Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Final Word - A Homily for Christmas Day, 2012

Homily for Christmas Day, 2012
Tuesday, December 25th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 1:1-14

Although the powers of darkness would seek to overcome and destroy us, they can never be the final word for us. 

When we cast our minds back over the course of our lives, I think many of us will realize that there are things we have done, and left undone, for which we are not proud.  All too often, these mistakes become for us the narratives that shape our lives.  Our mistakes and our sins have the potential to become the word of our lives, but the message of today is that even our grossest deeds, our most careless errors, and even our most malicious mistakes need not be the final word for us.

Christmas can be a difficult time for many because the pain of a recent – or even not-so-recent – loss may feel overwhelming.  When so many are making merry, the gap left by a loved one who is no longer with us, and the sorrow we feel, may feel like the word that is written upon our lives, but it need not be the final word for us.

In the midst of the great brokenness of this world, amidst senseless violence like the recent shooting in Connecticut, amidst accidents and unforeseen losses, imagining that the world is so irretrievably lost that only a 2012 Armageddon that will wipe things out may seem like the only word for a helplessly hurting world, but it need not be the final word for us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God!

The only word that truly matters to us, the only word that really has a hold on our lives, the only word that is of any true substance is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things were created.  This is the only word that matters because all things came into being through him.  Not one thing that was created came into being without him. All other words that seek to have a claim on us ultimately have not power or claim over us, for they are not the source of either our being, or our Salvation.  They are not the light of life.  The very Word that gives us life and light is the Word that is written upon our hearts and upon our very being, and should any other word seek to erase or deface that word, that word shall not stand.

We can fail to see the Word because the darkness is often so overwhelming that our vision is obscured, and that is why the Word became flesh.  When the world seemed too dark, when other words seemed to echo in our ears and garble our thoughts, the Word became flesh.

The Word becomes flesh and casts away the other words that seek to imprint themselves on our lives.  The light shines in the darkness, and although the darkness seeks to overcome the light it cannot.  The light casts out the darkness.

Darkness still covers the earth but we have a light that forces it back.  Other words still seek to write themselves into our story, but we have a Word that is our story, and no other words shall take his place. 

Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is God’s final word for us.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and although at times the darkness seems powerful, and those other words seem multitudinous, Jesus is written on our hearts and indeed, he is the light which shines forth from our new life in him.  By his grace, by water and the Spirit, we are a new creation and so we need not fear any other word or be threatened by the darkness. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Let us go, then, unto Bethlehem - A homily for Christmas Eve 2012

Homily for Christmas Eve, 2012
Monday, December 24th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Fear not! I bring you good news of great joy for all people!

Into a world governed by fear, the message came.  Into the lives of the poor and the oppressed, the message came.  Into the hearts of those who hoped but dared not believe, the message came.  The message, “fear not!” sounded resolutely in the face of those who governed by fear, it lifted the dark veil of oppression, and gave birth to faith in the hearts of those who doubted.

But what had changed?  What was it that had cast away the fear that gripped the people of that long-ago age?  The angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news of great joy!”  But what was that joy?  The good news was news of their salvation.  Hard as it might have been to believe, had as it might have been to accept, God had come to save his people.  Did Herod the King still reign over them?  Was the violently imposed Roman peace still a reality for them?  Were those shepherds abiding in their fields still poor shepherds?  Yes.  On one level, nothing seemed different, and yet, everything had changed, for fear no longer gripped their hearts.  Fear no longer gripped them because they knew that the very things they feared were no longer the things that held power over them.  They knew that their salvation was something so much more precious and eternal than merely their deliverance from unjust rulers or wealthy exploiters.  They knew – and they knew it deep in that place where truth cannot be shaken – that they belonged to God.  They knew that somehow, all the walls that they had built separating themselves from God were being broken down.  How could this be?  They were not sure.  But at the very moment angels proclaimed the words “Fear not!” they knew their world had changed.  They were saved. 

