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Tuesday
Jan162018

Come and See

COME AND SEE

When asked what was the purpose of the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York City, the former dean said, “The purpose of the Cathedral is to promote social justice.”  As you know, I disagree. I think the purpose of the Cathedral is worship. The purpose of all houses of worship is to help one meet God through prayer, praise, proclamation and the sacraments.

We meet God through our intuitive and aesthetic senses as well as through our rational endeavors. When we come to meet God, we come to See

Now, seeing is complex and can involve vast experiences.

Three times this past week, while on my way to work, I have driven past a woman with her white cane and a German Shepherd. She is accompanied by another person as well. This blind person sees through others and through other senses.

When I was 10, I got my first pair of glasses. Suddenly a whole curtain of gray dropped from in front of me. The lenses changed my vision and my life as well.

Seeing is also set in our past and present experience. This past week I complimented Donald Wiegand on his calligraphy. He demurred and said he was just an amateur. Recently he spent forty minutes looking at the work of a professional calligrapher. The longer he looked, the more he saw. He brought all of his past experience to bear on the craftsmanship before him.

Similarly, when I was an undergraduate at Yale, I worked in the history of art department in the Yale Art Gallery. The longer you looked at stuff in the gallery, the more you saw, and you also brought your academic knowledge and your knowledge of the movements and theories behind the various art items.

So it was with Phillip and Nathanael. They brought their knowledge of the patriarchs, the Law and the prophets to their view of Jesus of Nazareth. They saw through the lenses of the Jewish Faith. Both men were disciples of John the Baptist. John preached repentance and baptized in repentance for sins of omission and commission. He prepared the way for an anticipated Messiah.

In the call of Jesus to “come and see,” these two disciples of John the Baptist heed the promise of the prophets of a Messiah. They are brought to a new spiritual journey, and from now on will see with eyes of faith God working in Jesus.

Hence it is that Jesus adds the promise of heaven and ascending and transcending experiences. From now on they will see with new eyes of faith, resulting in the birth and formation of the Church.

So it is with you and me. We bring our longings, fears, aspirations, quandaries and love to this church. We learn to see with eyes of faith. We see with the eyes of our hearts and souls the power and promise of God – not just in a faint deism – but in the concrete body and life of Jesus and in His sacrifice as the Lamb of God, taking upon Himself the sins of the world as he is present in the bread and wine, the Gospel story, and the Holy Spirit.

As a result of our life in the Church, we are changed. To give two examples: During World War II, I asked my father if Hitler was going to win. My father, a man of faith, replied, “No, he will not win.” God will not let evil prevail.” Dad saw through eyes of faith.

Similarly, ten years ago watching the horror of 911 when the planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, my thought was “God will not let evil prevail. God will prevail.” It sounds trite, perhaps, but I share my father’s faith conviction. Because of the Church, and my life in it, I tend to see through eyes of faith.

May our message to our family and friends, and to or society during this period of Epiphany be, “Come and See. Really See.” Amen. 

Monday
Jan082018

Fashion Statement

FASHION STATEMENT

Mk. 1:4-11

1/7/18

Epiphany I

I have a secret. Very domestic and quite personal. You see, I have magic socks.  Although my wife does not like to admit it, I do most of the laundry in our household. Now that they are in their late 30's my sons manage to stuff the machines once a month, but on a regular basis it's me and the large bottle of Tide. Now, you may have noticed that I have an even number of limbs. Two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet. Inevitably, abra cadabra, I end up with an odd number of socks. Magically one sock has disappeared! I look in the machines, behind them, around them, all through my clothes. No sock. Then, usually before dawn when I am getting ready for an early service, I thread my arm through a shirt and -- out comes a lonely sock. It looks at me. I look at it. Where is its partner? Is there another one with that frayed look to it? With a hole in the heel or a run in the gauntlet? Now what do I do with two single socks? Somehow my socks get sorted out and we go back to a working relationship until the next time; when I am not looking another sock takes off.

