Author Archives: standrews

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Many of you know that I grew up attending a non-denominational evangelical church in Oregon.  It is one of those places where the preacher talks for at least forty five minutes, where the baptistery is behind an old velvet curtain at the back of the stage, and where every single word in the bible is expected to be taken literally, without context.  In that kind of church memorizing verses is a highly prized activity.  As someone attending youth activities and a pseudo-boyscouts-esque church group called AWANA, I was tasked with memorizing  verse after verse, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, and of course John 3:16 all ring a bell for me.  We would get awards for how many we could memorize and recite perfectly, and looking back, I can also tell you I had little grasp of what I was reciting.

I don’t think it’s too big a statement to say that John 3:16 is one of the few verses in the Bible that has captivated billions of Christians throughout the centuries.  While it certainly has a place now in the modern Evangelical culture, and by extension perhaps you recall the use of it in Professional Wrestling and other sports, even Martin Luther found this verse to be highly regarded.  He wrote that this verse was, “the Gospel in a nutshell.” 

Yes, it does sum up the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that hits the high points: God’s love, Christ’s redemption of the world, the path to salvation.  It’s a good starting place when explaining the good news, but it’s nowhere near enough to fully explain it.  And as much as I’m sure there are people here today who can recite John 3:16 from memory, I would suspect that number would drop to probably zero, including myself, that can recite John 3:17 from memory. 

As I studied today’s Gospel reading, one of the two pieces that captivated me most was that last verse, 17.  So often our theology of redemption relies heavily on the verse before it that the next one is lost.  It leaves me to wonder what sort of faith I would have grown up with if the words, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” were just as important.

John 3:16 is a great verse, when it isn’t used to guilt people into a Christian faith, which is how I saw it used most of the time.  Adding on verse 17 offers us a more robust theology.  God did not arrive on Earth, incarnate as a human to condemn anyone, but to assure that we would have access to the Kingdom of God at the end of all things.  No matter how broken we are, how bad we are, how many times we fail or frankly no matter how many times we succeed, our salvation is assured by Grace because of God’s steadfast love for his creation.

That’s really what Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus in the first part of the gospel reading.  Nicodemus has come to him and told Jesus that he likes what Jesus is teaching, and that Jesus must surely be sent by God to be able to do what he’s doing.  But Nicodemus ultimately stops short of recognizing Jesus and the messiah and of being willing to step into the light as a follower of Jesus in this moment. 

Jesus is offering to Nicodemus an explanation that foreshadows of course the crucifixion.  This is the second thing that really caught my attention in this passage.  Jesus refers to the story of when the Israelites in the book of Numbers, had been speaking out against God and Moses.  So God sends serpents into their midst, and people begin dying from the bites of these serpents.  God then tells Moses to create a serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole.  Anyone who looks at the bronze serpent will be saved from the bites of the real serpents.  All they have to do is look at it and they are saved. 

In a way Jesus is teaching that we have to be willing to look, to gaze upon the instrument of our salvation, or more clearly put we must take an action rather than to just really like what Jesus says, like Nicodemus.  Our salvation does require more from us than a cursory luke-warm okay-ness with Christ and the Gospel.  Our faith requires action…it requires us to take a step and be reborn as Jesus says, in water and spirit.  We must be baptized into the body of Christ, and we must live our faith, always striving to improve.  We must look upon the act of saving love by God.  The result of taking on his shoulders all the evil that exists in the world.

Mthr Mary Ann Hill writes, “But evil isn’t then healed, as it were, automatically. Precisely because evil lurks deep within each of us, for healing to take place we must ourselves be involved in the process. This doesn’t mean that we just have to try a lot harder to be good. You might as well try to teach a snake to sing. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust: to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him.”

Nicodemus struggles to find that trust in Jesus.  He comes to Jesus at night, in the darkness, to hide from the world his interest in Jesus.  This is the first of two times that Nicodemus visits Jesus in the darkness, the second time is near the end, and Nicodemus does try to intercede with the Pharisees on Jesus’ behalf.  But still he is unwilling to step into the light as Jesus says we must all do.  He is willing to fully commit and be born again, though clearly in this first encounter that terminology is just very confusing for him.

Author George Stroup, writing on this passage says, “For many Christians, the gospel is summarized by the words in John 3:16.  Everyone who believes in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life.  Some Christians, however, understand faith or “believing in Jesus” to be simply what one does with one’s mind.  In John’s Gospel, being born from above and believing in Jesus are clearly not so much about what one does with one’s mind as about what one does with one’s heart and one’s life. […]  In John’s Gospel believing and doing are inseparable.  Nicodemus lives in the darkness and the shadows of this story until its conclusion, when he emerges publicly with Joseph of Arimathea, who is also a “secret disciple”, to bury Jesus.

Christ calls us to do more with our faith than passively letting it sit on a shelf collecting dust.  We are meant to be reborn, to step out into the light, to herald the good news to a world mired in fear and sin.  The good news that not only God loves the world so much that he takes our form and bears the burden of our sin, but also, as verse 17 reminds us, that Christ came into this world not to judge us, not to point out when we fail at our faith, but only to save us and to be where we cast our gaze when we need to be reminded of God’s love and salvation.

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

When you attend seminary and are trained to be a priest, one of the classes you have to take is homiletics, the study of writing and giving sermons.  There were many sage pieces of advice, like being wary of ending your sermons with a salad…as in ‘lettuce’ (let us) do this or that.  Another piece of advice was never lift the curtain and let people see how it’s all done.  Don’t say things in your sermon like, “on my drive here this morning” or “while I was writing this last night”. 

