Sunday, December 24, 2017

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the
prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him
Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” –Matthew 1:22-23

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I can offer you no words that have not been said, no song that has been left unsung. We can only go back to the beginning, the beginning that starts tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day when our savior arrives. It is the newest day celebrating our oldest wish for when the sun climbs over our rooftops it will bring light into the world exposing our dreams for renewal.
Two thousand years ago a woman held her baby and perhaps she whispered a prayer quietly into her newborn’s ear. A prayer passing on her own dreams and speaking of the dreams she had for her boy. A prayer for calm. A prayer of an unending desire for peace. A prayer for concord rather than discord. A prayer for protection, a promise to be the protector.
Every day before that day and every day since that day, a mother has spoken that same prayer to her own child. A child, mere minutes or hours old, a witness to nothing serving as a witness to hope. Strengthened with her mother’s prayer, that child has the capacity to change this world for the better. Strengthened by his mother’s love, that child can bring renewal to a tired world.
The constancy of love passing from generation to generation is evidence of God’s intended consequence for all of us. We do not love God out of fear that if we do not, we will be punished or cast away. No, the consequence of loving God is God’s love. It is God’s love that can be shared with all of humanity.
Tomorrow is evidence of God’s love. Tomorrow is Christmas. Tomorrow is our charge to renew that love.
And from that love, comes hope. From that love comes the desire to enter into the world and share that love without judgement or stipulation, to tear down walls that impede that love, to lift up the lowly so that they might experience that love, and to love those who do not love us so that we might all renew that love.
And tomorrow, tomorrow and every day past and present, God has and will hold us in her arms again and whisper to us a quiet prayer. A prayer that says: “I love you.”

God is with us.

Post by Matt Handi


“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” –Luke 1:38

In some ways, it’s odd to return to a gospel reading we read nearly nine months ago, when we celebrated the Annunciation. But that’s where our gospel has us this morning: on the cusp of something new.

These days it can seem like we’re constantly looking for the next big thing. The newest iPhone or the newest car. A new job or a new school. As human beings, it’s almost like we’re wired to look for what comes next. As Christians, we’ve spent Advent doing just that—looking for the coming of the kingdom of God.

That’s what our gospel starts to give us. An angel sent, not to Rome, but to a small town in the Middle East. A woman starting the revolution, not by rousing her kinsmen to arms, but by accepting, embracing, and nourishing in her body the Word of the Lord—a child conceived, not of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God.

We’ve spent Advent looking for what is to come, imagining Christ’s coming in power and great glory, imagining God making all things new, not just in our hearts and minds but in the world around us, in a way visible to all peoples.

This morning before Christmas, we turn back the clock to the nine months that have passed and live them out in the nine hours between our services this morning and our services tonight (a short pregnancy indeed!). We go back to the Annunciation—to God’s unexpected entry into human history and to Mary’s courageous response—and we find that God has already come to us. God is already making all things new, sometimes in ways that others around us can see, sometimes in ways that only we can perceive in our hearts, sometimes even in ways that only God can know.

We are on the cusp of something new, if only we learn to have the eyes to see it and ears to hear it—if only we have the wisdom to join Mary in her reply: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Post by Armando Ghinaglia

