you are going to be part of something that is indescribably wonderful and you are going to be part of it even though you do not deserve to be part of it, it changes how you look at things and react to the darkness around you. When you are convinced that your future is secure in God’s hands, you must believe that your present is also. And when that happens you have the power to live without being afraid.

This is why Paul emphasizes that God’s people in Jesus are to live differently and with hope. Not only does God’s grace manifested in Jesus’ death and resurrection save us from our sins, it also transforms our lives in the power of the Spirit. And as that happens it turns us into the people God calls and created us to be, people who are wise stewards of God’s creation and who pursue God’s righteousness and justice in how we conduct our lives, following the example of the selfless and suffering love of Jesus, most powerfully demonstrated to us on the cross.

This is the other key to help us live without fear in the midst of darkness. God calls his people in Jesus the Messiah to build on the accomplishment of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we imitate Jesus in our lives, we can have confidence that God uses us to help bring in his kingdom on earth as in heaven (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58). Make no mistake. Our work does not bring about the new creation. Only God can do that. But God promises to use our transformed lives to build on Jesus’ work and to be signs for the world that God is with us and his kingdom is coming even when darkness seemingly has won the day. This is what Paul meant when he said that Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us and purify us to be his people who are eager to do good and not to satisfy our own selfish desires. Our hard work to build on the kingdom foundation established by Jesus is also a wonderful remedy to hopeless hand-wringing because it makes us proactive in the name of the Lord. Instead of asking questions that are not answerable, we get busy in Jesus’ name to bring his healing love to others and be his beacons of light so that the world can see God at work in and through his people, even in the face of the dark powers. We do this because we know what God has done for us, what God will do for us, and what God is doing for us right now in and through his people working in Jesus’ name. It’s a win-win situation, both for us and for those we meet who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

All of this requires faith, of course. Massive faith but not uniformed faith. In Scripture we have the consistent record of God working in and through his people to heal and redeem his world. And we have confirmation of its truth in the testimony and transformed lives of countless Christians. We ignore this at our own peril because we are easily distracted and fall prey to the world’s darkness. We must therefore tend to Scripture, the sacraments, and the fellowship of Christ’s body, the church. It starts right here, right now, when we remember that on this night God is with us, born of a Virgin, and all that followed. This reminds us that we are going somewhere and for the good. That is why we can actually have a Merry Christmas in the midst of darkness and live each day like people who have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Augustine on the Importance of Christmas

Awake! For your sake God has become human. “Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” I tell you again: for your sake, God became human.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for his mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

Sermon 185.38

Fr. Ron Feister: Does Your Soul Magnify the Lord?

Sermon delivered on the fourth Sunday of Advent C, December 23, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Micah 5.2-5a; Psalm 80.1-7; Hebrews 10.5-10; Luke 1.39-55.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

O Little Town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie — thus begins one of the favorite hymns of Christmas. In the time of the Prophet Micah whose prophecy we listened to in our first reading, Bethlehem was but a small village. It was about to be attacked  by the Assyrian invaders — and would be almost totally destroyed.

The prophecy looks forward to the return of  a King in the Line of David  that would come after the period of desolation. A kingdom that will actually be restored in the person of King Hezekiah who would be one of the few righteous and faithful Kings to come from the line of King David and despite challenges was able to bring about a time of peace and prosperity. Following his reign however, the leadership of Judah once again failed to be faithful, and the people began to see in the words of Micah the revelation that there would one day come an even greater one — the true Messiah.  Today for Christians the City of Bethlehem shines as bright star — the birthplace of our Savior. A once small and virtually destroyed city becomes the focus of one of the greatest events in all of human history. If this City was a person, perhaps it could say like Mary, my soul does magnify the Lord.

Bethlehem a was the City of David the great King for it was from this area of Judea that he came.  He was the youngest of seven sons. He was by tradition delegated to the most insignificant role in the family. He was a mere shepherd, honorable work, but very low on the social scale.

Sent to guard the sheep, his only weapon a simple sling.  Yet with that sling David slays one of the fieriest warriors of that time and starts his journey to becoming Israel’s greatest King. The lowly shepherd because of his faithfulness to God is raised from one of the lowest positions in society to the very top.