One piece of advice that I found particularly helpful was that one did not necessarily need to address all three of the biblical readings in your sermon every Sunday.  Before that I would try and find the common thread, thin as they often are, that the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary had, in their great wisdom found between all the readings chosen.  In fact I believe the advice was that I had a lifetime of ministry ahead, and plenty of opportunities to write sermons on the same readings, so really I ought to pace myself.

That advice is solid, and I have found that addressing one, maybe two at the most, of the readings we hear on a Sunday offers an opportunity to focus richly on one topic.  But today’s readings are different.  Today’s readings are all so blatantly related, that it’s hard not to weave them all together.  Our lessons offer three distinct but related aspects of God’s covenant with humanity, and the veracity with which the Gospel is ultimately preached. 

All three readings point to the transfiguration of Jesus, which is always heard on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, and act as a transition moment between Jesus’ ministry and his passion.  This is not to be confused with the actual Feast of the Transfiguration, which falls on August 6th.  We ourselves are pivoting from the season that comes after Christmas, where we focus on the ministry of Jesus throughout Galilee and Judea to beginning the last journey, the journey to the cross.  In Jesus’ life, the transfiguration is the moment where everything changes, where the last days for his earthly ministry are set, where he is in sight of his death.

I’m getting ahead of myself a little.  Let’s start with Moses.  I think most of us have a concept of Moses and his time on Mount Sinai formed by Charlton Heston and the 1956 film ‘The Ten Commandments’.  But what might be lost is how terrifying this ordeal really is for most of the Hebrews.  The God that they worship is not the, “Jesus is my buddy” idea of God we have today.  There is very little that feels friendly or ‘nice’ about God.  This is an entity to whom blood sacrifices are required, and recall that the more formalized style of temple worship hadn’t been established yet.  There is a wildness and danger to this early time for the average Hebrew traveling with Moses and those who have fled Egypt.  They don’t know if Moses is coming back down.  He’s disappeared for over a month to the top of this mountain where a God that has demanded blood is dwelling.  What sort of mountain top experience is this going to be?

Ultimately though, this experience establishes the covenant between God and the Hebrew people and begins a more formalized relationship.  This ties of course to our Gospel lesson not only being on a mountain top again, but also as appears with Jesus during the transfiguration this is a direct connection to the experience on Mount Sinai, and a clear reference of that relationship which was initially cemented with Moses.  This time is different though, unlike with Moses no blood sacrifices are necessary to ascend and stand in the presence of God.  This relationship with God shifts.   No longer is this the remote and terrifying God but the God who touches his disciples and says, “do not be afraid.” 

Before the voice from above, the disciples, Peter and James, see Jesus first transformed into this blinding radiance.  The author of the Gospel tries to convey the intensity of this by saying that Jesus’ face, “shone like the sun”.  I don’t think this is metaphor.  I think they are trying to convey how incredibly bright and blinding this light was.  The disciples then see Jesus standing there with Moses and Elijah, two key figures in the covenant of the Law, which Jesus has come to fulfill.

I used to think that Peter was just acting the fool here when he suggests that he build huts for them to stay in.  First of all I’ve been to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration and let me tell you something…it’s darn cold!  There is no way I would want to stay up there permanently.  Second, surely Peter knows they can’t just stay there forever.  But as I reflect on this, I wonder if this isn’t the point where Peter is finally really excited that Jesus is about to the messiah they had hoped for.  Now that he’s all sparkly, maybe Jesus is going to start doing the things the Hebrew people expected of their messiah, like tearing down the kingdoms of the oppressors, running the Romans out, setting God’s chosen people back on top.  Maybe Peter is just so caught up in his own hope and expectation that it is finally going to happen when he suggests they make this place their base camp. 

Which brings me to our epistle reading.  The reading from the second epistle of Peter is his own recalling of the experience of the transfiguration and the affect it has on Jesus’ followers.  In the film roll that always plays in my head I would see Peter, sitting down to write this section of his epistle, and then the screen would go all wavy and we would do a cut scene to a flashback of the Transfiguration as we then hear it from our Gospel reading.  But what Peter is writing isn’t just a retelling of his experience on that mountain.  Besides, he clearly leaves out the part where he says they should build huts and stay there!

What Peter is writing hits at the core of the veracity of our faith.  When this epistle is being written, the author is surrounded by cults and religious traditions rooted in myths of the ancient world.  I recently read a commentary on some of the cults that existed, and let me just say that some of the things that were required of followers is only appropriate to discuss during prime time.  Here Peter is saying that the Good News of Jesus Christ is not, “cleverly devised myth”, it isn’t something some folks made up to build a structure of control and wealth.  He was there.  He saw the transfiguration.  The root of proclaiming the Gospel is in the real experience of Jesus’ own followers.

As we turn our attention towards Lent, towards celebrating and confessing and acknowledging our mortality, in the midst of all that, recall what Peter offers us in his writing today.  None of what we do is founded on clever myth.  Our faith is built upon the real experiences of people like Peter who bore witness to incredible life changing events in the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Whether it is shouting it from mountain tops or living it out day to day, carry with you the conviction of what we know: that God shared our very human nature, through baptism, through transfiguration, and in the end stood as the final and ultimate redemption of the Universe.  Peter saw it.  He told us about it.  Now it’s our turn to go share it with everyone else.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

As a big brother, seven years older than my little sister, I was just at the right age when she was in her preschool years to find it incumbent on myself to be a bit of a pain.  One way I found that worked very well was the tried and true method of ‘got your nose’.  The one where you put the tip of your thumb between two fingers and act as if you’re ripping off the nose of another person, then proudly displaying it to them.  Even though I’m sure my little sister had experienced this before from my grandfather or someone else, when I did it, it was followed by screams of terror and pleas for the nose to be returned.  Of course, as the big brother, it was my job to refuse.  On second thought perhaps I should call her this afternoon and make sure there isn’t any lasting trauma.

