Monday, December 26, 2011

Jesus Came for the Desperate and for the Frightened

The audio links for three Christ Mass sermons (Christmas Eve, Midnight, and Christmas Dawn) are here, here, and here.  The transcript of the first is here:

St. Luke 2:1-14

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved in the Lord,

Consider the first people to whom the Lord appeared on the night of his nativity.  There were two humble groups of people.  The first group was the couple, Mary and Joseph.  The other group were simple shepherds.  A consideration of these groups and the fact that these were the ones whom the Lord chose in his mercy first to reveal himself provides abiding comfort and joy to all who find themselves in similar circumstances. For those circumstances are hardly the kind of circumstances to wish for on Christmas Eve when family and loved ones are near, with the warm and cozy feeling you get when everyone is nearby. 

It was frantic for Mary and Joseph.  They did not want to have to go from Nazareth all the way down south in the Bethlehem to be taxed, because they knew that her time of delivering the child was very near at hand.  But there’s no such thing as an exemption from the order of Caesar Augustus.  If he says go, they must go.  So they went; and probably because they had to go slowly, due to the fact that she was so expectant, they were late.  And everyone else who was of the house and lineage of David would have arrived before them, and that’s why there was no room in the inn.  And there was no one they knew. No relatives, no friends, no family.  No room in the inn. No place to go. And the time came when she should be delivered.  How cruel! How dreadful a time this must have been!  Just put yourself in the minds of Mary and Joseph on that night.  Of all times for this to happen!

So they had to take emergency measures, which for them meant finding a cave where cattle lately fed, in the cold and damp and dark of the night.  And there and then was the birth of the Savior of the world. It was to Mary and Joseph in the midst of chaos and all things gone wrong that the Savior came.  The son of Mary was born then and there

And now consider the shepherds, the humble peasants living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  The angel of the lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid, which means they were terrified.  Wouldn’t you be, if the glory of the Lord shone round about you? And so there they were, in the same cold night, in the same place, terrified out of their minds.  It was to them also that the Savior of the world appeared. 

And so, beloved, get the truth here of Christmas Eve.  He comes to those who need him the most desperately, those who are in the most desperate of circumstances, those whose lives are the most torn apart, whether it be by hardship, calamity, grief, sorrow, fear. All the things that are capable tearing your lives into pieces mounted up against Mary and Joseph and the shepherds on that night and made it appear to their eyes as though all was lost. To them the Savior came, to rescue them who could clearly by no means have rescued themselves. They were sunk, they were lost, they were goners.  No help for them.  No room in the inn. No comfort for troubled shepherds.  To them, as it were, out of nowhere, the Savior of the world comes.

And this shall be a sign unto you in the midst of your troubled lives, no matter how troubled and saddened and stricken they may be.  Never lose heart. This is why Jesus says to his disciples that men should always pray and never to lose heart.  Because he was born in a day when, of all times, one would have thought, it would have been appropriate to begin to lose heart.  On the contrary, the timing was perfect; the night was just right. It was just the way God wanted it, that the Savior should be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, a feeding tough for sheep, or goats, donkeys, or oxen. This shall be a sign unto you: this is how it works; this is how he covers his glory.

This is how he comes also to you, to lay to rest for good whatever fears you might have like the shepherds, or whatever worries or fretting you might entertain like Mary and Joseph. He was in charge of that night from before its beginning, as we now know, as we now celebrate year after year.  It was perfect. We know that now.  But if you were there the first time, the first Christmas, you would not have seen in advance, you would have had to trust in the darkness that God cannot lie.  So now learn from the blessed Christmas Gospel that he does not lie to his people.  And when the night is darkest, and when the day is most troubled, and when death tears at your heart the most sourly, and when you are most sorely tempted to despair, remember this holy Gospel.  He came to them to comfort them in the midst of their troubles, and to comfort you.  For this is a sign also unto you. He is wrapped, he is covered, he is shrouded. His glory cannot be seen except for a brief moment in the Bethlehem countryside.

