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Epiphany 1 Homily 2011

EPIPHANY 1 – SERMON OUTLINE – JANUARY 9, 2011

Romans 12:1-5; St. Luke 2:41-52

“How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

I.       Introduction: The Christmas Child becomes the Epiphany Man
a.       St. Luke writes that “…after three days they found him in the temple.”
i.        Perhaps every January, like Mary and Joseph, that’s how we feel; after Christmas, the excitement of adoring Jesus seems more difficult to find; just finding the Newborn King Himself is tough!
1.       Even the crèche has disappeared!  What’s happened here?
2.       Back at Christmas, Jesus was so easy: we could see His image, backed by rousing Scriptures like “the tabernacle of God is with men”
3.       But that’s all gone now; and, perhaps worst of all, our Gospel this morning tell us that Jesus isn’t the Baby in the crèche anymore, but a teenager!
ii.       Where’s that little Christ Child that we’ve left behind?
1.        Now in Epiphany, it might feel like we have to struggle to find Him again
2.        And we might wonder, ‘Is Jesus no longer going to be immediate and accessible like He once was in the manger?’
b.        The answer of Epiphany is ‘YES!’  We just need to understand how.  Epiphany isn’t here to take Jesus away; it’s here to help us through the rest of His story.
i.          Jesus is still going to keep close; it’s just that we can’t stay sentimental and keep Him in the manger forever—we have to let Him grow up
ii.         If you’ve been (or still are) a parent of a small child you can understand this: you might want him to perpetually stay at that “cutest” age
iii.        But, like our children, Jesus’ story doesn’t end with infancy: God had something bigger and better awaiting Him
c.         As it is with parenting, so it is with our devotion to Christ: He isn’t our possession.
i.          All we can do is pray for the destiny that only adulthood can bring
ii.         And Jesus, above all little children had a destiny: it was more than just to illuminate the stable on Christmas; God had a plan for Him to illuminate the entire world

II.        On the Cusp of Manhood in the Temple
a.          Jesus is actually going to become more accessible, and to more people.  But how?
b.          This first Sunday of Epiphany shows us how.  St. Luke writes in His Gospel that it began when Jesus took His light from Bethlehem all the way to Jerusalem when He went to visit the temple
c.          On the surface, it might just seem like He’s just proving His entrance into puberty
i.           Jesus was 12 years old, so he had probably just celebrated His Bar-mitzvah (now an adult!)
ii.          It also might seem like he’s trying to assert His independence (less accessible?!
1.          He stayed behind while they went on ahead in the caravan.
2.          He sat in the temple baffling the teachers with His questions and answers
iii.         He even seemed to disrespect their love and concern for Him
1.           When Mary and Joseph find Him and question Him, He actually says, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”
2.           Was Jesus violating the Fifth Commandment and being rude?
d.           Of course not!  Because this episode wasn’t just about “coming of age.”  As St. Augustine points out, Jesus wasn’t telling them off.  He wasn’t saying: ‘You are not my parents.’  Instead, He was finally acknowledging the fullness of His identity
i.             Yes, He had a genuine biological tie to Mary.  And, yes, they were indeed His parents.  He couldn’t deny this, otherwise He would deny His own Incarnation
ii.            Furthermore, He couldn’t deny His tie to David; He knew the Scriptures said that only David’s son could be the true Messiah, which He was.
iii.           But this was the crux: He was the incarnate God.  He wasn’t just David’s son, but His Lord, too.  And if this was His Father’s house then Jesus was more than Mary’s Christmas miracle
e.             “Being about my Father’s business” was His way of saying both to Mary and Joseph (and to us):
‘I love you, but you have to let Me be who I really am.  I can’t always be easy and cute.  In time and space, you are my parents; but God has been My Father from all eternity.’
i.                So He is pulling back and becoming less accessible?!  No, this is just the paradox of Epiphany. Jesus reveals Himself by becoming more mysterious. Although He came from Mary’s womb, He was begotten of His Father when Mary was just an idea in God’s mind.
ii.               In the temple that day, Jesus first made the subtle implication, that although Mary was indeed His Mother, He was her Creator!
f.                 To our human mind, this all sounds irrational!  But the truth is that although Jesus becomes less comprehensible, He doesn’t become impracticable to us (just an illogical idea that doesn’t work)
i.                 His awareness of His deity doesn’t diminish His humanity
ii.                How is that possible?  One thing about Jesus is going to remain constant
iii.               St. Luke informs us that in respect to Joseph and Mary: “[Jesus] was subject unto them.”
1.                 The key is that Jesus doesn’t stop being humble: at Christmas, He was born in humility; now during Epiphany, He becomes a Man in that same spirit of humility
2.                 This is the secret of His accessibility!
3.                 Jesus might be (as Revelation describes Him) “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, but He remains the obedient son of His parents
4.                 THE POINT is that although Jesus could only realize His destiny as God, He didn’t need to become less of a man: more independent or less human.
5.                  Jesus doesn’t have to justify His divinity to us by being arrogant or aloof
6.                  Instead, He shows us this morning that He was being His heavenly Father’s best Son, by being Mary and Joseph’s best son.  This was God’s plan for Him!
7.                  As Hebrews chapter 5 reminds us: Jesus was made perfect by learning obedience