I suppose I got to thinking about that as I contemplated the words of Jesus this week, about his teaching to his followers to cut off or take out the parts of the body that cause them to sin.  We hear Jesus’ teachings today, in short succession on several topics.  Unfortunately, because of when Candlemas fell, we didn’t get to hear what starts this several Sunday set of readings, the beatitudes.  Jesus begins all of this by teaching his followers who is blessed in the Kingdom of God.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn. […] Blessed are the meek.” Etc.  Jesus is turning the values of the world on its head and showing a new way, a Kingdom way for those that would be bold enough to answer God’s call.  Then he moves into the comparison of salt and light that we heard last week.

So then we come to the rapid fire succession of teachings we hear today.  I’m going to tell you something that might seem a little presumptuous.  When you take the readings we heard today in the context of everything that surrounds it in the Gospel of Matthew, I believe it is clear that Jesus turns the dial up on the standard of Sin to a ridiculous level, a level he knows no one can reach to exemplify instead the nature of salvation.

Jesus starts with murder, but then he says really even anger is too much.  You have to seek reconciliation instead.  In all fairness, that’s not a bad idea, and we even have poetic use of this particular passage in our Anglican tradition.  From the earliest prayerbooks, there were exhortations and warnings about communion and taking it in an unworthy manner.  Much like Jesus says here if you remember something that is clouding your relationship with another person, you need to ensure your heart is reconciled before offering your sacrifice. 

On page 316, our modern exhortation reminds us, “If we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven.  And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”

Then Jesus goes really far, telling his followers that even THINKING about a sin, lust in this case, is as bad as committing it.  If you have a part of your body that causes you to sin, then you should cut it off.  But we know, I certainly hope, that this isn’t meant to be taken literally.  Otherwise our congregations would look more like pirate crews with eye patches and prosthetic limbs!  We know that this is overstating the point because frankly, you’re going to run out of things to cut out of yourself.  It must be acknowledged that as humans we are sinful creatures, even when we are trying to do our best.  Jesus knows that you could never cut off and take out everything inside of you that causes you to sin. 

Jesus takes away even the things that are allowed under the law of Moses…now he says if you get divorced it’s a sin.  This is something that would go against the teachings of the religious tradition at the time. I tend to think that Jesus once again knows the complicated and broken nature of the human heart, and so here again is trying to make a point.  All of this portion, from the thoughts that are sin, to the amputations from sin, to the things that these people would have been told was permissible, Jesus turns raises the stakes on all of it and highlights our broken human condition.

So I suppose the question is, “why?”  Why would Jesus make it harder for us to live, why would he point out all our flaws and raise the bar higher than we can reach?  There is one simple answer to that question.  The bar gets raised out of our grasp because we weren’t ever going to get to it anyway.  Jesus raises the bar far too high to teach us that once again, our salvation is not of our own doing, and nothing we do to try and live a holier life will ever get us to a perfect point.  Jesus does that for us.  His sacrifice, his saving action is what takes all of this away.  It is the moment that fulfills the Law that God has given to his people, fulfills the promise of salvation, and ultimately justifies us in the presence of the most High.

That is not to say that you should just go ahead and run amok in this world.  We are still charged with striving to do good, to follow Christ’s example, to live reaching for that bar.  But we should also never be anxious that we can’t reach it.  Jesus spans the distance for us, taking on everything we are unable to do for ourselves in relation to our sin.  Our work is to show the world, as best as we are able, what the kingdom of God could look like.  All the while, we live in the sure and certain hope of our Savior’s resurrection and the time when all things will be made whole once again.

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

I was doing some grocery shopping the other day, and of course ruminating on today’s readings, which I spend much of the week doing.  This particular Gospel always makes me toss the words over and over, thinking about what it means to be salt and light, to be salt that has lost its flavor, and so forth.  I found myself in the spice aisle and sure enough there were LOTS of different types of salt.  Table salt, kosher salt, iodized or not, rock salt, sea salt, Celtic sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, and so on.  I was amused at how many different types of salt you could find, and so I started reading some labels. 

The Pink Himalayan Salt was the most interesting I thought.  According to the description this salt was nearly two hundred and fifty million years old!  Formed in, as they put it, pristine environmental integrity of the earth that existed then.  But what I found most interesting, was that we should all be thanking God we are living in this current era.  Apparently this salt which is at least two hundred and fifty million years old has an expiration date of December 2025.  Almost missed that window of opportunity!

When I hear this particular passage, I often am vexed by Jesus saying, “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”  I’m vexed because if you know anything of chemistry, and of salt in general, you know that salt’s purest form, sodium chloride, is an incredibly stable substance.  It doesn’t lose its saltiness.  Unless you are changing it into something else, salt stays salty.  So this time it came up, after lamenting skipping chemistry in high school, I decided to dig deeper into the translations and commentaries on this passage.

I’ll tell you what I found: a LOT of different opinions.  But there was one scholar discussing the use of salt and its properties in Middle Eastern society around the time of Jesus that I thought were very helpful.  He discussed the fact that first, the salt we buy at the store wasn’t as pure then as it is now.  There were a lot more other minerals and impurities that just weren’t removed before using the salt.  The second was, because of how incredibly valuable salt was, there were often unscrupulous vendors who would cut the salt with other things like gypsum in order to maximize profits.  Both of these then lead you to understand that if you take this type of salt, and it gets wet, the sodium chloride could be washed out and what’s left after it dries is still white and powdery, but isn’t salty at all.  It looks like salt, but it doesn’t taste like it.

That seems to me a fitting metaphor for the way we live our faith.  In fact I think it resonates well with our reading from Isaiah.  The prophet is listing out all the sins and misdeeds of God’s chosen people.  He proclaims loudly the terrible things the Israelites are doing, like fasting, and praying, and doing all the religious obligations that God has asked them to do.  The actual problem, says Isaiah, is that the people are doing them only as obligations.  The people are observing these acts so that they appear pious, so that they feel like they are punching their divine meal ticket.  But in fact their hearts are not set on the things that God wants them to be set on. 

