Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord

At St. Paul's we have three Christ Masses, partly out of accommodation to the long held Christmas habits of people (hence the 7 pm Christmas Eve), partly out of an awareness that the best of all times to celebrate Christ Mass is at midnight, as the Introit has it, "When all was still and it was midnight, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne," and partly because Christmas morning is hardly Christmas morning without Mass (hence the third Christ Mass at 10 am on the 25th).

It's nice for me, actually, to get to approach the incarnation in three separate ways each year, and not think I have to get it all into one sermon. So at the first, I preached the meaning of the angel's message, "Fear not" (here's the audio for the Gospel and sermon). For the second--which always seems to me the most sublime, maybe because it's in the midst of night when all is still--I preached the idea of most important place being Bethlehem and the manger rather than Jerusalem or some other great place, the most significant people being shepherds rather than dignitaries or kings, and how also here and now, the most important place is the Christ Mass, this small and humble place the world likewise does not seem to notice (here's the audio for the Gospel and sermon at Midnight Mass). This morning's Third Christ Mass, whose Gospel is the one in St. John 1 (the Word became flesh), I preached essentially on the fact that "God is great" is not a confession of true faith, whether said by Muslims or by people who like to sing "How Great Thou Art." The real faith is a scandal to people who like to emphasize those things which ought to go without saying (of course God is great; that's not saying anything). It is the fact that God has sullied Himself with the filth of the human race and bound Himself to us for all eternity: "The Word became flesh." That audio is here.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Musing on the Nativity

Here's the radio broadcast for this weekend, for St. Paul's on the Air. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

John Confesses: "I am not the Christ"

The Evangelist's assertion, in St. John 1, that when John the Baptist said "I am not the Christ" it was a confession and not a denial seems odd at first glance, but the Evangelist is emphatic about it, saying it twice. How is it that this is a confession and not a denial? The fact that this is St. John's Gospel is significant, since it is in this fourth Gospel that we have all the "I am" assertions of Jesus. So we have two sides of the faith here: to confess that Jesus is the great I am, the incarnate God, is also be to confess that we cannot arrogate to ourselves merits or righteousness. To say that Jesus is the God who is, the true and only existent God, is also to deny yourself.

Here is the audio of today's sermon (Advent IV).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The poor have the Gospel preached unto them

Another helpful part of the St Matthew 11 Gaudete Gospel is the prophecy regarding the preaching of the Gospel to the poor, a fulfillment of Isaiah's words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach . . ." Who knew that these words were prophetic? The fact that Jesus preaches in itself designates him as the Coming One. And it behooves us to become the poor, under him; blessed are the poor. Tuesday's sermon may be heard here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

John the Forerunner

The appearance of John the Baptist in every Gospel is a critical ingredient. It provides verification for Christ. John must point Him out, attest to Him, because the prophets had indicate the presence of a forerunner.

So John and Thomas provide important witnesses from two perspectives: John prior to the ministry of Christ, and Thomas afterward. Taken together with the fact that there is not one, but four Gospels; and not one, but twelve apostles, what we have in the Christian religion is a unique demonstration of the truthfulness of it.

Compare Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, or any other religion, and you will not find in any this kind of proof. No wonder: Jesus alone is the truth. All the others are false. Not only so, but the record of Jesus is alone in providing the kind of documentation needed for verification.

Thus we have cause for rejoicing indeed, and on Gaudete the Third Sunday in Advent we may repeat the Introit with gusto: "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice."

Here is yesterday's sermon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Signs of the Times?

I grow weary of the inevitable interpretations of earthquakes, hurricanes, and various weather phenomena as indications that now, really now, we are beginning to see the signs of the end of all things approaching. The reasoning runs like this: Jesus said there'd be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and the waves, and men's hearts failing them from fear, etc., and now we can see that beginning to happen, so in this early 21st century we can see his prediction coming true. The trouble is that such interpretations of the weather have never been in short supply. Pick your century: 20th? Plenty of apocalyptic warnings there, that there's an increase of hurricanes and whatnot, which means that the end is near. The 17th? I think there were even two major prophecies bandied about by fringe groups in Europe pertaining to the last day: one said, I think 1669, and when that didn't happen, it was revised to 1699. The 16th? Luther himself has an Advent sermon in which he points to an increase of meteorological events as evidence that the end was near. And let's not forget the 14th: the great Plague which wiped out a third of Europe was almost universally seen as a sign that the end was near (and in a way, for many it was). Speaking of plagues, there was another in, what, the sixth century? And on top of the plague came this great earthquake in Italy. It was so bad the pope called for a grand procession of mourners.

So I'd say it's only the historically uninformed who might be convinced that now, today, there are lots of eclipses, earthquakes, tidal waves, etc. which we've never seen before. Well frankly, we have too.

In fact we saw them in Jerusalem, in AD 70: there was a great upheaval of the established order of things (nation rising against nation), Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel wiped out--and if you take the "sun" and "moon" and "stars" in Jesus' Lukan discourse on this in an apocalyptic rather than literal fashion, you might see fit to interpret them in much the same way as Joseph interpreted his dream about the same heavenly bodies, and see the fulfillment of this discourse in the obliteration of Israel; in short, Jesus' warning can be seen as having been fulfilled by AD 70; in fact he referenced "this generation" as not passing away till all be fulfilled.

So the end is near, surely. It has been near for two thousand years.

And in addition, the reason for these signs can be taken as an added warning to the words of Jesus, "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighted down." And if dreadful phenomena served to highlight his words for those people, perhaps we can begin also to understand why dreadful things in our own lives serve to highlight his warnings to us. This is why troubling things happen to God's people: he is warning them, he is driving them back to himself, back to their knees, back to his altar, to his word, to his Supper, to faith.

Here's the audio of a sermon on this, from the Second Sunday in Advent.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Out of the Barn

The sleigh is loaded down, the reindeer are harnessed, and the bags of goodies are on their way: Gottesdienst is out of the barn, and coming to a mailbox near you. Ho, ho ho!

Unless, of course, you have not subscribed. To correct that error, click here, and Santa will be glad to drop by your house too.

Here's a recommendation: St. Nicholas' Day is December 6, so in honor of that, and as a treat to yourself (or a friend), as we suggested, click here.