So tonight he also covers and shrouds his glory, in the simple words of this Gospel, and most especially in this blessed Sacrament, the Christ Mass, you can’t see his glory. You can’t see that he is Immanuel—God with us—here and now, but you know it.  Beloved, you know this.  You’ve been raised with this.  Hold it dear and never let it go.  The message of Christmas is that God is with us in the night, in dark, in the cold, in the cave, in the manger, in the Christ child over which the angel at just the perfect time sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

St. Thomas

Did you think it was accidental that Thomas was away when Jesus came?  Or that when he returned, he heard? Or that when he heard he doubted? Or that when he doubted he touched? Or that when he touched he believed?  These things are not accidents, but providential: the mercy of God is found in Thomas' doubting: he placed his fingers into the bodily wounds of his Master, so that he might bring healing to the spiritual wounds of doubt in our souls.  . . .  The sermon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sermon on John, and Divine Mercy

St. Luke 1:67-80
And John’s father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
            Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.  And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

This is a full transcript of a sermon preached December 20, 2011, at St. Paul’s in Kewanee.  The sermon may be heard here.  

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved the Lord:

In these words of Zacharias, we learn the true nature of the ministry of John the Baptist.  We might have been deceived by it, because what we hear in the accounts of John’s preaching and baptizing is that he was in the wilderness, that he was dressed in a way that is rather scary, and he calls out for repentance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  He chides and rebukes the Pharisees and will not baptize them.  He appears to be a harsh man; as is fitting for the last of the prophets of the Most High God. They appeared at first to be harsh men as well, because the Most High God himself appears at first to be harsh, even as we learn from the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Moses said that the sight was so terrible that he—even he—exceedingly feared and quaked. The God with whom we have to do is a consuming fire.  The call to repentance ought to rattle our bones.  So God’s approach is fearsome; and his prophets, last of which was John, appear at first to be fearsome, and are nothing but fearsome to those who will not repent.

But all Jerusalem was coming out to John to be baptized of him in the Jordan; which is to say that most of the people did repent. And when their hearts melted with fear, they cried out for mercy, even as we also must cry, aware of our sins and unworthiness. What are we to do about these things?  Beat on the breast and cry out, God be merciful to me, a sinner.

And then we find John as he truly is, as he was prophesied to be by his father Zacharias, saying, And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us. 

Those who came to John for divine mercy received it, because he came baptizing in the wilderness, and Baptism to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins.  For that’s what Baptism does: it forgives your sins, it fills you with Christ the coming one. It brings to you the tender mercy of your God.  This John baptizing in the wilderness was most especially showing forth the tender mercy of God and the visitation of the Most High. This is why his father exulted the first chance he got to speak, after he was struck mute, when he at first would not believe the words and tidings of the angel.  But then, when his mouth was opened and his mouth was loosed and he spake praising God, what he said was this canticle: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.

So finally our understanding of the Lord God of Israel is not merely that he is a consuming fire, one that causes us to shake, but a Redeemer, a rescuer, a horn of salvation; himself a Child, who grew to be the one who would take away the sin of the world of the world, as John said, the Lamb of God.  In him is the tender mercy of our God; and therefore in John’s preaching also preeminently, and in his baptizing, there is mercy and salvation, and the knowledge of life and light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. 

Fear God at first; and then be comforted by God at last. For he is merciful and kind, and washes his people in his salvation that they might stand comforted. And rejoice in everlasting life.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Drop Down, Ye Heavens, from Above

The Fourth Sunday in Advent.  The final and best preparation for the coming of Christ, according to St. John the Baptist.  The sermon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sermon on the Help Meet for Man, that Man might become the Image of God.

