Monday, January 21, 2019

Father Riley's homily from January 20, 2019

2 EPIPHANY - C - 19                           JOHN 2. 1-11

One of the marks of wisdom in old age is that you recall things once said when you were younger that you discover were true. For example, I have often found myself agreeing with the words of my homiletics professor who made the oft repeated statement that it is the more familiar passages of scripture that are the most difficult to preach on.

Today’s gospel is a good example. Even the un-churched are familiar with Jesus having changed the water into wine. What are we to make of it?

John’s gospel is often called the book of “signs.” In it, he uses seven different “signs” or miracles to make his case concerning the divinity of Christ. The miracle at the wedding feast in Cana is the first so-called “sign” Jesus performed, and according to John, “it manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

That part we can easily understand. For who would not have been impressed, if not awed if we had been there and witnessed such a miracle. The servants and the wine steward were certainly awed and the bridegroom, no doubt left speechless when made aware of it.

Although we do not hear from them, one would imagine the guests were happy as the celebration continued without interruption. Perhaps they were totally oblivious to the fact that the wine had run out in the first place and of the miracle, Jesus performed.

Jesus’ ability to change water into wine revealed his divinity, his glory, as John would say. His disciples got the message even if no one else attending the wedding feast did. No one, save his mother, expected him to be able to do such a thing.

Even Mary did not know what he was going to do but simply told the servants to do whatever he said. She was confident, however, that he could and would do something. She did not feel rebuked by Jesus’ response, but remained expectant.

An interesting side note. Mary only appears twice in John’s gospel, here and at the foot of the cross. In both cases, her name is not used. Jesus simply refers to her as “woman.”

What Jesus did at the wedding feast in Cana was not in response to Mary’s announcement that they had run out of wine, for his “hour” as John refers to it, had not yet come. The hour of Jesus’ full disclosure was to be determined by God, not by Mary’s desire or by the prompting of any other human being for that matter.

The miracle at the wedding feast in Cana was the beginning of the journey to the cross - the final manifestation of His glory.

The setting here is significant. In the Old Testament, marriage feasts symbolized the union of God with his bride, Israel, as alluded to by Isaiah in our first lesson. That this took place “on the third day” set a resurrectional tone. The day that is the sign to which all-preceding signs point and the climax of the gospel.

John uses the term “sign” to show that these miraculous actions point beyond themselves to the truth that the Kingdom of God has come among us in the Person of Jesus Christ. In addition to “signs”, John’s gospel is filled with symbols and contrasts. In this passage, wine is symbolic of life.

The six stone jars (one less than the perfect number 7) indicate the Law, illustrated by the water being reserved for the Jewish rites of purification. However, both the Law and the rite were incomplete, imperfect, and unable to bestow life.

The water being changed into wine, symbolized the old covenant being fulfilled in the new, which is capable of bestowing life. The over abundance, of the gallons of wine illustrates the overflowing grace Christ grants to all.

The disciples believed in him after witnessing the “sign” Jesus performed but not all do.

What is the value of faith based on miracles? The miracles are not in themselves the gospel, as it were, but miniatures in which it is represented; and by such signs, some may be brought to faith in the full significance of Jesus and his work.

N.T. Wright in his commentary on John, states that the whole point of the “signs” is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. They point away from earth to a heavenly reality. It is all about transformation, the different dimension of reality that comes into being when Jesus is present.

It takes a miracle for some to believe. Their faith in Jesus as Son of God comes through what they see him do. For others the opposite is true. If you have faith, Jesus says in another place, you can move mountains. There is value in both cases.

Yet there are still others, it would seem, that no matter what God has done or is now doing in their lives to bring them to fullness, they fail to recognize and acknowledge the presence of Jesus. They continue to live from day to day believing that whatever happens for their benefit is somehow due to their own efforts or by chance.

The guests, for the most, were unaware of what had taken place as the celebration continued without interruption. The servants who filled the jars with water, and the steward who drew out the best wine and brought it to the bridegroom were obviously surprised, if not awed. As for the bridegroom, he remained silent and accepted the praise offered by the steward. All the while Jesus went unacknowledged, save by his mother and the disciples.