Now my sock problem is not a major one, although annoying at times. Like most of you I have an organizing principle around which I arrange my dress. I wear black because of my profession. Since I do pastoral work I want to have a casual touch to my attire, hence khaki trousers. To convey that I am an academic, I tend towards Harris Tweeds and three button coats. But I also want to look vigorous and active, so I wear bright suspenders and an occasional work shoe. Intentionally my fashion statement is: semi-informal, relaxed, professional, mature, confident, active and warm. My sons say that I am wrinkled, careless, dated and disorganized, but one of them doesn't shave often and the other has an earring.

The point of this is that all of us, either intentionally or unintentionally, make a fashion statement by how we dress and comport ourselves. Some of you dress casually because you are retired - and you want to show that you are retired. Others of you dress casually because of comfort needs. You are saying that your arthritis bothers you or tight clothing bothers you.

So it is in other aspects of our lives. We organize our lives around certain defining principles. The clubs we belong to, the cars we own, the places we go, the kind of jobs we hold tend to fit a pattern and say something about our values, and what guides and motivates us. The fashion of our lives and how we wear that fashion makes a statement about us, whether we like it or not. 

Most of us have a lot of wrinkled clothes and dirty laundry in our lives. There are bruises and defeats, frustrations and disappointments, cuts and tears to the human fabric and psyche. The older we get the more worn some parts become. Others get softer and more flexible. Some of course become threadbare, brittle and stiff. We fashion our lives out of our experiences and observations, hopes and dreams, expectations and disappointments. We learn to value one thing and discard another. Yet there is always that mischievous sock that pops out and says, "Surprise!” Things aren't always just as you think they are. Appearance and reality dance an intricate jig for a choreographer of infinite wit.

So it was for Israel. She wore her sack clothes and ashes in resigned defeat. Her fashion was despair and her defining principles were the Law and a covenant, which she could not keep. Hope sprang up in rebellious defiance from time to time, only to be shredded. Her conquerors boasted multicolored banners of imperial triumph. For three hundred years she had not heard a prophet, when onto the stage of history lurched John the Baptist, wearing a lion's skin, preaching repentance and baptizing with water. To a people clothed in guilt and judged more than unfashionable in the eyes of the Law, John preached judgment, a call to repentance and ritual cleansing. Judgment, repentance and cleansing were the defining spiritual principles, which he offered his sorely, pressed people.

In one of those wrinkles of time out popped one of those odd moments, those fortuitous encounters (technically called a theophany), which carefully fit into the cut of the grand scheme of things. John the Baptist encountered Jesus, recognized Him as the Son of God, and yielded his leadership to Jesus. The writer of Mark's Gospel sets up his narrative of the ministry and life of Christ with this defining moment. Mark tells us of the descent of a dove (a symbol for Israel, as well as for grace and peace), and the language is couched in the manner of an enthronement psalm. Jesus accepts John's baptism, acknowledging the necessity for Him to honor the judgment of Israel and the need for repentance. But from now on the story of faith is of a new testament. It is the story of our relationship to God's son and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. With the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ there is a whole new set of defining principles. The garments of judgment, guilt and repentance, as the sole fashion of one's life no longer fit. There is a new covenant, a new testament and that is of God present with us and giving to us the Holy Spirit. To live with Christ, to believe in Jesus Christ, to have our relationship to Christ as the defining relationship in our lives is to open ourselves to the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Son of God gives us this Holy Spirit, God's divine presence and power in our lives. This means that our lives are fashioned by our relationship to Christ and by the activity of the Holy Spirit.

The presence of the Holy Spirit with us, in addition to and subsequent to the redemptive and atoning work of Christ, is highly important. It is the power of God, which works usually quietly, like yeast in bread, but ever pervasively. It is what motivates the believer and gets you up in the morning. Judgment and repentance are intrinsic principles in the devout and holy life, but they are poor motivators. They lack the surprise, the creativity, the steadying grace, which comes with the Holy Spirit.

You and I know the ongoing presence of Christ in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit through baptism in which we are cleansed and put on the garment of faith. We know the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist, in which we encounter the body and blood of Christ. We know the Holy Spirit through the fellowship of the Church, as well as through hearing the Gospel, participating in Christian education and exercising the image of God: reason, imagination, and conscience. To a great extent the early Church laid out for us a pattern of thought, which reflects the defining principles of the divinity of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. That pattern is found in the Nicene Creed, which we read following this sermon. The results of these principles are found in those signs, which St Paul pointed out: love, charity and the propagation of the Gospel.