St. Luke 1:41-43 “Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

This is a full transcript of a sermon preached December 13, 2011, at St. Paul’s in Kewanee.  For the audio of the sermon, click here.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved the Lord:

She was called blessed among women, the Blessed Virgin. Among all women that ever lived, blessed among women is she. And we recall the first woman , and how she was brought to the man after the man had rejected all the beasts as a suitable help meet for him;  because it was not good that the man should be alone, and the reason it was not good is that God who made his in his image was never alone; from eternity God was never alone, for there was always another within the Godhead.  For there was the Father, and another, the Son, and another, the Holy Spirit, from eternity: the Triune God has never been alone.  So it was not good that the man who was created in the image of God should be alone; so God determined to make a help meet for him; but this help, this helper, would not be meet or suitable for him if it comes from among the beasts or the birds, this help meet for him must be bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. She must be woman from man even as God is from God.  For the Son is from the Father, and the Spirit is from the Father and the Son.  And man is made in the image of God, so woman must be from man.

But it was still not complete; it was not yet good in the sense that it was not yet complete, even when she was made, though this helped.  For now man was more complete, more perfected as the image of God, but not quite there yet.

For the woman and the man after her determined in freedom to take the forbidden fruit. And darkness, the darkness that was enshrouding the entire earth in the beginning now shrouded their foolish hearts, and continues to shroud the hearts of their children even to the present day; which his why we always need repentance. Because our foolish hearts are darkened by the darkness that was in the beginning, that was the absence of light. It was not yet complete; and the man and the woman together in freedom took the forbidden fruit and chose the way of darkness. 

But God was not yet finished. So he sent his Son, born of a woman, a woman full of grace, in contrast to the first woman who was full of freedom. This second Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is full of grace: grace to be the mother of God, to bring forth from her womb fruit for God and man, fruit which is God and man.  She is in the most preeminent sense the helper meet for man by bringing forth from her womb the man who is God. 

So the cycle is complete with the birth of her Son. For her Son is also the Son of the Father in heaven, and so man becomes the image of God.  For this man, our Lord Jesus Christ, is himself at long last both God and man. No darkness in him! For he is the Light of Light, he is the Light that is come into the world that lightens our darkness-shrouded hearts.

The Son of the Virgin is become for us everlasting salvation. She is full of grace and so also we are full of grace in her Son.  The mother of Elizabeth’s Lord is the mother of our Lord. She becomes the mother of God in order that God who came from her might be the completion and fullness of the image of God, come to us. This is why it is that in him we find everlasting salvation. And the image of God is completed in us who are his children. And we rejoice with abiding joy for in him we are completed as man and the image of God.

Behold, I tell you a mystery:  God became man in order that man might become God.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete Sunday

St. Matthew 11:2-10

A reed shaken with the wind?  Someone like you? who tells you what it’s in style to hear, and is swayed like a reed by your opinions?   John is not.

In soft clothing?  Someone who tells you sweet things, soft things, that make you feel good about yourself?  John does not.

A prophet?  Pointing to future events?  Yes, but more: he points to the present, the fulfillment of the future: Jesus.

People were not expecting a prophet like John.  He was mocked by great men (the Pharisees scoffed (in St. John 1), and despised by kings (Herod imprisoned him).  And he did not look like we might have expected a prophet to look.  He drew no attention to himself: “art thou the coming one?”

People were not expecting a prophet like John, though they should have been.  He was last in the long line of prophets: Like the first prophet Moses, found in the reeds, John the last prophet points to Christ: but John is the greatest of them all, the messenger whom the last OT prophet, Malachi, foretells.

And all of the prophets were actually like John: all suffered, were meek, etc. Moses was meek and despised.

Elijah fled for his life; Isaiah was sawn in two; Jeremiah was imprisoned.  And John was imprisoned and finally beheaded.

Meek and despised like Jesus.

Jesus came humbly, according to his own agenda, not ours (no reed shaken); preaching his Gospel, not what we were itching to hear (he wore no soft clothing); and Jesus is greatest of all, for he is God himself, in the flesh, but in deepest humility, he came to die for the sin of the world.