Isaiah goes on to say that it’s more important to strive for the values that God as set forth than to offer observances of the religious tradition.  He says, “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, […] to let the oppressed go free.”  In short, one could say that these people, already impure salt as we all are, have let the saltiness wash away and what’s left may look like salt, but it doesn’t satisfy at all.  It is a reminder to us to ask why we observe the sacraments.  What is it we come here for on a Sunday morning or any other day?  Do we believe in what we are doing, do we live out the values that our faith teaches us?  Or is this all just cheap grace?  Is this a way for us to look like salt, but not actually taste like salt?

Similarly Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket.”  Father Chris Corbin writes, “… putting a basket over a lit oil lamp is a really good way to start a fire. I wonder if Jesus is in part saying: You can either provide light for your house or burn your house down, but the light is going to get out one way or another.”  If we are here, and our light is lit, than what are we doing with that light when we leave this place? 

Is our light seen by those we cross paths with?  Is our light seen by our family, our friends, and our neighbors?  Are we bearing a light bright enough to point through us to Christ and God?  Remember, this isn’t just about works, as Isaiah tells us.  Our light isn’t just about the fasts we keep or the services we attend.  Our light has to do with our faith and our devotion to God and how that shines bright enough to be seen.  Where is our heart when we step up to this altar to partake of the body and blood of Christ?

Father Keith Voets writes, “Being the salt of the earth and the light of the world requires more than sending a tweet, making a Facebook post, or even attending a protest. It requires that the Church be in honest relationship with the world, offering people a Way that is unlike any other way; a Way that is the perfect self-giving and self-emptying of Cross.”  That is what our lights are illuminating for others: that there is a way.  That God has walked on Earth, has torn the gates off of Hell, and has assured salvation for all.    

Those who would follow Christ, who would dare carry a light in this dark world, are commanded by God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  To set in our hearts the justice of God’s Kingdom, and to let that light shine out for everyone else to see.  Our actions should stand as echoes of our faith, as lights that illumine a path to Christ.  At the risk of giving you a tune that gets stuck in your head, remember as you leave here today the words of that song heard in every Sunday School:  “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, Year A, 2020

Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, Year A, 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

I saw a note on Facebook this week that explained why one should use incense on the Feast of the Presentation.  In fact, this statement made the case that one should be using huge amounts of incense.  It explained that in this wise and ancient tradition, everyone knows that on the February 2nd, if the thurifer can see their own shadow, there will be six more weeks of Winter!

Now of course that’s convoluting a couple of the three very sacred things happening today.  First,  February 2nd, regardless of what day it falls on, is Groundhog day celebrated in the United States and Canada, and this Sunday is always the sacred feast of the Super Bowl no matter what the actual date on the calendar is, and then, I certainly hope most importantly, February 2nd is always the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, also known as Candlemas.

Candlemas is observed forty days after Christmas.  It marks the traditional end of Christmas, so for those of you with decorations still up, not to worry, you were just waiting for the correct day to take them down.  The thing about observing Candlemas today though, is that it is always 40 days after Christmas, and since Christmas moves around as to what day of the week it will fall on, so does Candlemas.  We don’t often get a chance to observe it on Sundays. 

The readings for this feast day focus on the arrival of the messiah, on the promises fulfilled by God.  This all centers around Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem as the Mosiac law required.  They had to bring an offering and sacrifice to God, and Mary had to be purified by the ritual at the Temple.  For those of you who know your Leviticus, you’ll recall that a woman who had given birth was considered unclean because of the bodily fluids she would necessarily come in contact with.  So they all go to the Temple for these two reasons.

This particular story from the Gospel of Luke is overflowing with meaningful details.  For instance, we actually get a window into how Mary and Joseph lived, by the description of their bringing a sacrifice.  In the book of Leviticus, chapter 12, it outlines what is required for this sacrifice.  The preferred sacrifice is a lamb.  But, in the event that it is too expensive, you can bring two turtle-doves or two pigeons.  So we can surmise from this that Mary and Joseph had a fairly simple life.  They weren’t very wealthy if their sacrifice was what Luke tells us.

That detail is small but, I think, very interesting, and exemplifies how we can use scripture when studied contextually to understand the broader picture of the story we are being told.  But the main event in this particular story, the most important detail, is what happens with Simeon.  Now we don’t really know anything about Simeon other than what the author of the Gospel of Luke tells us.  There are stories that have come out of Christian traditions about him, but they are all conjecture.  From the Orthodox Church, we have stories that put him at well over two hundred years old when he finally sees Jesus.  In truth we don’t know any of that.  What we do know is what he is waiting for.

Simeon is told by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he has seen the messiah.  Can you imagine the kind of patience that would require?  Scripture tells us that this is very important to Simeon, that he was, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”  If you recall at this point, right up to the birth of Jesus, it had been four hundred years since the last major prophet had been reported, which was Malachi.  So this is a period of silence as it pertains to God’s active word to the Hebrews.  I’m not saying that Simeon has been around for those four hundred years, what I mean is that this is a period of time where hope is scarce supply.  Yet, Simeon gets the promise from the Holy Spirit. So he waits.  We don’t know how long he waits, it could have been a day, it could have been decades.  But imagine getting a promise from God that you will not die until the most important event to occur happens, and all you can do is wait.