You and I wear our faith daily. Some parts of it fit comfortably, others pinch. Many of us tend to wear the garments of guilt and repentance more naturally than those of confidence and joy. In a sense we honor the Old Testament more than the new. We need to let the Christmas story fashion our souls anew and to let the light of Christ into our hearts just a little more so that we might brighten our moral, intellectual and psychological outlook. As we get older, or as the blasts of a cold world catch us, it is tempting to hunch and pull our arms across our chest and snug up a sweater of familiar discontent. We need not do that, however. Through prayer and presence, thought and personal encounters, the Holy Spirit can fashion a new creation for our garment of faith.

So it is with your and my parish. Mark's story of the descent of the dove calls you and me to fashion in this New Year exciting goals of worship, commitment, growth, and acts of love. The magical surprise of the unexpected is always up the sleeve of a person of faith. Our faith is comfortable and sturdy; we fashion it and it fashions us. We can wear it well. We have put on the body of Christ through baptism and the sacraments. You and I can live out the life of Christ with confidence and grace, knowing that we will always be surprised by the joy of unexpected grace in our life together and with God. Amen.  - Fr. Gage -

Tuesday
Jan022018

From His Fullness

FROM HIS FULLNESS

JN. 1:1-18

12/31/17

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jn. 1: 16-17.

Today is New Year’s Eve Day, the end of the year. It is a natural time for reflection and taking stock of things. Of course we try not to look at ourselves too closely, but don’t you find yourself thinking how quickly this year has passed? Instinctively you and I ask ourselves, “What does it all mean? What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

Now I am going to tell you two stories and then comment on the Prologue to The Gospel of John. As I tell these stories I invite you to think of similar experiences in your own lives.

On New Year’s Eve Day in 1961 Faye, and I were driving from Hartford to Chicago. We had been married six months. We were headed West on the New York Thruway in her 1955 Chrysler Windsor. She and I were anxious about being married, our families, our careers and all the work that we had before us at the end of the year and at the beginning of a new one.

It began to snow. Soon it became apparent that we were heading into a major storm. Not to worry! We would just follow the New York State plow truck in front of us. Gradually the only thing we could see was the red tail light of the truck. To our surprise the truck exited the highway. We had no choice but to follow him, because the highway was impassable. The plow stopped in front of The Hotel Utica. “Well, I guess this is where we are going to spend the night,” I quipped. “Harrumph,” Faye opined.

We checked in and discovered that the hotel had been built before the war—probably The Civil War. After washing up we went down to the café, where there were New Year’s Eve decorations. Faye and I were warmly welcomed by the waitress and included in the very low-keyed festivities. Later we retired to our room, where I read from the Hebrew Bible (The Law) for about an hour.

I remember our first New Year’s Eve because room was made at the inn for stranded travelers. Those were not easy times. The Korean War had just ended, and we lived under threat of nuclear war from the Communist block. The powers of darkness were there in the world working their evil ways. And yet, at the same time there was the light and grace of kindness, hope and love which held back anxiety and despair. Light shone in the darkness.

“From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Many years later, Faye and I celebrated Christmas with my two sons and their wives by opening presents in our living room. Faye’s opened a present from her sister-in-law, Linn, and gasped. It was a photograph of Faye, her brother, Paul, and her sister, Peg. They must have been in their thirties. Looking at it, Faye marveled, “We were SO young!” Thirty some years have passed since that photo was taken. Faye’s parents and mine have died, and Peg has died as well. So have my brother’s daughter and son. “We were SO young!”

Since our first New Year’s Eve together, we have experienced the Vietnam War (in which Paul served), the War in the Mideast, the War in the Balkans, the War in Afghanistan and now the War in Iraq. We have had careers and second careers, children and the hopes of grandchildren. We have known sickness, disappointment, failures, death and destruction. Much of that seemed unimaginable when Faye’s photograph was taken thirty-odd years ago. “We were SO young!”

I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences of loss, disappointment the surprise of unexpected events, and a sense of how fast time has passed by. How naive we must have been!