Their salvation was not a spiriting out of this world.  Their salvation was not a rejection of this world.  Their salvation was not a destruction of this world. Rather, it was a reclaiming of this world for God.  Those shepherds of old did not know it at the time; what they did know was that God always gave a sign.  And what would that sign be?  They would find a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Those who were gripped with fear were gripped with fear no longer.  They made haste, and went to seek the sign, to see this great thing that God had done:  a simple child lying in a manger. What manner of greatness was this?  What manner of miracle did they witness?  In what way could the birth of a child into the poverty of a stable be a sign?  This, we cannot explain, except to say that they knew, once again, in that deep place of knowing where truth cannot be shaken, that they witnessed before them in that tiny child, cradled in a trough, their very salvation.  For God so loved the world; and they knew it to be true.

And thus in the midst of evil powers that might seek to destroy them, they could in turn say “fear not!”  When Caesars and Herods sought to oppress them, they could say “fear not!” And when their own sinfulness and their own brokenness might seem to be too heavy to bear, they could say to themselves and too each other “fear not!”

This story is an old one.  It is one we know so well, but do we know it and believe it in that deep place of knowing where truth cannot be shaken?  Do we believe the words of the angels, “Fear not?”  Do we believe the sign that was given to the shepherds, a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is a sign still given to you and to me?  Do we believe that in deep humility, poverty and helplessness, God has saved us?

Let us go then, once again even unto Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has done. 

In a world in which broken men and women take up arms and seek to destroy the most weak and vulnerable, and in a world in which others cry out that the only solution to violence is arms and more violence, the angels host cries out “Fear not!”

In a world seems to spin apart with absurdity upon absurdity as politicians and rulers create and shape false truth at their whims, and in which the gullible believe every falsehood spun before them, the angel host cries out, “Fear not!”

In a world in which economic woes and fiscal cliffs have become the highest concern of our shared life, the angel host cries out, “Fear not!”

Into our lives when families break apart, when loved ones die tragically, when we make terrible, terrible mistakes that we deeply regret, the angel host cries out, “Fear not!”

I tell you now what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds then: fear not!

I tell you now what the shepherds heard then: I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people.  Unto you is born this day, a Saviour which is the Christ the Lord.

I set before you now what was set before them then: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Let us go then, once again – or perhaps for the first time – even unto Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has done.  If you are afraid, fear not.  If you have pondered the child from a distance and yet have never drawn close, draw close now. And if you have hoped, yet never dared to believe, believe it now.  The holy child is born this day for me and for you.  He has come to us that we might never be far from him again and nothing will ever separate us from him ever again.  Fear not, for unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Leaping for Joy: A Homily for Advent IV, Year C, 2012

Homily for Advent IV, Year C, 2012
Sunday, December 23rd, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 1:39-45

“The child in my womb leaped for joy!”
-Luke 1:44

Upon learning that she was pregnant, the Virgin Mary went to the hill country and met her aged cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant with a miracle-child.  In her own vulnerability Mary sought the counsel and comfort of a wise woman.  Together they would ponder and reflect on the work God was doing through them; together they would love and support each other; together they would dream the dreams that mothers have for their children. 

When Mary approached Elizabeth, she was greeted with excitement.  In a holy moment, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed how blessed she was to be greeted by the mother of her Lord, and how blessed Mary was to be carrying in her womb the one who would be called “Lord.”  It was a moment filled with excitement; a moment filled with joy; a moment filled with the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.  The moment was one of such excitement, and a recognition of the salvation that God was working through the agency of the gentle virgin, meek and mild, that even Elizabeth’s child leapt for joy in her womb, at the approach of Mary.

As we approach the natal feast of our Lord, our anticipation grows, our joy builds, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are given songs of praise to sing.  Our redemption draweth nigh.  Each year, as we draw ever closer to hearing again the story of our Saviour’s birth, we experience afresh that anticipation that there is good news for us, and for the whole world.  If our hearts have become saddened, if our spirits have grown tired, if our senses have grown numb, or our minds weakened by the cares of the world, then once again the Holy Spirit goes to work on us.  Once again, hope is kindled, anticipation builds, and good news greets us.  As with the elderly Elizabeth, who was made youthful again by God’s grace, so are we restored to youthful exuberance and child-like cheer.  Deep within us, something is stirred, and our hearts leap within us, as the child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.  Our Lord comes to greet us.

Why has this happened, and who are we that God should visit us?  Who are we that the Holy Family should seek our comfort?  Who are we that Jesus should come into our homes and seek shelter?  And yet, in spite of our sadness, our tiredness, our numbness, or our weakness, in Christ Jesus God comes to us, to dwell with us, to be with us, and to restore us.