Of all the characters presented in today’s gospel, it is the mother of Jesus, and the disciples, whose example we should follow in our relationship to Christ. Mary expected Jesus to do something to rectify the situation so that the celebration might continue. Upon their witnessing Jesus’ power to transform, the disciples believed in Him and continued to follow him.

The transformation from water to wine signifies the effect that Jesus can have on people’s lives. He came, as he said in another place, that we might have life in its fullness. It is all about transformation, the different dimension of reality that comes into being when Jesus is present, and the new life that is ours when we make ourselves present to Him. AMEN+


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Breaking News from Christ Episcopal Church

...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays, Jan 20 and 27.  

...We will have our annual congregational meeting Sunday, Jan 20 after our service.

Ok.  Let's not follow the example above; but, we would love to have as many of you attend our annual meeting as possible.  We will be approving the 2019 budget and electing the 2019 vestry.  It has been a busy 2018 and we have much planned for 2019 and beyond.  THANKS TO YOU,  we had a very successful 2019 Stewardship Drive and our Capital Campaign has already started receiving funding to add to the diocesan grant.  We started the ramp to the entrance of the church and should have the railing fabricated and installed soon.  More information will be available at our annual meeting. Please join us for more news!  Peace be with you all, Sam Corson (Senior Warden)

Excerpt from The Forward Day by Day from Monday, January 14:
"Regardless of how you came to faith, prayerfully ponder the mystery that God specifically loves you.  Whatever you have done or left undone, Jesus' love redeems you completely and entirely.  Thanks be to God."

Friday, January 11, 2019

Father Riley's sermon from January 6, 2019

 …Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday at 10am January 13th.  We will have a vestry meeting following fellowship this Sunday.

...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays, Jan 20 and 27.  

...We will have our annual congregational meeting Sunday, Jan 20 after our service.

THE EPIPHANY - C - 19       MATTHEW 2. 1-12

One of my seminary classmates recently posted on face book; yes, I confess I look at it occasionally, that they were traveling from Kansas City to Lexington, Kentucky on Christmas Day to visit family. In their post they lamented over the traffic, the stops and goes, and the minor difficulties they were encountering on their journey.

My friend’s wife concluded their post by raising the question “I wonder what difficulties the wise men must have encountered on their way to visit the Christ-child?” My response was “they did not have any holiday traffic.”

Today the majority of Christendom celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, or as it is sometimes called, The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. These Gentile wise men prefigure the church, in which membership is determined by faith and not by ethnic lineage.

It was the Jewish shepherds who were the first to visit the Christ-child, as the good news of the Savior’s birth came first to God’s chosen people, Israel. The Gentile Magi came to worship him sometime later, after he had been circumcised on the 8th day.

The Christ-child, then, traveled from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem and back to the city of David before the visitors from the East discovered him. He was right under Herod’s nose during his visit to the Temple without being recognized by the authorities.

Today’s story is unique to Matthew. In it he tells us that it was a star that caught the wise men’s attention that something extraordinary had occurred. To ancient pagans a star signified a god, a deified king (Num. 24.17) Christ being born under a star fulfils the prophecy in Psalm 109.3 and shows all of creation participating in the Incarnation. (Ps 18.2; 148.3)

It was this star that the wise men followed to Jerusalem. Once there they inquired, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” We know from St. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ that he was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Thus, it is safe to say that those in Jerusalem were ignorant of his birth and were amazed at the wise men’s inquiry. No doubt, their presence and their question concerning the Savior’s birth soon reached the ears of an insecure King Herod.

Herod had to summon the Jewish leaders for he knew little about the Jewish Messiah and he feared losing his throne to this newborn king. He called in the Jewish experts to ask where this child was to be born. When he had gathered the information he desired he summoned the wise men and asked what time the star appeared.

His inquiry was not a noble one, however, as attested to by his slaughter of the holy innocents after the wise men had returned to their own home without revealing the child’s whereabouts to him. It was the star that led the wise men to the house where the Holy Family was staying.

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.”

The significance of their gifts is revealed in an ancient hymn: “Gold is for the king of ages. Frankincense is for the God of all. Myrrh is offered to the Immortal One.” The star led them to the Christ-child. God’s warning led them away from Herod. Being obedient they returned to their own home.