In our Gospel reading from Luke we are introduced to Elizabeth as Mary makes a visit to her much older cousin and who like Mary is with child. While being married to Zechariah the High Priest should have given Elizabeth  status, the fact that she had entered “old age” without a child  caused her to be looked down upon by the other women. Fruitfulness was seen as a sign of God’s Blessing and those without children were for lack of a better term cursed. Despite years of trying to have a child with no success, both Elizabeth and Zechariah remained faithful to the Lord and finally God rewards their faithfulness with a child. This child would bring them much joy and no doubt improve Elizabeth status in the community. But her child was not just any child, but a child who would be knows as John the Baptizer. Among human beings the greatest of all the prophets and the one who announce truly that the Messiah has come.

If Elizabeth had said that her soul does Magnify the Lord would that have not been a true reflection of what must have been going through her being for God had taken one lowly and despised and blessed her with a child and thus given her fulfillment, joy and even community status.

Now we turn to Mary. A young woman probably in her teenage years.   She is pregnant even though she has not been with a man. She is engaged to someone she really does not known. Given the rules of that society she could be charged with adultery and stoned to death and the very least she would be a woman of scandal.  She was among the lowest of the low – powerless, no doubt scarred, anxious about the child within her and the process of giving birth not to mention raising a child, and no doubt lonely. Perhaps this is the reason that she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Whatever Mary’s limitations and whatever her concerns, Mary was faithful.

From the time that the angel first appeared to her informing her that she would be the mother of a special child of God. Her answer was always yes to God. She could not have imagined that she was to be the one to bear God into this World as a human being but she knew that it was God’s will and through her God was going to change the course of human history.  Frightened and anxious she none-the-less looked forward to her role as the mother of the Messiah, the anointed one. And so it is that to this day, we acknowledge Mary as most blessed.  Among all women she holds the ultimate position. She alone for nine months shared a personal and intimate relationship with the Devine One, the very Word of God, that no one else has or ever will experience. Because of this Mary can truly say My Soul does Magnify the Lord.

But this is the past, and the Good News is not just something for history. Rather these things that I have talked about point us to God working today and in the future. Like that little City of Bethlehem, God often chooses to work with the small, the insignificant. He often does his greatest work where no one would expect it.

Jesus the babe who laid in an animal feeding trough and spent only about 30 years in ministry, had 12 close followers none of whom appeared extraordinary and who had to celebrate his Last Supper in a rented room is the Lord of Lord , who gives us the Church, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and Salvation and Restoration.

I would ask do any of you know of a small group of followers who have come together and who celebrate and praise the Lord in a rented room.  Are they likely to change the world  and are they likely to impact the community around them. Will that small group ever be able to act as an instrument of salvation and restoration. ( Could such a small group Magnify the Lord).

If they look and see that a small town like Bethlehem can be a Light to the World, then they will not be concerned that they may not be large and powerful , but can still be used by God.  They can let the light of their faith shine in their lives that others may be drawn to the One who has no limits.

But some may say I don’t have the connections — I don’t have the tools — I don’t have the social status. I have no real weapon to go against evil. Look again at David from whose human line the Savior came. In reality he had nothing except a willingness to be faithful to God.  It was not his abilities and his resources that allowed him to win the fight but  because he allowed God to work through him.

But some may say, I am too old  – look then at Elizabeth.  Elizabeth remained  faithful to the Lord  even into her old age and God allowed her to bring forth one who would Prepare the Way of the Lord. With age comes the opportunity to share with others  –  children, grandchildren and the younger members of the community of faith. Perhaps that word of encouragement or direction will one day bear fruit in the life of another and they too will be able to lead others to Christ.  Our God is a God of the Unexpected. He does routinely what this world calls the miraculous. Do not be too surprised that even with some age, and it’s limitations, God calls you to do great things.

Mary’s life speaks to all of us of our need to say yes to the Lord.  To say Yes when we cannot imagine what it is the Lord is really asking of us. Our we willing to say Yes.

Before we answer we need to be aware that like Mary our conduct will often be seen as scandalous by a world that does not know the Lord. We may suffer persecution — admittedly not risking being stoned — but persecution for being different. We will feel at times lonely and will need to do as Mary did seek out one to be a support; perhaps one that as traveled the same journey.

