Tonight’s gospel from St.
Luke is such a familiar story. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be
enrolled for the purpose of taxes! Mary is with child. Perhaps the rigors of
the journey from Nazareth to the city of David ended her pregnancy.
It seems they arrived later
than many others did for there were no rooms available. In such a small town as
Bethlehem, the rooms would have been few and far between. Those who did not
have to travel as far got there first and were fortunate enough to find proper
Surely, there were others
families there with infants and small children. Perhaps other babies were born
that same night. However, this child of Mary was different. No other child in
the little town of Bethlehem on that silent night was introduced to the world
by an angel of the Lord.
It is a story we could all
repeat in detail. The question is do we? Luke tells us that the shepherds to
whom the angel announced the good news of great joy did just that. “…they made
known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were
Isn’t that what we do when we
have received good news? We can’t wait to go and tell it. This is the Church’s
mission and has been for over 2000 years - to go and tell the familiar story -
that the Word became flesh on a starry night in the little town of Bethlehem
and has dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
So why is the world we live
in today in such a state of spiritual disrepair? What happened to the good news
of great joy for all people? Did the world simply stop believing?
Or did the Church stop
telling the story in a convincing manner of the night when the grace of God and
the hope of salvation came into the world wrapped in bands of cloth and lying
in a common manger because there was no room for him anywhere else?
I have been fortunate over my
lifetime to travel much of the world. In recent years, I have visited countries
that were once predominately Christian, countries for example, that one reads
about in the Acts of the Apostles. These were converted by the efforts of St.
Peter and Paul who eventually gave their lives for their efforts.
They thrived for many
centuries sustained by the faith of those who followed in the apostle’s
footsteps. The fruit of their witness produced more than one saint. Today those
countries have been lost to the gospel and to the Church. It is as if the good
news was never heard in those lands.
Sadly, I have seen Churches
that were built to the Glory of God and are now in a state of disrepair. Some
are even being used as warehouses. Others have been converted into mosques. All
vestiges of the Christian faith have been removed. Medieval frescoes that once
adorned their ceilings and walls have been painted over.
The few faithful who remain
in these once predominately Christian countries have all but gone underground.
They are no longer free to share in detail the good news of the Savior’s birth
or any other aspect of their faith for fear of persecution. It is as if the
hand of time has been turned back a thousand years or more. Like Mary, in our
Christmas story, they still “treasure the words and ponder them in their
What of us who are free to
express our faith, free to share the familiar story, and are here tonight to
hear it told once again? Do we “treasure the words and ponder them in our
hearts” keeping it all to ourselves? Or do we take up the role of the shepherds
who were surprised by the announcement of the angel and go and tell all we come
in contact with the “good news” that the Savior has been born?
That is how the shepherds
responded. They even did the unthinkable when the good news was announced. They
abandoned watching over their flocks and went to see for themselves if what the
angel had told them was true. They stood in awe at the crèche’ where the
Christ-child lay and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said concerning
Leaving the manger, they did
not hesitate to make known what had been told them about the child they had
just seen and all who heard it were amazed, and people still are. Why, then,
would not the whole world readily receive Him?
The answer is simply because
not everyone is looking for a savior. Not everyone sees the need of a redeemer.
Not everyone is willing to humble themselves and become obedient to a King. The
Church has yet much work to do in sharing the “good news,” and rekindling the
hope and joy His coming into the world brings.
The Christmas story is so
familiar that we often miss the import of the shepherd’s role. Of course, the
focus is on the Christ-child as it should be. He is at the center of the scene.
It is His birth we celebrate tonight. He came that we might believe in Him and
so believing inherit new life.
He has given the Church the mission of the
shepherds who were the first to tell of the saving grace and Love of God in the
Word made flesh. The Apostles picked up their mantle and their mission. As the
Church, you and I have inherited it.
Such a familiar story, yet with such a
powerful announcement that has and continues to impact the life of the world.
Does it still amaze us? Still surprise us that God so loved the world that He
humbled his divinity to share in our humanity that we might one day come to
share in his glory?
The shepherd’s role is ours
to take up in joyful response to our belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior and
Redeemer of the world. For there are yet parts of the world today that have
never heard the story as well as those parts that have forgotten all about it
and the meaning behind it. Sadly there are still others that have heard it but
do not yet believe it.