The star was no longer visible after the wise men’s visit. Thus, Herod was unable to find the newborn king. Luke gives us the birth story with the shepherds being the first to visit the Christ-child. Matthew gives us the story of a later visit of the Magi. Together they confirm the angels’ message: “good news of a great joy has come to all.”

Jesus’ birth was celebrated by creation and witnessed by Jew and Gentile alike. He is the Savior of the world. Today we who follow Him have no star to lead us to Christ. Instead, God has given us the gift of Faith.

We don’t know what difficulties the wise men may have encountered in their search for the Christ-child. We do know ours. They were determined to find him, who was born king of the Jews. They were relentless in their search. They followed God’s lead until they reached the place where he lay. There they worshipped him and offered him their gifts. Then, being obedient to God’s warning, they returned to their own home.

I can only imagine, like the shepherds, they revealed with great joy what they had seen once they were safely out of the reach of Herod. It was part of God’ plan that these Gentiles see him. Only to Herod were they told not to reveal his presence.

Epiphany is a season of revealing or making known, of stars and light, of dreams come true, of promises fulfilled. To us a child has been born. In Him, God’s plan of salvation has been revealed. In Him, we discover who we are and the role God has given us in making Him known.

The wise men showed determination in finding him. They were relentless in their search. They followed God’s lead and were obedient to His will. In this well-known story, oft repeated in song, we are given examples of how we too can follow Him.

God gives us the gift of Faith and His grace to overcome our human weaknesses in order to do so. God’s Love given to us through Christ enables us to discover and recognize Him wherever we are and in the face of whomever we meet along the way, whether friend or stranger.

The difficulties we will face in our journey to God are common to all. There will be trails and temptations, pain and suffering, times of peace as well as joy. The wise men knew the object of their search and were determined to find Him. Pray God, following their example, we too will have the resolve; come what may, to continue our journey to God.

To discover along the pathway of life Christ’ presence wherever we are, and rejoice in our role of making him known. To worship Him by offering the only true gift we have to offer, the gift of self, and in all humility accept God’s gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love that identify us as belonging to Him.

For we too, like the Magi, know the object of our life-long journey and the promise of God that awaits all the Faithful at its end - eternal life in Him who has come to bring Life and Light to the world, even JCOL. AMEN+

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Father Riley's 2018 Christmas Eve homily

CHRISTMAS EVE - C - 18                                LUKE 2. 1-20

I have been fortunate to travel to the Holy Land twice. Both times, I visited the Church of the Holy Nativity, which is located in Palestine. The Israelis have built a huge border wall dividing Israel from Palestine. In order to enter the city of Bethlehem one has to cross the border through a military checkpoint. Israelis are forbidden to enter.

I have often thought about the irony in that each time I read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, especially the angel’s message delivered to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to ALL people.”

The very people, God’s people, Messiah first came to save are the very people who today cannot enter the city of the Savior’s birth. It is controlled by Palestinian Christians, a fact that is often overlooked by the media when reporting the continuing dispute over that particular territory.

In addition, the Old City of Jerusalem is itself divided into ethnic quarters. There is the Jewish quarter, the Arab quarter, the Christian quarter, etc. The good news of a great joy, which the angels proclaimed has come to All the people, does not seem to resonate in our world today, not even in the world into which Jesus was born.

Divisions of religion, politics, and ethnicity exist in every corner of our world. Yet thousands upon thousands, from all corners of this same world continue to come to the city of David, as they did on that first Christmas Eve, not to be registered, but to see where the Savior of the world was born.

Perhaps some of you have been there as well. If not, when you go there, you will enter the church the crusaders built over the spot where the manger is said to have been. That spot is found in the floor of the undercroft beneath the high altar and is marked today by a star embedded in the floor.

To get there one has to queue up and take one’s turn descending a narrow stairway that leads to the star. Once there you are only given a moment to reflect upon the significance of that sacred space before being “moved on” by a heavily armed soldier. In retrospect I have often thought it must have been something like that the night Jesus was born.

