Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Let Us Go and See this Thing that has Come to Pass -- A Sermon for Christmas

Homily for Christmas Eve, Year B, 2008
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-21

Let Us Go and See this Thing that Has Come to Pass

I bring you Good News of great joy, which shall be for all people. A Word has gone out to all the nations, a Word that echoes across the ages into our hearts and souls this very night. A Word has gone out, more enduring, more powerful than any word or decree uttered by any emperor, king, or ruler of any age. A Word has gone out not only into the darkest corners of the world but into the darkest corners of our hearts. It is a Word that came to shepherds abiding in the field; it is a Word that reached distant wise men who pondered the stars; it is a Word that was birthed in the willing hearts of a young and frightened couple in a stable in Bethlehem – the Word made flesh, Jesus our Lord and King.

I bring you Good News of great joy that what was cast down is now being raised up, what was old is being made new, what is broken is being restored. Let us go then and see this thing that God has made known unto us. Let us see what God has done. Yes, my friends what has been made known and what has been done. We speak not about the past or only about the future but about the present. We speak about today.

We live in a world full of crisis, and we may look longingly back at an idyllic golden age (that never really was), or we may hope against hope for a better day to come. At times its seems like our only hope is rooted in the hope of tomorrow. In a world of terrorism and wars on terrorism, in a world in which gun violence grips our cities, in a world in which poverty and epidemic run rampant, in a world in which our environment seems irreversibly destroyed, we feebly hope that tomorrow will be a better day. But the hope of tomorrow is a feeble one indeed. If we have not fared well in the past, and if we have not acted well in the present, what hope have we for tomorrow?

But the Christmas message is not a message for tomorrow. It is not a pipe dream for the future. It is the breaking through of a reality that God has acted and is acting now. Hope is not long past or future-flung, it is now, in Christ. Will any of us dare to believe it is so? In the midst of economic crisis, ecological crisis, socio-political crisis, can we, will we, dare we believe that a Word has gone forth and that God has acted?

Can you believe it?

Consider for a moment that in the muck and mire of first century Palestine, under foreign domination and oppression, in the midst of political uncertainty, terrorist uprising, economic disparity, God came into the world. To a people without hope, to a people with a broken spirit, to a people who longed for a better tomorrow but feared it would never come, God entered in. He did not tarry, he came and the word uttered to the people, to shepherds abiding in the field was not “wait,” but “come hither and see what God has done.” To these ancients God became human and lived amongst them.

And to you, whose heart is broken this night, he comes.

And to you, who have lost your job and fear what the future holds, he comes.

And to you, whose retirement savings have disappeared these past few months, he comes.

And to you, as your family life is in turmoil, he comes.

And to you, who have lost your beloved this past year, he comes.

And to you, who fear for the anxiety of tomorrow, he comes.

Unto each one of us, in our personal brokenness, into the muck and mire of our lives, into the complicated business we call “life”, into the confusion of our lives, he comes with healing in his wings. You may not hear angels singing or trumpets heralding his coming, but he has come.
To any who were once alone but comforted by another, he has come.

To any who have made a terrible mistake and felt the forgiveness of another, he has come.

To any who have lost something or someone dear and felt the outpouring of love and support by family and friends, he has come.

And even in the silence of the moment when all seems lost, even in that silence, he is there.

These are the angelic choruses that herald his living and abiding presence among us. These are the heavenly songs here on earth that remind us we are not alone, and what is more, that we have been saved from every evil that the world can throw at us. This is the Glory of God illumined all around.

Angels appeared to trembling shepherds. The Glory of the Lord shone round about them enveloping them and calming their fear with joyous tidings that the Lord had come. A Word of hope came to them and they turned their faces toward Bethlehem, and they were not afraid. In the love and care of others in Christ, we are enfolded in that same glory and in that same love. And in our comfort and care of others we enfold them in that same love. Thus we have no cause to fear for Christ is born and the world is changed. We are surrounded by the glory of God. And we turn.

Seek the signs of the Word made flesh. God is disclosing them moment-by-moment in spite of, and in the midst of a broken world. Seek the signs not in the courts of kings, or the halls of parliaments, or in the offices of Bay Street. Seek them not at the end of a rifle or in the commands of generals or in the movements of armies, for God discloses himself in gentleness, in deep humility, in the arms of an unwed teenaged mother, in the dampness of a lowly stable.

In acts of gentleness, in kindness and humility he is made known to us. In acts of forgiveness, contrition, and compassion he comes. God is found in brokenness. God is found in our poverty, both spiritual and material. Yet make no mistake, his humility is his power and his poverty is his strength, for it is in his humiliation that our broken hearts are mended and in his poverty that we are richly filled. Let us go then unto Bethlehem seeing and believing this thing that the Lord has done.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Was Kept Secret for Long Ages is now Disclosed

Homily for Advent IV, Year B, 2008
Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38.