As with Mary we will be called to be bearers of Jesus Christ to the world. It will not be an easy thing to do. But is we are willing to say Yes, and if we are faithful, we may also say that God has done great things for me, that our spirit rejoices in God our Savior, and Our Souls do Magnify the Lord

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Bishop Roger Ames’ 2012 Christmas Letter

From here:

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

December 2012

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Merry Christmas! Finally, our Advent preparations draw to a close. Now we can celebrate Jesus, the Word made flesh.

There is a mystery and miracle in John’s words that we will never fully comprehend. Our holy and unapproachable God—our majestic and all-wise Creator—has defied human logic. Rather than wait for us to come to our senses and return to him, he has humbled himself and come to us!

We don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to find God. We don’t need to fast from food or sleep. We don’t need to thread our way through theological textbooks. We don’t need to spend all our wak­ing hours in formal prayer. God is with us! images-1

Because God has become a human being and shared in our ordinary life, we can find him right here and now, wherever we are. He jokes at our table. He welcomes our relatives with a hug. He listens as we express our simplest thanks as well as our deepest desires. We can find him in the innocence of a sleeping baby, the complexity a snowflake, the surprise of an unplanned encounter, and a line from a familiar carol. If we just slow down long enough, we can savor his presence today.

This is the key to the whole Christian life. We can be renewed by the sacraments because in them we touch Jesus. We can follow the moral code because he not only walked this road before us but walks it with us. We come to love other people, even the most repulsive, because Jesus has died for all of us out of love. We can persevere to the end because Jesus went the whole distance, through death to life, in a human body like ours.

The Lord of the universe has chosen to make our familiar spaces his permanent dwelling. Don’t miss him! Be a counter-cultural family. For many around us, Christmas abruptly comes to an end on December 26th, but we as Anglicans know that we have 12 days to celebrate the reality of Christmas with our family and friends. Celebrate and rejoice in the reality that God loves us so much that he became one of us. Share the good news that God is with us. Reach out to the broken, the lost, the forgotten and  the needy. Find tangible ways to make God’s love real for those most in need this Christmas season!

Be assured of my thoughts and prayers, especially as I celebrate the Holy Eucharist throughout this holiday season.

Let us pray:

“Father, you created the dignity of human nature and then restored it through your Son. Help us all to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. Bless us richly thoughout this Christmas season and fill us with your love. We ask this all in your son Jesus’ name and by the power of the Spirit and let the Church say…Amen.”

Peace and all good.

I remain yours in the Incarnate Lord,
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes

Archbishop Bob Duncan’s 2012 Christmas Letter

Received via email.

Christmas, A.D. 2012-2013

“Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy…” [Luke 2:10]

Beloved in the Lord,

In the well-loved carol O Little Town of Bethlehem the next-to-last stanza ends “the darkness wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.” For believers, and to any who are open to the message, the annual re-telling of the Christmas story is “good news” – evangelion, gospel – in the midst of all the anxieties, struggles and tragedies of human life. The Christmas accounts in Matthew, Luke and John give perspective unlike any other.

The Christian gospel addresses the realities of the world in which we live. Without God, or more precisely because of humanity’s rebellion against Him, this is a selfish, disordered, suffering, violent and fallen world. Sin is the human curse. Sin kills. Human freedom was meant to enable us to love, but we are trapped by our propensity to mis-use this freedom.

Sandro Botticelli, Mystical Nativity (c. 1500-1501)

We are especially lifted by the Christmas “good news” – evangelion, gospel – because, apart from God, there will always be a preponderance of bad news. The horror at Newtown (USA) and Chenpeng (China) are extreme manifestations of what is so sadly routine in human affairs.

The Renaissance in the West gave us magnificent art. (I love Renaissance depictions of Christmas.) But the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment that grew out of it, gave us a faulty picture of man’s perfectibility and goodness. The New Testament view is that only Jesus is “good” and that it is only through His Holy Spirit, dying to the old man and rising to the new, that we can be anything near to what God intends for us to be. Doesn’t the evidence of the world in which we live make more sense when we apply the Biblical paradigm?