III.               Showing our Devotion to the Jesus of the Epiphany
a.                   Jesus might always be a paradox, but He is always accessible
i.                    As the Son of God, Jesus might not be of our world, but He will never stop being part of our world.  He’ll never undo His Incarnation.
ii.                   Epiphany is going to show us that He grew up so that we might know Him more, not less
iii.                  So, we don’t have to feel like Jesus is hiding or that we’re in danger of losing Him
b.                   The truth is, finding Jesus always entails looking for Him first, regardless of the season
i.                     Even the shepherds had to go search out for Jesus in Bethlehem
ii.                    But as Jesus promises us: “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you… [For] he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
c.                    What we find in Epiphany is a Jesus even more able to be our Savior
i.                     St. Luke tells us: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
ii.                   Here in Christianity we don’t just need a cute baby; we need a man—wise and powerful
iii.                  We need a man who in Word and Sacrament can be accessible for us here and transform us
iv.                  And every “epiphany” of this season (His Baptism, the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Miraculous healing of the Centurion’s servant) will reveal on every Sunday and in the Lessons and Carols service, how Jesus became that man
v.                   Because, the truth is, Jesus grew up so that we might also
1.                  God doesn’t want us to be babies forever, either
2.                 Like Jesus in the temple, we need to realize our destinies: thinking and learning about spiritual matters to become powerful and wise
3.                God wants us to be spiritual men and women that can serve Him maturely
4.                This is why St. Paul admonishes us this morning:
“…be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  AMEN.

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Circumcision Homily 2011

THE CIRCUMCISION – SERMON OUTLINE – JANUARY 2, 2011

Philippians 2:9-13; St. Luke 2:15-21

“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

I.       Introduction: Our Ancestor After Whom Earth’s Family is Named
a.       Most of us who are somewhat familiar with C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” series probably remember what general names are given to the Pevensie children
i.        They are called “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve”
ii.       These seem like peculiar designations—perhaps we’ve wondered that they meant?  He chose them because Lewis was getting to the heart of our nature as human beings
iii.      These names tell everything about us: “who we came from” explains “who and what we are” and “what our purpose is.”
b.        Because we’re all “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve” we all have a physical connection going back to Adam and Eve:
1.        Adam comes from Hebrew word adama meaning “earth” – this means that we are literally “people of the ground” (Genesis reveals we were created from the dust)
2.        Eve means “mother of all living” – from her womb came the entire human race
3.        Lewis’s point is that we all share the traits and destiny of these common ancestors
4.        To be named of Adam and Eve is to be part of their family
5.        Every family has a vocation: ours as the human family is to (as Genesis describes) “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.”  We are the caretakers of the earth.
c.        But there’s more: Lewis recognized this connection went beyond the physical
i.         Ultimately, we do share a genetic inheritance with Adam and Eve but, even more significantly, they gave us a spiritual inheritance, as well
ii.        Our life began with Adam and Eve, but our death began with them, too
iii.       When Adam and Eve sinned, we were all doomed to receive their fallen condition
1.         From parents to kids, that’s not a very welcome inheritance!
2.         But by being named after them, we all know how life is: we share in their sin nature, we suffer the same struggle with pain, sickness & mortality, and we have to cope with ruptured relationship with God
3.         We were created perfect to live in a perfect world—but not any more
iv.        It’s a blessing and curse to be a “son of Adam” or a “daughter of Eve”

II.        Jesus Christ: Our Ancestor After Whom the Whole Family in Heaven and Earth is Named
a.          But this why what happened at Christ’s Circumcision is so life-changing for us
i.           At the circumcision, Joseph and Mary named the Child, as was the custom for Hebrew babies
ii.          And as Gabriel had commanded, they named Him JESUS, which means “savior”
b.          Because Jesus is our Savior, our connection has changed: from Adam to Christ
i.           Unlike Adam, He’s not from the ground, but from heaven; His genesis as a human being didn’t happen in Paradise (which was lost), but in Blessed Mary’s womb (which regained Paradise)
ii.         This means that Jesus is our real common ancestor now, not Adam and Eve
iii.        THIS IS THE REAL POINT: our name has now changed
1.          We are no longer named after Adam and Eve; we are named after Christ
2.          Just think about what we are called!  Because Jesus Christ is our Savior, we are not known as “sons of Adam” and “daughters of Eve”; we are known as “Christians”
3.          This is why we speak of Baptism as the “new birth” and a child is often given a Christian name.  The Holy Spirit is getting us out of Adam’s family and adopting us into Jesus’ family.
4.          This is what St. Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians:
“…ye are washed…ye are sanctified…ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
5.          Adam isn’t our father anymore, God is; and we are His children
6.          God is our heavenly Father?  Jesus is our Brother?  We have a new family now with a new name.  And because Jesus went back to open heaven for us, heaven and earth are all part of the same family now.
7.          St. Paul to the Ephesians: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
c.           Perhaps the best news about being in Jesus’ family is that our inheritance is different now
i.            Under Adam, our inheritance was death: to be placed back in the ground where he came from and separated from God; but under Jesus, our inheritance is to live: to ascend spiritually into heaven where Jesus came from and be united with God
ii.           St. Paul to the Corinthians: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
1.           Our human souls might (not literally) be traceable back to Adam, but this is how Jesus intervenes as our Savior: He transforms our souls to be fit for everlasting life
2.           This is why (unlike in most Protestant churches) we receive Holy Communion at every worship service: it’s our focus that by receiving Christ’s Body and Blood into ourselves, He might pass His immortality on to us in order that we might become immortal
3.           Jesus has given us a new spiritual destiny