"What was kept secret for long ages is now disclosed"

At the end of my sermon series this past summer I promised one more homily on Romans this year. And so, on this fourth Sunday of Advent we are confronted by the concluding verses of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a glorious doxology extolling the revelation of the mystery of God in the Christ-event. How utterly appropriate it is that we read this text concurrently with the great annunciation text found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), for was it not upon this announcement to Mary about the birth of a son to her, the Son of the Most High God, that the entirety of Paul’s proclamation is founded? What was kept secret for many ages was indeed revealed in that announcement to Mary. What was hidden was suddenly disclosed. It was in that moment that all of human history, all of the history of the people of Israel suddenly made sense. It was in the words of that angel that the words of the prophets were broken open. It was in that angelic song that not only the stories of old came to life, but that the stories of their own lives finally made sense. It was in these words that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was disclosed once and for all. In that very announcement the world became aware of what St. John would later proclaim…the Word, the Logos of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, was there from the beginning, from creation, in creation, in the guiding of sacred history, and now, in our very midst – the Word becoming flesh.

Thus, St. Paul can look back through the prophets, the Law, the writings of his ancestors and behold the Christ. That is why St. Paul, who once so zealously persecuted the Church with those ancient Scriptures ready at hand can now look upon those same Scriptures and find his Lord and Christ revealed through them and alive in them. It is this revelation to St. Paul that brought about the obedience of faith in him and this revelation that he proclaims not only to the people of his own day, of Rome, of Corinth, of Ephesus, of Galatia, of Thessalonica, of Colossae, but also across the pages of history to the people of our day, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Moscow, to places great, and yes to place small. That message is this: that Christ has come to save us, great and small, rich and poor, young and old, wise and foolish. He proclaims a Christ revealed in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings of old, through whom the world was created, who guided his people through the wilderness, who carried them through exile and yes, in the fullness of time, was made human that we might partake of the divine nature. He proclaims a saviour who came not only for a single people but for the whole world, a light to the nations, through the grace and mercy and power of God, a gospel made known to all the gentiles.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we stand on the cusp of hearing that old, old story once again of shepherds kneeling before his crib to adore him. But what is it that gave the shepherds their courage to leave their flocks and draw nigh? What is it that would eventually lead eastern magi to undertake a lengthy journey to pay him homage? What is it that gave a young man courage to embrace his bride whom he should otherwise put away in shame? And what is it that would enable a frightened young girl to utter the profound words, “be it unto me according to your word?”—words that would change the world?

It is the proclamation of the Word, itself, for as St. Paul says, “God … is able to strengthen you according to (the) gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ.” The very proclamation of the Word made flesh turns fear to joy, weakness to strength, despair to hope. The very proclamation of the Word made flesh enables us to look back over our lives and our history and see the hand of God leading us to our place of “yes,” to our place of “let it be unto me according to your word.” It is this proclamation of the Word made flesh, of Jesus our Saviour born, crucified, and risen in glory, that vanquishes all our fear and doubt, all our insecurities, all our frailties. Is not the message of Paul, after all, a consistent message of “not me, but Christ in me?” The proclamation of Paul throughout his entire corpus of writing, and the message of the angel to Mary, is a consistent message that it is not our effort that matters, but our “yes”, our “let it be unto me according to your word,” our acknowledgement that with God all things are possible. And so it comes to pass that in the birth of a tiny child in a stable cold and dark, with God all things are possible.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Text Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Behold Your God and Be Not Afraid!

Sermon for Advent II, Year B, 2008
Sunday, December 7th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

Over the last couple of weeks we have been speaking about apocalyptic literature. It has been recognized that the images in apocalyptic literature have the potential to stir up great fear. To be sure, certain groups will capitalize on this fear, using it to encourage conversion. However, if our faith if based on fear, we are not set free as the gospel promises, but are enslaved. For the Word of the Lord is not a word of fear but a word of hope. It is a word that touches us in our deepest inner selves and transforms us, changes us, and empowers us. It is a word, as spoken through the prophet Isaiah that not only calls us forth and changes us, but calls the people of God to speak it aloud to the whole world, “O Zion that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!”

Be not afraid. As we confront some of the biblical images written about in the prophets and in book of Revelation, and yes, even in the gospels themselves, there is a temptation for us to be afraid. And why are we afraid? We are afraid because maybe, just maybe, the images are not so distant, not so esoteric. Maybe, just maybe, they speak of real evil in the world; they speak of real brokenness; they speak of a people without hope. And we wonder, are these texts speaking about our world, our lives, our sense of hopelessness? When we consider this possibility, these are texts that make us tremble.

But do we miss the point, though, when we allow ourselves to be overcome by the frightening images of apocalyptic literature? I believe we do. A couple of weeks ago, it was asked of me, how do we know the false prophets of any age? The false prophets are the ones that use fear to further their cause and enslave the people. I will say it again; the Word of the Lord is a word of hope that sets free, not a word that enslaves through fear. Consider those moments in Holy Scripture when God reaches out to humanity. How does God greet his people? He does so with the words, “Fear not!”