The shepherds, in a dark and lonely night, are ready for some good news. The magi are looking for a new king and a new world order. Mary and Joseph, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, are cooperating in God’s plan. When Jesus came 2000 years ago, the horrific slaughter of innocent children [Matthew 2:16] and the bleakness of a failed political and religious establishment were the context of His coming.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy…that today is born to you in the City of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.” “Fear not!” The message is for us. A new king is born. He is a king who is for us and one of us and, most importantly, offers us a way out, the only way out, of the mess we are in personally and corporately. His cross will “buy us back” (literally, redeem us) if we will accept the gift. His Holy Spirit will heal us and enable us to be the kind of men, women and children God intended.

The birth of Jesus Christ changes everything because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ brings an end to the curse. Meditate in these days on what Christmas means, on the perspective it gives, on the antidote it is. Tell others, too. Help them to understand what this story actually means. The birth of Jesus Christ is pure, undiluted good news. “The darkness wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.”

Blessed Christmas to you all.

Faithfully in Christ,

+Robert Pittsburgh_Signature

+Robert Pittsburgh
Archbishop and Primate
Anglican Church in North America

Douglas Wilson: Go Overboard Celebrating Christmas

An interesting and provocative article. I would only disagree with his choice for the primary celebration. I think we Christians should be doing this for the great celebration of the 50 days of Easter first and foremost. Of course, there is plenty of room to go overboard for Christmas too. 🙂

As the prophet Isaiah prophesies the coming of the new covenant, he does so with the image of a glorious feast. The feast is prepared by the Lord of hosts Himself (v. 6). What kind of feast is it? He prepares a feast of fat things, he prepares a feast of aged wines, of meat full of marrow fat, and then some more aged wines. This is the picture we are given of the gospel—not a glass of room-temperature water and a cracker. Right alongside this feast, in conjunction with it, He will remove the covering that kept us all in darkness for all those centuries. He will take away the veil over the nations (v. 7). The resurrection will come—and we have the down payment of that in the resurrection of Jesus—and death will be swallowed up in victory. The Lord will wipe away every tear, and all things will then be put right (v. 8). As those who have accepted this gospel, we have accepted that all of this has now been established in principle, and as we live it out in true evangelical faith, we proclaim this good news. But there must be continuity between what we are saying and how we are living. And by this, I mean much more than that our words should be true and our behavior good. I mean that our words should sound like good news and our lives should smell like good news.

Check out the whole article and see what you think.

Moment of Silence: Friday, December 21, at 9:30am

Below is the text of an email I just sent to the folks at St. Augustine’s. I encourage you to honor the governor’s request as well.

Governor Kasich has asked that all government buildings and churches in OH, where possible, ring their bells 26 times tomorrow (Friday), December 21 at 9:30am in remembrance of those murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.

Since St. Augustine’s obviously does not have a bell or bell tower, I have asked [one of our parishioners] to ring the bell we use to remember our saints departed tomorrow morning on behalf of our parish.

I am also asking you, if possible, to pause at that time and hold these individuals and their families, as well as their community (and ours) in your prayers. Below are the names of those who were murdered if you wish to remember and pray for each of them individually as well as collectively. Thank you for doing so.

If you do not know what to pray, use this prayer: Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. Amen.

The First Graders of Sandy Hook Elementary killed last Friday:
Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, who recently turned 7; Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine F. Hsu, 6; Catherine V. Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, who recently turned 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison N. Wyatt, 6.

The Six Educators who were killed:
Teachers: Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Victoria Soto, 27; their School Psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56; and their School Principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47.

Andy Crouch: The Media and the Massacre

From Christianity Today online. See what you think.

I did not actually curse in the televisions’ direction until I heard them serve up the most heinous possible version of disaster theology—this, offered in all strident sincerity to best explain the fates of the victims to one’s own children: “God needed some wonderful new angels. He asked for them, and he got them.”

Not a single person in that airport was assisted in any way by these ghastly disclosures, pat press releases, and offensive atheologies. But this is the ironclad logic of continuous broadcasting: Broadcasting must be continuous. Someone must always be saying something even when there is nothing new to say.

Read it all.