When he sees Jesus he knows instantly that this baby is the answer to all his prayers and hope.  This little baby, about forty days old, is the long awaited messiah.  Simeon praises God and gives us the Song of Simeon.  This is the revelation by someone who was not present at the birth with the angels and the shepherds and all the chaos, proclaiming again that the messiah has come.  This man who has waited for the, “consolation of Israel” says something very curious while praising God.  He says that this child, the messiah, will be, “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.”  He knows that the Light of Christ that is shining in the world will be a light for everyone.  He knows that the salvation that the incarnation of God will bring about is offered to everyone, not just the Hebrews who have waited for this messiah to come.

The Song of Simeon, his praise to God, is a much loved canticle used in Evening Prayer in the Anglican tradition, even in the 1662 Prayer Book.  It is used in evening prayer because it reminds us of the religious practice of monastics throughout the ages. Their last prayers to God before going to sleep, the words of Simeon, praising God that the work is done, who then says, “O Lord you now have set your servant free to go in peace as promised.”  These words are Simeon himself thanking God that the work is done and he can now die and be at peace that the Messiah has come.  He can finally let go.

This passage teaches us of patience and steadfast faith.  It shows us those who are rewarded as God promised, with seeing the messiah finally come to save all people.  Simeon’s words remind us that Christ is the one true light that enlightens all people, that he brings the light of God into a dark world that has nearly lost hope.  We, as followers of Christ, are commanded by Jesus himself to proclaim the good news of this light that has come.  We are tasked with carrying this light out to everyone and sharing it with those who need it most. 

As we pray the Song of Simeon, as we contemplate what it looks like to have patience for God’s revelation in your life, on this Feast of Candlemas, remember that Christ’s incarnation has brought the light of God into the world.   Share that light with those who cross your path.  Be like Simeon, proclaiming the good news that salvation has come and the light of the World is Jesus Christ.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The naming of Sundays that are not Principal or Patronal feasts has its own peculiar language.  There are the Sundays OF Advent and the Sundays IN Lent.  Compare those to the Sundays AFTER the Epiphany and the SEASON AFTER Pentecost.  These ‘after’ times when it comes to Epiphany and Pentecost are known in the Revised Common Lectionary as, “Ordinary Time”.  We use green colors in our liturgy, and often the Gospel scripture follows somewhat of a narrative of time in Jesus’ life.  Calling it Ordinary Time does not mean to demean or lessen the importance of that period, but rather comes from the word Ordinal, meaning that the weeks are counted, and in an order.  It’s a little play on words to grab on to that word “Ordinary” though to say that hearing about the ministry of Jesus should strike us as anything but ordinary.

Today we hear about the beginning of Christ’s ministry.  We skip over what happens right after his baptism by John, when he is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and stays there for 40 days.  We’ll talk more about that when it’s time for Lent.  So this is after he has come out of the desert, has passed the temptations by Satan, and is beginning his adult ministry.  He doesn’t start in Jerusalem; he doesn’t go to the major centers of power or population, but to a backwater place in the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum was a moderately small fishing village.  It’s not a center of spiritual learning or great education. 

Jesus goes to this place perhaps because it fulfills prophecy, as we hear from Isaiah.  There is an expectation that the Messiah will perhaps have special attention for the people living in this particular region, people probably exiled by Assyrians originally.  These folks are far away from the Temple, they are distanced both physically and socially from the core of society.  But the prophet Isaiah is reminding the people that no one will be left or forgotten in God’s Kingdom.  

Funny enough, two years ago on this day, I was actually waking up to my first morning on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, at a pilgrims house roughly a forty-five minute walk from the ruins of Capernaum.  One of the first things that struck me about this area is that it looks nothing like what I envision when I hear stories of Jesus.  This is not a dry, dusty, desert sort of place.  It’s full of lush green grass, plants, trees, and teeming with life.  It may be a backwater place in Jesus’ time, but it is a place full of vitality and promise.

Jesus is walking around, perhaps enjoying the beauty of the seaside, maybe doing some people watching, and he comes across these two brothers, Simon and Andrew.  They are working, casting nets into the water to pull in fish.  It’s hard work, and who knows how many years they had been doing it.  I would guess they aren’t new to the fishing trade.  Jesus says to them, “Follow me” and they do.  They apparently just dropped their nets right there and walked away from the day’s catch to follow Jesus.  How hard is it for us to imagine someone walking up to us, saying something like, “Hey I’ve got some ideas for a new way of life and about God.  Come follow me” and we would just drop what we’re doing and follow. 

Next to be called are James and John.  They are working for their father, mending nets in the boat that I assume is part of the family owned fishing business.  Jesus says the same thing to them and up they get and leave their entire lives and their father behind.  The whole point of this is that it is so incredibly absurd, so unfathomable that it testifies to the potency of the Word of God.  Christ calls, and as God in flesh, these men are compelled to follow.  They are not forced, they are invited, and they choose to follow. 

When Jesus calls these four men, after he says, “follow me” he says something else to them as well: “I will make you fish for people”.  Regardless that he is being specific to their profession, speaking to them in a way that they would understand, it’s important to notice what he doesn’t say.  Jesus doesn’t say, “and we will start this movement together.”  He doesn’t say, “and we will topple the Roman Empire.”  He says, “I will make you fish for people.”  The root of the Messiah’s message and ministry on Earth is about people.  It’s about going to where they are at and gathering them together.  The Kingdom of God accomplishes all those other big things, getting rid of empires and countries, sweeping across creation and bringing about the fulfillment of God’s promise.  But first, we fish for people.

This passage seems to highlight two different ways of fishing that are going on, and it offers us a good analogy to think about.  There are those that would stand on the shore and cast out there net from the rocks, to gather up whatever fish are closest.  Then there are those that would take their boat out into the sea, to go where the fish are and cast their nets.  How do we practice our fishing?  Do we stay where it’s solid and safe?  Do we ever go out into the open water to search for those to be gathered in?  Do our nets have holes in them because they are tattered and neglected?  Do we just stand still and hope that the fish swim right into our net? 

