The Nativity

TheNativity (600 x 300)On this Holy Day, I am grateful for my family, and for the opportunity to celebrate this season with my Big Italian clan in Syracuse.  I am thankful for the One, Holy and Apostolic  Church that has nurtured me and my calling, and continues to give me a place to serve.

On this day, looking out on over a foot of snow, I am reminded of one my favorite Christmas hymns: “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  (Christina Rosetti- an Italian Catholic like my Syracuse family-nwas a 19th century poet who wrote the lyrics).  It was a few Christmas seasons ago that Rose and I attended an event in Asheville that included Brian McLaren and David Wilcox.  In the middle of the concert portion, Wilcox wanted to do a riff on this hymn, but he could not remember the words. He asked if anyone could sing it for him, and I sheepishly volunteered.  I sang the first verse, and then he asked if I knew the last verse, and I did, and so the two of us did an unplanned duet.  It was one of those times in your life when you have a brush with musical brilliance.

I have been moved by this hymn for decades now, and I share the last verse on this day we celebrate the Nativity of Christ Jesus the Lord.  May we learn to live the gift that was first given to us:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.

 

John of the Cross

John-CrossToday is the remembrance of John of the Cross.  A perfect guest to this season of Advent.  Imagine radical simplicity being embraced by the Church throughout this season.

From Common Prayer:

John of the Cross (1542–1591)

Born into poverty in sixteenth-century Spain, Juan de la Cruz joined the Carmelite order at the age of twenty-one. Four years later, he met Teresa of Avila, who was impressed by the young friar and recruited him to help her restore a spirit of radical simplicity to the Carmelites. Their reforms were not welcomed in the days of Spain’s Inquisition, and Juan suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of his religious brothers. One of the great mystics of the Christian tradition, he teaches us how to draw closer to God during the “dark night of the soul.”

Read more at Mission St. Clare

 

Scriptures for the Day:

Psalm 121
Song of Solomon 3:1-4
Colossians 4:2-6
John 16:12-15, 25-28

Prayer:

O God, by whose grace your servant John of the Cross, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Watching and Waiting

It hard to believe it, given the fact that every store and place of business has been playing Christmas carols for about 3 weeks, but we are just in the middle of Advent.  The scriptures for the past two Sundays have been telling us to watch, wait, observe.

Today’s word from the brothers of Saint John the Evangelist was simply: Watch…

“Some of us Christians are too eager to find in current events evidence that will tell us when and how the world will end and the Son of Man will return. Others of us have lost our hope in God’s promise and come to believe only in ourselves and in our human institutions. The gospel challenges us all. “Watch, be alert, keep awake,” it warns us. Christ will surely come.”

The Collect for the Day (from the Second Sunday of Advent):

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Pearl Harbor and Ambrose

Today lives on in infamy as Pearl Harbor Day.  I have been to Hawaii and have seen the memorial to all of the lives lost on this day 71 years ago.   It was the day that the United States entered the Second World War, it changed the lives of numerous family members and friends.

There were scores of folks, men in their teens and twenties, who gave their lives for the cause. I have never served a church or lived in a community where there were not numerous sacrifices made in that war.  I had several uncles that never recovered from the scars of that war.  They didn’t have a name for it in the 1940’s, but we know it today as PSD–post-traumatic stress disorder.

My uncle Harold, an on and off figure in my life, and I spent an afternoon driving around Coffee County, AL.  I was driving because he had no license.  I can remember being parked on the banks of the Pea River as he sipped whiskey out of bottle wrapped in a paper bag and he told me this: “If you ever want to know what Hell is, you needn’t look any further–War is Hell boy.”

So, when I remember this day, I remember his words to me, and look for other celebrations.

As I have grown in my faith, I have learned to look at the calendar, and discover who died or was memorialized on this day.  Today happens to be the remembrance of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.  He was a politician who was drafted to be a bishop of the church in the 4th century.  He was a key figure in the Arian/Athanasian battles during that time.   He gave away his wealth, lived in simplicity and wrote hymns that survived the centuries.  He was largely responsible for the conversion of St. Augustine and was known as one of the great doctors of the early church.  He died in April, and because that day fell frequently in Holy Week or Easter Week, the Church moved his remembrance day to his ordination day of December 7. (Read more)

Prayer

O God, who gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra

We are about a week into Advent and we come to the Feast Day of Nicholas.  He looks nothing like the guy who rings bells at the Salvation Army, or has children sitting in his lap at the department stores, but he may have more of the character of what this season is all about.

It would do us all good to take a look at this saint as we prepare for the birth of the Christ Child.  It may change the priorities we have this season.

From Common Prayer:

Nicholas of Myra (Fourth Century)

The original “Old St. Nick” who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, Nicholas was bishop of Myra in fourth-century Turkey. Little is known about his life except that he entrusted himself to Jesus at an early age and, when his parents died, gave all of their possessions to the poor. While serving as bishop, Nicholas learned of three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by their father. Moved to use the church’s wealth to ransom the lives of these little ones, he tossed three bags of gold through the family’s window. We recall this ancient Christmas gift, even as we remember that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year in the global sex trade today.

From the Mission of St. Clare:

The story of St. Nicholas offers a possible way of dealing with the “Santa Claus” problem, to parents who do not want to lie to their children, even in fun, but do not want to say simply: “Bah, humbug! There is no such thing as Santa. Forget about him.” READ MORE

Prayer

Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Francis Xavier and Advent

It was Advent in 2003, while I was serving Kobe Union Church, that I took a trip to Kyushu, the island that Francis Xavier first visited in Japan in the 16th century.  The city of Nagasaki is on the western side of the island and Kagoshima on the south.  To this day, you are more likely to see the results of the missionary work of Xavier on that island than most anywhere else in the country.

Nagasaki has numerous ancient churches and cathedrals, and a large monument to the 26 martyrs of Japan near the main transportation corridor.  It was during that trip that I connected with Roman Catholic missionary history more than anywhere else in the world. I realized that my work as a Christian was positively and negatively influenced by those first missionary journeys.  I realized that it was quite a feat to shut out the missionaries for over 250 years following those first inroads by Xavier and friends.

Over 400 years after Xavier, I found myself a pastor in a country that was still for the most part indifferent to the Christian Church.  My church in Kobe claimed to be the oldest Protestant congregation in Japan, dating back to when the emperor opened up the ports to foreigners in the mid-1800’s.  It was an odd experience to be a minority sub-culture coming from a land that wears its Christianity on its sleeve.

On this second day of the Advent season, I reflect on Xavier (it is his day on the liturgical calendar) and another Advent. I consider these questions today:

  • Where is my current place of missionary service?
  • What would I forego to be the most effective missionary?
  • Are my actions and words in tune with the character of Jesus?
  • Five hundred years from now, will anything I have said or done made a difference in my community?