God so loved the world that he looked upon the lowly, not only to be the ones he saved but to be partners in the salvation of the world.  He looked upon Mary and Elizabeth with deep love. He looked upon John the Baptist, and Joseph, and Simeon, and Anna, and Zechariah as his partners and his friends.  He looked upon the disciples of old as his partners and friends, and he looks upon you and me, as his partners and his friends.  In Christ Jesus, God reaches out his saving hand to us that we might be saved – saved from our sins, saved from our brokenness, saved from our isolation.  In Christ Jesus God reaches out his saving hand to the world and invites us to share that Good News to those who have not heard it, that as our spirits have been restored and our souls have leapt for joy, so too might the spirits and souls of the faint-hearted, the lonely, and the forgotten hear that same news and find themselves restored and lifted up.  Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news.




Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Sword Shall Pierce Your Own Soul, Too - A Homily for Advent III, Year C, 2012

A Homily for Advent III, Year C, 2012
Sunday, December 16th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Words calling us to rejoice may seem very hollow today.  When Zephaniah calls us to “sing aloud,” and “to rejoice and exult with all our hearts,” and when St. Paul proclaims “rejoice in the Lord always,” we find that we simply cannot stir up within our hearts such exultation.  The news that twenty-six people were killed on Friday, in a school in Connecticut, twenty of them young children, makes us seriously question what cause have we for rejoicing.  At this time of year when rejoicing abounds, when celebrations are taking place, when families come together in joyful thanksgiving for the bounty of this life and for the love we share as families and friends, I suspect that each person that celebrates will feel their joy restrained and indeed their hearts weighed down by the incomprehensible tragedy of what has taken place. Words cannot capture our grief nor can they express our sorrow for those who will never embrace their child or loved one again.  And when we seek to allow our imaginations to drift into that place of empathy we find ourselves reeling back, unwilling to even entertain what that horror might be like if we were in the place of those parents and family members today.  This act of violence will not only have repercussions for those who lost those dearest to them, but it will have repercussions for years to come on that whole community and those who will forever bear witness to that event.  Our prayer can only be, “Lord, have mercy.”

The Christmas narrative into which we move, has ever been one in which our shouts of joy have been met with deeds of darkness.  Angels proclaimed tidings of joy to shepherds; shepherds shared good news; priests and prophets sang songs of salvation that they were witnessing their salvation – songs we continue to sing today – yet, as those songs were sung of old, as they are sung today, sin remains at work in the world.  Wise men came from the East to worship the newborn king.  They came to bring him gifts, but inadvertently, they alerted Herod to the location of the child and Herod feared that his precarious grip on power would be loosened.  The powers of sin and darkness gripped Herod and he sought to kill the child.  He did not succeed, but he slaughtered many innocents.  Wise men came seeking the light, but instead, in their error, they left behind a trail of innocent blood.

In every generation, we seek the light.  During every Advent and Christmastide we proclaim the once and coming king whose light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome that light.  But still, in every generation, until all things are gathered up in Christ, sins persists, and the brokenness of one person can lead to the brokenness of a community, a nation, even a whole people.  The darkness threatens to overcome us and it will do us no good to tell ourselves that darkness does not exist, that sin does not exist, nor must we ever delude ourselves that we are not a broken people.   In these moments we need Jesus more than ever.  In these moments we need to trust in him and hold fast to our baptismal covenant to resist evil and sin in whatever form it takes, in our systems that allow such violence, in our human desires that drive us to despair, in the senseless forces that drive us to violence.  We must resist such things, with the help of God.  In these moments we must do as Mary did, and cling to the Christ child with all our might.  It does not mean that we will not be hurt, that our hearts will not be broken, that we will not know fear or sin or brokenness, or violence.  In the Temple, after the circumcision of baby Jesus, old Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, too.  And so it did when she stood at the foot of the cross and beheld her wounded, bleeding, dying son.

Good news comes into the world; light comes into the world, and darkness seeks to overcome it.  Mary and Joseph fled the wrath of violent king, and many children died.  Truth came into the world and we nailed it to a tree.  Light came into the world and in its darkness the world failed to see it. The Holy Family knows the pain that the world feels today. Jesus knows the pain that the world feels today. God the Father knows the pain that world feels today.  And God in Christ helps us to bear what we cannot bear on our own.  Thus, we can do nothing else but cling to the Christ child, and cling to the man who hangs on the cross, that in his resurrection, the works of darkness might finally be cast out, and in the fullness of time, that mourning and crying and pain will be no more.



