Monday, December 19, 2016

Father Riley's homily for December 18, 2016

ADVENT IV - A - 16                MATTHEW 1. 18-25
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph…” Thus Matthew introduces us to blessed Joseph, the foster father of Our Lord.
Joseph takes a backseat to most Christmas traditions. Luke’s popular version of the birth of Christ has Joseph in a supporting role. But for Matthew, writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, Joseph is a key player because of his linage from David.
According to Luke, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young Mary and announced she would become the mother of God’s son. Mary accepted her role in God’s divine plan and casting aside her fear sang her response to God in the church’s earliest hymn, the Magnificat.
In contrast, Joseph’s role was announced to him by an unnamed messenger of God while sleeping. But before the angel appeared to him in a dream Joseph found himself in a dilemma. He was engaged to Mary, but suddenly she was pregnant.
Mary told Joseph how the angel had appeared to her and announced that God had chosen her to be the mother of his son and that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. It wasn’t that Joseph didn’t believe her, but would anyone else?
Joseph wrestled with what to do. Should he accept Mary’s explanation and go forward with the marriage, or should he spare her public ridicule, possibly even stoning, and divorce her quietly? Betrothal in Palestine was a binding agreement as much so as marriage and required a divorce if it were to be annulled.
Matthew says Joseph was a righteous man; meaning he would do the right thing by Mary even if it meant disregarding his own reputation and standing in the community. It was a tough call for him to make. He was committed to Mary, but this was an unusual circumstance.
People would understand if he chose to divorce her. His reputation and standing in the community would remain in tact. But what about Mary? What would become of her? What would the people think of her pregnant and unmarried?
He was leaning towards dismissing her by breaking the engagement. But decided to sleep on it as we say.  While he slept God’s messenger spoke to him “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
When he awoke he knew what he was to do. He understood who the child was and what he would become and what he would mean to the world. Joseph accepted his role as both protector and provider for Jesus and Mary his mother with steadfast devotion. He would do his best by both of them.
Joseph would be the one to teach Jesus how to be a man, to work with his hands. As Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph would be the one who would teach him the Jewish religion and take him to synagogue and Temple, and teach him to pray. He would set the example for Jesus to follow, in terms of manhood, like any good father would do.
The name God had given this child literally meant “he shall save.” In Hebrew, Jesus was the same as Joshua who brought the Israelites into the promised land after the death of Moses. Matthew sees Jesus as the one who will rescue his people, not from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin.
There had been no tradition of a Messiah who would save from sin. This Jesus, however, would be different. What is unfolding in Jesus is God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. But blessed Joseph would not live to see it fulfilled.
By contrast, the name “Emmanuel,’ (God with us), mentioned in Isaiah was an explicit claim that in Jesus prophecy is being fulfilled, for this name was given to no one else. Matthew’s whole gospel is founded on its meaning ‘God with us.’ At the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promises that he will “be with us” to the close of the age (28.20).
Faith teaches us that God is with us, oftentimes in the most unexpected ways. God’s actions, however, are always aimed at rescuing people from a helpless plight. God takes the initiative and does things that people regard as inconceivable, like the Virgin Birth.
As we patiently await the lighting of the Christ candle and the filling of the crèche we honor Joseph’s obedience in accepting his role in the Holy Family. Many a manger scene and live nativity, have Joseph standing passively in the background. But he didn’t remain passive. He took his role in God’s divine plan to heart.
He sang no beautiful hymn in response to God’s call, as did Mary, he simply did as God directed him. He took Mary to be his wife and became the foster father of Our Lord. He overcame his fear of what people might think and protected the virtue of his bride to be. As Matthew said, he was a righteous man.
What of us? God has called each of us to be part of His divine plan; a plan that continues to unfold. We are here as members of God’s family, the Church, the Bride of Christ, in anticipation and preparation of Christ’ coming again. Having been marked as Christ’s own forever in baptism, our role has been defined for us; to declare and manifest Christ’s Incarnation by the way we live our lives in obedience to God’s call to us.
May the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ grant us the grace to follow the good example of his servant, blessed Joseph, both in his obedience and his devotion to fulfilling God’s role for him.  And if, by his example we are so moved to sing in response to God’s call to us in this present Advent season, let it be a verse from the ancient hymn we traditionally use to open our period of waiting:
“O come thou dayspring from on high and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel.” (Vs 6, Hymn #56) AMEN+



