Category Archives: St. Andrew’s

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.

December 22, 2019

Advent 4 Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
We have arrived at the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. The schools have let out for Winter break, kids are home, families are traveling, presents are wrapped or if not being stressed about, frenzied shopping continues, all in pursuit of that perfect Christmas. We are just days away, but we are not there yet. All too often at this point in the year we have pushed our budgets too far, our stress levels too far, and as you can hear in my voice today, our immune systems too far. We are sold an image of a perfect holiday, a hallmark Christmas in all the fun and wonderful movies we watch this time of year, and we come to expect a certain level of output from others in pursuit of this ideal experience. But our Gospel reading today offers us yet another perspective to consider in all of this. All too often one operates under the assumption that there is one correct way to do Christmas, and any deviation from that will ruin the whole experience. When we think about that first Christmas, when we think of all the joy of Mary and Elizabeth, of the glory of God in this miracle of incarnation, it is also important to remember someone else who’s experience was less than glorious, but who responded with peace all the same.
There was nothing perfect or conventional for what we are told is Joseph’s experience leading up to Jesus’ birth. In fact, here we have a man who has found out that his bride-to-be, with whom he has not yet been intimate, is pregnant. Imagine first, just how devastating that would have been to him. And then realize, that of all the options offered to him, of all the ways in which he could seek justice, he decides on the most quiet, kindest approach he can. In the twenty-second chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, one of the many places where the traditions and laws of the Hebrew people are laid out, it says quite clearly that if a man marries a woman who claims to be a virgin, and then finds she is not, he can have her brought to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of the village stone her to death. So when you hear of Joseph, as Matthew puts it, “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace”, understand that he is choosing not to invoke drastic measures or seek the sort of public vengeance that will keep his own dignity intact. And that’s before God even steps in.
I think it’s fair to say that the faithful thing to do, the faithful way to be in some circumstances is neither the way that social convention tells us it should be or usually the way that feels best in the moment when we feel we are the injured party. The whole situation surrounding Jesus’ birth defies social convention, and yet God has chosen this moment, this place, and these people to bear witness to the long awaited messiah. Before Joseph knows anything other than Mary is pregnant, he has already decides that he will be gentle and caring in this moment of hurt and disappointment, but then God’s intervention takes him even further down a road that defies societal expectation of the time.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Now I think that already we need to give Joseph extra points for the fact that this all happens in a dream. Joseph doesn’t get the benefit of a conscious experience, with a burning bush or parting clouds or booming voices from mountain tops. It’s all communicated in a dream. Joseph could have woken up and thought, gosh, that fish I had for dinner must have been off. But he didn’t. Joseph took what was told to him in that dream by the Angel of the Lord and faithfully set to what God was telling him to do.
The promise that is given to God’s people throughout the ages from the prophets, the promise even given to Joseph in this dream is so incredibly huge. This little baby that will be born will shoulder the salvation of all humanity. That is why, through those promises we find in the readings we come to the word Peace for this final Sunday of Advent. It is the Peace of God’s salvation, the peace of God’s incarnation in the world that we look towards in this time of waiting for the messiah to be born, and the perfect peace of God’s kingdom to come in our second Advent as we await Christ’s return.
Peace is, of course, as I alluded to before, something I think we all have in short supply this time of year. I also suspect that if I was foolhardy enough to stand up here and tell you just to go and find more, the most charitable thing you could do is politely roll your eyes. But instead where we find ourselves most of the time during the holidays is trying to meet those expectations I mentioned, trying to create a perfect peace that we hold in our minds and we can sometimes catch glimpses of. Amidst all of the stress and extra work, if we don’t find peace, or love, or joy, or hope, then it makes Christmas a little harder.
As followers of Christ, our hope is in that baby, about to be born to a world that is aching for peace. We are just a few short days away from the day we celebrate Christ’s birth in the midst of waiting for his return. So as we brace ourselves for what comes next, whether it is overwhelming amounts of activities, or perhaps frustrating lack thereof, take the peace that God is offering us as a light of hope to your weariness. Take the peace that Joseph had, to step into a hard situation and be willing to love even though it completely went against what society was telling him to do. Remember that our expectations of perfect holidays are often not where we are going to find our greatest joy. Coming into our Christmas season, take with you the four words that accompany the four weeks of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. In that you will find everything you need to know to prepare yourself of Christ’s return