Thousands were in the little town of Bethlehem and must have passed by the manger where the Christ-child lay wrapped in swaddling clothes between his mother, Mary, and her spouse, Joseph. They passed by without noticing the star overhead that illuminated that very spot.

If they did notice, they did not stop to reflect on what it might mean they were too busy with the business at hand. Besides that, they would have probably been “moved on” by soldiers as well.

The shepherds, on the other hand, were the fortunate ones. Not only were they the first to receive the good news, but the first to see the Christ-child and to pay him homage. After having seen, what the angel had told them was true; they became the first to go and tell what they had seen in the manger and heard from the angels to All they met.

It was a message, Luke tells us, which caused All those who heard it to marvel at what the shepherds told them. No matter how many times we have heard Luke’s version of that first Christmas Eve, it never gets old. There is something about it that re-kindles a flame within us, something that stirs the heart and mind in the message of the angels.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Like the shepherds, we have come this night to pay homage to God’s gift of Divine Love made flesh, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We have come to ponder in our hearts as Mary did just what His coming into our world, our lives, means to All who receive Him as their Lord and King.

We have spent these past four weeks preparing our hearts and our minds for this very night. We have done it many times before. Yet in order to realize the joy the coming of the Christ-child brings, we need to approach the manger as if for the very first time.

Those who heard it from the excited mouths of the shepherds, Luke says, marveled at what was told them. Like those who heard it first, we need to marvel at what we see and hear tonight in order to go and tell it to others with a renewed spirit of hope that Christ’s coming indeed brings joy, peace and love.

We need to show that the message of the angels has come to All by the way we live our lives in relationship to our neighbor regardless of his or her political views or ethnic identity.

Would not the walls that divide us come down if All would realize that Christ has come to rescue All of us from sin and death by the giving of His life for the life of the world?

If only we, who have received the angel’s message and believe it with all of our heart, would take upon ourselves in all earnest, the role of the shepherds and live our lives in witness to the good news of the Savior’s birth by praising and glorifying God with a Thankful heart for the Joy, the Hope, and the Love Christ‘s coming brings.

If only - What a different world it would be.

“Then, the angel said to them, ’Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to All people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  AMEN+

Monday, December 24, 2018

Father Riley's homily from December 23, 2018 and news for you

News for you!
...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist at our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. Archdeacon Bette Kauffman will be assisting Father Riley for the Christmas Eve service!  Please join us and invite others

…Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sundays at 10am Dec 30 and Jan 6.  Father Riley will return to lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Jan 13, 20; 27th.  Our annual congregational meeting will follow our service on Jan 20th. 

ADVENT IV - C - 18                       LUKE 1. 39-55

The fourth week of Advent the scene shifts from one of the Jordan River where John Baptist is preaching repentance and baptizing as a means of preparing God’s people for the coming of the Messiah, to a small village in the Judean hill country where the Blessed Virgin Mary makes a visit to her cousin Elizabeth who, in her old age is pregnant with John Baptist.

Yes, today the liturgical clock runs backwards. The little season of Advent tends to do just that. We began four weeks ago, you may recall with Jesus as Messiah prophesying about the end of time and our need to be prepared for the judgment of God that will accompany it.

Then, for the past two weeks, we have been introduced to John Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. First, the man, echoing Isaiah’s prophetic call to make straight a pathway for God and then his message of repentance as a means of doing so.

Today the focus is on Mary, the one chosen by God to be the mother of his Son, Jesus, and Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of her blessedness. What if Mary had said no to God? Would God have simply chosen another? He didn’t have to.  God knew when he chose this young Jewish maiden that she would say “yes.”

Outwardly, there was nothing to commend her to God. As any of us would be, she was afraid when the angel suddenly appeared to her and announced that she would bear the Christ child. She did not hide her inability to understand how it could be. However, once the angel explained to her that the Holy Spirit of God would overshadow her, she willingly gave her consent.

Mary was not divine but purely human even though what was to happen to her was nothing less than a divine action. She humbled herself before the angel who addressed her as blessed in her response to the his announcement. And again, as she received veneration from her cousin Elizabeth, who like Gabriel, called her blessed in acknowledging her as the mother of her Lord.

