Sunday, December 31, 1995

First Sunday after Christmas Day - Year A - 1995

First Sunday after Christmas Day

This Sunday takes precedence over the three Holy Days which follow
Christmas Day. As necessary, the observance of one, two, or all three
of them, is postponed one day.

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of
thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in
our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same
Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Preface of the Incarnation

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 61:10--62:3
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 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 forth before all the nations.
62 1 For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
The Word of the Lord

147 Laudate Dominum page 804 or 806

1 Hallelujah!
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
4 He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power; *
there is no limit to his wisdom.
6 The LORD lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; *
make music to our God upon the harp.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds *
and prepares rain for the earth;
9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
and green plants to serve mankind.
10 He provides food for flocks and herds *
and for the young ravens when they cry.
11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;
12 But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, *
in those who await his gracious favor.
13 Worship the LORD, O Jerusalem; *
praise your God, O Zion;
14 For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; *
he has blessed your children within you.
15 He has established peace on your borders; *
he satisfies you with the finest wheat.
16 He sends out his command to the earth, *
and his word runs very swiftly.
17 He gives snow like wool; *
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
18 He scatters his hail like bread crumbs; *
who can stand against his cold?
19 He sends forth his word and melts them; *
he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.
20 He declares his word to Jacob, *
his statutes and his judgments to Israel.
21 He has not done so to any other nation; *
to them he has not revealed his judgments.

A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians: Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
23 Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. 24 So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian;
4 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel is written in the first chapter of John,
beginning at the first verse.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. John 1:1-18
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'") 16 And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Christmas I - Year A

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Over the last few years I have noticed a sort of renaming of the Holy Trinity which I find bothersome. Perhaps you have heard or seen a reference to the, "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier." I recently saw three banners using this terminology. The first one showed a symbol of God the Father--an all seeing eye, but had the word, "Creator" underneath. The second banner had a Cross for God the Son, but underneath was the word, "Redeemer", and the third showed a dove for God the Holy Spirit, but was entitled, "Sanctifier".

This bothers me. The fact that it bothers me is of little, if any consequence. The fact that it bothers the Apostle, and Evangelist John, is, however, of the greatest consequence. John tells us many important things about God in His Gospel. He, in fact, is also known as Saint John the Theologian, because of the beautiful heights and depths of his theology to be found in his Gospel.

Some have said that John, the patron saint of this parish, is symbolized by an Eagle because his Gospel soars in the heavens compared to the other Gospels. And up until recently, His understanding of the Trinity, and of the nature of God was believed to be so sophisticated, that many scholars had assumed that the Gospel of John must have been written in the late second century.
That assumption proved to be false when a fragment of his Gospel was found several years ago that testing proved to be much older than the late second century, in fact, it may have been penned by the Apostle himself.

John's sophisticated theology is not due to the Gospel being written by Christians of a later age who knew more, but by the Apostle who knew more than we do, because he knew God. He knew God the Son, who was his best friend, and describes himself in relation to our Saviour as "the one whom Jesus loved."

He knew God the Holy Spirit, because Jesus had promised him and the others that the Holy Spirit would enlighten their minds so that they could understand and teach the faith to others.

He knew God the Father because Jesus, His Son, manifest the Father to the whole world in the Incarnation, as we heard in this morning's Gospel.

Because John, knew God, John shared this knowledge with us in his Gospel. In the opening words, we hear that Jesus, the eternal Word of God is with God, and is God. We also read that through the Son, all things were made.

God the Father as Creator, ignores that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also our Creator. The entire Trinity Created the world, and all of us in their image. That is what my Bible says, and that is the Word of God received by this Church.

Likewise, God sent His Son to Redeem us, that is, to make us His people, as he declared long ago. And we accept Jesus by faith given us through the Holy Spirit. And God the Father Sanctified us by calling us His, and declaring us righteous, while God the Son sanctified us by His blood, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us by faith and grace and the water of our baptism. Therefore, God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit--all three persons of the Trinity Created us, Redeemed us, and Sanctify us.

This new trend to represent the Trinity by action rather than by name is bad theology and is contrary to Scripture as well as the faith received by this Church. Paul tells us in His Letter to the Galatians, that it is the Holy Spirit within us that cry's, " Abba, Father!"

But none-the-less, this discussion of the Trinity has not yet touched upon that which John would have us know above all other aspects of the Nature of God. There is something which is more important our Creation, and Redemption, and Sanctification, and it is more important than anything else that God has done for us, because it is the impetus, the reason, that God acts for us at all.

