December 31, 2017

On Christmas Eve, we had many people attend the two services at 4:00 PM and 10:00 PM. Everyone at those two services heard the Christmas story as told by Luke. There was no room at the inn and the shepherds and angels came. Only a few people attended the Christmas morning service. They heard John’s gospel, which is about the meaning of the birth of Jesus whereas Luke told the story with visual images. The Episcopal Church chooses to deviate just a little from the accepted set of readings. We normally use the same readings as other faith traditions but today we use the gospel story from John rather than the story of the Holy Family. We will have one more chance to hear about the Holy Family when we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in early February. Unlike those who are already finished with Christmas, we take time to understand what the birth of Jesus means to John and what it might mean to us. John wrote that the Word became flesh. God stepped out of eternity into human time and taught us how to live our lives. Jesus was God and man at the same time. John points out that Jesus has been around forever. Jesus existed before the world began and Jesus participated in the creation. John refers to Jesus as the Word. In Genesis when we read about the creation of the earth, seven times we hear the words God said. When God spoke the whole of creation responded. Much later, God realized that in spite of all the efforts of the prophets and all the good people that lived their lives faithfully more was needed. God spoke and Jesus took the form of a human. There is another meaning for God’s word. As my study Bible would say, the Divine word is “also the divine principle of reason that gives order to the universe and links the human mind to the mind of God”. That is what we celebrate when we come to church and that is the importance of Jesus to our lives. Jesus means everything to us, Jesus makes our lives have meaning. Without Jesus we would have no direction or purpose in our lives, we would be lost and uncertain. It might be fun to go on a trip where we have no idea where to go. It might be fun to take a trip without a GPS system to tell us where to go. But the direction of our life is much better when we take the Word of Jesus with us to decide how we will live our lives. Jesus connects us to the divine. Peter Abelard was a twelvth century theologian who wrote about the importance of the Word of Jesus. He said, “I think that the purpose and cause of the Incarnation was that God might illuminate the world by his wisdom and excite it to the love of himself.” And that is why we are thankful again today: Thankful for the life of Jesus, thankful for his presence on this earth and thankful for his impact in our hearts. The wisdom of Jesus is like food for our souls. It nurtures us and helps us to grow in God’s grace. Scripture helps us to see what it means to be connected with God. Isaiah wrote “God has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”. God’s clothing is so elaborate that it is like that of a bride or groom. Some verses were skipped in the reading from Galatians today which reiterate Isaiah’s message. Paul wrote that “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. This armor of Christ is the Word of Jesus that we carry with us every day. It is the light of Christ that lives inside of us. It is the Divine Wisdom that keeps us aligned with God. Jesus brought his love to us. He encouraged us to love one another. He taught us about truth, not the truth that we experience in the opinions of others but rather the truth of God that lasts forever. Paul also wrote that all of us are one in Christ, all of us are equals. He said that Jews and Greeks are equal, slave and free are equal and man and woman are equal when we live in the life of Christ. Isaiah offered us another image that seems so relevant for us at Transfiguration. In the Advent season, I spoke of tilling the soil, preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can receive the fruits of that preparation. Isaiah wrote “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations”. Paul spoke about this in the letter to the Galatians. Jesus helps us to mature in our relationship with God. We no longer need to be watched over by rules and someone to provide discipline. We are so filled with God’s spirit that we know how to behave. Just as a garden grows, we grow in faith. Jesus brings us into a proper relationship with God. He makes us righteous. When we hear the Word of Jesus and seek to live it in our lives, we grow in grace and truth. It is as if we have tilled our ground and made it holy and allowed Jesus to find a place where truth can spring up in abundance. Athanasius served as Bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century and was a well-known theologian. He wrote that “He (Jesus) became what we are that he might make us what he is”. We strive in our lives to be like Jesus. Athanasius words let us know it is not really we who do the work but rather it is the work of Jesus living in us that makes everything happen. Jesus brings us salvation . It is through his work that we become sons and daughters of God. We are not born of God but we were adopted by God. We belong to God because of the love and life of Jesus. I always appreciate what C. S. Lewis said about the coming of Jesus. Some people like to call Jesus a prophet, a holy man or a good role model for us. But Lewis would say we cannot consider Jesus just a prophet. Jesus told us that he was the Son of God. He told us that in order to be close to God, we must go through him. We either believe what Jesus said or we must decide that he was deranged. But most important, we wish to use the Wisdom of Jesus as our guidepost. So many times when we pray we ask God for things. Less often, we pray in thanksgiving for the gifts we have received from God. Given the story of Jesus coming to earth, our thanksgiving should be about the presence of God among us, the willingness of God to take on our human characteristics, the sense that Jesus understands exactly what it is like to be human. At the same time, it is about Jesus helping us to understand better what it is like to be God and to understand better what God wants for us and from us. I often think about the power of evil in this world. I wonder why the good that Jesus brought into this place has not spread further. But then I realize that evil is a strong power in human lives. People allow themselves to be controlled by the devil. But when I think deeply about evil, I think I should be amazed at the power of good. If we look carefully, we will find good in so many places. We find good in the many people that pray for us. Looking for the good is why I started a program to remember the acts of kindness that we have experienced. Although there are many non-believers, The number of people who seek to live their lives the way Jesus taught us is significant. And I pray that the Jesus movement will continue to grow so that more and more good will be found. Let us allow the Word of God to spread in ourselves and help it to be heard by others. Let us be thankful for all that God has done. Let us live our lives following God’s will and not our own. Then we will be able to experience a fulfilling life. Amen.

Last modified on Saturday, 06 January 2018 18:58

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  • Romans 5:3-4
    “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”