But that is not the whole of your or my existence. We have experienced the blessings of families, the love and compassion and generosity that flow from the goodness of gracious hearts. We have known the hope and dreams and great thanksgivings that come with new births and new companions. My family and my wife’s family have been fed by their lives in the Church. They have been sustained by prayers, fellowship, the sacraments and the promise of eternal life.

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Now what has this to do with the Prologue to The Gospel of John? St. John was familiar with the life of Jesus. He was there and saw the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. John knew that Jesus was more than a baptizer, preacher, teacher, healer and prophet. John witnessed both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. John knew that Jesus was the Savior, the Christ. Looking back over his life and his experience of the life of Christ, John had much the same experience as you and I have had. He wanted to make sense of what happened. He, too, was asking the questions, “What has happened? What does it all mean? What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

John thought about these matters for a long time. How was he to explain what the Gospel proclaimed to the rest of the world? John knew the Gospel narrative, as found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Each Gospel writer spoke to a slightly different audience, Matthew to the church in Jerusalem, Luke to the church of St. Paul’s travels. Mark to the early church in its formation. Unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke and the other disciples, John lived to an old age. He was reflective, taking stock of things. In his contemplation (remember he became a mystic and eventually wrote The Book of Revelation about his visions), John took the person of Jesus Christ, concentrated on it and explained what happened in Christ in the broad terms of the Greco-Roman world and Hellenistic Judaism.

John realized that if Jesus were the showing forth of God in the world, if Jesus were divine, then Jesus was present at the time of creation. Jesus, then, is pre-existent, eternal and ruler of the cosmos, of history and of time. To explain Jesus as present as God at the time of creation, John uses the term “logos.” Jesus is the Word. He is the intention, purpose and revelation of God Himself. By selecting the term “logos” in order to define the nature and purpose of Jesus, John is using a loaded term from the Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Judeo world. For the Greek, “logos” means the mind of God. It is the divine rationality that is behind all things and exists in all things. For the Jew, the word, “logos,” is associated with The Law, which is God’s word for mankind. At the same time the “Word” also is associated with the idea of Wisdom, which is behind the nature and ability of man to discern patterns in the world – the rationality of things. Lastly, for the Jew, the “Word” referred to the messages that the prophets received from God. Knowing all of these connotations, John selects the term, “logos,” or “Word,” and infuses it with the salvation message and action of Jesus Christ. The “Word” is God’s purpose, intention and revelation as primarily found in Jesus, but it also includes His will in the Law, in the nature of things, and in reason as well as revelation.

So we are told that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” All of this is said in order to help you and me to understand that the ultimate purpose and nature of God is revealed in Jesus and is always with us. In the last analysis, then, there is purpose and meaning in life. There is light in darkness because there is the love and grace of God. Hence it is that out of His fullness you and I are assured of His compassion and love for us. We see all of that in the divine nature of Jesus, who reflects God’s fullness and His grace. That is what you and I experience in our lives, when we see how blessed we are; and, that is what you and I experience in our lives in Church, where we receive the sacraments and the Gospel.

As you look back over your life, consider what has happened, the good as well as the bad. Then consider the message of the love of God as found in a baby in a manger. Looking back at the end of our year, or at the end of our life, or at the end of two thousand years, when we try to comprehend what has happened, we can’t help but say, “We were SO young.” At the same time, as you and I look back in faith we also can’t help but affirm the fullness of God’s love. Together with John, we confess, “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – Amen- Fr. Gage

 

 

 

Wednesday
Dec272017

Christmas Defined

Christmas Defined

Christmas Eve

  What can you and I say about this time called Christmas, this Mass for the Christ child? Christmas is an event. It is a moment in time, which is evocative, calling forth a constellation of associations in our individual and corporate lives.

For many of us Christmas is family. It is the gathering of aunts and uncles and nephews and cousins and brothers and sisters, parents grandparents and in-laws. It is a meeting of the clan, of the tribe of those to whom we are connected as “family.” It is the celebration of our life, our connectedness, our identity. On the one hand it is a party. On the other hand it is family remembered, the presence still felt of a parent or sister or loved one who has died. The sweet remembrance of one who counted, who was (and still is) important to us, is a bittersweet reflection which adds dimension to the celebration of family, giving depth and substance to the Christmas family celebration. As long as there is family, there is always a sense of hope. When our own family is gone, we connect to the family of others and to the greater family of the community or the Church. Christmas is family and hope.

