On Christmas Day

Good is the flesh that the Word has become,
good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
good is the body for knowing the world,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body for knowing the world,
sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
feeling, perceiving, within and around,
good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
growing and aging, arousing, impaired,
happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

© Brian Wren, as quoted in An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor (Harper One).

Joy Runs Deep

The fourth week of Advent (this year a full seven days, thank God), promises to be active with preparations, last minute purchases, and social engagements. In my parish office, we are busy getting ready for the Festival of the Nativity and the many guests we expect on Christmas Eve.

Spiritually, the goal is the same: getting ready. We must try to find a way to turn activity inward as we approach the last few days before Christmas and become centered, open to the tremendous mystery at hand. Our model is Mary. Despite what must have been a stressful late-pregnancy, rough travel, and the uncertainty of where she would actually deliver, she is ready. Since that surprising day when her cousin Elizabeth told here she was blessed in her believing, Mary has been waiting expectantly. For us too, the time draws close. We believe and wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

I think of my own daughter Rebecca, in her late pregnancy, and her unborn child expected in late December or early January. The waiting is nearly over for her and her husband Nate. Beyond the labor there will be fullness of joy, though perhaps initially, joyful exhaustion!

It’s important to realize as we turn toward Christmas, that joy runs deeper than happiness, which is so often predicated on favorable life circumstances. Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and presence at work within us–no matter the challenges that life presents. Coupled with this conviction, I find the practice of gratitude helps to re-direct negative cycles of thinking toward positive things, especially in times of adversity. There must have been times in Mary’s life when her circumstances left her feeling discouraged and unhappy. Yet there can be no doubt of her deep joy and assurance whenever we hear or sing her wonderful Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

This distinction between happy circumstances and confident joy can help us enter into the mystery of Christmas as we are and where we are, without trying to achieve our own or someone else’s expectations. We cherish the story of Christmas precisely because it is such a human story and because in that story, we find inspiration and hope for our own lives and for the world. May the story of God’s coming as a child of blessing and peace find a home in all of us once again.

Sent for these “Mean Times”

Photo by Sarah Bartenstein

At the Ordination of Priests for the Diocese of Virginia on Saturday, those gathered witnessed an extraordinary sermon by The Rev. Dr. Roger Ferlo of Virginia Theological Seminary.

Dr. Ferlo reminded us that,

“Jesus dwells among us in what Scripture and our Eucharistic Prayer describe as ‘these last days,’ the ‘meantime,’ the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming in fulfillment of God’s dream for the world. These are also ‘mean times,’ a time when fear and violence are rampant across the globe, a time when rhetoric is hot and hatreds are worn on the sleeve, a time shadowed by war and by sin, by environmental degradation, by racial intolerance by fanaticism and sheer terror. These ten ordinands are being ordained to serve Christ in these mean times.”

Dr. Ferlo then offered this poignant observation:

“In this liturgy we pray, ‘Let you priests be clothed with righteousness and let your people sing with joy’. But I wonder if our prayer this morning should really be, ‘Give these ten poor fools the wit to duck for cover.’ It’s not just these ordinands who need to duck for cover, for we are all in this together.”

We are now deep into the season of Advent.  On the Third Sunday of Advent we are simply told that “there was a man sent from God whose name was John.”  I wonder if that also true of each of one us?  There is about the life of each and everyone of us a reality of being “sent,” of having a certain purpose and meaning for existence. As we reflect on the path our lives have taken and what has happened to us so far, we can see a thread of meaning weaving through our lives like rhyme.  Noticing that unfolding pattern of meaning and direction gives us an inkling of what it means to be sent by God.  The good news I hear in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent is that each of us is truly meant to be here.

Like John the Baptist, we have an alternative story for these “mean times,” one in which every human life matters, and is created for loving relationship with the source of all life. In this story your worth is given, not earned.  In this alternative story, we are offered forgiveness for our faults and errors, for the harm we’ve done to others and this earth, and so are freed to forgive others and break the cycle of harm and retribution. In this story we learn that we are claimed by a love and power beyond our own. We have good news to share.

As we approach the final rush to Christmas, don’t forget what it means to be living in these “mean times.” In simple, loving, and yet prophetic ways, be a witness to the light of Jesus the Christ.

My sermon for Advent III can be found here.