Mary’s humility is evident in her song. It describes how she feels about herself and about God who has chosen her to be the vessel of His grace.  Her response is called the Magnificat from the first word of the song in Latin.

It is one of the oldest hymns in the church. It is one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It has been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small remote churches by evening candlelight, and set to music with trumpets and kettledrums by Johann Sebastian Bach.

It is the gospel before the gospel, a song of triumph 30 weeks before Bethlehem, 30 years before Calvary and Easter. And it is all because of Jesus who has only just been conceived, not yet born, but who has made Elizabeth’s baby leap for joy in her womb and has caused Mary to sing with excitement, hope and triumph.

It is a song that comes from the heart of Mary. Her response reveals why God knew when he chose her she would say “yes.” In it, Mary ascribes the miracle of the incarnation to God, and not to herself, showing both deep humility and the knowledge that God is the source of all grace.

Almost every word is a biblical quotation such as Mary would have known from childhood. Much of it echoes the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, the song which celebrated the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him. Now these two mothers-to-be celebrate together what God is going to do through their sons John and Jesus.

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is a wonderful human portrait of the older woman, pregnant at last after hope was gone, and the younger one, pregnant far sooner than she had expected. Their meeting causes the babe in Elizabeth’s womb to leap with joy at the voice of Mary. Elizabeth’s reaction to that is to acknowledge Mary’s blessedness because she will be the mother of her Lord.

Underneath all of it is a celebration of God. God has taken the initiative. God is the ultimate reason to celebrate. Through the Incarnation, God reigns over all. Mary, then, holds a special place in the life of the Church.

She is not worshipped, as some might protest, rather, she is venerated because of her role in the divine drama and of her willingness to participate in it. She believed what God told her would come true as announced through the mouth of his angelic messenger. Her visit to Elizabeth confirms it.

In her “Yes” to God, Mary remains an example of faithfulness, trust, and acceptance to all who call themselves Christians.

What Mary has done is similar to what the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself has done. He has come into the world to do God’s will. The true prayer offered by Christians is the constant striving to respond to God’s will. Mary’s offering of self to the will of God is what makes her blessed. It is what a human being is supposed to be.

Just as Mary’s visit fills Elizabeth to the brim with joy, so the Lord’s own encounter with us does the same thing. Why? Because Jesus is our way of doing God’s will by self-sacrificing love. This is the way we say “yes” to God.

It is that offering of self-sacrificing love that we celebrate in every Holy Eucharist. Our joy is only as real, however, as we make our self-offering to God in our daily living, for that is our response to the will of God for us to be blessed, to be true human beings.

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is a constant reminder that the Lord has come to meet us. That is what we celebrate in this season of Advent, and what we look forward to celebrating with special joy in the up coming feasts of Christmas and Epiphany. So that when He comes, He may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. AMEN+

Monday, December 17, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from December 16, 2018

News for you!
...Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays at 10 am December 23 and our Christmas Eve service at 5pm. Archdeacon Bette Kauffman will be assisting Father Riley for the Christmas Eve service!  Please join us and invite others.

…Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday at 10am Dec 30 and Jan 6.  Father Riley will return to lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays Jan 13, 20; 27th.  Our annual congregational meeting will follow our service on Jan 20th.  

ADVENT III - C - 18                                  LUKE 3. 7-18

I remember a cartoon I once saw that showed a skeptic shouting up to heaven, ‘God! If you are up there, tell us what we should do!’ Back comes a voice: “Feed the hungry, house the homeless, establish justice.’ The skeptic looking alarmed responded, ‘Just testing.’ ‘Me too,’ replied the voice.

Last week John Baptist was introduced to us as the forerunner of Christ. In my homily, I remarked that his mission was to herald the coming of the Messiah, to make the people ready to receive him by straightening out the crookedness in their lives.

By setting the ethical requirements for one’s entrance into the kingdom of God, John in essence turned the self-satisfaction and self-righteousness of the people and the religious leaders of his day upside down in his call for repentance preceded by a confession.

His warning in today’s passage concerning the bearing of fruit worthy of repentance caused some of the people to ask what they should do. In response, John gives them concrete examples. If you have two coats share one with those who have none and likewise food.