This crucial aspect of the Nature of God is that God loves us. Not only is the identifying nature of God--that he loves us unconditionally, has always called us His own, and has promised to take us to Himself through His Son--but it is this love of God for us that John recognized personally, that is the identifying nature of who John is, and how he sees himself.

Four times in his Gospel, he refers to himself as the one "whom Jesus loved". This is not a denial that Jesus, that is, God loves all of us, but rather a recognition of who the man John was.

You see, John was not just a great theologian, he is also a great anthropologist. Theology is the study of God, and there is no better student than John. Anthropology is the study of man, and again, none has bettered that Apostle. We are God's Creatures, and we are also His people. But most of all, we are the ones whom God loves. That is our nature, the aspect of us that defines who we are.

I can think of no better patron Saint to symbolize this parish. We at Saint John's are more than just God's people, we are God's beloved.

To a Jew, to be called God's people was birthright--born of blood and flesh, one would become a Jew. But as promised, all believe in his Name, that is, Jesus Christ are his by being born of God. We are therefore, sons (and daughters), and we are heirs.

Would that we lived our lives as testimony to our nature. Would that we could all see ourselves as the ones whom Jesus loved, and would that we could be known that we are sons (and daughters) of God by our love for Him, and for one another.

I read a headline in the paper yesterday to the effect that we ought to make our New Year's resolutions rather easily attainable, so that we don not feel defeated if do not keep them. On the other hand, as servant of God, I am going to recommend something far more difficult. I suggest that each of us set our sights higher, and reach for that which God would desire. We ought to resolve ourselves to living our lives as God's beloved, and moreover, living our lives always cognizant that each other is one of God's beloved.

I guarantee that if we as a parish make this resolution for the new year that we will simultaneously fail miserably, and succeed gloriously. God's beloved forgive because they have been given forgiveness. God' beloved pray for each other because God the Son prays for us, God's beloved help each other because God saves us, and God's beloved love one another, because God first loved us.

And when we start to think that someone is so impossible to deal with that we cannot any longer forgive, and pray, and help, and love, then remember that this is exactly what could say about us, but he forgives, and helps, and prays, and loves none-the-less.

John's sophisticated theology is not so easy for us. He saw God love, and heard him pray, he saw the miracles, and the Crucifixion, and he saw the Risen Lord. He laid his head on Jesus breast when our Lord was about to be betrayed. We lack that intimacy with God that John was blessed to have known.

And yet we know God through John, in part because of the words of hope and love that he gave to us. We have those words too, and we have Christ with us as well, because we have His Spirit working in us through His Church. In the coming year, let us also bring this message of hope and love to others--because all need it.

In the New Year, let us become Evangelists like John, not by writing great theological works nor by going to foreign lands to preach the Good News, of God made flesh, but by showing the love we have been given so that others desire to know its source. How wonderful if each of us will at some time during the coming year be asked why we behaved in such a way, and our answer would be, because it is how God would have me behave towards others, because that is how He is with me.

To be able to make that statement is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And to be asked to explain that statement is a manifestation of His, not our own, Grace--because "from His fulness have we all received, grace upon grace."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Copyright © 1995 W. Crews Giles

Sunday, December 24, 1995

Advent IV - Year A - 1995

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.

Preface of Advent

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 7:10-17
10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." 13 And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah -- the king of Assyria."
The Word of the Lord.

24 Domini est terra Page 613

1 The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 "Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"
4 "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 "Who is this King of glory?" *
"The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle."
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 "Who is he, this King of glory?"
"The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory."

A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans 1:1-7
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; 7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Advent IV - Year A

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

When Ahaz heard that prophesy, that is, when he heard the words given to Isaiah by God, he believed that the young woman was his own wife (Abi), and that remains the interpretation among many who do not understand, or will not understand, the word of God in light of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Incarnate. While the prophesy was fulfilled to the Jews' satisfaction in the birth of Hezekiah, it was not Hezekiah that embodied the sign from God given them. It was THROUGH, however, Ahaz and Hezekiah (and the numerable, if not memorable, generations which their seed produced) that the sign came.

The continuation of David's line through Ahaz was important to the salvation of the world. But the virgin was not Ahaz's wife. She may, in fact, had already born a son at the time which Isaiah gave him God's Word and promised a sign. It was through Joseph, betrothed to a virgin named Mary that the prophesy was fulfilled.

The signs of the Old Testament all point to a Saviour, but Salvation could only come through the completion of the entire Old Testament, not just a part of it. The completion of the Old Testament is also the conclusion. But is not the end of God's Word, because through this sign, through the virgin who conceived a child, God's word was fulfilled and His Gracious work begun in the salvation of the world.

It is not the Salvation of a political state known as Israel that God intended, Ahaz's kingdom was destroyed. It was the Salvation of the world that God intended.