III.       Conclusion: Not Just a Spiritual Reality But a Physical One as Well
a.           This is the power that the Name of JESUS has to save us.  What happened at the beginning of His life (at His circumcision) has given us the beginning of new life.
b.           But our story today couldn’t end there.  As with Adam, our connection with Jesus isn’t just spiritual.
i.            After all, Jesus was circumcised in the flesh for the salvation of the flesh.  This means that our connection with Him is physical, too.
ii.           And this is also why we make our communion at every Holy Eucharist: Christ’s Body isn’t just for the salvation of ours souls that we begin to experience now; His Body is also a promise that He will give us a new body like His body when we are resurrected
iii.          As St. Paul explains, Adam gave us one kind of body, but Christ will give us a different kind:
He writes to the Corinthians that when we die: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
iv.         THE POINT is that if we are (for all eternity) to be named after Jesus Christ, then we must totally reflect Him, as we once did with Adam.  Everything about us should tell “who and what he is.”
v.          Again, St. Paul to the Corinthians: “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven…And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
vi.         So when we are resurrected, (like circumcision), Adam will be totally cut away and all that remains will be Christ.
c.          Jesus has been gracious enough to call us by His own Name and promise us all of these blessings
i.           The least we can do is walk worthy of the Name of our Savior
ii.          When He was circumcised, He gave full proof that He wished to become like us; so now as His Christians, He wants us to become like Him
iii.         Our lives should be lived to bless the Name of JESUS
iv. St. Paul: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” AMEN.

Saint Stephen Homily 2010

SAINT STEPHEN – SERMON OUTLINE – DECEMBER 26, 2010

Acts 7:55-60; St. Matthew 23:34–39

“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”

I.       Introduction: Martyrs Old and New
a.       Today we change from the white of Christmas to the red of martyrs, so we begin with a martyr’s tale
b.       There was once a young man who was one of two brothers
i.        He was the youngest of his parent’s children
ii.       He was shepherd while his brother was a farmer
c.       All was OK in their world until one day his brother fell out of favor with God
i.        God had rejected an offering that his brother had made, but had accepted his
ii.       His brother became jealous of him, so jealous in fact that his jealousy turned to hatred, and hatred into violent calculation
iii.      So his brother tricked this young man: they went out into the field together
1.        perhaps he argued about what had happened between them and God
2.        perhaps the brother was showing off his crops (trying to justify himself)—but then he turned on his little brother and killed him in a fit of resentment
d.        Now, on this feast of St. Stephen, you might recognize that this is not the tale of St. Stephen
i.         No, this is not the tale of St. Stephen the first martyr of the Church, this is the tale of Abel the first martyr of the world
ii.       Genesis 4 tells us about the first two sons of Adam and Eve, and how Cain—when he could not stand his own dismissal and God’s acceptance of Abel—let anger turn his mind to madness
e.       But why start with Abel this morning?  Because we can’t understand St. Stephen and his tale without Abel’s; each man sets a pattern for all who would follow him
i.       As our Lord said in the Gospel earlier, one day, there has to be a reckoning
ii.      Who will we stand with?  With the martyrs who shed their righteous blood or with those upon those whom the martyr’s righteous blood will be required?
iii.      In Acts 7, we find that St. Stephen not only chose the former, but joined their company

II.      St. Stephen as the New Abel
a.        In fact, with St. Stephen, history repeated itself; he became the new Abel
i.         In every way, his persecutors tried to play Cain against him: they tried to argue about it, they tried to discredit him in jealousy, and finally they turned to violence
ii.        But each time, God gave Stephen special grace to overcome them
b.        First, like Cain, they unleashed their envy by arguing with Stephen
i.         You see, like Abel, they saw that God was blessing Stephen—and they couldn’t stand it
ii.        Stephen was working all kinds miracles and teaching with authority that they couldn’t match
iii.       They tried disputing with him, but as St. Luke writes in Acts:
“They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”
iv.       But like Abel, God was with him, and not with his enemies: with the help of the Holy Spirit, he defeated them every time
c.        So, when they couldn’t beat him, they tried to disgrace him
i.         They brought in false witnesses to lie against Stephen, claiming that he had spoken blasphemy against the temple and against the law
ii.      Another Cain tactic: ‘maybe my sacrifice was better than yours; maybe God got it wrong and you’re the one with the problem’
iii.      But Stephen did not return in kind: he maintained the innocence of Abel
St. Luke recalls: “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”
iv.      Like Abel, Stephen knew he had the right sacrifice:
1.        He knew that Jesus was the true sacrifice, not the law and the temple that the Jews had come to worship
2.        He had not committed blasphemy; he knew that these things only pointed toward Christ
3.        Like, Abel the shepherd, Jesus was the Lamb that was the true sacrifice
4.        And Stephen preached a sermon about all of Jewish history had come to fruition in Jesus: but they had killed him, too
d.        Well, that was it, they couldn’t stand hearing they were wrong
i.         Like Cain, they finally turned to violence
ii.        Stephen even warned them they were making a mistake
Luke writes that Stephen said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
iii.       Like Abel, God had accepted him, but that made no difference, as it didn’t to Cain
iv.       They dragged Stephen from the temple and stoned him to death
v.        But even at the end, Stephen maintained his innocence; he never returned in anger, but like Jesus asked that God would forgive them