To the tax collectors he said stop defrauding the people. Collect only what is required. Moreover, to the soldiers who asked John what they should do, he told them to be content with their wages and stop extorting from the people. To some, John sounded more like the Messiah than a prophet and they were not bashful in letting their feelings be known.

John was quick, however, to squelch such ideas. I baptize with water, he said, but One who is more powerful than I is coming. He will baptize with fire and separate the wheat from the chaff thus dispensing the judgment of God. “So, with many other exhortations,” Luke tells us, “he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

Well, we might say, I am certain some of the people heard what John said as “good news, “while many others did not and dismissed him and his message altogether and went about their business as usual. This picture of Jesus, with winnowing fork in his hand as the one who brings God’s justice to the world is not the picture that many Western Christians want. A baby in a manger is more to our liking.

However, to ignore it is to step outside of the biblical witness. It is one aspect of the truth we have to take seriously. When Jesus comes again in glory, he will come to judge the living and the dead as we proclaim each time we repeat the words of the Nicene Creed. Judgment is coming. This is often the furthest thoughts from our minds this time of year. Judgment, however, is evident in Advent.

The response of John is simple and clear and if his commands were obeyed, they would demonstrate that the people meant business. None of these things happens by chance. They only occur when people have genuinely repented of the small-scale injustices that turn a society sour. And then are intentional about changing their lives and the life of the world around them.

Our world today and our own society need to heed the prophet’s message. We don’t have to look vary far to find greed and corruption in politics and business. Nor do we need to look vary far to find hate and division among our own neighborhoods. Selfishness abounds as demonstrated by the whole “me” movement without any regard to another human being’s feelings, opinions, or needs.

As a student of history I do not see that very much has changed in this regard from the time of Christ and before to the present. Human nature being what it is, fallen, and unnatural, things will only get worse before they get better. This is not to say that there is no good in the world, or that are not any good people out there - there are, and there is.

Unfortunately, the bad and the ugly get all of the press. Moreover, with social media being so widespread, bad news travels much faster than it ever has. Sadly, our society today cannot seem to get enough of it. I wonder if it were any different in the time of Jesus.

Perhaps as Christians we need more than ever to take to heart Paul’s words of encouragement to the church at Philippi rather than focusing on all of the bad that is constantly being held up to us. That is, we need to rejoice in the fact that the Lord is near, nearer than when we first believed, and stop worrying about everything, especially that which we have no control over.

Instead in “everything by prayer and thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.”  Maybe that is what we should do. Maybe God is testing us to see if we will. What we are looking for, of course, is a sense of peace in the midst of a world filled with commercial and cultural turmoil.

That peace is to be found in our celebration of the birth of the Christ child and in our patient waiting and watching for the Day when He shall appear again to judge the earth. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and minds to receive with joy the coming of the Holy One not just the babe in the manger but the Son of the Living God in all of His glory.

We cannot ignore the fact that we live between these two Advents. None of us knows how many more Advent seasons we have been given by God to prepare for the final one. Let us not focus on the bad and the ugly, the darkness that surrounds us and often threatens to permeate our own lives.

Rather let us cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, looking with anticipation, and expectation for the coming Day of the Lord. Let us make ourselves ready for his appearing by following the exhortations of John: confessing our sins, repenting of our evil, and sharing what we have with those in need.

For the peace, we seek in to be found in Christ alone; a peace, Paul writes that surpasses all understanding; a peace that will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus and will keep us in His love until the Day of His appearing. Even so, come Lord Jesus, come. AMEN+

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from December 9, 2018

ADVENT II - C - 18                    LUKE 3. 1-6

I have always loved the season of Advent first because it is short and to the point. In addition, there are all of the sights and sounds that go with it. The liturgical color changes to a penitential one. The hymns are all anticipatory. There is greenery and additional candles. Manger scenes appear empty at first but as the weeks go by are filled with animals, then shepherds and eventually the Holy Family.

Advent is a season that is charged with anticipation but is also a season of waiting and watching. One might say that God’s people, Israel, were a people who were watching and waiting for the Day when God would send the Promised One to rescue his people from their state of oppression and restore Israel as a nation.