For some of us Christmas is food. Lots of food. Swedish pastries and Italian cannolies, Irish bread and Polish sausages. It is Bob Cratchit’s Christmas goose. It is my mother’s pot roast and my brother’s turkey. Christmas is the joyous celebration of abundance, almost more so than Thanksgiving. It is the feasting upon those things that are nourishing and good and the sharing of them. It is enjoying those things that feed the body, and in so doing feed the soul as well. For some of us it is a reminder of the “heavenly banquet.” But here on earth with my daughter-in-law’s pie, joyously delicious, Christmas is food and joy.

For most of us Christmas is giving and receiving. For my sister-in-law it is SHOPPING! She loves the hunt for the perfect sweater-marked down 50%, bought with a coupon for 25% off the sale price, the sweater dwarfs the gifts of the Magi. I love to get gifts. It makes me feel that I am noticed and count. It is a token of peace even where there has been estrangement. More so do I love to give. It is my way of communicating, of reaching through the barriers and defenses that surround all of us, even our spouses and children. A thoughtful, well-chosen gift says, “Peace be with you.” Christmas is giving and receiving. It is the hope of peace.

But how elemental are these things: family, food and giving! How real but ephemeral are their concomitant associations: hope, joy and peace! Yes, you and I celebrate family, food and giving at other times during the year (a birthday, a harvest, etc.) We also have moments for hope, joy and peace (a birth, a graduation, an armistice.) But these elemental things and associations cluster around Christmas. They are elemental in that they are part of creation and recreation, part of sin and redemption, part of the eternal process. At the same time, they are part of a mysterious, cosmic life-giving force that personally touches you and me deeply and yet comes from far beyond the heavens. You and I experience the hope of family, the joy of nourishment and the peace that comes through giving and receiving because there is deep within us not only reason but also imagination. Our aesthetic sense, our response to beauty, to the miracle of birth, the wellspring of joy or the breath of peace is because our creator has given us the capacity to respond to both reason and revelation.

Hence it is that you and I respond, perhaps initially, to family and food and gift giving, to hope and joy and peace in earthly things, but at the same time we cannot help but respond to the miracle of Christmas. How else could God touch the desires for family and food and gift giving, for hope and joy and peace but by the birth of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? Here is God Himself reaching beyond the stars, giving the gift of Himself in an act that is almost impossible to reject – the birth of a child. Here is the response to the vision of the prophet, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (1)

Christmas is the simple story of a particular family, nourishing and giving. It is the simple story of hope and joy and peace. You know it.  “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…. And Joseph also went from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David…with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there...she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (2)

 But they were not alone. Imagination, observation and reason, kissed one another as others came to the stable. “There were…shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to unto them, “Fear not: for behold– I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is, Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign unto you: Ye shall find a the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (3) Following the star, the shepherds, and later the wise men, entered into a moment in time in which the intention of God brought eternal light which forever overcomes the darkness of the cosmos and of the human soul.

Christmas is the exploding of God Himself from the time of creation to the present. It is the incarnation of God’s will and intelligence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not….And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,(and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (4)

Tonight, Christmas is the festival of light, the Mass for Christ. It is the Eucharist for the unbelievable, beyond all hope and dreams, gift of God Himself, in the form of a baby, of the infant Jesus. Like men and women since that night 2000 years ago, our hearts leap in response to this divine/human act. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men.” (5)

Come to the Christmas Eucharist. Rejoice and sing. You and I are blessed to receive the gift of Christmas: the family of Christ, the food of the bread and wine, the giving and receiving of love. Here for a moment in time, light overcomes darkness and you and I joyfully embrace not only one another but also hope and the promise of peace. Come. Let us adore Him. –Amen- Fr. Gage. 12/24/05, Saturday.