In last week’s Gospel reading from John, Jesus called his disciples in a slightly different way.  He asked them, “What are you looking for?” and then invited them to, “come and see.”  This is both our call, as those who have chosen to follow Christ, but also our invitation to those who need the loving embrace of God.  Our work is also to take a leap of faith, to be willing to leave behind those things that keep us from fishing for people.  Some of those things might be physical, some of those things might be social or mental.  But regardless our call is no different from the disciples of old, and the question remains the same, “What are you looking for?”

This year, two thousand twenty, marks seventy years that St. Andrew’s has, in one form or another, been the Episcopal Church in the Twin Lakes area.   What do you think the next 70 years has in store for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in this place?  How about the next 10 years?  On this Sunday, which also is the day we have our annual meeting, it’s worth pondering Christ’s call to discipleship and our answer in this place and at this time.  Jesus calls us.  He calls us to go out to the people, to give them the good news.  Christ proclaims that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.  He asks us what we are looking for, and he offers to us, “Come and see.”

Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020

Second Sunday after Epiphany Year A 2020
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The Second Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany is always graced by a reading from the Gospel of John.  Instead of continuing the narrative from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending on which year of the lectionary we are in, we instead hear from John, which has a fairly unique approach to writing about Jesus.  We know that John is different when we look at the Gospels and see that instead of talking about a birth narrative, we start with this grand cosmic concept…”In the beginning was the Word.”  An acknowledgment of the Christological nature of Jesus to start us off. 

The fourth Gospel then drops us right into the ministry of John the Baptist, preparing the way for Christ, and then on this Second Sunday after Epiphany, we have the first appearance of Jesus.  If the Gospel of John were a movie, I imagine the Gospel of John starts out the way most Star Wars movies do.  We begin with a narrative that sets the scene, explains to us where we are about to drop into the story, then we hit the ground running with Jesus’ adult ministry.

You might ask why the Gospel of John is given this particular place.  Why do we always get to hear from the Gospel of John on this Sunday?  I think it is a question worth exploring; and while you would really need to ask the authors of the Revised Common Lectionary for a direct answer, there are at least a few things we can be fairly safe to assume about the use of John.  Chief among these reasons I believe is that the Gospel of John focuses far more on the mystical nature of Christ, and spends a lot of energy on this idea of Epiphany, of the appearing or manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

John also leans far more on the cosmic reason for God becoming human.  From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we have John the Baptist calling out, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  I guarantee that this title being used here means huge things to the people that are hearing it from John the Baptist’s mouth. Recall that the Hebrew people expected their messiah to save them in a worldly sense.  They expected someone to come and lead armies against whichever occupying force was ruling them at any particular time in history.  They expected a strong warlord. 

But John the Baptist says, “Here is the Lamb of God.”  He doesn’t say, “Here is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!”  He doesn’t say, “Behold the general to slaughter our enemies.”  Think about what lambs were used for at the time of Jesus.  What would the, “Lamb of God” evoke for these people but an understanding of sacrifice?  There is little doubt that the author of the Gospel of John focuses on this in a few places, that the author wants to convey that God has taken on flesh in part to be, and I use this term knowing how complicated it is, a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for the sins of the world.

Understanding Jesus as the Lamb of God ties directly to the understanding of Passover in the Hebrew mindset.  The Passover Lamb was slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled on the lintels of doors during the escape of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh.  This was done so that the Angel of Death would pass over their houses and only visit the houses of Egyptians during the tenth and final plague.  Just as the Passover lamb’s life is given to save the Israelites, so then is the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to save all of humanity from ultimate death. 

Later, in the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John, Jesus dies, “about noon” on the day of preparation for the Passover.  This is the author of the Gospel assigning this time and day to coincide with the slaughter of the lambs being prepared for the Passover meals.  The use of the image of the Lamb of God is strong and from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end in the Gospel of John it is found throughout to emphasize the salvific nature of Christ manifest.

I know that you might say, “Wait a second!  We aren’t even at Lent yet, and you’re moving us along to the crucifixion of Jesus!”  Ultimately, even as we are in the midst of a celebration of Christmas, we must remember the cross.  Without the cross, the manger, the wise men, the whole thing means very little.  The whole incarnational narrative is important and every piece of it touches on the other.  Even as we talk about Jesus’ baptism, the very nature of Christ must be discussed.

Mother Julia Gatta writes, “It is remarkable that Jesus begins his public ministry by submitting to John’s baptism of repentance since the New Testament and subsequent tradition never attribute personal sin to Jesus.  What is Jesus doing in such a compromising situation?  He is emphatically taking his stand with human beings in their sinfulness.  He is defining the radical scope of his ministry from the outset.  It is a position that will elicit criticism throughout his life as Jesus dines with public sinners and, finally, suffers a shameful (sic) death, crucified between two criminals.  His life and ministry and, at the last, his death address our desperate plight: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

In John’s naming of Jesus as the, “Lamb of God” he is calling to the fundamental nature of Christ’s incarnation as one meant to bring eternal life to humanity.  This is God’s plan from the beginning, to bring about the Kingdom of God, to bring eternal life to humanity.  I do not believe there is anything in Christ’s death and resurrection meant to point to God being wrathful and bloodthirsty.  God is the one who pays this ultimate price, who takes on flesh and submits to humiliation, pain, and death to tear the gates of Hell off their hinges and offer life once and for all.

I realize that when we dive into the Gospel of John, there is a chance we can get lost very quickly in the weeds.  It is heady stuff, and calls on us to challenge and think about our faith and our theology.  That is an important part of our growth as followers of Christ.  It is easy to be lulled into the niceties of swaddled babies in mangers, or the general socialized cheap grace that is so often pedaled as Christian faith.  This is our faith, this is why we gather, otherwise, why bother getting up on a Sunday morning?  “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’”  Keep that question with you this week and be ready, because at any time, Jesus could be asking you the same.