III.     Christians of the Martyr Church
a.         At death, comparisons between Stephen and Abel do break down
i.          Stephen didn’t just stain the ground with his blood, he blessed heaven with his spirit
ii.         Stephen did see Christ that day—welcoming into heaven as the Church’s first martyr
b.         Appropriately, Stephen’s name means “crown” because it was a crown of glory that waited for him when he got there
c.          That was his moment of reckoning—and Christ justified him.  What will our day of reckoning hold?
i.           Like Abel did for innocent men in the Old Testament, St. Stephen has set a high standard for us in the New
ii.          He has shown us that it’s better to suffer for Christ than return it in anger
iii.        It’s better to live according to truth than lie to get out of being dishonored
iv.        And that, in the end, that our enemies often need more prayer than our friends do
d.         But Stephen’s name says it all if Jesus is able to reckon our lives this way
i.          A crown waits for us all
ii.        We may never become a martyr, but we must be willing to stand with them
iii.       As Stephen showed, being a Christian is a risk, but one worth taking
iv.      In Revelation, Jesus Himself tells us that it’s all worth it:
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation… [but] be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”  AMEN.

Christmas Day 2010

CHRISTMAS DAY – SERMON OUTLINE – DECEMBER 25, 2010

Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14

“…and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

I.        Introduction: Anticipating the Glory of the Lord
a.       St. John writes that on this Christmas Day “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  And that He was “full of grace and truth.”  But what is this truth of Jesus?  What is His gift of grace?
b.      Saint Gregory of Nyssa once wrote that, long before the Incarnation, Moses went looking for it.  He climbed up Mt. Sinai in search of God’s glory, epitomizing man’s ascent into His gracious fellowship.
c.      And yet, as Moses found, he wasn’t quite ready to see it
i.       From Exodus – when Moses reached the top of the mountain, He asked God to show Him His face, but God would not; Moses would have died
ii.      All God would allow is for His glory to pass by, and at that, with Moses hidden behind the cleft of the rock and out of danger
iii.      With that example, Gregory reminds us that the closer we get to God and His glory, we realize that there’s so much more of Him hidden from us and out of reach.
One might put it this way: ‘to seek God is to eternally delight in the infinite.’
iv.      But, being made in His Image and likeness, God has made us to want it that way.  Just imagine if we finally “figured God out.”  How boring His everlasting Kingdom might become!  What will make eternity all worth it is that perpetual mystery of His glory.

II.      God’s Glory: From the Impersonal to the Personal
a.       On our own, we can’t reach God’s glory
i.        But the great truth of Jesus on this Christmas Day is that Christ came to reveal the wonder of what was hidden
ii.      God wants us to come close: it can’t happen with us reaching out for where He is, so He condescends to meet us where we are
iii.      That’s the joy of Christmas: even though we didn’t deserve it, God took the initiative
b.       Christmas is all about God’s light that shone in the darkness.
i.        Why else do we celebrate this Christmas day with candles on the Advent wreath?
ii.       Why else do we remember the Gospel story of a stable overlooked by a shining star?
c.        Jesus came to fulfill the prophecy that one day, “the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.”
d.       Moses would finally get to see it, but first God just gave Him and Israel a foretaste.  Back in the Old Testament, God began to reveal His glory to bless the children of Israel
i.         In the book of Exodus, we find that guided the Israel with a pillar of fire to direct them on the right path, and even protect them from the Egyptians
ii.        Later in Exodus—and in both Leviticus and Numbers—we find God’s glory filling the tabernacle to demonstrate His presence with His people.
1.        His glory in this cloud proved that He was their heavenly God, over the Ark of the Covenant, the earth was His footstool
2.       On one occasion, the glory was so overwhelming that Moses himself could not even enter the tabernacle
iii.      And, of course, God’s cloud of glory perpetually stayed in the Holiest Place of Solomon’s temple, showing that Mt. Zion was His dwelling place.
iv.      This glory is often called the “Shekinah,” literally meaning God’s “dwelling” or “settling.”
e.        But as Christians celebrating the Babe in the manger, we know something is missing here.
i.         Although awesome to behold, this Shekinah was not a personal presence
ii.       God’s glory remained formless and inaccessible
iii.      This is what Jesus changed by becoming Man on this Christmas Day: He made God’s glory personal to us in human form
f.        St. John writes that His Disciples especially witnessed this in Christ’s Transfiguration
i.        He recalls: “…and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”
ii.      On the mountain, John—along with Peter and James—saw the glory of Christ that remained otherwise veiled during His ministry
iii.      God spoke from heaven, testifying that this was His Son to whom we should listen
It’s as if He was saying, ‘Yes, this is the Image of my glory.”
This is why Jesus once said to Philip: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
As the writer of Hebrews explained this morning, Jesus is “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person.”
iv.      That is our true light this Christmas.  It’s so simple.  It’s not very intimidating and oh so fragile, but how God chose to give us the light of His Son.