 

1) Isaiah 9:6

2) Luke 2:1-7

3) Luke 2:8-12

4) John 1:1-5,14

5) Luke 2:14

King James Version

 

Monday
Dec182017

Witness for the Defense

WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE

John 1:6-8, 19-28

12/17/17

The other night I was foraging in the aisles of Stop & Shop for a White Dove assignment. A woman stopped me and held up her White Dove card. “I’m doing my White Dove too!” she chirped. “I do it every year. Isn’t it great to be doing this?” “Yes, it is.” I replied. “It puts things into perspective.” We continued on our ways, selecting various items for our packages. Later, as I sat trying to catch my breath, I smiled at the thought that I had just made a new friend. We were bonded by a common task and a common desire. We had slightly taken the measure of one another and knew a little bit about who each other was simply by our participation in the White Dove charitable program.

I want to commend all of you who did the White Dove program here at St. Andrew’s. It is a lot of work and expense for a good cause. Ginger, Jim, and others help us feed about 21 families. We are trying to hold the line against hunger and privation in our all too secular and materialistic society. We are a little part of a Gerri-built line of defense for those in need. In so doing, you and I bear witness to our Christian faith and to Jesus as the one who defends and redeems us from sin and evil.

This is the third Sunday in Advent. As I noted last Sunday, Advent in the Episcopal Church is a penitential season, in which we take stock of what we have done and left undone, of the state of our souls. We live in a world of tension and ambiguity. I suggested that we allow the Gospel story and the Gospel message wash over us and through us—to let the dialysis of faith cleanse our hearts and minds.

To receive the power of the Gospel story is not a counsel for passivity. Just like last week, in the Gospel of Mark we heard the story of John the Baptist, so this week in the Gospel of John we revisit the narrative of John the Baptist. The salient mark of the story of John the Baptist is that he witnesses to Jesus as the chosen one of God, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Indeed, John mentions the witness of the Father, the witness of Jesus Himself, the witness of His works, the witness of the Scriptures, the witness of the last of the prophets, the witness of those with whom Jesus comes into contact, the witness of the disciples and the witness of the Holy Spirit. (Cf. Barclay’s Commentary, pp. 51-52).

During Advent, as in other seasons, you and I are called to witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our savior and defender. Advent is not only a time of expectation and penance; it is a time of appropriate witness. Now let me note what witness is and is not. Witness points beyond itself. Witness turns away from itself. Witnessing is not entertaining or performing. Success is not witness. (When I worked at Christ Church in Winnetka, Illinois, the church was known for its gigantic tag sale, which it held every year and attracted people from miles around. Tag sales are good, but this one swallowed the church. Everyone was wrapped up in the tag sale. The focus was not witnessing to God in Jesus Christ, but to the amount of stuff for sale.

Witnessing is not adoration of the preacher. My parents used to attend a Presbyterian Church and swoon over the preacher. He was so handsome, intelligent and wonderful! His charm eclipsed his message. Yes, it is good to be charismatic and a pulpiteer, but it is the Gospel Message, not the preacher that should be the focal point.

When I was in college, I had some outstanding professors. Franklyn Van Baumer was an outstanding lecturer of history. I also had Louis Martz, professor of English literature. Louis almost faded into the background. He kept pushing you into the document at hand. What is the document saying? How is it organized? Why does it work the way it does? The result was that you got entirely involved with the writing and the literature. You totally forgot about Louis. Louis always pointed away from himself. He witnessed to the literature.

As practicing Episcopalians, our liturgy is our strength. Our liturgy, when done well, points beyond itself. Our liturgy points to the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus and His presence in the bread and wine of the Mass. The Mass witnesses to your and my salvation and redemption through the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So rejoice in the Mass. Rejoice in the power of Jesus Christ in our individual and collective lives. This Advent witness to what God has done in the birth of His son by your quiet and faithful actions and lives. Put up a Christmas tree. Hang out a wreath. Wear your cross with a sprig of holly. Show up. Attend Mass. Bring your family. Sing lustily. Pray for one another. Pray with one another. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16.

Yes, allow the Gospel Story of Advent to wash over you and through you. This season live the Good News. Witness to your faith, so that others may look at you and say, “I, too, am joining you in charity and in thankfulness.”

Lift up your hearts! Let us lift them up unto the Lord.” Amen.