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sheep and Goats

I invite you to take a moment to consider our Gospel reading for this Saturday, Dec. 23rd:
Matthew 25:31-46
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Sometimes, perhaps often, God’s message to us about what it means to live faithfully can be presented in confusing ways. God speaks in parables that scholars and theologians take great care in dissecting and debating. But in our Gospel reading for today, Jesus provides a clear and simple laundry list of what is expected of his disciples:
For I was hungry and you gave me food
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
I was a stranger and you welcomed me
I was naked and you gave me clothing
I was sick and you cared for me
I was in prison and you visited me
This is one of the last things that Jesus says to his followers—this is the climax of Jesus’ Earthly ministry. We encounter him here talking about Salvation and using the examples of the Goats and the Sheep. His words are perfectly clear--my command is this: love each other as I have loved you. We show our love for Jesus and we live faithful lives by loving and serving other people. We live lives of faith by responding to others and the needs of our world in the way that Jesus would.
What matters, as Jesus so clearly illustrates for us, is not how loudly we boast our faith. What matters is not our status, not our achievements, not our tiles, and not our wealth. No, what matters is our continued willingness to let the life of God be lived through us and our interactions with others and the world.
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
At Convention Bishop Douglas suggested that we are entering a “New Missional Age”—an age of renewal, a “new Reformation” in which God is inviting us to be the Jesus Movement. Well this—today’s Gospel—is at the core of what it means to be part of the Jesus movement. As disciples of Jesus are called to look at one another and see the face of God. We are called to love one another. And as today’s Gospel message makes perfectly clear: it is as simple and difficult as that.
As we await the coming of the Christ child, may we renew our commitment to living as disciples of Jesus as we share God’s love with the world.

Post and photo by Dana Capsso Stivers

Friday, December 22, 2017

Returning and Renewal

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“Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts?” –Zechariah 8:3-6, from the reading for today’s Daily Office
Last weekend, as I was working on another piece of writing, I came across “The Second Coming,” that famous and frightening poem by W. B. Yeats.  Written in 1919, in the wake of the First World War, “The Second Coming” is a vision of a world literally spiraling out of control. The very best of human achievements—Enlightenment philosophy, liberal economics, science and technology—had culminated in a conflict among nations that resulted in death and suffering on a scale which before this had been simply unimaginable.
Nearly 100 years after Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” his words seem to remain acutely appropriate for our times.  Following so many stories in the news of our world and our nation over the past one, two, five years, I have reminded myself over and over again of the line, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  And when I think about those people in positions of power—political leaders in particular but also those who run institutions whose impacts on our life are immeasurable—I keep coming back to Yeats’s assertion that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
W. B. Yeats was not the first person to feel like the world around him was falling apart, dissolving into chaos.  He wasn’t the first to recognize that, for all the progress human civilization can make, the specter of war, strife, and violence is always with us.  And he certainly wasn’t the first to envision, in the midst of frightening and incomprehensible historical change, that some kind of major break—a revelation, the Second Coming—was on the horizon. For Yeats, the historical circumstances of the twentieth century meant that the culmination, the decisive break, would have to be terrible, a “rough beast” ushering in something dark and unknown.
In dark times, when it seems like the world is spinning out of control, I’m grateful for passages like the one from today’s Morning Prayer, from the Book of Zechariah.  Here, the prophet presents a vision of a world renewed, a world at peace living with joy in the presence of God.  Even when circumstances seem most dire, when reconciliation among people seems like a na├»ve dream, we are reminded that with God, nothing is impossible.
Passages like these remind me that the season of Advent, and the celebration of the Incarnation we now look forward to, are not only about our personal, individual renewal (although certainly they are!).  Through the Incarnation, God has offered Godself to walk among us, to renew our societies and cultures, our cities and nations.  Zechariah’s vision is of a world brought back into shape through God’s healing power, not through human accomplishment.
But the vision of renewal does not mean that we can expect to simply sit here and wait for God to do this work.  We are not called to lack all conviction!  Today’s passage begins with God’s call to us to “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”  By heeding this call, and seeking to walk in God’s ways and live in relationships of love and charity with one another, we can participate in God’s work of reconciliation.
As my friend and colleague Carrie wrote yesterday’s solstice, “just when it seems like it will be dark forever, the light returns.”  When our world seems at its most dark, we are offered God’s promise of light.  How we respond to that promise may be up to us, but the promise—and the hope it brings—will always be there.

Post by Jett McAlister

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Be Our Light in the Darkness, O Lord

Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the
love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the western parts of Britain, there is a tradition of toasting to apple trees during the long, dark winter days: wishing them good health, for their health would ensure next year’s crop. Was hail, frequently spelled wassail, is the greeting, and it means “to be in good health.” The world that led to this tradition is so much more permeable than modern industrialized life. Artificial lights, well-insulated and heated homes, food that can be imported from just about anywhere, cars to travel over snowy roads, and my good friend the winter parka all wrap us up, keep most of us safe from winter. Winter becomes an inconvenience, not a threat.