Consider for a moment Hagar, in her desperation in the wilderness as she was about to abandon her son, an angel of the Lord appeared to her with the words, “Fear not!” And as the Hebrew people were pursued into the wilderness and to the shore of the Red Sea, what were the words that Moses spoke to them? “Fear not! Stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you this day!” And when a man named Joseph considered putting away an unwed pregnant woman to whom he was betrothed, an angel of the Lord appeared with these words “Fear not, take her as your wife!” And to an aging priest of the Temple named Zechariah, who had no offspring, who was seized by terror at the appearing of an angel of the Lord, that same angel uttered these words, “Fear not!” And to a young woman trembling at the call to be the mother of God incarnate came this angelic proclamation: “Fear not, Mary, for the Lord is with you!” And to shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, an angelic chorus singing of the glorious birth of the Saviour of the world, greeted those frightened shepherds with these words, “Fear not!” At the tomb of the Lord an angel spoke to the frightened women who had come to anoint his body, “Fear not, he is not here, he is risen.” And finally, as our Lord appeared to those same women and sent them forth with a message to the apostles, he did so with these very words, “fear not.”

Is this not the revelation, or apocalypse, of our Lord? The very words that are spoken whenever an angel appears or whenever God greets his people? “Fear not.” This is the revelation of our God to his people, and this is his encouragement and promise, that whatever the world has to throw at us, we need not fear. To those who are alone, fear not! To those who have made terrible mistakes, fear not! To those who are sick or suffering, fear not. And even to those who walk through thick darkness, and the valley of the shadow of death, fear not, for I am with thee.

Fear not, because the rough places through which you travel are being made plain. Fear not because the mountains that block your way are being made low. Fear not because the crooked pathway is being made straight.

It is one thing, though, to believe that this message is a message for us, the faithful people of God. Yet, can we believe that it is also a message for the world. Do we realize or understand our role in shouting that message from the high places? Do we make it part of our faith journey to say to a hurting world, to those around us, without fear, that God in Christ is alive and well, that his word endures forever, and that amidst the brokenness of human lives and the hopelessness that is proclaimed by the powers of this world that Jesus enters in to our lives and comes again and again to those in need, sorrow or distress?

One of my favourite all-time movies about Jesus is the movie musical Godspell. The film begins with John the Baptist portrayed as a New York busker coming across the Brooklyn Bridge singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He soon calls a series of ordinary folk together, from the drudgery of their hopeless, nameless existence to follow Jesus. As the film unfolds the disciples gather around Jesus in a seemingly empty New York City. The ensemble cast take up many roles, even playing the parts of the antagonists, thus demonstrating the good and evil in each one of us. Finally, the story reaches its climax in the death of Jesus. The most interesting thing about this interpretation of the Jesus story is the fact that there is no resurrection proper. Instead, the disciples take up the body of Jesus, and carry him into the world. Yet, they return to a world once again populated by crowds, carrying the body of their Lord, not in a solemn funeral procession but with joy and singing, reprising the opening joyful song, prepare ye the way of the Lord.

In fact, I believe the Resurrection is preached and depicted in this musical adaptation of the story of Jesus. The disciples begin the story surrounded by an oppressive New York city that doesn’t care about them and holds no hope. Yet they are captivated by a Word, a Word that calls them forth, a Word that transforms them, a Word that gives them hope. Then, when all hope should seem to be lost in the death of their master, their hope is not lost, and they return to that old world, but with different eyes and with a different power and with a sense of joy and hope. What has changed for them? They carry the body of the Lord into the world. They are no longer a people gripped by fear but a people transformed by hope. The Lord has transformed them and through them he is transforming the world.

If they had returned to the world without him, they would be powerless. Yet, they leap into the world as if every mountain has been made low and every rough place plain, because for them, in Christ it has. They return into the world, beholding their God. Without fear and with the great hope that what God has done for them in Christ, he will do for the world, they return into that world. And they cannot contain themselves. The lives of those that carry him may come to an end, but the Word of Hope will never die. The grass withers and fadeth away but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As his body has been brought into the world and as his word is heard, so shall the lives of men and women in every age be changed and transformed, and so, too, shall they take his body in their hands and proclaim with loud voices the hope that is set before them. Beholding their God they take up the call in a glorious procession, for all others to hear: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

And with these words, our Lord comes to us again this season. Our call to watch and wait is transformed into a call to proclaim the day of his coming. Behold your God, and be not afraid. Take up his call without fear, without regret, without trepidation, because you know the good news of glad tidings that he brings. You know the joy and hope that he has given us. And you know that it is he that makes straight the crooked paths of our lives, makes smooth the rough places of our spirits, and lifts us from the deep valleys of our broken hearts. Carry his body into the world, proclaim the Word from every high place. Behold your God, and be not afraid.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.