All the more reason for us
who do believe to leave the manger tonight with the same joy in our hearts as
those shepherds did on that first Christmas Eve, willing to tell the story of the
Savior’s Birth to all, as if we have just heard it for the first time, so that
the message of this familiar story shall never be lost.
“Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely,
love divine; love was born at Christmas: star and angels gave the sign.” (Hymn
#84, v1) “O Come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord.” Amen+
For weeks now, we have been
receiving Christmas greetings, via cards, and the playing of Christmas music
and carols through loud speakers as we shop for that last minute gift or
listening to them on our car radios as we drive around looking for a parking
space at the mall.
The many wishes of a Merry
Christmas are in themselves an announcement that the day is drawing near when
we will celebrate once again the birth of the Savior of the world. Advent is a
season of patiently waiting. This morning we light the fourth candle on our
Advent wreath in anticipation of our journey to Bethlehem coming to an end, but
not quite yet.
There is one more
announcement to be made; a birth announcement that comes in today’s gospel. It
is a divine announcement delivered by a messenger of God to a young maiden in
the village of Nazareth. Her name is Mary. Today the Virgin Mary is our focus.
Mary we are told, has found
favor with God, but we are not told how or why. Could it possibly be that God
knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of His Son? I have always
envisioned the scene of the annunciation as being a routine day for Mary. It
started out like any other day.
I can see Mary sweeping and
cleaning the house or perhaps involved in preparing a meal. Her day was like
any other day until she was not only suddenly surprised by the appearance of an
angel, but of his greeting! “Greetings favored one.” What did he mean that she
was favored by God and that God was with her?
When the angel announced that
she had been, she reacted as any of us would. She did not ask to be chosen. It
was only natural that she be somewhat perplexed and not a little afraid. I have
often wondered was her fear do to the angels’ sudden appearance or was it the
message he brought?Perhaps it was both.
She listened, as the angel
Gabriel not only told her the name of the child she was to bear, more
importantly who the child was and what he would become.His name will be Jesus, Gabriel told
her.He will be great, and will be
called the son of the Most High. He will be a king and his reign will be
forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.
What could it possibly mean
for her to be the mother of God’s Son? What could it possibly mean for the life
of the world?
Months later, she would find
herself delivering her first-born son in a common manger in the little town of
Bethlehem. Some might say a strange place for a “king’s” birth. Once again,
unannounced visitors would surprise her. This time it would be a contingent of
local shepherds who would uncharacteristically abandon their flocks on the
nearby hillside and hurry to the manger to see what the angel had told them was
Mary will watch as they kneel
in humble obedience before her child, as if they are in the presence of a king.
They will tell her and her husband Joseph what the angel told them concerning
the child, that he would be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
Once again, Mary will listen
and hold their words in her heart uncertain of what it all would one day mean. At
that moment, she would be unable to contemplate the day when she would kneel at
the cross and watch her son die a cruel death. That day would come, but for
now, she could only ask how what the angel is announcing could be happening to
Unlike the old, priest
Zachariah, John Baptist’s father, whom Gabriel had announced earlier that he
would have a son in his old age and then in his unbelief asked for a sign, Mary
simply asks for an explanation.
How can this be since I am
still a virgin? The angel gives what looks like a double explanation: the Holy
Spirit will come upon Mary, enabling her to do and be more than she could by
herself. The power of the Most High will overshadow her.
Mary was given special grace
to become the mother of God’s incarnate Self. She is the extreme example of
what always happens when God is at work by grace through human beings. God’s
power from outside, and the indwelling Spirit within, together result in things
done which would have been unthinkable any other way. For with God all things
We read the stories in scripture where God
appears to individuals and delivers His will for them. Other times He sends a
messenger to speak for him, like the prophets of old, or in Mary’s case, an
angel. When we read them, we say to ourselves “God has never spoken to me. I
have never seen an angel.” But can we be so sure?
I can only speak for myself
and confess that there have been moments in the past when I have been certain
that it was God who was speaking. Oh, not directly, like “hello Gregg, this is
God.” But moments and occasions when He sent a messenger who spoke for him and
delivered the word I was listening for or pointed me in the direction I needed
Sometimes it was an answer to
a prayer. Other times it was a solution to a problem I had been struggling to
solve. Always these “announcements” came as a surprise, and I might add were
not always delivered by individuals I was acquainted with. Some were total
Think about it. How many
times has God “announced” his will for you? Did you listen? Did you question?
Did you give Him your “yes?” Did you, like Mary, simply ask how or were you
more akin to the old priest Zachariah and ask for a sign so that you could know
for sure that it was indeed God speaking? Faith allows us to ask “how?” Our
unbelief always seeks a “sign.”
The only legitimate attitude
of man to God is represented in Mary‘s; “let it be with me according to your
word.” As always, the divine purpose of God for each of us waits for our “yes”
and our cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit so that we too might be filled with
God’s grace and enabled to do and be more than we possibly could by our self.
It is the Virgin Mary’s “yes”
to God, her humble obedience that has rung down through the centuries as a
model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocation. Her “yes” answers the
question why God chose her to be the mother of His Son, the Savior and Redeemer
of the world.
It is Mary we focus on today
as we draw near the crèche. It is her example of humble obedience we seek to
follow by giving our “yes” to God. AMEN+
Since Christmas Eve is
also the 4th Sunday in Advent, we will have two services this
Sunday.We will have Holy Eucharist at
10am for our 4th Sunday in Advent service and we will have Holy
Eucharist at 5pm for our Christmas Eve Service.Of course, everyone is welcome to join us at both services.
“There was a man sent from God,
whose name was John.”
week we were introduced to John Baptist at the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel.
Today we have St. John’s introduction of the Baptist. St. Mark emphasized John’s
preaching of repentance and his appearance like one of the prophets of old. St.
John emphasizes the Baptist’s witness and his confession.
was given a divine role to witness to the “light,” one of the author’s favorite
references to Jesus as the light of the world. In today’s reading, John’s
identity is questioned by a group of priests and Levites who have been sent by
the Pharisees to check him out. They want to know who he is.
confesses that he is not the one they suppose him to be. He is asked the
question of his identity within the specific context of the messianic
expectations of the religious leaders of his day. John confounds them by his
denying any of the titles they try to hang on him. I am not the messiah, he
says. I am not Elijah. I am not another prophet.
he quotes the prophet Isaiah when he says, “I am only a voice…” Stifled by John’s
response to their question of his identity, his inquisitors now move to their
next question, why he is baptizing.
purity was a significant category of ancient sacrificial Judaism. A person or a
thing had to be ritually pure before they could enter the Temple, that is, to
approach the divine. The primary mode of removing impurity was “mikvah” full
immersion in a body of living water.
earlier ages, only priests tried to remain in a state of ritual purity since
they went daily to the Temple. The common Jew who went about his daily business
found it impossible to remain ritually pure because of the people and the
things he came in contact with during the course of the day. Thus, he purified
himself only when he visited the Temple.
Temple complex was surrounded by mikvah baths so that the Jews could purify
themselves on the way to the Temple mount. Archeologists have just begun to
uncover them at the foot of the Temple steps. I was privy to view their work on
my first trip to Jerusalem and was amazed at the number of them.
the first century, ritual purity became a major aspect of Jewish piety. Some
Jews began to see a higher spiritual significance to ritual purity. It represented
a state of nearness to God. Since sin generates distance from God and atonement
generates nearness, just like impurity and purity, there was by analogy an
aspect of penitence in the act of ritual purification.
correspondence between ritual purity and atonement was made explicit in the
career of John Baptist. John was not a Christian but a Jew. His immersions in
the Jordan River were not baptisms into faith in Christ, but Jewish ritual
immersions. John gave ritual immersions heightened spiritual significance. It
was his way of preparing the people to approach the divine - Jesus, the Son of
was the first witness to and believer in Jesus as the promised one. He was a
light that testified to the true light. Being sent from God, he spoke for God.
But who and what was John apart from Jesus?
quoting Isaiah, the Baptist gives an answer that comes from the spiritual
tradition of his questioners. As “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”,
the Baptist defines himself as deriving meaning through his relationship with
John was doing and saying down at the Jordan was not about him. It was about
the one who was coming after him. His task was to prepare the way, and then get
out of the way.
about us? Who are we in the eyes of the world? Better yet, who are we in the
eyes of God? Who and what are we apart from Jesus?
Christians, we live within the context of our relationship with the Lord, Jesus
Christ. John knew who he was and who he was not. John refused all of the titles
the priests and Levites tried to lay on him. He knew what God had sent him to
do and he remained true to his purpose. “I am only a voice…”
is his humility, and his true greatness. He was a signpost that pointed away
from him and to the one who was to come after him. Such as, it should be with
us as followers of Christ. Our witness is not to call attention to ourselves
but to Him, who is the light of the world.
recognizes our unique abilities that enable us to share the good news. Our
role, like that of the Baptist, is to be a “voice.” Not that we can speak for
God, as John did, but that we can speak about God, especially His Love,
manifested in His Son, Jesus, and His grace given that enables us to do just
that, and to do it with a sense of joy.
St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle to the Church in Thessalonica, we are called
to be open to doing the will of God in joy. In this passage, the will of God is
to “rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.”
thanks leaves us open to the leading of the Spirit. Giving thanks will give us
the ability to discern good from evil. Giving thanks opens our hearts and minds
to the will of God and allows us to let God work in and through us.
thanks in all things prepares us for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus
Christ, both as the child in the manger whose birth we are preparing to
celebrate, and a fullness of the revelation of Christ now and in the age to
come as the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
that when He shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we
may without shame or fear rejoice to behold His appearing. AMEN+
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Christmas Message 2017
In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says,
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old has
passed away, behold, the new is come.
At a point in that passage, St. Paul says, “God was in Christ,
reconciling the world to Himself,” and he also says at another point in the
same passage, “and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.”
Have you ever gone to the movies or read a story or a novel, and
the novel starts with the end, so you know where the story ends, but then the
rest of the story or the novel is actually the story behind the story. We know
about Christmas. We know about Mary. We know about Joseph. We know about the
angels singing Gloria in excelsis deo. We know from our childhood the animals
in the stable. We know of the magi who come from afar, arriving around
Epiphany, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know of the angels
singing in the heavens, and the star that shown above them. Therein is the
But the story behind the story is what St. Paul was talking
about. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and Jesus has now
given us that same ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the world to
himself by becoming one of us. The divine became human. God entered history.
Eternity became part of time. God was reconciling the world to himself by
actually living it himself. In Jesus, God came among us to show us the way, to
be reconciled with the God who has created us all and everything that is. And
God has likewise come in the person of Jesus, to show us how to be reconciled
with each other, as children of the one God who is the Creator of us all.
That’s the story behind Christmas.
God is showing us the Way to become God’s children, and as God’s
children, brothers and sisters of each other. God is showing us in Jesus how to
become God’s family and how to change, and build, and make a world where
everybody is a part of that family. Where children don’t go to bed hungry.
Where no one has to be lonely. Where justice is real for all and where love is
the ultimate law.
Know there is a story behind the story, and it’s a story worth
singing about, and giving thanks for, and then living.
One of my favorite writers, the late Howard Thurman, composed a
poem many years ago about Christmas, and he says it probably better than I:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, Then the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace to others, And alas, to make music in the heart.
The story behind the story is that God so loved the world, and
so loves you, and so loves me.
Have a blessed Christmas, a wonderful New Year, and go out and
make music in the heart of the world.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry Presiding Bishop and Primate The Episcopal Church
beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The opening line
of Mark’s gospel leaves no room for misunderstanding. What the author is about
to reveal is indeed good news. It was the news God’s people had long been
waiting to hear. God was about to act on their behalf.
they were not expecting to hear it from the likes of John Baptist. Who was he?
Where did he come from? What was he saying?
second Sunday of Advent is always about John the Baptist, the man. John played
a crucial role in the history of salvation. God chose him before his birth to
be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. He was a man with a message direct
from God and he delivered it to God’s people like one of the prophets of old.
He even dressed the part.
Luke writes of John’s miraculous conception (LK 1.24). He then records that
when the B.V. Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant
with John, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice (LK
hear nothing more of him until he unexpectedly appears out of the desert and on
the banks of the Jordan River “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins.” Here he carries out the prophetic role assigned to him
some thirty years before.
taught that John fulfilled the prophecy of the return of Elijah (Matt. 11.14),
who was to precede the Messiah, as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare
the way of the Lord.’” John’s work was crucial to Jesus’ ministry.
considered John’s testimony important, not because Jesus, the Son of God,
needed to be validated by any human witness, but because the people’s
acceptance of John as a godly man prepared them to accept Jesus as well.
season of Advent begins each year with Jesus’ warning of the coming of the end
of time and our need to prepare for it as we heard in last week’s gospel. From
the future, we go backwards to the coming of John Baptist as the forerunner of
Christ. The Advent season is filled with signs, symbols and hymns that announce
the period of waiting, expecting and anticipating.
gospel opens with the announcement that the period of waiting was ending. John
baptized and preached repentance, as a means of preparing God’s people for the
coming of the Promised One who he said would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Israel had been looking for a sign from God, but they had not expected it to
look like this.
had wanted a Messiah to lead them against the Romans, but they were not
anticipating a prophet dressed like Elijah telling them to repent. God’s people
wanted freedom but they had no idea what freedom would look like when it came.
message was a “wake up call.” Here he was literally splashing cold water in
their faces and telling them to get ready for the greatest moment in Jewish
history, in world history. They certainly were not ready. They needed
smartening up a bit.
expectations were all wrong. They were looking the wrong way and going in the
wrong direction. It was time to turn around and go the right way. That is what
was time to stop dreaming and wake up to God’s reality. John’s message produced
a religious awakening that rattled the Jewish leaders of his day and sent shock
waves as far as Rome itself. His task was to make “straight” in the desert a
highway for our God by preparing the people to meet their king.
have traveled the present day road from Galilee to Judea and to the Holy City
of Jerusalem. The terrain is rugged. The topography varies from hill to valley.
There are lots of twists and turns along the way.
Jordan Valley is anything but a straight shot from one end to the other. For
those pilgrims that made that journey on the high holy days it must have seemed
like a lifetime getting there. However, they never lost sight of their goal.
journey to God is no different. It too is a life time road; a journey that
began for each of us at the font of life where we were buried with Christ in
the waters of Holy Baptism and raised to new life in Him. From the font, we are
called to walk the way of the cross. Along this road, we are called to live
lives of holiness and godliness until Jesus comes again.
of us who have been making that journey for many years now can attest to the
fact that there are up hill climbs, rapid descents, and sometimes a valley here
and there. The path is not always a straight one. We go forward in faith and
hope waiting, expecting and anticipating the day when Christ will come again
and usher in the fullness of God’s kingdom.
God has given us the Holy Spirit to direct our
path. God has given us the sacrament of the altar we now approach as a means of
feeding us with but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we hope to one day
enjoy in the eternal presence of the One neither John nor any one of us is
worthy to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals.
Church has given us the Advent season as an opportunity to “smarten up a bit,”
by reflecting on our Christian pilgrimage, our personal walk to Bethlehem.
Where do we find ourselves on the road to fruitfulness as God’s children? What
areas of our lives need straightening out?
are on a lifetime journey to God. Our hope is in the coming of the kingdom of
God. We should live our lives in such a way that we shall arrive at that goal.
We must not lose sight of it.
sounds simple enough but we all know the struggle to maintain a holy life in a
world of bright lights and tinsel that seeks to divert our attention by calling
us to focus on the here and now.
takes intention and effort to keep our eyes on the goal of God’s coming
kingdom. It takes intention and effort to follow Him who has opened the way for
our Salvation. It is by intention and effort, faith and the grace of God we are
able to continue the journey from crèche to cross to unfading crown. AMEN+
join us this coming Sunday, December 17th at 3pm
for a Christmas Concert performed by members of the Saint Joseph Arts
There will be room for many; so, invite others to join us for this Advent season offering by our local musicians.
In the narthex/entrance to our beautiful church, you can see the following prayer:
If you have trouble reading the beautiful calligraphy, here is the prayer in modern text font:
Friend, you have come to this Church, leave it not without a prayer. No man entering a house ignores him who dwells in it. This is the House of God and HE is here. Pray then to Him Who loves you & bids you welcome and awaits your greeting.
GIVE THANKS for those who in past ages built this place to His glory & for those who, dying that we might live, have preserved for us our heritage.
PRAISE GOD for His gifts of beauty in painting & architecture, handicraft & music.
ASK that we who now live may build the spiritual fabric of the nation in TRUTH, BEAUTY, & GOODNESS & that as we draw near to the ONE FATHER through our LORD & SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST we may draw nearer to one another in perfect brotherhood.
The Lord preserve thy going out and thy coming in.