The sermon.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas was rich in faith toward God and in charity toward men, thus a great example for Christian life.  His faith is seen in his boldness at Nicea, and his kindness is seen in his charitable deeds toward children, sailors, the sick, and the hungry, reports of which have become--literally--legendary around the world.  The sermon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sermon on finding favor with God

Sermon on finding favor with God
St. Luke 1:26-35

This is a full transcript of a sermon preached December 6, 2011 (this year we are observing St. Nicholas' Day here on the 7th), at St. Paul’s in Kewanee
(for the audio, click here)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved in the Lord,

It was said of old that it’s a frightful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. According to St. Paul, that day is coming: the Day of Judgment; the day when all who condemn others condemn themselves, all who judge others are themselves become guilty of the judgment. He will render to everyone according to his deeds; which means we are in trouble, which means we have reason to fear, as it was said in Sunday’s Gospel: men's hearts failing them for fear—they are better off fearing ahead of the Day of Judgment than at it, when it shall be too late.

So repent today, while it is still called today, and let your repentance be filed with hope and expectation of the One whose first coming we celebrate in just a few weeks. For he who came and he who is coming is in the flesh, our flesh, And this ought to give us abiding hope even in spite of ourselves and the sins we have committed in the flesh. For the coming One is the One whose first coming was, according to the Gospel we heard today, as the Son of Mary.

This is a wondrous thing, that the Son of God and the Son of Mary are one and the same Person: Jesus, God saving. And his way of saving is by blending heaven and earth, by making of the substance of God and the substance of his mother one indivisible substance, both divine nature and human nature blending themselves into one personal union. Not that the divinity should be compromised thereby, or that the humanity should be changed into anything other than pure humanity, but that God and man should become one Person.

Ponder this mystery, for in this mystery is our salvation. The Son of God and the Son of Mary are one Person. The Son of the Highest gives unto us, by virtue of his holy incarnation, a place beside himself at the throne of his father David; which means that the message of the angel Gabriel to the blessed Virgin is as much a message for you as it was for her, to still her quivering heart: Fear not! Fear not, Mary, for thou has found favor with God. So also we ourselves, who are in the flesh, the same flesh as Mary our sister and our mother, the same flesh in which all the earth, all humanity is wrapped, this flesh, like Mary’s flesh, finds favor with God, because her Son is wrapped in the same flesh, within the quiet place of her womb.

She rejoices finally in this knowledge, aware that with God nothing shall be impossible, taking this mystery into her soul. Take it into your soul, and be confident that in this Jesus Christ you have nothing to fear, for he has put away your sins, and in him you shall find favor with God just as she did. For the favor we find with God is not the kind of favor that results from putting away our own sins, but from looking to him with repentant hearts and in faith seeing that Jesus by this mystery has put away our sins for us.

We therefore in him and never in ourselves, with Mary, find favor with God. So be found in him. Receive him again. Take into your mouth and into your soul his holy Body and Blood with abiding confidence that his flesh and your flesh are become one and the same, again, as they have ever been, and that he who has come in your flesh is the same as he who from eternity is the Son of God. For in this mystery is your everlasting salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advent II

Jesus says, "Watch," which admonition must be weighed against whoever else may say, or scoff, that there is no reason to be concerned about a Day of Judgment. Jesus does not lie, and therefore we must watch, for the Day is surely coming. And how much better for men to have "hearts failing them for fear" today, than to have them fearful on that Day, when it is too late. Let us therefore take to heart his admonition to watch. It means two things: first it means to repent, to turn again from our forgetfulness and failure to believe--for it is easy to envy, to covet, to desire, to steal, when you do not believe the One who is coming with his reward, and it is easy to judge, to condemn, to assume jurisdiction in your heat, when you do not believe that the Judge will sit on the throne of his glory--and second it means to be comforted and believe him who came the first time in humility. Advent is a precious time, for it is both a time of contrite recognition that he will come in glory, and a time of comforted preparation for Christmas, our celebration of his coming in humility for us and for our salvation. Advent is the merging of these two things in our minds, and so it is a time of contrition and of joyful faith. The sermon.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

St. Andrew

St. Andrew was close to Jesus. He abode where he was staying. He had listened to John's preaching, and so was able to tell his brother, "We have found the Messiah." So he gladly went forth preaching, even unto his martyrdom. The sermon.