Merry Christmas. As is true of every holy feast of the church, each of us brings a different collection of needs, hungers, questions, and reasons to give thanks. You are here, probably, to listen – for the first or the five-thousandth time, to “hear the good news of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,” in the words of Isaiah. But, probably, you are also drawn to see. To see and exclaim, even before hearing, even in the midst of many cares and sorrows: How beautiful. How beautiful: the messenger’s feet upon the mountains. How beautiful: the holy arm which the Lord has bared. My God, how beautiful: this Child we have sought with the eyes of our hearts for so long.
Christmas, for Christians in the West, is the foremost opportunity to re-embrace the Medieval impulse to look and to touch; to show things of great meaning first, then to tell as commentary on the showing. So for the next hour, and the next eleven days of Christmas after that: Look! Touch! Taste! Smell! Clap and point and jump up and down at every shiny, lovely thing. We need to engage these impulses in acts of worship. It is easy in this world to forget the path to this holy ecstasy, this self-spending in the pursuit of meaning rather than luxury and waste.
Isaiah 52:7-10 & John 1:1-14
We are here to celebrate Christ, to rejoice and revel in the revelation of the Word made Flesh, to fall headlong into belief for the first time, or the five-thousandth time. You are here, probably, to listen – for the first or the five-thousandth time, to “hear the good news of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,” in the words of Isaiah. But, probably, you are also drawn to see. To see and exclaim, even before hearing, How beautiful. How beautiful: the messenger’s feet upon the mountains. How beautiful: the holy arm which the Lord has bared. My God, how beautiful: this Child we have sought with the eyes of our hearts for so long.
Christmas, for Christians in the West, is the foremost opportunity to re-embrace the Medieval impulse to look and to touch; to show things of great meaning first, then to tell as commentary on the showing. As the faith of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America remains to this day, the faith of the Medieval West was unabashedly sensory. Looking and touching and tasting were essential to believing, and they are even more so today.
Isaiah 52:7-10 / Psalm 98 / Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) / John 1:1-14
It’s Christmas Day. I love Christmas – and I love singing at Christmas! Christmas is a time for singing: everyone and everything seems to be singing. Have you noticed when you are in a really good mood, or at a birthday, or you’ve just heard a wonderful piece of news, you want to sing, or ring bells, or jump up and down – you can’t help it – it’s just joy! Particularly at Christmas, the Scriptures are full of singing. Our Psalm today: “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things – lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.” And not just people, but the whole of creation: “Shout for joy all you lands, lift up your voice, rejoice and sing … let the sea make a noise, let the rivers clap their hands … let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” (Psalm 96) At Christmas, it is as if the whole of creation is singing with joy!
Feast of St. Timothy and St. Titus, Companions of St. Paul
Isaiah 52: 7-10
Mark 16: 15-20
I had one of those aha moments on Sunday night which keeps reverberating through me. I had flown up from Boston earlier in the day and was staying with my sister and her family. That night my brother and his family came for dinner. The nine of us sat around the dining room table that had once been in my parents’ dining room. We laughed a lot. We caught up on each other’s news. We talked about the upcoming wedding of one of my nephews. We told stories. We exchanged news about my other siblings and their families, who weren’t at dinner that night. And we laughed some more. It was a great evening. Everyone went home or up to bed that night knowing something important had happened.
What happened on Sunday over good food, good wine and good company was that my family was re-membered. The disparate parts of the body were brought together and reconnected through food, wine and story. We reminded ourselves who we are, not as individuals, but as a family. We reminded ourselves who we belonged to and from where we had come.
Isaiah 52:7-10 Psalm 96:1-8 Galatians 6:14-18 Matthew 11:25-30
In the calendar of the Church, we remember today Saint Francis of Assisi, born in year 1181. In the Middle Ages, in Saint Francis’ day, the disease of leprosy, the oldest and most dreaded of all diseases, was a terrible scourge. Lepers would be seen with the most hideous of skin ailments: sores all over their bodies; bones protruding; eyes forever draining: wounded people, broken down, festering, stinking. A leper died a slow, repulsive, ignominious, lonely death. And yet the source of a leper’s problems was not with their skin or bones. Those merely showed the symptoms. The problem with leprosy is with the nervous system. The nerves become deadened to any feeling. The nerves sense nothing in the affected area. And as the disease would spread through the body, the person would not be able to feel anything in the affected area.
A person with leprosy affecting their hand would be working using, for example, a broom or garden trowel with a splintered handle. They might tear their hand but not feel it, not know it, and a resulting infection would settle into this lame hand.
Memories are a powerful force in the human psyche. They have the ability to trap and imprison, but they have also the ability to liberate and free. They have the power to make one weep in despair or grief and to laugh with the delight of a child. They have the power to shape and mold a life and in hindsight to help make sense of all that was and is, and even is to be. As we all know, it doesn’t take much to trigger a memory: a sound, a taste, a smell, an image, even just a word or phrase and suddenly we are back there as if it were happening this very instant.
I have one such memory that crops up in my mind and heart on a regular basis and it happens many days at Morning Prayer. Had I known it at the time, the event itself was to be a harbinger of things to come. As a memory it continues to delight and console, and even assure me.
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
A Christmas story – not from Dickens, but from Kierkegaard:
Once upon a time, there was a powerful and wise king who fell in love with a beautiful maiden who lived in his kingdom. The king’s problem was this: how to tell her of his love? He called for the best and brightest of his consultants and asked their advice. He wanted to do this in the best and most proper way – and, of course, he hoped his love would be cherished by the maiden and returned. But when all of his advisors had had their say, the king was left disappointed. For every one of them had counseled him in the same way. “Show up at the maiden’s house,” they said, “dressed in all your royal finery. Dazzle her with the power of your presence and with your riches. Overwhelm her with expensive gifts. What girl could resist? Who would reject such an opportunity, or turn away from such an honor? Who would possibly refuse a king? And if need be,” they added, “you can always command her to become your wife.”
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 96:1-8; Galatians 6:14-18; Matthew 11:25-30
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) was a witness to Christ in ways beautiful, charismatic, and extreme. He was a person of deep prayer and great compassion. He lived in an age of tremendous suffering, systemic corruption, and voracious spiritual hunger. He greeted these opportunities with courage, the unquenchable power of love, and a palpable freedom of the Spirit. He saw himself and his followers as “God’s jugglers,” mediating reconciliation within a divided church and witnessing to Christ’s joy to revive the hearts of the faithful.