Monday, December 12, 2016

Father Riley's homily from December 11, 2016

ADVENT III - A - 16      MATTHEW 11. 2-11

“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” so writes St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, known as James the Just. The people James is addressing are experiencing various trials: persecution, deception, economic injustice and poverty, apostasy and personal fragmentations in the Church. James uses his authority as Bishop to rekindle true living faith and encourage repentance, patience and self-control.
Advent is a season of patient waiting - a holy waiting for the coming of the Lord. The gospel for the first Sunday set the tone. You may recall it had to do with bridesmaids waiting for the return of the groom, not knowing when he would return. Last week John Baptist appeared on the scene looking and sounding like a prophet with a message God’s people had long been waiting to hear.
In today’s gospel Jesus appears to have ended the period of waiting for those who were looking for the promised one of God; the one who would usher in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing and saying things that are so wonderful John has to ask, “Are you the one or do we wait for another?”
The miracles Jesus is performing are in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Messiah, especially those of Isaiah. If the people were excited about John’s preaching and baptizing down at the Jordan, they are totally amazed at what Jesus is doing and saying. But were they truly prepared for the demands of the kingdom that came with it?
Even John seems hesitant to accept Jesus as the One God has sent to judge the world and to baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. John is looking at Jesus with a gaze that is both critical and perplexed. The career of Jesus thus far had in no way suggested fulfillment of John’s expectations. And John was not alone.
Jesus had yet to make a public claim to Messiah ship. Rather, he lets his works speak for themselves. “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Isaiah predicted that these signs would accompany the coming of Messiah. Jesus performs these miracles in the presence of John’s disciples so that they could see with their own eyes works that only Messiah could do.
Neither John, nor his disciples, nor the crowd which surrounded Jesus was prepared for what they saw and heard. For some their expectations were more than fulfilled and they celebrated that their period of waiting was over. God had made good on his promise in Jesus of Nazareth. For others, the jury was still out. Jesus had yet to prove himself as being the one God had sent, at least as far as the religious leader’s expectations were concerned.
If Advent is a season of waiting it is also one of preparation. In it we look both forwards and backwards. Backwards to the celebration of the Christ’s child’s birth, and forward to Christ’s coming again in great majesty. Our focus should be in preparing for both. How do we prepare in a world that does not recognize Advent but only wants to surge ahead to Christmas?
How do we prepare in a world that does not like to wait? The Church’ season of Advent reminds us that we are a people in waiting. The Advent wreath is a visual calendar. Each week as we light a candle we come closer, but not yet. Likewise the color violet reminds us that the “joy” of the Christ-child’s birth is not yet ours to celebrate. As we pass by the crèche on our way to the altar we see that it remains empty.
The readings heard during this short season remind us, as does James, to “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” But we all know that we are for the most part an impatient people. We don’t like to wait. The best many of us can do is to prepare for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even then we are in a hurry to get it over with and move on with our lives.
How many Advents do we have to go through until Christ comes again? But is the answer to that question really what we should be focusing on? Should it not rather be our preparing for that day? The people of Israel waited for centuries. Their anticipation of the day of the Lord’s appearing waned with each passing century. The age of the prophets came and went and still no Messiah.
Like the ten virgins in the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent who failed to be prepared for a long wait; God’s people were not prepared for such a wait. John Baptist’s message to repent in preparation for the coming of the Christ took them by surprise.
And when Jesus began his ministry by fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, the people failed to receive him with joy. Instead some hesitated, as John did. Others rejected him altogether because he did not meet their expectation as the One God would send as Savior and Redeemer of the world.
What about us? Have we fully accepted Jesus as the One God has sent to redeem mankind? Are we hesitant to receive him as our Lord and King? More importantly are we prepared for the day of His coming?
How many more Advents do we have to endure? How much longer do we have to wait? It all sounds so very childish doesn’t it, like impatient children in the back seat on a long journey who ask over and over again “are we there yet?”
Could it be that we seek answers because we fear tomorrow. Because we fear the open and uncontrolled future. We look for signs to predict it, because we are not fully prepared. If not, why not?
The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and ask God for the grace to persevere in the life of faith as we prepare once again to celebrate the Christ-child’s birth and to receive him in the manger of our hearts.
And at the same time with the gift of patient waiting prepare ourselves for the day when He shall come again in great power and glory to judge, so that without shame or fear we may rejoice at His appearing. AMEN+


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Forward Day by Day for Tuesday December 6, 2016

  1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
Once when I was in college, I visited a Baptist church. The time came to pass the peace—exchanging handshakes with fellow worshipers. I turned to the man next to me and said, “I’m sorry I don’t know your name—I’m not a member of this church.” His reply astounded me: “Today you came here. Today you are a member of this church!"
Since then, I have never visited a new church feeling like a complete stranger. I like to think that this is the way Paul imagines church—not as a private club but rather as a community center—a place where all rejoice, pray, and invite the Spirit, a place where everyone has membership.
Do you feel welcome when you go to church? If not, have you tried being the one who welcomes others?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Father Riley's sermon for December 4, 2016