And yet, as Anglicans, we come from a people who counted the days until the sun came back. Who toasted apple trees and prayed for the deep winter to break in a timely fashion. Who gathered around life-giving fires and told stories through the long winter nights, creating a place of glowing warmth in the midst of the raging cold.

With this atmosphere in mind, I can much better appreciate what it means to celebrate the coming of the Light, who breaks through the darkness. The time around the solstice seems like the darkness will never end; but just when it seems like it will be dark forever, the light returns. While we believe Jesus is always present in our world and in our lives, in Advent we anticipate retelling the story of Jesus’ particular entry into our world when he was born, as we hear so often, in a stable in Bethlehem. In Advent we also look ahead to the time when he will come back, as a king, to bring his kingdom to earth. We look back, and we look forward. But if we think of Jesus’ birth and his return as times of power and light, then where does that leave us now, in the time between? In a time of darkness and weakness?

I like to think we can be like our spiritual ancestors, who toasted to the promise of new life, even in the middle of darkness. We can see that the darkness is not empty, but full of the seeds of a kingdom that is more just and beautiful than the one we inhabit. We can pray for the coming of the Light, preparing ourselves to welcome him in.

Post by Carrie Combs

Photo used with permission by Chris Randall Fromm his blog:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Revelation as Renewal

“After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” Revelation 1:1
Our reading this morning is from the book of Revelation. In it, John is given a glimpse of God’s throne and provides us with a vivid description. It is a regal throne surrounded by a rainbow that looks like an emerald and 24 other thrones where the elders sit. It is quite the picture, a throne room fit only for God.

What is interesting though is the fact that the door stood open. John does not say he saw the door swing open. He did not see an angel fiddling with keys as he tried to unlock the door. There was no combination code to be entered, no key card to be swiped. John looked. And he saw the door was open. Isn’t that wonderful!

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When we cry out for healing, when we pray for the Spirit to visit us, when we look at a broken world and shake our fists in frustration, we are directing our prayers and supplications and thanksgivings toward our God whose door is always open.
And when we wish to bring closer the kingdom of God here on earth by serving in our various ministries; when we go out into the world after our Sunday worship to spread the good news through our words and through our deeds, when we love as deeply as we can love, we are creating a relationship with God.
God is not hiding behind a wall or a door bolted shut. God is with us. God is beside us. God is within us. Our prayers are heard. Our actions are noticed. Seek out God for God is willing to be found.

The door is open. The threshold is ours to cross.
Post by Matt Handi

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Knocking at your door

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. –Revelation 3:20
When I was a kid, for some reason, a fright frequently came over me when someone called or knocked on the door. I was always busy doing something else: reading a book, or browsing the internet, or playing a game. And then, suddenly, the phone rang from the kitchen (oh, the days of landlines), or the doorbell sounded throughout the house. Whatever it was I was doing stopped, even if just for a moment. Something more urgent beckoned.
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding!
A voice cries out in the wilderness!
For us, Advent is often like that unexpected sound, jolting us out of our reverie. Just when we’re in the midst of our lives, doing something else—taking care of our work or families, our chores or play—the prophets interrupt us to remind us to listen closely. They shake us from our slumber and remind us that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Rom. 13:11).
We’re in the last stretch of this season of Advent, getting ready to celebrate the first coming of our Lord at Christmas. But above and beyond the church year, the Scriptures call us to prepare for eternity—to repent, to pray, to listen, to look to the One who was, and who is, and who is to come.
For now, the prophets and apostles call out to us, seeking to prepare the way of the Lord. But soon, the One to whom they bear witness, he himself will come, as a child in a manger and as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, knocking on the door of our hearts.
When Jesus comes knocking, will we have ears to hear him calling? When Jesus comes knocking, will we open the door?
Post by Armando Ghinaglia

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