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020 Baptism of Our Lord

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

A drunk man stumbles across a baptism service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister asks the drunk, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?” The drunk man says, “Yes, I am.” The minister then immerses the man under the water and pulls him right back up. The preacher asked, “Have you found Jesus?” The drunk says, “No, I didn’t!” The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” The man replied, “No, I did not.” The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time then brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, “My God, have you found Jesus yet?” The drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher… “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

Today we celebrate and recall the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It comes always on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and moves us from our celebrations and observance of Jesus’ birth into his ministry.  On this day every year we hear an account of Christ’s baptism.  This part of Jesus’ life and ministry is so important that you find it in all four of the Gospels, along with his death and resurrection.  Not even the Christmas narrative is part of all four Gospels.  But Jesus’ baptism holds such a significance that it shows up all four times.

Yet, this story contains what I think is a possibly confusing event.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, after hearing any of the accounts of Jesus baptism why exactly Jesus gets baptized by John?  Sometimes we get into a mode of listening and just accept what we hear.  But this is one of those times that you might say, “wait a minute, why is Jesus being baptized if he’s already sinless and God incarnate?” 

People have been coming to John the Baptist, repenting of their sins, and enter the Jordan River to be symbolically washed clean.  This action is one they would already be accustomed to, there are all sorts of ritual washings and purification rites.  It is important to remember that this is also not what we think of as Christian baptism.  It’s not meant as initiation into the body of Christ, it is not tied to the salvific acts of Christ.  It is a preparation, as John says, for the one to come.

But when that one shows up, Jesus, and wants John to baptize him in this act of cleansing, John tries very strongly to refuse.  He knows who Jesus is, and does not feel he is worthy to take this action.  John, as we know, relents and baptizes Jesus.  And again, I ask you why?  Why does Jesus seek out this moment?  We must always be working on our faith, asking questions about our scripture, digging deeper into the understanding of what we are told is important or meaningful to our faith.

Though I suppose if I were to ask you to imagine an opposite scenario, you begin to see why Jesus went through this baptism.  Imagine instead, Jesus walking up on the crowd gathered, people wading into the dark muddy waters of the river, and Jesus looks around in disgust and says, “I’m not getting my lovely white robes dirty in that muck! It’s fine for you all, but I’m the messiah!” 

Of course that is incredibly facetious, and we would never see Jesus doing something like that.  Which is precisely the point.  Jesus goes into those less than clear waters, he joins the people in the mud and the muck and gets dirty.  He is participating in the experience with all the sinners, but it’s more than just that.  This is a physical, tangible action.  God has become flesh, and is partaking of the human experience here to identify with us and to experience the fullness of a life that includes seeking forgiveness for one’s sin, but not because he is a sinner, but because he is taking on our burden.

Steven Driver writes, “Pondering the reasons for Jesus’ own baptism requires pondering what it means for the Son of God to have become a human.  In short, to understand baptism, we must understand the reality, the physicality, of being human, and what it means to say that God saved us by becoming just like us.”

The incarnation of God comes into the world to fulfill the promise that our salvation will be assured, and this moment in the Jordan River is Christ’s action of taking our place.  He stands in those waters and takes on the baptism of repentance so that we don’t have to.  That’s not what our baptism is about.  Our baptism is a reminder of our salvation, adoption into the body of Christ.  Our being washed in the waters of salvation and being sealed by the Holy Spirit is our moment for God to look upon us and say, “this is my child, my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”

In a few moments we will take the opportunity of it being the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord to renew our own baptismal vows.  It is our opportunity to be reminded of the promises we have made in taking on this adoption as part of Christ’s body and to strengthen our commitment to following in the footsteps of the one who took on our nature and came into the world to save us.  Today as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord consider this action Jesus has taken, to be fully human, wading into the murky waters with the rest of us.  May you be renewed and refreshed knowing that the Incarnation has set us free from all sin and rejoice in the salvation that God has brought us.

Christmas Day, 2019 Sermon

Christmas Day Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

In seminary, when you take your required core class on ‘The Gospels’, it’s generally titled, “The Synoptic Gospels” because they only cover Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  John is conspicuously absent, and quite frankly if you compare the prologues of those Gospels you can see why.  Last night we listened to Luke’s nativity, the one we I’m sure we can all practically recite by heart, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”  Now equally I would say that the prologue of John, traditionally recited at the end of every mass, is also quite memorable and easy to recite.  But what it doesn’t do is evoke for us the images of a cooing baby in a manger, of the shepherds and the angels and the little drummer boy.  Instead the author of the Gospel of John sets out to explain to us the cosmos, created and uncreated, the mystical origin of Christ as one of the three persons of the Trinity, the infinitude of Christ as the Word, the Logos, which has always been.  It’s really hard to make that the picture on the front of a Hallmark Christmas Card.

But John’s prologue is no less important than the other stories that begin the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In this Christmas season, when we are faced with the images of the baby Jesus, an important reminder of God as child, as baby, we must also remember that contained in that baby is the Christ, the Logos, the Word made flesh.  Though this is a child born of Judean parents, drawing it’s first breath surrounded by hay and animals and blood and sweat and tears, this is also the eternal Word, the bringer of order to chaos.  Aaron Klink writes, “The most central claim of the Christian faith, one that should scandalize us from time to time, is that God became incarnate, one of us, that we might know God’s nature and God’s love for us.”

This reading reminds us that Christ has always been; from the beginning this was the plan.  It reminds us that God always had this path set out.  God’s love and intention for humanity and for creation was always set this direction, not simply because of sin making its way into human nature.  So for us in this Christmas time, in awe of the wonder and majesty of the Word made Flesh…the Triune creator of the universe contained in this little baby, perhaps we ought to take a lesson from John the Baptist’s playbook.