ADVENT II - A - 16                                                               MATTHEW 3. 1-12


“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” thus Isaiah predicts the coming of Messiah some 700 years before the birth of Christ.
Israel longed for the day when God’s anointed one would appear. But the One whom God sent to be the Savior and Redeemer was not just for the benefit of Israel, as St. Paul points out, “the root of Jesse shall be the Gentiles hope,” making the Lord’s anointed a universal Savior.
Between the infancy of Jesus and his entry into Israel’s history as the last redeemer is an interval of 30 years spent in the obscurity of a Galilean village. While Jesus dwelt unknown in Nazareth, there appeared suddenly like a new Elijah John Baptist. The Jewish expectation was that Elijah would herald the coming of Messiah.
For some, John Baptist was Elijah, and he fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ His means of preparing the people to meet the promised one was by preaching repentance and baptizing those who confessed their sins.
Who was this John Baptist and where did he come from? He was the son of the priest Zachariah. The same Zachariah Luke tells us was informed by the angel Gabriel while serving in the Temple that he would have a son in his old age. The news came as a shock to the old priest, so much so, that he hesitated to believe the news. For his unbelief he was struck dumb and unable to speak until John was born.
Elizabeth was John’s mother. She was a cousin to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary visited Elizabeth near the time of John’s birth and Luke reports that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at Mary’s presence for she was carrying the Christ child.
We hear nothing of John as a child and nothing as an adult until he appears in the wilderness proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
By the manner of his dress, as Matthew describes him, it possible that John could have been a member of the Jewish sect such as the Essenes. They were a community of ascetics who lived an austere life in the wilderness and whose sole purpose was to prepare for the coming of the kingdom of God.
There had been no prophets in Israel for over 400 years. Thus John’s unannounced and unexpected appearance drew large crowds from the surrounding area. People were curious. They wanted to know who he was and what he was up to. John’s dress was typical of a prophet and he sounded like a prophet.
Many of those who came down to see and hear him responded to his message. His message was simple “repent.” To repent means literally to do an about face; to turn around. It implies a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart. At the Jordan, it was accompanied by the confession of sin and the act of baptism, and was intended to be followed by a life filled with fruits worthy of the change.
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he knew they had come for the wrong reason. They were insincere. There was no true repentance on their part because of their self-righteousness and their pride blocked any chance of a change of heart.
The only thing that would make John change his mind about them would be if they really behaved differently. Going through the motion of baptism was not enough. Real repentance meant a complete and lasting change of heart and life. John even attacked their confidence in their ancestry implying that the kingdom of God was open to all.
The Advent season, although short in days, holds lessons for eternity. Like John’s warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees who placed their confidence in the fact that they were God’s chosen people, we cannot rely simply on the fact that we are Christians.
Our baptisms have marked us as belonging to Christ forever. Therefore we are held to a higher standard than those who are not. Our life in Christ should be one that bears fruits worthy of repentance; a life lived consistent with the kingdom of God.
As Christians we need to hear John’s words as if we were hearing them for the first time. If a fruitful life does not follow our baptisms, no number of sacramental acts and or spiritual discipline will be of use.
We live between Advents. Each new day is a time to prepare for the day when He shall come again in power and great glory to judge.
John did his part. He prepared the way, not knowing what it would actually look like when God’s kingdom arrived. Likewise, we are to do our part in anticipation of that day when the fullness of God’s kingdom will be ushered in. We do this by witnessing to our faith in Him who died and rose again in ways that demonstrate that His life, death, and resurrection have indeed changed our hearts, the way we think, and the way we act.
Admittedly Advent can be a time when we are tempted to jump to the end. Christmas is so wonderful with all the lights, spirit and food. Its all too good to pass up. These four weeks of Advent, however, anchor us in the “now” while we look forward. Our focus is not only on the coming of Christ into our lives, but on us and how prepared we are for His arrival.
Where do we find ourselves on the road to fruitfulness? Where do we begin? As always, we begin at the beginning - where we are. That’s where God finds us.  We look at our relationship with Christ and see it as it actually is, and then we commit ourselves to transforming it so that it is consistent with the kingdom of God.
Advent is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on our Christian pilgrimage, our personal walk to Bethlehem, but more than that; to reflect on a lifetime journey from the crèche to the cross to an unfading crown so that when Christ comes again, He will find in us a mansion prepared for himself. AMEN+




Friday, December 2, 2016

Services in December 2016 at Christ Episcopal

Father Riley will lead Sunday services this month on Dec 4, 11 and 18 at 10am as usual.  He will also serve as Celebrant at our 5pm Christmas Eve service.  There will be no Christmas morning service Sunday Dec 25 at Christ Episcopal.