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Your Redemption Draweth Nigh - A Homily for Advent I, Year C, 2012

Homily for Advent 1, Year C, 2012
Sunday, December 2nd, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 21:25-36

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
-- Luke 21:28

Over the course of my life, I have been an early riser. I am also an avid listener to CBC radio. By the time I get I leave the house in the morning I have often listened to the newscast about a half dozen times. I don’t like to miss it even when I’ve already heard the news several times that morning. While there may be much overlap, the national news at the top of the hour is different from the local news on the half hour. Then there are the interviews and commentary in-between, and of course, there is always the breaking news. Often, I will be able to catch a portion of the program, “The Current,” as I head out for visits or meetings, and sometimes, while doing the dishes in the evening I enjoy “As it Happens,” both of which reflect on current news events with insightful and provocative interviews. Sometimes, I enjoy ending the day listening to “Ideas,” a thoughtful program that features documentary presentations on subjects of an intellectual nature. If I am out during the day visiting I often pick up bits and pieces of programming and catch up on arts and entertainment news and commentary on my way to and from visits and meetings. It is a wonderful world of news, is it not?

One day this week I couldn’t take it anymore. I shut off the radio and slipped in one of my favourite Frank Sinatra CDs and breathed a sigh of relief as the “Chairman of the Board” crooned on, “Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away…”

Perhaps you will know that feeling. There is a lot going on in the world, in our lives, in our workplaces, and in our homes. If we don’t have enough confusion and trouble in our own circles we are more than willing to invite the confusion and trouble of the world into our lives by turning on the radio, the television, or the internet. And while it is wonderful to know what is going on out there, and I am all for exposing ourselves to a broad range of thoughts, ideas, and information, sometimes it can seem a bit much. Sometimes, it can seem as if the world is coming apart, locally on the half-hour and globally every hour, with traffic and weather on “the tens.”

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faints from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…” No wonder we want to fly away, whether it be escaping simply through the words of a Sinatra song, or more seriously, and more tragically for some, the decision to give up on life and the world altogether.

Yet, it is at this precise moment, the moment in which we want to escape that we hear the command, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh!” What? Amidst the confusion of nations; amidst the confusion of our homes; amidst the confusion of voices around us; amidst distress, loss, foreboding and fear, our redemption draweth nigh? When these things happens our natural tendency is to run for the hills, to hide our faces, to “duck and cover,” but no – stand up, raise your head, your salvation is near!

This is a shocking command because contrary to what many people may think the Christian faith has never been about escaping a terrible world and its apparent hopeless plight. In the early days of Christianity a heresy arose called Gnosticism. One of its principal errors was divorcing of the spiritual from the material. In Gnostic thought the material world is bad and the spiritual world is good. In Gnostic thought the redeemer is the one who delivers the enlightened believer from the evil material world into the spiritual realm. But our Christian faith is entirely rooted and grounded in a God who enters into the material world not to destroy it, nor to ferret us out of it, but to redeem in, restore, it remake it. And in all of this, we are invited to be God’s co-creators. “For God so loved the world!”

It is precisely at the moment when we are overwhelmed; it is precisely in the moment when we feel like abandoning hope in the world God has created; it is precisely in the moment when we long to fly away, that God enters in. God enters in to bring hope to those who suffer violence at the hand of another, to break the rod of the oppressor. God enters in to comfort and weep with those whose hearts are broken, those who have lost one so dear to them. God enters in to calm the souls of those who are afraid, who have become immobilized by anxiety, depression and hopelessness. And God enters in as the events of the hurting world seem oh so overwhelming to those of us who long only for peace and tranquility amongst nations. God enters in not to destroy this world and the men and women in it, but to redeem the Earth and all its peoples.

Therefore, we shall not run to the hills or flee from the world, as tempting as the words “come fly with me” may be. Rather we shall be alert, stand tall, and lift up our heads in joyful anticipation that God is about to do a new thing. Let us go out to meet him and say, “Art thou he that should come and reign over thy people Israel?” Surely he is the one. Our redemption, and the redemption of the whole world, as troubled as it is, is drawing nigh.

c. 2012 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves