December 28, 2014

1 Christmas

Isaiah 61: 10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3: 23-25, 4: 4-7; John 1: 1-18


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, which received the Pulitzer Prize some years ago, tells the story of a father and a son navigating their way through a dystopian American landscape.  We are never told by the narrator what the source of the devastation was, though it was powerful, as America, and the reader assumes the entire world, is reduced to a state that rivals that of the pre-industrial revolution.

The father and the son navigate a bleak, dying, yet dangerous world, with what is left of their belongings, all of which fit into a grocery cart.  In creative juxtaposition to this sinister world in which they live, Cormac McCarthy paints a touching and loving relationship between the boy and his father. The sincere warmth, tenderness, and love with which they care for one another and the father’s fierce devotion and protection of his son often would bring tears to my father.

The book is pregnant with theological allegory – early in the book the Father looks to his son, which is all he has in world in which everything else is seemingly hostile and dying, and says of his son: “If he is not the word of God then God never spoke.” As I read the book, I wondered to myself, was it a story of God the Father and God the Son, walking across America, searching for life, searching for a conscience, searching for hope?  

Of course McCarthy is not the first to describe a son as God’s word. That language is already familiar to us from a source much earlier – the author of the Gospel of John. In this Gospel, Jesus is described to us as the perfect word that God spoke at the very beginning.  Jesus has always been, and will always be. If he is not the word of God, then God never spoke. 

As a father of three sons, I readily admit that these relationships of fathers and sons, whether in the Bible or in novels, have an appreciable effect on me. Remember that early in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, it is written that women and men were created in God’s own image. That means that even though we have parents, and even if we look like our parents, we are not created in their image, we are created in God’s image. We are not products of our parent’s words. All of us were created because God spoke. 

Did you know that you are the word of God? Doesn’t matter who you are, what you wear, what you do – you are God’s creation, God’s word. And if you aren’t the word of God - then God never spoke.   

Today is the fourth day of Christmas. Our calendar tells us that there are eight more days in the Christmas season (which means you all have eight more days of giving presents to Portia). I don’t believe that there are only eight days left. In fact I don’t believe Christmas ever stops, because God never stops proclaiming his Word. That’s you! That’s your child, your grand child, your partner, your wife, your husband. We are all God’s word. 

It is because we are God’s word that we have great responsibility to make sure we incarnate it. Incarnation is a word that simply means to make something abstract, like God, physical, like you and me. That’s what Christmas is about:  proclaiming and incarnating God’s word of love. In this month’s issue of the Voice, you all may have read about a new relationship St. Andrew’s is incarnating with Lord of The Streets, an Episcopal mission to the homeless in our city. They do wonderful work feeding and ministering to the neediest in our community, many of whom have little save for what they are able to push in a shopping cart.  

Our Vestry has approved financial support of Lord of the Streets, but we will be doing more than just writing a check. We will incarnate God’s word by being physically present with them. We will help cook and serve food at their Sunday morning service a few times during the year. A parishioner will serve on their Bishop’s Committee. And we will get to know the people for whom that ministry exists to serve, and we will be blessed by them because we get to get our hands dirty doing the good work of loving our neighbors whose world is often bleak, dark, and dangerous. We will engage this work because the homeless in our city are also the word of God, and God has something to say to us. St. Andrew’s financial support of Lord of the Streets is a Christmas present, not to them, but to us. God’s word is alive, and you are what God is speaking now. Merry Christmas! AMEN.


December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I would first like to welcome all of you here on this holy night.   If you are a member of this parish – welcome.  If you are visiting – welcome.  If you’re not sure why you’re here – welcome. You’re in a good place on a Holy Night. 

I would like to tell you all about a friend of mine named Sam, whom I have been friends with since high school. It’s a bit of a challenge to describe Sam – he’s over six feet tall, and has a big long red beard, and comes decently close to passing for Billy Gibbons, the guitarist in ZZ Top. Sam lives in Austin, but he usually visits Houston over Christmas, and we usually gather annually at the Gingerman Pub – one of my preferred places for theological reflection.  

At one such gathering several years ago, Sam and I talked about children. He and his 
wife do not have children, at least not yet. The stumbling block for them was not all the necessary life changes that happen when you have kids, they seem to be fine with all that. Rather, his uncertainty about having children instead seemed to be about the general state of the world as it is today. And he’s right. The world can be a scary place. There are no guarantees for any of us, so as a father of three boys myself, I can relate to his ambivalence about bringing up children in such a place. 

I do a lot of premarital counseling with couples who are getting married, and one of the things I always make sure we talk about is children and parenting. What I hear from almost all couples I meet with is a variation on the same thing: they want to have children…sometime, but they want to wait until everything is just right – after their school loans are paid off, after the big raise at their job, once they move into the right house. And I humor them and their sincere desire for perfect timing. But in my mind, this is what I’m thinking: “you’re going to get pregnant! While you’re still in graduate school! While you’re living in a tiny house or apartment with no nursery!”  Because there is no such thing as a perfect time for a baby to be born.  

Although most manger scenes we see in front yards, in churches, or on front of Christmas cards depict a calm and tranquil birth – the birth of Jesus was anything but tranquil.  Jesus was not born at some perfect time, but during a challenging time in which Israel was dominated by the Roman Empire and political tension in Jerusalem was like a powder keg ready to explode. Jesus was born into a broken and messy world, a world that refused from the beginning to make room for him.  The world Jesus was born into was a dangerous world, one in which King Herod, a madman and Roman ruler over Judea, upon hearing of Christ’s birth, feared for his tenuous reign.  He ordered that all children under the age of two years old in and around Bethlehem be executed. 

I sometimes wonder why God didn’t choose an easier time, or at least a more peaceful and less violent time, for Christ to be born.  But it seems that even for God, there is no perfect time to be born into this world - except that there is.  The perfect time to be born is the present. It’s right now.  At this exact moment, how many babies are joining the human family across languages and nations?  At this exact moment, how many children are born in perilous situations? Now is the perfect time, even if it does seem dark. 

When the world gets dark, when we get scared, what we want most is not that it would all go away, but rather that we would not be alone in the midst of it. That is what Christmas is all about. Tonight we celebrate the incarnation – the gracious act of God who became a physical, flesh and blood person, like you and me, to walk with us, to lead us out of the darkness and into the light. With Jesus’ birth, God enters the world, as a baby, and in the moment of that birth, the infant God blesses all of creation, even the parts that are broken, dark, or dangerous. 

Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst Pittman McGehee reminds us that etymologically the words “blessing” and “blood” come from the same root. They are part of the same thing, a reminder to us that there is no such thing as blessing without struggle, just as there can be no struggle without blessing. Incarnation comes out of struggle, it is not about perfection. 

Some time ago I listened to an interview with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, now in his eighties. The interviewer asked “Your Holiness, you are the thirteenth reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion – do you have any remembrance of your previous incarnations?” The Dalai Lama replied “I cannot even remember what I had for breakfast this morning!” The point is this – incarnation is not perfection, or perfect timing. It is simply about showing up, and blessing. 

My friend Sam and I talked the other day. When I mentioned our conversation we had 
about children at the Gingerman, he said “We’re not afraid to have kids anymore. We’re ready.” 

While his wife is not pregnant that I know of, I do hope for a phone call sometime in the future from him.  A phone call that would capture the mystery, hope, and anticipation of incarnation in two joyful words: “We’re pregnant!”  Merry Christmas to all of you. AMEN.