The voice crying out in the wilderness is said to have come, “as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”  What is our job as followers of Jesus, if not to testify to the light, to the word, to Christ, so that all might believe?  That is what we do in proclaiming the Gospel, the good news.  In this time of Christmas, it seems to me there are so many ways we can point people back to that manger, to that light, to the Logos, through our words, and our actions, and even our attitudes.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching at least one version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Amongst my top picks I would say are the 1988 film ‘Scrooged’ as a modern retelling for its brilliance and humor, and for accuracy to Dickens’ original text I actually always hail the 1992 release of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ which includes a lot of lines from the book that you don’t always hear in many of the movies.

While I was watching that particular one just the other night, the speech that Scrooges’ nephew gives him in the office about Christmas really hit me.  In response to Scrooge telling his poor nephew Fred how terrible and ridiculous and scandalous Christmas is, Fred says, “I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

That is exactly the sort of Christmas spirit that makes all the crazy running around, consumer culture, family stress, and general chaos pause for a minute.  It pushes it all aside and, like John the Baptist points back to the true Light of God’s love made manifest in the world.  Christmas is most certainly a time for celebration, for feasting, for spreading joy.  But it is all those things precisely because of what happened in that manger so long ago.  That God was born into this world in flesh and blood just like we are. 

So then, how do we find ways to tell people about this joy, to be like John the Baptist and point towards this source of truth and light?  Howard Thurman, a prolific theologian, author, and civil-rights leader wrote,”   

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
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 among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

So as you leave this place today, with the proclamation of Christ’s birth on your lips, remember that this time especially is a time where we can point back to the Light of God’s Love made flesh in the world, and to begin the real work of Christmas.

Christmas Eve, 2019 Sermon

Christmas Eve Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Christmas has got to be my favorite time of year.  Sure, as a church nerd I’m theologically and liturgically partial to the Great Vigil of Easter, but Christmas just has such a deep resonant connection to my very core.  I think for all of us, there is something deep and meaningful about Christmas, each with our own memories and traditions. There are so many memories of family gatherings, of traditions about what shows we watched, when we decorated, and so on.  Our Gospel reading tonight immediately takes me back to being a child watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special and listening to Linus recite portions of Luke’s nativity from the King James translation. 

As you may remember, the show centers around Charlie Brown’s depression and his pursuit of curing it by putting on a nativity play.  Of course there is the usual chaos, the poor sad tree, even if it is the only real tree among the fakes, and generally Charlie’s vision is overrun with a very shiny commercialized Christmas view.  In great frustration he cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” and Linus steps in, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about” and begins to recite from Luke the second half of our Gospel reading tonight.  When he finishes, he quietly says to Charlie Brown, “that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Just like that, through a calm, quiet, child’s voice come the lines that draw us in to that moment, not unlike God’s moment of drawing people’s attention in to that manger.  There is such wonder and surprise to be had at God’s very nature, revealed through this act of incarnation.  The unknowable creator of the universe, the God of Abraham and Moses, the God who flooded the Earth.  The God who could no doubt make known the presence and power of His Kingdom, begins his earthly journey as a baby.  A helpless baby, born out of somewhat difficult circumstances socially, in a place surrounded by animals and their feed.  The author of Luke takes great pain to articulate to us that God’s coming into this world takes place amid the normal day to day routines of work and rest, amidst the comings and goings of imperial politics, economics, and conquest.

In all of that a baby is born.  If you compare that to what happens with the shepherds, you really can see how absurdly different these two events are and how it absolutely must show God’s nature.  On one hand the shepherds are surrounded by a, “multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”  I imagine this scene, the shepherds are hanging out by a campfire, relaxing, doing whatever it is shepherds do, and first one angel shows up, probably already surrounded by a brighter light than the shepherds have ever seen.  Then, they are blinded by this bright, radiant host of heaven.  It must have been glorious and terrifying.

So then we think of the other side of that, the manger, the hay, the young woman and her husband, a baby, born into this world without any particular pomp or circumstance, born just like all of us are born.  That is how God chooses to be incarnate.  God does not appear to kings and emperors, God does not descend with deafening trumpets and blinding lights, God does not shake the earth and herald the incarnation with the glory of the Kingdom.  God is born, as a baby, in a little out of the way town and the shepherds, stinky, marginal, hard working people, are the ones that are called on by the angels to bear witness to this moment.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his 2004 Christmas sermon begins by discussing how we tend to avoid places like engine rooms, or generally are discouraged from knowing how things are made, lest it upset us or disturb us from the shiny results we see at the end.  Sort of like when someone assures you that you don’t actually want to know how the sausage is being made.  He goes on to say that is what is most troubling about Christmas.  He writes, “And that’s where Christmas is actually a bit strange and potentially worrying. When we’re invited into the stable to see the child, it’s really being invited into the engine room. This is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe, ‘the fire in the equations’ as someone wonderfully described it, is contained in this small bundle of shivering flesh. God has given himself away so completely that we meet him here in poverty and weakness, with no trumpeting splendour, no clouds of glory. This is how he is: he acts by giving away all we might expect to find in him of strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the cradle and the cross.”

So tonight, in the darkness, we kindle light, we celebrate this miracle of God among us.  We must sit with wonder at the way God chooses to reveal the nature of the Kingdom through this act of incarnation.  This baby will grow, will suffer, will offer an ultimate sacrifice of love; that is what starts tonight.  God’s promise to the world fulfilled.  God’s love made known, right there in the flesh.  Let us rejoice.  Let us ring bells, let us shout from the roof tops that Jesus Christ is Born.  “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”