III.    From Glory to Glory: Christ’s Future Glory and our Own
a.        But, as always, Christmas is just the beginning.
i.         One day, we look for Jesus to consummate the brightness of His glory.
ii.        It won’t be contained to the quaintness of the stable, but will fill the whole earth
b.        In fact, in Revelation, St. John once again sees Christ’s glory—and nothing else can stand up to it
i.         St. John writes that when Jesus sits down on His throne in judgment, ‘earth and heaven just flee away’ His glory is so great
ii.        And for us in the new Jerusalem, we don’t even need any else to lighten our city
St. John writes again: “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”
iii.       That little Child will brighten the whole universe as our Lord and God
c.         But perhaps the greatest gift we can have this Christmas is knowing that if we will accept God’s gift of the Baby Jesus, He will in turn share His glory with us one day.  We won’t just tremble at His glory, Jesus Himself tells that we will become part of it.
i.          In St. Matthew’s Gospel, He promises that when ‘The Son of Man comes with His angels…then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
ii.        Will we totally understand it?  No.  Will we totally possess it?  Again, no.
iii.       But we do know that Christ will transfigure us by it and we will become like God—
As Maximus the Confessor might say, ‘He penetrating us and we penetrating Him, forever intertwined in the ecstasy of God’s radiant holiness.’
iv.      That is the great truth we find in Baby Jesus this Christmas.  This is the blessing of His grace.  AMEN.

 

Christmas Eve 2010

CHRISTMAS EVE – SERMON OUTLINE – DECEMBER 24, 2010

Titus 2:11-15; St. Luke 2:1-14

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

I.       Introduction: The Promise of Peace
a.       “…peace, good will toward men.”  So often during this time of year, we hear all these wishes for “Christmas peace” but what about Baby Jesus in the manger so excited the angels to make this proclamation of peace?
i.      Come to the crèche a first time and it might not make sense; it just seems like delight over a little baby, which is a common phenomenon in our world
ii.      His Mother Mary might look almost impossibly serene, which might puzzle or frustrate us because we cannot understand her peace; perhaps we might even find her tranquility unsettling
iii.      But just maybe Mary knows something that we don’t know
b.      You see, Baby Jesus didn’t appear out of a vacuum; God had a plan behind all this
i.       The manger scene is not the memorial of the world’s most famous newborn
ii.      Nor is the Babe in the manger a fortunate accident
iii.     Mary has so much peace there in the stable because the whole thing didn’t even start there
c.      God was making peace through His Son the day He became incarnate in Blessed Mary’s womb
i.       We have to remember how this began: Mary didn’t start out at peace, but puzzled as well
ii.      St. Luke writes near the beginning of his Gospel that she was a little troubled when Gabriel first appeared to her out of nowhere (you might be, too, if an angel suddenly appeared in you room!)
iii.      But what does Gabriel say to Mary?  “Fear not, Mary.”  In other words: ‘Be at peace.’
iv.      This is usually way in icons or paintings of the Annunciation, Gabriel is extending to Mary either an olive branch or a white lily—a symbol of a peaceful greeting
v.      Even before Jesus’ conception, God was working to make peace with men; which is why it should come as no surprise to us that on this night, God’s peace was being born into the world

II.                 Knowing the Peace of Christ
a.       Now come to the crèche a second time and perhaps Mary doesn’t seem so eerie; perhaps we would like the join her because we want her peace
b.      You  see, all of us, especially at Christmas time are searching peace, but we frequently leave the holidays more hurt because we can never find it
i.       Peace about ourselves – about our identity, about our vocation; we want to feel confident about our future; sometimes we just want the pain, doubt, and loneliness to go away
ii.      Peace among others – we want to be accepted and be loved; we want to feel secure (in these troubled times) about our community and nation
c.       But we never get to be like Mary because we find that our quest for personal peace isn’t successful
i.       Making peace is hard when other people don’t cooperate (bitterness, grudges get in the way)
ii.      Finding peace is even harder when our culture forces us into its fast-paced “sink or swim” mold
iii.     On the other hand, Mary makes us face the truth that real peace can only be given to us
iv.     When we look with her at the Child sleeping in the manger, we can hear God was telling us, ‘We don’t have to strangers with one another anymore.  You may have rejected me, but I never completely rejected you.  Stop trying to find peace on your own—HERE IT IS.’
d.      The most important peace we can know is peace from God and with God – not that God would finally make it easy for us to get what we want, but that He would make us like Blessed Mary:
i.       Giving ourselves up to what He wants us to be and what He wants us to do: letting Him choose our destiny.
ii.      As Mary found, that is the only way to know His peace: when His will and ours are ONE-and-the-same
iii.     This is why we pray in one of the last Collects of Evening Prayer:
“Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give.”
iv.     Peace is not about finding a feeling, fitting in, or crossing our fingers for a miracle
e.       Instead, like Mary, peace is about accepting God’s plan that has been thousands of years in the making.
i.        In fact, it was 1000 years before Christ, King David finished the 29th Psalm in this way:
“…the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.”
ii.       What we really need is peace where God forgives us and let’s us start know Him on normal terms again
iii.      In David’s time, the Jews routinely offered “peace offerings” in the temple to atone for the peace that Adam and Eve ruined when they disobeyed in the Garden; these offerings looked forward to that peace God would provide
iv.      With the Babe in the manger, we find our peace offering.  Jesus was born to be a living sacrifice.
f.        Which means that since His peace didn’t start at Christmas it didn’t stop there, either.  Jesus didn’t remain a child and the peace that Jesus brought didn’t stay in the wood of the manger: He became a man and took that peace to the wood of the Cross, as well.
i.       In the stable, Jesus was born to announce peace
ii.      But at Calvary, He died to make peace—to reconcile God and men through His blood
g.      About this, St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one…that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross…And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”
h.     This peace is more than an idea.  It’s more than a feeling.  It’s more than peace of mind.
i.      Put all together, Jesus has brought us back to God
ii.      Adam and Eve fell short of the tree of life and lost Paradise, but (as our Christmas tree represents) we have tree of life again and Paradise is still within reach
iii.      In the Church, we know that life can be peaceful and that life after death will be eternally peaceful

III.   Experiencing the Peace that Jesus has Left with Us
a.       Jesus might not be here tonight in the body as He was with Mary and Joseph on that Christmas, but we can still know His peace
i.        Remember that nearly 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah the prophet foretold that Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace.”  He would usher in a Kingdom where people could find peace with God and peace with one another.
ii.       And here in the Church where we find His Kingdom, Christ’s peace remains: through Baptism His Holy Spirit gives us peace; in the Holy Communion, Christ personally gives us peace through His own self-offering as the Host of the Supper
iii.      Jesus has promised us that His peace would never leave.  At the Last Supper, He told His disciples:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
b.      No matter what anxieties we might have; no matter how crazy the world seems sometimes, for Christians, the peace of Christ is never far away
i.       If we will just be like the shepherds, and live our lives in adoration of Him (worshiping Him, praying to Him, loving Him with heart, soul, and mind)
ii.      If we will just be like St. Joseph, and be willing to commit all of our cares and worries to Him, HE WILL GIVE US PEACE
c.       As you hear in every liturgy: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.”  AMEN.

Advent 4 Homily 2010

ADVENT FOURTH – SERMON OUTLINE – DECEMBER 19, 2010

Philippians 4:4-7; St. John 1:19-28

“…there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”

I.       Introduction: When the World Turns Upside Down
a.       Especially in our culture today, Christmas is a celebration of abundance, but with all the needy that have come into the church lately, I cannot help but ask: ‘What’s the world like when you lose everything?  How does it feel to go from having so much to having nothing?’
b.      These are actually appropriate questions, because on this last Sunday in Advent, that’s where our salvation story has brought us.  A few centuries before Christ, Jeremiah the prophet was called by God to be the bearer horrifying news.  Being a prophet in ancient Israel always came with the burden of blessings and curses, but Jeremiah had to give the people the tragic warning that they were about to lose everything. It’s no wonder that he’s often called “the weeping prophet.”
i.      Jerusalem—the most beautiful city in Near East—would become a desolation: the city and its surrounding regions wouldn’t even be fit for an animal to inhabit
ii.     All reason to sing, to love, to marry (etc.) would be taken away
iii.    And the people would be exiled to a foreign nation and enslaved
c.      But that wouldn’t be the worst part of this Judea’s darkest hour:
i.       God would no longer dwell among His People
ii.      Judea had sinned (idolatry, immorality, injustice) and broken God’s covenant: they would no longer know Him in the temple or the synagogue or even hear His voice through the Law
iii.     Just imagine their being destitute, not just of their families, land, and possessions—but even the means to practice their Faith!  Now they really had NOTHING!
d.     Maybe some of us, like the Jews, today know what it’s like to lose everything?
i.      A job, money, property, health, or a loved one—gone—and your world turned upside down
ii.      Sometimes our mistakes cause this; sometimes not.  Whether or not you fell from grace, maybe it even seemed like God wasn’t there anymore.  No faith?  That is losing everything!
e.       What becomes our everything when we have nothing?  For us or for the Jews back then, it’s the same.

II.     From Desolation to Jubilation—A Tale of Two Prophets
a.       This fourth and last Sunday in Advent, reminds us that the story took a turn for the better: something came to fill all that nothing.
b.      In fact, as we heard in Morning Prayer, even Jeremiah’s prophecy became optimistic
i.      “Thus saith the LORD; Again there shall be heard in this place…the voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever:”
ii.      God promised that one day He would rebuild Jerusalem and the people would return from Babylon, growing stronger than in the days of old
iii.      Most importantly, He would renew the covenant to ensure that there would be peace and harmony between Himself and His People
c.       Life would actually be better than it was before.  But from the Bible, we find since Adam and Eve’s banishment from Eden that God always works this way.  Whenever He redeems, salvation is advanced:
i.        Our blessings increase, our love and appreciation for one another is more genuine, God’s presence becomes more knowable and real
ii.       This timeless message from Jeremiah is read today to assure us that God will never completely abandon us.  He loves us too much and it’s His delight to put as back together.
iii.      God is glorified when He emerges as the everything out of our nothing
d.       And with Christmas only a few days away, we already know how this restoration happens!
We’ve been tracing its approach on this Advent wreath!
A light will arise out of the darkness: note the Christ candle in the middle of the Advent wreath just waiting to be lit on Christmas Eve!
e.       This is exactly what Jeremiah said to comfort the Jews:
i.        “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David”
ii.       In other words, the King would return
iii.      David’s son would rise up as the Messiah to save them and bring back safety and justice—
God would again stand among His People.
f.        All these centuries later, this is the same way that John the Baptist leaves us just before Christmas
i.        He picks up the story where Jeremiah left off to usher the Messiah onto our scene
ii.      As we heard him say in St. John’s Gospel this morning: “there standeth one among you.”  And the very next day, Jesus would meet John there at the Jordan River to be baptized.
iii.      The fullness of time had come!  With the start of Jesus’ ministry, our salvation would no longer be just new teachings or foretastes of promises: the substance was here.  John was telling the world that God now walks the earth, and ‘I’m not worthy to even untie His shoe.’
g.       “Christ standeth among us.”  That’s the last message of Advent that we need to take with ourselves as we get ready for Christmas Eve this coming Friday night.
i.      Like John the Baptist did not feel worthy to unloose Jesus’ sandal strap, we may not feel ‘worthy to have Him come under our roof’ as we declare in our liturgy.  But, as Christians if we are willing to admit that we are nothing and have nothing without Jesus—then He will become our everything.  And that’s the true meaning of Christmas.
ii.      Because, right now, Jesus stands among us.  His presence in the Sacrament is as real as it was 2000 years ago when He stood by the Jordan River.
iii.      In the Holy Communion we cannot see His face, and yet we know Him.  But not as a stranger (as He was to the Jews), but as our Emmanuel—our “God with us.”
iv.      I hope that we will all carefully meditate on this reality as we receive today.  Christmas means so much more when we recognize Jesus’ unseen Presence to celebrate His First Advent, because then we just can’t wait to welcome Him in His Second Advent.  And, as we’ve been emphasizing this whole season, vigilant Christians are the ones Christ wants to find.
v.      This is why we prayed in our Collect this morning: “O Lord…come among us, and with great might succour us…that…thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us….”

III.   Conclusion: Finding Joy in Christ’s Deliverance
a.       Jesus takes our worst news and transforms it into the best news.
b.      With Christmas coming, that’s more than just a sigh of relief for deliverance.  Jesus becoming our everything is the greatest joy a person can know.
c.       We have to recall from earlier this morning what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.”
d.      Joy isn’t just that Jesus came to save the world.  Joy is that He came to unite Himself to the world. And as Christians we know that truth personally.  When we make our communion, we should recall, as our liturgy says that, “[we are] made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in Him.”
In Jesus, God and Man are one forever, and we never have to worry about being reduced to nothing.
i.      As St. Athanasius once declared: “God became Man in order that man might become God.”
ii.      Not that God would cease to be God, or that man would cease to be man, but that by standing here where we come from, Jesus might lift us up to stand where He comes from.
iii.      How’s that for joy this Christmas?  AMEN.

Advent 3 Homily 2010

ADVENT THIRD – SERMON OUTLINE – DECEMBER 12, 2010

I Corinthians 4:1-5; St. Matthew 11:2-10

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”

I.       Introduction: Making Preparation for Christ’s Coming
a.       How would you like to grow up with your parents constantly reminding you that the only reason you were born was to tell the whole world how great somebody else is and how insignificant you are?  You might develop an inferiority complex!  Modern psychology would have a field day with this!
i.       Yet God’s wisdom/purposes are frequently better than what we can make sense of or devise
ii.      Our Gospel tells us this morning that a man once walked this earth who had precisely this identity and this mission; and he would be called the greatest prophet before Messiah
iii.     On the day he was named, his father Zechariah sang of him: “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.”
iv.     And, in fact, even 400 years before this, the prophet Malachi foresaw his destiny.  Our Gospel quoted him this morning: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
v.      For all this, John the Baptist is known as “the Forerunner” because his sole purpose in life was to announce Christ’s First Advent to Israel and get the people ready for His ministry.
1.      He told them the Kingdom was coming
2.      He warned them to repent and be baptized
b.      John didn’t fail in his mission: He accomplished God’s plan to make “a straight path through the desert” for the Messiah.  Without John, there could have been no Cross, no Resurrection, no Church!
c.       But John the Baptist’s work of preparation isn’t over yet.
i.      Something happened that Malachi couldn’t see: Christ came, but then left so He could come back again: we’re between two Advents!
ii.      This means that God still needs “forerunners” in the world before Jesus’ return.  But who?  Our Collect tells us this morning.  Listen to what we’ve prayed:
“Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so pre pare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just…”
iii.      It’s our job as Christians to continue John the Baptist’s work.  We’re the forerunners!
iv.      The clergy do this especially in Word and Sacrament, but it’s the mission of every Christian to prepare the way for Jesus before His Second Advent
1.      John warned Israel that Christ came at Christmas, so they needed to repent
We tell the whole world that He’s coming back again, so it needs to repent
2.      John warned Israel that the Kingdom was coming, so they needed to reaffirm their faith
We tell the whole world that the Kingdom is now among us: ‘How is God going to find you living in it—wheat or tare, a sheep or a goat?’
3.      It’s not enough to just scream it on a street corner.  We have to bring them into the Church; only the Church can prepare a people for the Lord through grace and worship

II.     The Appearance and the Nature of John the Baptist’s Work of Preparation
a.       Maybe this sounds like more than you bargained for!  You say: ‘I just want to go to church on Sunday, do my Anglican thing, and go home.’
b.      You might also say, ‘Besides, look at me, I’m not fit to be a forerunner.  I’m not fit period!  No one looking at me could take me or my message seriously.’
And yet that’s exactly what it means to be like John the Baptist. He didn’t come with great beauty!
i.      As Jesus pointed out Himself, John was nothing to look at (no soft raiment)
ii.     Nor was John popular with the religious or political elite of his day
iii.    Likewise, sometimes Christians don’t look like much: the Church often appears ugly
1.      Because of sin, divisions, lack of “political correctness,” the Church is often unappealing; we take on the identity of an outcast
We may not look like much here at Holy Trinity!  (Where’s your church?)
2.      But, like John, this is what we are also born for!
On the day we’re baptized (as we saw this morning with Adam and Christopher) and the Holy Spirit makes us born again, God consecrates us for this ministry. When we’re marked with the sign of the Cross, He sets us apart to proclaim Christ and do His work.
3.      We might not look like much, but that’s the point.  If we only become Christians to look “more put together” than anyone else who’s really going to pay attention?  People are perfectly content to “have it all” without Jesus and His Kingdom.  None of us need to don camel’s hair, but the point is that God will help us to succeed in spite of our appearance.  He doesn’t want us to blend in to the world, but point beyond it.
4.     The world can only know about Christ by watching us.  Words often times aren’t even necessary.  But they have to see the difference of a forerunner.  How are they going to know that they need to repent and convert if they don’t see us doing it?
c.      But there’s a point to taking this part.  This isn’t all sin and self-hatred (but it has to start that way).  In the end, we have a message that really does prepare people for a glorious future, just like John.
i.      Penitence and forgiveness brings a promise of great blessing!
ii.      Jesus confirmed this in the Gospel this morning.  What was John preparing the people for?  Maybe even he was wondering a little bit.  But listen to what Jesus said:
“The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
iii.      This is the blessing of being a forerunner.  This is what preparation provides—HEALING.
We dismiss our evil, so Messiah comes to triumph over evil and bring salvation.  If the world will only ready itself for Christ, Christ won’t have judgment for it, but great reward.
iv.      This is why our tone is a little bit different this morning: rose vestments instead of violet.  This Rose Sunday celebrates that even though it might seem like we’re in the desert repenting and being weird, out of the desert a rose blooms.
v.      Isaiah spoke of this at Morning Prayer: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing….”
vi.      You see, as we prepare for Jesus, He is preparing for us, just like he promised.  And when He returns the fullness of His Kingdom will blossom out of our sacrifice, like a rose from the sand.  As ugly as this world (or we) might be sometimes, the one He is making will be all the more beautiful.  On this Rose Sunday, that is something to rejoice about while we prepare.

III.   Conclusion: Preparing in Faithfulness
a.       We all look for this beautiful new world.  But before we conclude, we need to finish our Collect of the Day, “at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.”
b.      When Jesus returns looking for faith in His Church, this is how He will judge us:
What kind of forerunners were we?  How were we stewards of the truth about Jesus’ Coming?
c.      Really, it all begins by how we remember His First Coming.  How are we preparing for Christmas?
i.      Fundamentally, it’s not our job to spend more on presents or to throw bigger parties.
ii.     No, it’s our job to bring the light of Christ to places of darkness.
iii.    All the “holidays” this time of year (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or just the religion of decorating your house) claim to be about light—so the world just says “they’re all variations of the same theme.”  But that’s not true!  Ultimately, light is only found in Jesus.  Only His light can save.  Only the light of Christmas can (again) prepare us for the light of the Second Coming: that light is going to be even brighter, dividing the ready from the unready.
It’s imperative that people know, as we confess in our Creed: “the Light of Light.”
d.      We want to be like John the Baptist?  Be brave enough to share the light with someone else; then we will truly be found “an acceptable people in [His] sight.”  AMEN.