Archive for December, 2014

Light Shining…Magnificence and Splendor…Grace Appearing…Glory All Around!

December 22, 2014

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
“Oh the majesty and magnificence of his presence! Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary.” (Psalm 96:6)
“…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11)
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them…” (Luke 2:9)

Light shining…magnificence and splendor…grace appearing….glory all around.

All of our Lessons from Holy Scripture tonight seem to emphasize Light! And it’s easy to see why anciently the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6 – or what we call the Feast of the Epiphany. Because the word “epiphany” means a “shining forth” and surely the birth of Christ was a “shining forth,” an epiphany of God’s purposes in ways the world had never seen before!

Even in evening celebrations of the Christ Mass, like this one, there is an emphasis on candlelight and “candle light services”. We’ll sing Silent Night by candlelight at the end of this service. And our homes are filled with Christmas lights of all kinds. Why all this emphasis on “light” at Christmas? Well, what does light do? It “reveals”, doesn’t it? It makes things known that would otherwise be hidden. And that is exactly what the birth of Jesus Christ did for the world. It revealed, made known, manifested, something of what God is really like.

You might think that would have been unnecessary for the people of Israel who had worshipped God for nearly 2,000 years before Jesus was born. But there were still differences of opinion about what God was like. There was a Priestly understanding of a God who approved of cult and temple and sacrifice. There was a Prophetic understanding of a God who desired justice and righteousness above all else…and was quite suspicious of the sacrificial system.

There were those who saw God as vengeful and capable of destroying entire nations if they opposed the Divine Will. And others who saw God as tender and compassionate, One who brooded over this world like a mother over her children.

To this day, people have all kinds of ideas about God. Some believe in a God who sanctions violence of the most extremist kind. On the other hand, some Eastern religions have a very peaceful, tolerant view of the Divine, but don’t say much more than that about God. Seems to be a more of a Force, or a Divine Mind, rather than a Personal Being for them.

But our claim as Christians is that we know a bit more than that about what this God is like. Without wanting to say that we know everything there is to know about the Creator of the Universe (we certainly do not!) we do believe that something of the very nature of God has been revealed to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. We have been “enlightened” to some degree about that very Nature.

For example, we know that God is not callous or cruel. God does not willingly afflict or grieve human beings. We know that God is not distant from us or from the affairs of this world. For all God’s power and majesty, there is a certain vulnerability and even the possibility of being “hurt” – like a baby in a manger, our God can be vulnerable…and even wounded.

We know that God is not static and predictable by our rules and regulations, but is perfectly capable of surprising us, like the twelve year old boy in the Temple once surprised his parents by being about his Father’s business instead of being where they thought he ought to be. God “shows up” in unexpected places!

We know that God cares very deeply about what happens to us and so reaches out with a Word of wisdom and with healing, like that itinerant rabbi who once went about preaching Good News and backing up his words with actions like the healing of a paralytic, and the restoring of sight to one who had been born blind.

We know that God is capable of being betrayed by us, and delivered into the hands of sinners, for even less than the thirty pieces of silver Judas once got for betraying his friend.

But, in all this, indeed because of all this, God reigns! With all the vulnerability and unpredictability and deep compassion, God remains the creator and sustainer of the Universe, the ultimate source of all life and all that is. And this God is able and willing to bring good out of evil, and life out of death at every turn. Just as he once split open the grave and won the victory over death and hell on Easter morning.

How can we say all this? How can we believe all this with such passion? Because we believe in the essence of the Christmas story… because we believe in the “good news of great joy for all the people (for to us) is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

We know something of what God is like because we believe that the meaning of the Christmas story is what St. Luke said it was, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

We believe that Jesus Christ is “the grace of God…bringing salvation to all…” And his name will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Light shining…magnificence and splendor…grace appearing…glory all around. That’s what we celebrate here tonight, dear friends. Merry Christmas!

Advent Two and Ferguson

December 9, 2014

On this Second Sunday of Advent, our Presiding Bishop has asked us to remember the victims of the Ebola virus, especially in West Africa, and to pray for our church’s efforts to combat this dread disease. I had even prepared a sermon on the topic for this morning, but now feel that I cannot avoid addressing a disease affecting us even closer to home.
I speak of the deepening racial divide in this country spotlighted by recent Grand Jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to bring indictments against certain police officers involved in the deaths of two Black men.
Some of us, deeply mindful of the difficult and dangerous job law enforcement officers have, and of the fact that they put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, are content with the fact that provisions are made in the law to give the police permission to use deadly force, even the responsibility to use deadly force though tragedies sometimes occur in the application of such measures…such as the killing of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy in Cleveland who displayed a realistic-looking toy gun.
Some of us, deeply conscious of the sad legacy of slavery and segregation in this country, the effects of which are still with us, are saddened that such incidents remind especially African Americans of the bad old days of lynching and of the more recent heavy handed policing in the years leading up to and including the civil rights demonstrations we all remember so well.
All of us, it seems to me, must admit that there remains a huge chasm between the majority and minority communities in this country which, for all the progress we have made, does not seem to be narrowing or overcome but simply bubbling right below the surface just waiting for an emotionally charged act to occur in order to erupt once again.
From the Rodney King affair in the early 1990s to the O. J. Simpson trial to the more recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, study after study reveal the fact that White and Black Americans view these things in almost completely opposite ways, not so much because of the “facts on the ground” (which in most cases will always be disputed) but because of personal experiences each of us has had and the very different histories we have lived out, even though we are citizens of the same great country.
I wish I had solutions to suggest this morning for healing this great divide. I do not. But as one who grew up in the deep South and drank in the legacies of slavery and segregation with my mother’s milk, I know that the effects of these things are far from over and that we will never be the “one nation under God” we claim to be until they are. I know that “quick fixes” like body cameras on police officers will not solve the problem. And my Faith tells me that only repentance and forgiveness, the building of personal relationships and the hard work of reconciliation will begin the process of healing that we so desperately need.
Hmmm…repentance and forgiveness…relationships and reconciliation. Those sound like Advent themes to me.
I wonder if you would be willing to join me in a couple of minutes of silent reflection this morning about what you could do, in these dark days, to try and become part of the solution instead of part of the problem in our racially divided land. Are there things you need to repent of? Someone you need to forgive (even the stranger…or an “enemy”)?
Is there some way you can build a relationship with someone who is very different (maybe even of a different color) than you? What would reconciliation look like… in your family…in your neighborhood…in THIS neighborhood…and in our country? Let’s think about these things together in silence for a little bit. And then I’ll close.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together… (Isaiah 40 passim)
Let us pray,
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
C. Christopher Epting
Assisting Bishop, Diocese of Chicago