In our Psalm this morning, David asks, "Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? And who can stand in His holy place?"

And David answers, "Those who have clean hands, and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves falsehood, nor sworn by what is fraud--they shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and a just reward from the God of their Salvation!"

But now I ask you to consider just who those people are. Name one person you know who heart is pure. Certainly not mine. And yet, WE are the ones who can stand in our Lord's holy place. Not while our hearts remain impure, but only when the have been made pure. That is, in fact, the blessing which is promised us, that we can receive a just reward from the God of our Salvation.

Prior to the Son of God becoming man, none was able to be called pure of heart, and prior to the Incarnation, all were of unclean hands. And since the coming of God in flesh, none has been pure. But the purity which we seek for our salvation has come. The Old Testament has been fulfilled, and thus it has been completed and concluded.

The message of the Old Covenant was this, God declares to us a one way agreement, not a pact and not a contract, but a declaration from on High: "I am the Lord your God, and you shall be my people." Those words are a promise, and yet those words remained unfulfilled for us until One showed us the way.

The message of the New Covenant is this: God became man so that we might become gods.

How can we be God's people unless we are like him. And how can man, also be god? This is the mystery of the Word made flesh, and it is not just the completion of the Old Covenant, but is the way of Salvation. God became one of us, not so that he would know what it is like to be one of us, but so that we could know what is like to be man and to be God. We have seen it, we have heard it, we, as Christians, proclaim it, and yet we have not attained to this ourselves. But it can be done, because it has been done.

It is through God and flesh, perfectly united, that we have hope in the promise of the Old Testament. But it is not our birth in flesh that claims our purity, but rather His. For us, our birth must be of a pure lady which is the Church, who has known no other, but is betrothed, promised to be faithful to the One true and Triune God. But that union has, obviously, not yet been consummated.

By our baptism, we have been unified with the Church who is betrothed to God, through Jesus Christ. Now, like Joseph, is the time for us to be faithful to our betrothed. We must be obedient to the faith, as Paul says, because we are called by God to belong to Jesus Christ "for the sake of his name among all nations".

Joseph questioned the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but by God's command, he remained promised to her, by his own will which he submitted in obedience to God;s command, and he remained with Mary.

Her purity, like that of the Church, is such that God found a place to enter into this world which was fit for himself. The purity of the Church, like Mary is something that we should love and honor. And, as was used in the old marriage rite, we ought to love, honor, and obey--for this is the love of the betrothed, and this is love which gives of self, and requires a response from us that manifests the "otherness" which is a requirement for any relationship. Obedience is not a dirty word when it is used to describe a relationship of giving based upon love.

Obedience of the Church is expressed, not in grudging acquiescence, but in adoring humility when facing our Creator. Verbally expressed by our Lady, when she said, "Be it unto me according to thy word." and equally obediently expressed by Joseph, when he took Mary as his wife, despite her being with child.

We cannot expect to find ourselves in adoring obedience in the way that Mary and Joseph are known to us. Most of us will probably never encounter a holy angel announcing to us our task, and making clear our way in God's sight, but we must struggle. We struggle personally, because our own salvation is at stake, and we struggle collectively as the Church, because the Salvation of the whole world is at stake, and dependant upon God's grace manifest in and through His Church to proclaim the truth to an unbelieving world.

While we may fail, as Ahaz failed personally, God does not fail, and despite Ahaz's disobedience to God, despite his worshiping false idols, and despite his ignoring most of what God spoke to him, and misunderstanding the rest--God did indeed bring through him the Salvation of the world in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

What you read of Ahaz's life in the Old Testament is quite depressing. His is the story of selfishness, pride and arrogance. His is the story of the destruction and ruin of Israel. His is the story of judgement. But Ahaz, is mentioned once in the NEW Testament: and here, the glory of the grace of God is manifest, because here, in the New Testament, Ahaz may be found in the opening verses of Matthew's Gospel as an ancestor, in the Davidic line which brought about God made flesh. In the verses immediately preceding this morning's Gospel, Ahaz is mentioned along with such greats as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, and Solomon. He is not listed because of the work he did, but rather the work of God done through him.

We must strive to be more than Ahaz in hopes that we can also be brought into such a list. We must strive to be WILLING participants in the work which God is doing through us, preserving the one true faith, teaching the one true faith, and proclaiming the one true faith. And when we find that we cannot LIVE the one true faith, praising God for the gift of his Son which gave us forgiveness of our sins, so that we too, having received the one true faith, may find our names listed as those which the Old Testament declared as God's People, and which the New Testament promises, shall be gods, by being made one with Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.