This Hope had been passed down for generations through the telling of Israel’s history, one that included God’s promise delivered through the mouth of his holy prophets. However, there had been no prophets for hundreds of years.

While Jesus dwelt unknown in Nazareth there appeared suddenly like a new Elijah, John Baptist. The Jews expected the reappearance of Elijah as the herald of the messiah and John sees himself in that role. St. Luke sets the time and place of John’s appearance for us as being in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 28-29).

In addition, he goes on to give us a list of who is who in terms of the political and religious leaders of the day as well. Behind the list of names and places is a story of oppression and misery. The important event of the time, however, is the coming of “the word of God” to John the Baptist, the son of the old priest, Zachariah.

The church puts John within the tradition of Israel’s prophets upon whom, like Jeremiah, “the word of the Lord came.” Moreover, Luke tells us that he preached to all the region about the Jordan following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets, echoing Isaiah.

His message has two main features: a call to repentance and the demand for baptism. Needless to say, his message raised eyebrows and grabbed the attention of the authorities both religious and political. John’s message was to proclaim the immediate coming of the Kingdom of God, conceived on the old lines of the prophets; to herald the Christ, and to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Therefore, he sets himself to destroy the self-satisfaction both of the people and of the religious leaders. What is wanted is righteousness of the sort demanded by the Old Testament prophets. A new Israel must be fashioned such as God can accept and use.

The call to repentance was traditional for prophets. The ceremony of admission to the new Israel John found in baptism preceded by confession. John’s baptism did not grant remission of sins once and for all, but prefigured and prepared the people for the baptism of Christ, which was to come (which would remit sin). In this John emphasized the ethical requirements as a condition of entrance into the Kingdom of God as the forerunner of Christ.

Down through ages the message proclaimed in this short season is unchanged: repent, change your ways, and make straight your paths, for the King of Glory is coming. This message urges us to be enthusiastic in our preparation and our anticipation rather than lethargic and unprepared. Remember the parable of the ten bridesmaids.

Sadly, many people today have given up on God, as I am certain that some of God’s people had given up hope that God would act on their behalf prior to John Baptist’s appearance. They were discouraged by their situation and their lethargy had carried over into their practice of religion. They lived their lives day in and day out wondering whether God cared, and if he did, why he wasn’t coming to their rescue.

It is not different for us today as Christians. It is natural for us to become discouraged when we stop and take a close look at the world around us. Endless wars, famine, natural disasters, unspeakable violence characterize our daily life. Homelessness and hunger threaten the lives of thousands in our own country who live and die on our city streets everyday.

It is a reality less recognized and made known than the countless billboards and commercials that blare out a different message, especially this time of the year. Nothing ever seems to change in that regard. We might find ourselves, then, looking at John Baptist as merely an historical oddity today, as one whose message was applicable only to Jesus’ first coming.

The “way” might appear to be so scrambled to us that there is no way in which we might conceivably make a pathway straight for God in the world in which we live today. The opposition to the very idea of God, to the displaying of manger scenes, and even to the use of the greeting of Merry Christmas seems to be growing in every corner of our society.

That in itself is a cause of discouragement and lethargy that turns many away from the joy and anticipation of our celebration of the coming of the Christ child. Let us not forget, however, God is the ultimate source of our confidence and rejoicing. For a thousand generations God has proved worthy of our trust.

The marvels recounted over and over again in scripture in those centuries before the incarnation have been outdone repeatedly in our own day. Even though we might seem to be working against much greater odds than our ancestors did, God has never failed to provide us with sources of strength and models of courage.

However, there is a warning in John’s message and must be taken to heart by all the baptized today. The Advent season is a time to prepare, to make room in our hearts and minds and in our everyday lives for the Christ child, by making straight the crookedness in our own lives.

We cannot presume that because we have shared in the great Christian mystery, the new Exodus, coming through the waters of Holy Baptism with all that means, God will automatically be pleased with us. Christian living is far more than repentance, but it is not less.

All spiritual advances begin with a turning away from what is hindering our obedience, our love, and our trust in God. Advent is a time for us to heed the prophet’s warning and forsake our sins, as today’s collect so aptly reminds us, that we may without shame or fear rejoice at His appearing. AMEN+